Backroads 2000 (Part 3)
by Ken Womack
Well, after swearing off 4-wheeling for one day
(after the Taylor Pass, Italian Creek and Goat Mtn. Run), I just had to
break my promise. You see after doing 40 miles in low range, and another
90 miles on dirt roads and pavement with only 30 min. sleep, I thought I
knew I would rest ALL the next day. Well, we started out early with a trip
to Gunnison to shower up and wash clothes. Then we would stop by ďFru-
FruĒ Village to shop and chill. I personally got so frustrated with the
prices there that we left and went back to camp where I cooked pork chops
and all the trimmings. Most of the stores had the same things you could
buy at the Pasadena Arts and Crafts Mall, but at double the price. There
was a store that had REAL antiques and collectables at somewhat reasonable
prices and a hometown brewery that made some really good beer and was
decorated Old West. Those two were the only good places for me.
So after cooking and eating, I had the wanderlust again! Splainís Gulch was very close.
So off Blaze and I went to check out this short trail (road). Only
a 1/4 mi. up was an interesting mine in good shape.
I decided to check it out on the return trip, the gulch was one
way. The road started out easy, got a little rougher, but still easily
done with most stock rigs. About 1 1/2 mi. up was a really nice camping
area (free). Some folks had setup camp and were enjoying the seclusion.
The road got a little harder past the camp, but was no problem.
It was really nice and cool, running through dense pine forest.
Then I came to a fork in the road, I took the right fork, which led
to many little spur trails. I
took a few, but they led to nothing spectacular.
I found one that went for a long ways, too long for the amount of
light I had left. We went back and took the other fork and ran until we
found some old cabin foundations. On the return trip we stopped by the
mine to explore and take pics. I
even went into the mine, but not too far.
We got back to camp at dark and built our nightly fire and relaxed.
Waterfall on Daisy Pass
On up, the road became very narrow and I saw little need to go any
further. Just then a Ď96
Toyota Land Cruiser came easing up the trail.
He and his wife were taking video and asked how far up the road
went. I told him it went way up, but looked unstable.
He decided to go down too, after taking a break.
Blaze and I went on down the switchbacks until we saw a Ford
Explorer on the way up. He
stopped and began backing down. I
watched him for several minutes wondering if I should go down to spot for
him, but he appeared to being doing fine. Well, just then he backed over a
huge boulder and got high centered.
I went down to help and he was skewered on a 3 foot by 2 1/2 ft.
boulder. I got out the
Hi-lift, and hooked up the winch cable to his rig so it wouldnít fall as
we were jacking it up. We tried hard to pull away the boulder, but it was
too heavy (about 350 lbs.). Just
then the Land Cruiser driver came down. We took my tree strap and wrapped
it (choker) around the rock and used the bar from the Hi-Lift thru the
eyes to pull with. With 3 people we were able to pull the boulder out from
under the Explorer. Needless
to say he was happy! We all ventured down the mountain knowing we had fun
and had helped our fellow man.
Formanís Bunkhouse and Iron Chest Mine
This trail I knew I would run, but thought I would have to wait for
the SWFWDA run, which wouldnít start until Thursday and this was Sunday.
We had already moved from Lake Irwin to the KOA in Buena Vista on
Saturday, setup camp, washed the Jeep and took the top off.
I was ready for a trail! I
saw The Junkyard Dog, Thadeus Williamís Jeep in camp, so I knew we would
run something together this week. When I saw him, we talked (kind of
anyway). You see, Thad had a
throat operation and is unable to speak, so he writes everything down on a
writing pad. He told me he
was pre-running trails for his club, a Motor Home 4-wheeling club that
travels the USA, running trails and camping and convoying in their
Thadís friend Don Jones and his grandson Travis Martin were here
also. Thad told me he and Don wanted to run Iron Chest on Sunday!
I was in luck!!! I
Thought I would have to wait, but doing Iron Chest with a small group
would be better than a group of 5 or 10.
Thad and I met with Don and Travis Sunday morning at 9 and we were
off for the 13 mile run to the trailhead.
Don and Thad had both run it before, but not recently.
Don Jones is 83 years old! and is still rock crawling! He says he
loves it and doing what he loves keeps him young. After running with him,
Iíve decided to take better care of myself, cause I want to still
4-wheel in my later years, God willing.
We locked hubs and put our Jeeps in low range and eased up the
trail. The start of the trail
is a good indicator of the kind of trail Iron Chest is.
It is intense! Huge boulders, ledges and washes start right from
the beginning and run hard, very hard the first 1/4 mi., the next is only
slightly easier. Low gears
are really necessary. Thad
had an NV4500 and 4.88 gears with 35ís.
Don had a T-18 and 4.56ís with 33ís.
I had a stock tranny and 4.56 gears, just barely low enough for the
uphill part. Actually I did
ok, but it wasnít pretty like it would have been with lower gears.
Old Supply Cabin
After the first half mi. the trail eased up some and we encountered
the remains of an old log cabin. The
walls were left standing, but the rest was gone.
We saw some old stove doors and some bedsprings.
On up we went until we saw an old supply cabin.
Soon we would see the dynamite shack and in the distance, the Iron
Chest Mine and itís bunkhouse cabins and mess hall cabin.
The buildings up here were made of boards not logs because of the
intense road, and their weight savings, as everything here was packed up
by mules run by teamsters.
Menís Bunkhouses and Mess Hall
down the trail, I did not see Thad behind me.
I radioed to Don that I would wait for Thad. I waited 5 minutes,
didnít see or hear him, so I got out and walked, as turning around was
only possible in certain spots. I
walked 1/8 mi. when I saw The Junkyard Dog half way off the shelf road in
a VERY precarious position!! Thad
had pulled out his cable and run it around a tree only to discover his
winch NOT working. I asked him what happened, and he said, he lost his
trail vision momentarily and run off the road.
Since Thad was very experienced, I knew another question wasnít
necessary, just a quick trip back to get my Jeep.
Then Jeep Thrills wouldnít start!
The dragging starter was giving out and Donís jump cable would
not reach. Next was a pull
start and a long back up to turn around.
Don came also to the rescue. It
would take all of us to get Thadís Jeep back on the road.
It had slipped a couple of inches in the time it took to get back
to him. I pulled up to a rock
ledge embedded in the hillside and turned the wheel inside to be against
it when winching. Travis took
my 25í strap to wrap around a large tree.
I followed with the winch cable and the snatch block.
We ran the cable thru the pulley and pulled it down to Thad. A quick hookup to the back bumper and a pull got him secured.
But we had trouble getting Donís winch to work!
We just couldnít get the winch brake to hold, so I had to winch
Thadís Jeep all the way up on the road.
The plan was for me to pull him up, then Don pull his front up.
We finally got the winch working, eased up my cable and pulled The
Junkyard Dogís front end up and onto the road.
Whew!!! What a relief!
I knew Thadeus was relieved, too! Teamwork, experience and having
the right equipment got our comrades Jeep back on the road again.
But it does go to show you that no matter how experienced you are,
you can still make mistakes. And all that maintenance I did could not predict a bad
starter. And Thadís winch
not working, well you see my point. Things
can and do happen and sometimes at the worst moments.
All worked out well and we completed the last hard bottom leg in
light rain. Going down was
much worse that up for me. It
was clutch, brake, boom! all the way the last 1/4 mi.
Not a pretty sight. After
we finished the trail, we knew we did well, were all closer and happier
for the experience. I
definitely knew I was, for I had done the legendary Iron Chest Trail!
-- Ken Womack...