Colorado Backroads 2000 (Part 3)
by K
en Womack

SPLAINíS GULCH

 

                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.

 

DAISY PASS

 

                The next day, Evelyn and Andy were still not ready to Ďwheel, so I chose to run alone again with Blaze (our dog).  I wanted to run some spur trails I had seen on the way to Schofield Pass, but these turned out to be hiking trails. On the way back down I saw the sign for Daisy Pass.  I turned off to start the incline. This road was pretty cool! It was very similar to Gunsight Pass, but turned out to be tougher. When we got to where the creek crossed the trail, the road got steeper and tougher with some large rocks. It wasnít too tough, but would make it hard for ďstockersĒ.  I passed some fine waterfalls and some very green meadows with wildflowers.  I saw some deer also.  They paid little attention to us, though Blaze was eager to chase.

 

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.

 

IRON CHEST

 

Formanís Bunkhouse and Iron Chest Mine

 

                This trail was one I had read about several years ago, and was always in the back of my mind.  When I first read of this trail, my Jeep was not equipped to do it. But time changes things and I was ready!!  This trail is not marked. If you donít know where it is, you wonít find it!   Itís a hardcore trail only. Itís in Charles Wellís Colorado Trail Book.  Donít run this trail alone!  Itís too tough to do alone, as trouble is a definite possibility.  Also, you must have 33Ē or larger tires, lockers front and rear, a winch and you should have low gears.  I had all these except the low gears. 

                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 motorhomes. 

                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. 

                Much of the mine machinery is still there, for it would be too difficult to steal it due to the extreme condition of the road.  Only ďYahooĒ Jeepers and hikers can traverse this road. We explored several cabins and mines as well as the tram that carried the ore to the process mills in the valley below.  I had finally made it to the Iron Chest and I felt very good about it!  It was cool!  We enjoyed the visit and then headed back down. 

 

Menís Bunkhouses and Mess Hall

 

On 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...