Jeeping: Mt. Blanca Road to Lake Como

Labor Day Weekend I called in a favor and asked a friend with a more built up Jeep to drive me up to Lake Como. My FSJ is pretty capable but she’s not going to make it up that road, nor does the old lady need that kind of abuse. We headed up the road under uncertain skies and with a forecast that wasn’t looking particularly promising for a big day or two above treeline but since we’d made the long haul down to south central Colorado, we decided to go for it anyway.

Sprocket started out pretty excited about the ride but after several miles of rough road he was a lot less excited.

Lake Como Road (or Mt. Blanca Road, it seems to be known equally by both names) is better called a Jeep trail than a Jeep road. At many points, it was a lot more rockcrawling than jeeping. While the whole road is really rough and without a very modified Jeep or a buggy it takes some careful maneuvering throughout. The “signature obstacles” on this trail are called Jaws 1, Jaws 2, Jaws 2 1/2, and Jaws 3. They’re really creative with their names.

The photo below wasn’t even from one of the “Jaws”:

As we hung out at the lake in the evening, the skies got more and more cloudy. Since we’d hoped for a big day above treeline to do the Little Bear-Blanca traverse (one of Colorado’s four “Grand Traverses”) things were not looking promising.

As it got later and later, the wind kicked up, it spit rain and was generally pretty miserable. I was hopeful that everything would blow out by morning but we awoke to clouds hovering just above the lake. With the prospect of no views, wet rock, and wind on high ridges nothing about climbing one of the 14ers above the lake sounded like fun and we called it good with a pretty successful jeeping adventure.

Essentially, this wound up being a preview for me of the Lake Como road that I’m almost certain to be hiking next summer in a bid to bag all three of the 14ers gracing the basin.

Colorado 4X4 Roads: Stony Pass

When I decided to head home from Creede, I had a decision to make: what route would I take? It’s only 50 miles straight line distance between Creede and Ridgway but the highway route goes north to Highway 50 and is over 175 miles! My other options were Engineer Pass, a combination of Cinnamon/California/Hurricane/Corkscrew Passes, or Stony Pass.

I wasn’t really excited about either the Engineer or Cinnamon Pass options because I’ve driven them before and would rather wait to re-drive them until I am going up to hike something. I was down to either the highway route, which was mostly new to me road which would be fine, or Stony Pass (96 miles).

The weather looked promising, despite seeming threatening at Phoenix Park that morning, so I decided that Stony Pass would be my route home. The road all the way up the reservoir was an easy gravel road drive. There was minimal washboarding and barely any potholes and it went really quickly.

Beyond the reservoir, the road deteriorated. There were lots of mud puddles and it was hard to tell just how deep and how muddy some of them were. I hate mud. It makes me nervous when I’m out alone. I’m conservative enough that I don’t feel likely to get stuck on rocks since I can almost always back down something if I can’t get up but mud has the ability to make you actually stuck—especially if, like me, you don’t have a winch. These puddles didn’t really pose too much of a threat but I managed to splash mud all over the Jeep anyway since I was going to “keep up my speed” just to be safe.

Along the way, I ran into a gentleman driving a TJ coming down the road. I backed up into a pullout to let him by when he stopped to get out. “How much further?” he asked. I assumed he was talking about out to the east so I told him, “A-ways.” Turns out he was curious how much further to the top off the pass, the answer to which was also “a-ways.” He’d gotten about a mile further than where we were and turned around because it was “really rough.”

As I’ve discussed before, people’s definition of “rough” varies greatly but I was a little bit nervous since I did not want to drive all the way out and then around on the highway so I just laughed and explained that I lived in Ridgway so I was going to be fairly stubborn about making it over. He shook his head and headed on his way. (Actually, he made the sign of the cross over the hood of the FSJ. I hope he was kidding.)

I continued upward and found his rocky section and had no problem with it—it was simply a sustained (quarter mile?) section of steep and rocky but not anything that needed “crawling” over. The thing that almost made me turn around was actually the mud just before the rocks. I ran into a couple of dirtbikers as I needed to make a crossed up muddy stream crossing and it made me super nervous. Did I mention I hate mud? Seriously, the rocks were a relief!

(I really need to mount the GoPro on the front of the Jeep since capturing what “rough” means photographically is hard when you’re solo and the road demands attention not being a photographer.)

Past the top of the rocky section, it was smooth sailing. There were lots fewer puddles and the road smoothed out a lot. In fact, I’ll probably do this road again, just from the Silverton side and only down to Pole Creek and back.

The road runs right on the northern edge of the Weminuche Wilderness and, along with the adjoining Bear Creek Road and Pole Creek Trail, provides access to some amazing high country.

Even though things had gotten much easier near the top, I heaved a really big sigh of relief when I reached the top. I’d been told by some people that I trusted that the drive from the Silverton side wasn’t that bad (plus it was downhill) so I knew I was home free.

In the end, I’m really glad I drove Stony Pass. Besides the mud (which really wasn’t that bad, I’m just being a whiner) I found it to be something that pretty much any SUV with low range can traverse. There might have been a section or two where a lift might be helpful if you’re not an experienced off road driver but my Jeep only has a small lift and I had no issues.

Creede: Phoenix Park Road

I arrived in Creede mid morning and visited all the galleries and small shops with Sprocket. I also asked anyone I thought might be able give me trail conditions on the Phoenix Park road. At the Forest Service office, the ranger wasn’t particularly helpful but I did pickup a handout that described it as “more difficult.” More difficult isn’t necessarily what one wants to see when you’re driving a vintage Jeep alone but I wasn’t exactly detered. I asked a man who was working at the Historical Society about it and he said he drove it several years ago and it was really rough. Trying to obtain a better read on what it is actually like in comparison to other Colorado trails, I explained that I’m from Ridgway and regularly drive my Cherokee on Engineer Pass.

This, of course, is all a half truth. I did regularly drive my TJ on Engineer but I’m sure when I said “Cherokee” he pictured an XJ (which is exactly what I wanted him to do) and I’ve never driven my FSJ on Engineer.

However, I did get the information I needed: “It’s steep in some places and rocky in others but never at the same time. I did it in a Jeep Cherokee and had no problems. I sent a man from Texas up there in a Wrangler and he said it was the worst road ever.” This sounded absolutely do-able so Sprocket and I headed up that way.

The lower part of East Willow Creek Road was easy to drive and was really pretty—the road was narrow but not steep or rocky. I almost missed the entrance to Phoenix Park Road because it was tiny, looked like a quad trail, and was unsigned. I checked the map twice and realized that, yup, I was going that way. In low range, I crawled up just fine and then the road turned steeply downhill. I hate hate hate going downhill on the way to somewhere. I always like knowing that the route down gets me out not further in but it really didn’t look that bad. We made it all the way out to within about 1/10th of a mile of the road’s end. There, the road crosses the creek but the creek seems to have taken over the road for quite awhile and it is muddy and just pretty much unnecessary to drive.

In the morning, the sky looked fairly threatening and I didn’t feel like hiking in a torrential rain or, worse, getting caught in a thunderstorm. I hemmed and hawed about it for almost a half hour before driving back down to Creede. The drive out was mostly uneventful and I’ll definitely hike from the end of the road when I make it back down to try Phoenix again!

Phoenix Park Road: ~2 miles of rough road where high-clearance is helpful and at least one steep grade where low range is really helpful. I was able to make it in and out in the FSJ without an issues at full highway tire pressure.

4×4 Roads: Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get myself to the top of Wagon Road Ridge to claim the Bookcliff’s high point but that point is really in the middle of nowhere. I attempted to access it from the north at the beginning of May but was turned around because I was on tribal land without the appropriate permit.

I’d done some research on approaching it from Green River, Utah and I was excited to try it from there since I really love exploring the Bookcliffs but there appeared to be no good trail reports on the upper part of Right Hand Tusher Canyon Road. There was one post where the drivers abandoned their attempt mid-way up the road because they figured there was nothing up higher for them and another on that claimed that the road was really terrible and required high-clearance, 4×4, and possibly a locker or traction control.

I finally decided to go for it (and take Amanda along with me for the adventure). Of course, a road of unknown difficulty level is the perfect place to take a vintage Jeep on it’s first off road adventure with you. 🙂

It was a long dirt road that was occasionally a little bit rough but really wasn’t that much of a challenge. I used 4-wheel drive in one place to crawl over a couple of rocks and I used low range 4-wheel drive to drive one step hill with a little bit of a loose, washed out channel. Besides those two places, the road was a really easy drive.

This is the hardest part of the road, the rock is loose to the right and necessitates driving fairly far towards the “edge.” I tried going up with just my hubs locked but found I needed to shift into low range to make it easier. A locker may be helpful here but is certainly not necessary.

Immediately after a rain, I wouldn’t attempt this solo or without a winch since there are a few places that look like they might turn into some slick, deep mud but overall, it was a pretty drive up into the Bookcliffs (that accesses a prominence point! more on that soon!).

Engineer Pass

When thirty minutes after leaving work, even including a pit stop at home to grab your pup and check your mail, you can see this, life is good.

