Leg 1 consisted of Wyoming and Montana trails. We started on the infamous Morrison Jeep trail that climbs right up the Clarksfork canyon walls. We continued on to Sawtooth Lake from there to camp for the night on the lakeside. The following morning we headed to Cooke City and took a back road to Daisy pass and Lulu Pass, then on to Goose Lake Jeep trail to camp next to the creek in the most beautiful pocket hidden in the high peaks.
Leg 2 was all in Wyoming, Lander, WY to be exact, where we hit two harder trails. Due to falling behind schedule we did the first trail, Christina Lake mostly in the dark. The next morning we set off for Shoshone Lake trail. This was the most unrelenting trail with its constant pounding of rocks. It’s exhausting to drive it and you are never more happen to get to the calm lake side after the drive down from the peaks. Our campfire was most enjoyable that night after such a long day.
This brings us to Leg 3 where we left off last issue. The third and final leg of our adventure was also the longest. We are headed to the south west corner of Colorado to explore the vast San Juan Mountains. Leaving Lander with our skids and sliders battered and bruised but our spirits high.
As soon as we cross the border into Colorado, you can tell instantly. Mountains appear again all around and everything is green again. We have taken a slightly longer route so we can drive along the Colorado River in the canyon on the Colorado River Road. We set up camp on national forest land just before the road.
The following morning we got to enjoy the morning sun along the River on a small county road where a few houses dotted the road side. It was a very peaceful drive to set the mood for the morning. This was quickly interrupted by the fact we are late, again, and hit the interstate for Grand Junction hard.
We make it to Lands End Road just south of Grand Junction to start our accent up the Grand Mesa and pick up three more rigs. The road is a snaky ribbon of dirt that comes out on top of the great flat Plateau. The view is very impressive of the valley below and was a great preview of what was to come. We drove on taking highway 65 south to Delta before getting on the “Million Dollar Highway”.
As we pull into Ouray we realize the “hostile” territory we are in. Ouray is the “Jeep capital of the World” as signs proudly point out throughout the town. Too bad! Toyota Invasion! We enjoy dinner at a local restaurant and hit the road to find camp.
This simple feat proved rather more difficult in the area around Ouray. Finding small spots is easy, but not for 7 Tacoma trucks. We head our way to a trail off of the South Mineral Creek road that looked promising that leads up to Clear Lake.
Clear lake is tucked in a cove of high peaks. The water was a mirror to everything that looked into it. It was beautiful, peaceful, and perfect. We quickly set up camp after yet another very long day of driving and unwind around the campfire getting to know our new companions.
The following morning was peaceful, but soon interrupted by pouring rain. Something that would return on and off over the next three days. This worried most of us as Black Bear Pass was the first big trail we were to hit. We had been told it wasn't bad so long as you don't do it in the rain and snow. With the rain seemingly held off we set off to climb our first 12,000 foot pass.
Nearing the summit of Black Bear Pass however, the weather took a turn for the worst. Heavy hail like snow pounded us! You'd think mid-August that wouldn't be an issue. Well, welcome to Colorado! The small flurry left quickly though and we reached the top with little problem. At the top, we soaked up the majestic beauty of 12,840'.
During our descent to Telluride more storm clouds roll in, and as we near the rocky ledges known as The Stairs, it once again starts to rain. I am determined to do this trail to compare it to Morrison and since I had been put in the lead at this point. I didn't stop. Making it down The Steps I quickly pulled the truck into a wide space and run up to help spot everyone else down. By this time the rain is in full down pour mode. With spotting and a slow pace, we all make it through alive and well. Of course as soon as the last truck is through, the rain stops. Thank you Colorado! So I am here to tell you, it is possible to Black Bear in the rain! Although, I don't recommend it for the faint of heart.
The rest of Black Bear is going down some very narrow trail on the edge of the steep mountain side again with a few sharp corners requiring 3-point turns or more. Nothing too drastic though and it is easy to soak up the beautiful view as you drive.
At the bottom of Black Bear we drove through Telluride to get gas on the other side of town. The funny looks we got from the locals were quite humorous. Must not be used to seeing anything other than Jeeps I guess. We quickly started up Imogene pass to get back to Ouray.
Imogene Pass is a great road. Many of these passes are very accessible to all basic 4x4s and this trail really shines to show that. It’s not super rough but not really maintained. The climb starts right out of Telluride and you can look back up into Black Bear from where we had just come. The views on Imogene are wondrous and mysterious. Not only will we crest the 13,000 foot mark on this pass, but you also get a very large dose of the mining operations that were here. The run down ruins of the mines is always intriguing and they are spread all over. They add a very historical feel to the scenery and we love it. We drove through the grounds of a big mine just before our second peak crest of the day. Above 12,000 feet in less than 3 hours. Welcome to Colorado!
