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Fact Table:

Location Southwestern
High point 10910 ft
Max Grade 8%
Arv Rt Grade 2.2% to Coal Bank.... 2.5% to Molas
Dist to High pt 33 mi to Coal Bank 42 mi to Molas
Elev Gain 3900 ft to Coal Bank 5500 ft to Molas
Rating Moderate to Coal Bank Difficult to Molas
Access City Durango

 

Location Southwestern
High point 10910 ft
Max Grade 8%
Arv Rt Grade 5% to Molas 3.4% to Coal Bank
Dist to High pt 6.5 mi to Molas Divide 13.5 mi to Coal Bank
Elev Gain 1700 ft to Molas Divide
Rating Easy to Molas Divide Moderate to Coal Bank
Access City Silverton

 

Ride Tips:

  • This ride nears 11,000 feet. Watch for sign of altitude sickness
  • Bring wet and cold weather gear. The weather changes fast here.
  • No Services between Durango Mountain Ski area and Silverton. Bring water and food.
  • This road can have heavy traffic near Durango and again near the ski area. Use caution.
  • While the roads are generally in good shape, there is a lot of mining and trucking activity. Watch for pot holes, sand, and rocks on road.

 

Out of DurangoRoad out of Durango toward Coal Bank Pass
Out of DurangoFlat section near mile 22
Coal ClimbCoal bank climb at approx mile 26.
Up coal from SilverSilverton side of Coal Bank Pass
Btwn coal and molasLow point between Coal Bank Pass and Molas Divide
Up MolasStart of Molas Divide climb from Durango
Up MolasNear top of Molas Divide
SilvertonView of Silverton on climb up Molas Divide
Profile

Coal Bank Pass/ Molas Divide Summary

I’ve ridden Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain a number of times, and absolutely love the area.  If I had a way to make a living in the San Juan’s, I’d move to the area in a New York minute.  Also, I have always done all three climbs in one day (Cola, Molas, Red).  For these summaries, I have combined Coal and Molas into one, and have described Red Mountain in a separate summary.  Durango is a fantastic starting point, and in this case, is a far easier starting point than Ridgeway.  The grades on the south face of this climb are much more reasonable than the north face.  On the north, particularly when you think of Red Mountain, it’s one switchback after another.  Regardless of the ease or difficulty,  this really is one of those “must do” routes in Colorado.  The scenery of the San Juan’s is unsurpassed and many call this area the American Alps.   Age and glaciers have left their marks on the jagged peaks of these mountains and every turn, every pass, and every mile bring untold views and breathtaking vistas. 

Coal Bank is roughly 33 miles from Durango and Molas is roughly 9 miles further.  The ride out of Durango is fairly flat for the first 14 or so miles, giving you a nice warm-up.  However, after that, you climb for about 10 straight miles and can expect the grades to be in the 4% to 5% range (with an occasional 6% for very short distances).  Around mile 22, the grade backs off significantly for about 6-7 miles as you approach Durango Mountain.  This actually is a nice flat area where you can catch your breath as all you have to contend with is a few rollers.  After the ski resort, (I still refer to it as Purgatory, but some political correctness activists caused it to be renamed to Durango Mountain) the real climbing starts.  With about six miles of climbing to go, your legs will start to burn… but it's a good pain.  The scenery is awesome. 

Coal Bank Pass is about 33 miles into the ride and at 10,640 ft.  The pass is not typical, as you are surrounded by trees and the view of the surrounding area is only the trees, no vistas.  After you summit, you’ll lose about 1000 ft in elevation over the next three miles and then face a four mile climb back to 10,910 ft at Molas Pass.  This second climb will be a bit over 5% on average and is a little more out in the open.  However, you will hit in the 8% range for short periods.  You’ll  have some great views for the surrounding  mountains. The downhill into Silverton is a lot of fun…  The last time I was out there, the roads were in great shape and I had good incentive to fly down the pass into Silverton as I was being chased by an early afternoon thunderstorm.  There are no sharp curves or heavy traffic.  If you want to let it fly, you can.

From Silverton, you can actually get an “easy” rated climb to Molas Divide.  With only a 6.5 mile climb of 1700 feet, it’s an easy pass for a quick out and back.  The grade will briefly hit 8% on some of the curves, but overall, expect a climb in the 5% range.  It’s not a huge hill and there is noting  of a significant stand-out feature.  However, the final assent to the parking area is neat and easy.  You climb into a vast mountain meadow area and take a sweeping left to the divide parking area.  For an area below tree line, it’s rare to find such an open area at the top. 

The ride down Molas toward Coal Bank is roughly 4 miles down and three miles up.  The climb up Coal Bank can get a bit leggy with 7% plus grades, but it is fairly short.  It’s the higher grades that move the Silverton to Coal Bank climb into the “moderate” range.  You will hit 8% grades and you are climbing over 2400 feet in total.  If you continue on to Durango from Coal Bank, expect nothing but bliss.

Alternate Routes

Durango is a good starting point for a number of different routes in the area.  Each Spring, cyclist race the Durango-Silverton Railroad to Silverton.  That, in effect, is the route detailed in my Coal Bank/ Molas summary.

On the grander side, the so-called “Death Ride” loop.  A 230 mile 24,000 foot  endurance test.  Each July, the ride is sponsored as a one day jaunt in the San Juan’s.  It’s a Durango to Durango loop… including Coal Bank Pass, Molas Divide, Red Mountain, Dallas Divide, Lizard Head, and then rollers back to Durango. If you have the strength, and desire to do this, good luck.  Other mere mortals break this ride into two or three day segments. 

Also out of Durango, heading west is a 47 mile ride that will take you to the town of Cortez, past Mancos and the Mesa Verde National Park. Lots of rollers and wide open ranch land. A ride through Mesa Verde is a must do.

And, of course, be sure to look at the Red Mountain summary for more rides out of Silverton.