Engineer Pass is often a whole day’s adventure for people visiting the San Juans. A couple of weeks ago, Sprocket and I started over the pass at 6pm to make camp at the Uncompahgre Peak trailhead for the night. Even though for us it’s a standard route to the high country, it definitely didn’t disappoint!

The weather started to turn a bit stormy as we crested the pass. I was glad to be in a jeep rather than on foot:

The leaves falling on the road were also pretty cool looking:

Meet the Lifted Scamp

As with most older Scamps, the original torsion axle was worn out leaving the poor trailer practically on the ground. Even with a new torsion axle it would only sit about 4″ higher. Fortunately, Forrest is a fabricator and was going make this a 4×4 Scamp anyways. So out came the torch!

Using a new 2000 pound leaf spring axle assembly, a new sub-frame assembly, and some matching Jeep wheels, Forrest drew up his plans. The result is really quite amazing: the Scamp sits over a foot higher and tows along behind the Jeep like a dream. Even over large rocks!

Without further ado, 3Up Adventures’ lifted Scamp:

Travesia: Jeeping In Mexico

At 3Up Adventures, we always are on the lookout for something exciting and unique to try so when Forrest’s coworker invited us to join an off-road jeep run in Mexico, we went. We arrived at the designated meeting place an hour early, signed up, and waited. Neither of us speak any Spanish but we managed to make a few friends.

About an hour after we were supposed to meet, things got started. As we started to move out of the gas station, sirens began to blare: we were getting a police escort down the highway through the heart of Sonoyta. As we drove through town, I waved back at the “spectators” enjoying the “parade.”

South of town several miles, we turned west and our trip started for real. It was exciting to drive through a Sonoran Desert that showed it was further south with a different variety of plants. Eventually, we turned off the road and headed cross country, up sand dunes, and through washes. F enjoyed showing off the capabilities of our jeep!

We made camp around three and then went out to play in the sand dunes some more. We’d brought along food for dinner but our hosts wouldn’t hear of us not sharing their feast: we had a yummy bean stew and carne asada tacos. It was delicious!

Wedding, Part 14: Hells Revenge

Amanda, Stacia and I arrived at Sandflats just before 10am. Since no one had arrived at the trailhead, I decided (on F’s suggestion) to take them up and over Baby Lion’s Back. There’s two ways you can approach Baby Lion’s Back, from the front side, you can see what’s coming and it’s a bit less steep. To get to the backside, you head down a sandy trail, make a sharp turn to your left and start climbing steeply. Clearly, I just didn’t really tell anyone what was going on and went the back way. 🙂

(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)

When we arrived at the Hells Revenge trailhead, everyone started to pull in. We had the whole lot to ourselves which was a surprise for a fall Sunday but also a relief as we knew with six vehicles (mostly novice drivers) we were going to be sloowwww.

(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)

F had fun seeing what our little jeep could do (and seeing how much he could scare me in the process).  There were some fears (mostly conquered), some victories (Pat and Cindy should be proud of themselves and their stock FJ Cruiser), only minimal mechanical issues (a broken rear drive shaft) and a lot of fun had by all.

(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)

(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)

(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)
(Amanda Summerlin)

Wedding, Part 2: Steelbender

Wednesday morning we found ourselves with an entire extra day at our disposal (remember we left Monday instead of Tuesday). In the morning we visited with Joyce and Ron, friends F made when he lived in Moab. They fed us coffee cake and were really excited to hear about all of our travels and adventures.

Leaving their house, we took Mill Road to downtown. It was time for us to pick up our marriage license! The clerks were only a bit confused about the fact we already shared a last name but were very happy to congratulate us on our wedding.

Grand County Courthouse

Licensed to wed, we headed back to Danette’s to retrieve Sprocket and make lunch. When we were done eating, we pondered where we could go for the afternoon and settled on taking the Jeep out to Steelbender (or Metal Masher if you’re a mountain biker).

Jeep Trail
Sprocket is a RIDER yo.

Steelbender starts in Mill Canyon. Mill Canyon is a really beautiful place. I really love this first part of the trail.

Mill Canyon
Mill Canyon

After we let Sprocket play in the creek for a little bit, we started the climb out of the valley onto a large flat between the North Fork of Mill Creek and the main fork. We tried to head out the Ken’s Lake exit however there was an eight foot drop that needed to be negotiated and we decided not to attempt it. On our way out, we did the northwestern loop of the trail which afforded us some distant views of Arches National Park.

Wilson Mesa
Jeep descending obstacle on Steelbender

We made our way back out the trail, stopping again to let Sprocket play in the creek. Back at Danette’s we decided to get some takeout sushi (for Danette, Robin and I) and Chinese food (for F and Kirk). Robin and I did some college browsing and we all relaxed on the deck as the sun sank behind the La Sals.