At the 13,114 summit of Imogene. We are stunned. I know I have been saying how beautiful everything is to the point of it sounding boring. But seriously. Wow. The mountains here are endless it seems.
The descent down to Ouray is wonderful. A few creek crossing and a ton of old mining equipment. Rain kept rolling in and out on us all day and while it was a bit of a dampener. Still brought even more mysterious qualities to the lands. We headed back to South Mineral Fork as camping space was abundant there and camp along the creek this time. Once again, we’re having a blast around the campfire reliving the highlights of the day and already looking forward to the next day as it would be one of the most trying days we would face. But we didn't know that yet.
Poughkeepsie Gulch trail is not for a normal 4wd truck or even to attempt alone. This road is narrow in places and very rocky and bumpy in areas and most importantly has a massive obstacle aptly named The Wall. This was where our day would start.
It is a fun twisting rocky trail with Moab like ledges appearing all over. We were all enjoying ourselves when we come upon an older gentleman ATVer heading down the mountain. He was with a young girl riding with him and did not look to be having a good time. Turns out this man thought he had dislocated or broke his hip and was in a lot of pain. He was just a tourist and the ATV was a rental so he had no real other gear. This left him with no way of calling anyone and his daughter couldn't drive the ATV. Luckily Joey still had cellphone service and call 911 for an ambulance to meet him at the end of the trail which was not far. He thanked us and continued on his painful descent refusing to let us follow him or give him a ride. Not that we could have as we were a few miles out from being able to turn around. This was a powerful reminder to how traveling in groups and having the right equipment is very helpful and can be lifesaving. It wouldn't be the last reminder of the day.
Continuing up the trail we were all very much enjoying the roughness Poughkeepsie was throwing at us. We finally broke through to an open meadow and we knew what was to come next. The Wall. An obstacle where lockers and winch are highly recommended. We all grew excited as we approached the final hill to get to the base of The Wall. However, my truck Frankenstein had other ideas for excitement. After leaving a large puddle, my driver side lower ball joint decided to give out mid-stream. Two bolts had fallen out somehow and with only two left, they just could not handle the strain and both sheared off. Luckily, together, we were prepared for the situation.
We gathered and diagnosed the problem and got to work. The truck was jacked up and tire removed. Since two bolts where sheared off that meant the other half was still in the spindle. One was impossible to get to being an outer bolt but the other was an inner and just over ¼'' stuck out. Of all people, Ben had vice grips and I spent the next 30 or so minutes slowly and painfully backing out the bolt. Cody and Mike both had extra bolts for me to use. Mike also provided a file that allowed me to open up one of the alignment sleeves that had been tweak. Then Joey provided the Locktite to seal the deal. All in all it took me about an hour and a half to fix the issue and I literally could NOT have done it without my companions. I would have had to abandoned the truck and come back for it had it not been for my friends. It was a great experience and really showed the importance of wheeling in groups. Never take your friends for granted on the trail. One day, they may just save your ass.
We continued to the base of The Wall not 200 yards away. Mike hit the massive steep rock face first and made it up with relatively ease, but still managed to slam his slider hard enough to be picked up on seismographs as the next major life threatening earthquake in San Francisco. Joey followed him and struggled a bit more but after some quick adjusting. He made it up as well. Ben was next and only having 32s, sliders, and the factory rear locker. His anxiety levels where a bit high. Third truck was the charm though and he nailed the right line first try making it up completely drama free. This was the last of us to do it unassisted. Cody's rig struggled immensely having clogged his very worn KM2s with mud, and was the first to be winched up. Dave's most stock 2nd gen didn't bother too much with it and was winched promptly up as well. I, sadly, had to be winched up too. Only driving with 3 bolts in the very fresh healing wound, I didn't want to risk breaking anything.
Needless to say, this is a serious obstacle and very fun to drive up. We had a blast doing it and I know I hope to return to drive up it under my own power. We all gathered ourselves and prepped to continue to leave; happy with our success of helping a man, doing a major trail repair and conquering a large obstacle. And it was only just the morning. Welcome friends, to Colorado.
To be continued, for the last time I promise...
Leg 3 (b): Never ending: Peaks and Memories
To get your copy of the January 2014 issue of TCT Magazine:
FIND US ON: