Colorado Backroads 2000 (Part 4)
by K
en Womack

This was the last trail for me to run in Colorado for the Colorado Backroads 2000 series. The best trail (Road, they are all Roads) was the last, both in scenery and challenge. This was the second trail for me to run with folks from the SWFWDA run in Salida. It was about a 75 mile drive to the trailhead and only 4 brave souls wanted to make the long journey from camp. I was one, and was not disappointed.

                Evelyn and Andy decided not to run this one, as it would make for a long day, maybe too long. I had a feeling something on “Jeep Thrills” might break before days end, so I left Evelyn the trailer keys and told of a possible call and rendezvous time to pick me and the Jeep up if necessary. Luckily “Jeep Thrills” held up for the entire round trip of 150 paved miles and 8 miles of the most beautiful scenery combined with one of the more famous hard-core Jeep Roads in Colorado.

                The day started by lining up for the Trail ride. Ours left the earliest and there were just 4 of us.  The trail leader Barry (Bear) Harrison, Chuck Peeples our tail gunner, Steve Kruse and myself.  Bear has a built Scout with a 401, automatic, heavy-duty axles and low gears. Chuck has a TJ with a 4.0, Dana 44 with 4.56 gears and ARB’s front and rear with a winch. Steve has a 2-door full size Cherokee with a 360 c.i. V-8, an automatic and 4.56 gears with 35” tires.  “Jeep Thrills” has a 4-cylinder, stock transfer case, Warn heavy-duty one-piece axles and hub kit with 4.56 gears and lock-rights in both ends and a stock Dana 35 rear axle. A Ramsey winch and 33 X 9.50 tires round it out. We were well equipped and well led. Bear was an excellent trail leader. Had he have been around 150 years ago, He could have led a wagon train of settlers cross-country. Chuck was a very good ‘gunner as well.  

We arrived at the Trail Head at 9:40, aired down, locked hubs and shifted to 4 low and went up.  The fun started immediately with a steep climb up a very narrow road. It was rough, too, seldom could I get past 3rd gear in low range. I would rate this trail a 4 on the SHR 5 scale to Frenchy’s Creek and a 5 past that, especially past the town site. The first major obstacle was a large rock outcropping with a ledge that tipped you hard to the left, towards a large pine tree. Vehicles with hardtops often do damage to their rigs here. I just cleared the tree. It was fun, though a little off camber. Shortly past that was a steep rock ledge that you had to pick the exact line to climb it. You need clearance and traction for this one, but there was better stuff ahead.

                Next were two slightly off camber rocks to cross just before crossing Frenchy’s Creek. This is the spot that separates well-equipped rigs from those that are not. Your tires are wet from crossing the creek, then you have to climb a large rock and a ledge then down another. You almost have to climb a short wall of rock to get high enough to clear the rock and ledge.  

Bear and Steve at Frenchy’s Creek 

Bear made this obstacle look easy and was out quickly to spot for Steve, and then me followed by Chuck. Steve’s Cherokee did pretty well, though there was some rock stacking going on, for all of us. I was next, but I sure wished I’d had some lower gears!  I made it with some help from my new friends, but it wasn’t that easy. Chuck did quite well, picking the right line the first time and following through.  

Steve’s “Moby” past the creek 

                After the Creek Crossing we traveled through what was once a mud bog and a source of conflict between land managers and 4-wheelers. This area used to be a mess, but the Big Horn Jeep Club of Denver as well as several others worked to stabilize this area, building it up and fencing the road to prevent further damage. Now it is passable and the fence is attractive. The road remains open as long as no one strays from it. Stay on the road Folks! From here the road mellows some and allows one to consume the awesome beauty of the area. Surrounded by 14,000 ft. mountains, blue sky, tall pines and pretty wildflowers, you feel as if you were on top of the world!

                Next we came up to what was once the Holy Cross Mill. Several steam boilers, a few ore cars and some twisted steel was all that remained, but really was much more than what remains of other mill sites. You see, easier roads have less remains because it was easier to haul things away, as was done during WWII for steel scrappage.  

The Mill just below the “City 

This road is so intense that little was hauled off here. We paused to explore some and then drove up to the Holy Cross City. Only two cabins and some foundations remain. We ate lunch here and I got to explore the old cabins and take some video.  

    

                              

                The city lies in a pretty meadow with wildflowers all around. This was a perfect place for a break, just before the real obstacles of the last 1/4-mile and Cleveland Rock.  After lunch, we went up the last 1/4-mile. There are 3 obstacles here, the third being the hardest. The first was a steep off-camber climb up solid rock. Sliding off here would mean a rollover down a bank and into the creek. Wouldn’t be a pretty sight!  A spotter was essential for picking and following the right line, which was way to the left. Bear again, was excellent, getting us over. Next was another ledge and outcropping, harder than the first, but not off camber. We worked together to get all of us over. 

Chuck on the obstacle before Cleveland Rock 

                Next was another ledge and outcropping, harder than the first, but not off camber.  We worked together to get all of us over.

Next was the Granddaddy!  Cleveland Rock, the last huge ledge before the road ends 1/4 mi. below Cleveland Lake.  It was about 6 feet high!  And nearly vertical! There appeared no easy line. Every angle was intensely steep. Bear’s Scout’s fuel injection quit and he worked on it. He said it sometimes would quit and then work after cooling off. Trying to start it a little later worked, and Bear was working on climbing this wall of rock. With Chuck spotting, and a few attempts, Bear ambled up this giant ledge, the 401 roaring and 35 in. mud tires biting and clawing. It was a most impressive sight to say the least!  

Bear on Cleveland Rock  

                Next was Steve and his full-size Cherokee nicknamed Moby Jeep. Well this whale could climb!  The long wheelbase helped, but the rear overhang would hurt going up, dragging the rear bumper and quarter panel. Steve made several attempts, but his carb was loading up just before making it up. Using the engine against the brakes and building up horsepower gradually with the auto tranny and a final burst of power got Steve up after several attempts and some well placed rocks.

I was next picking what looked like the best line. I nearly made it up the second attempt cleanly, but slipped into a crevice with one of my pizza cutters. (One of the few limitations of the narrow tires.) I had to back down and make 3 or 4 more attempts and each time sliding into the crack. With better-placed rocks, I finally scrambled up. I was Happy!!!! Chuck was next. He picked a different line and would nearly make it, but kept losing traction near the top. Bear worked on different lines before Chuck’s TJ made it up to the same crevice I slipped into.  It took us nearly 2 hours to get 4 rigs over 1/4 mile of obstacles!  And that’s with no flat tires or breakdowns (except for Bear’s fuel injection pause). Gives you the idea of what kind of trail this is. Two guys on 4-wheel drive ATV’s were following us up, but didn’t think they could make Cleveland Rock. Bear said we would help them, and we did. Bear could probably get a Cadillac over this trail! (JUST KIDDING!)   One ATV’er rolled over, but was ok, except for a sore arm. After about 35 minutes, we got them over. 

The end of the trail… 

The trail ends abruptly after Cleveland Rock with a Wilderness Boundary and a closed sign. A fence prevents further travel, but you can walk the 1/4-mile up to the Lake for an awesome view. We heard on the CB of another group of ‘Wheeler’s coming up. It was 2:30 pm and we had to go all the way down, so we didn’t do the walk. We had a much easier time going down, but it was hairy in spots! A final look at the City and the mill had us going down the road.  We soon met up with the group coming up. One Jeep had power steering problems. The pump went out.  Bear said it was too late to go further and that he would need his power steering. He agreed and they turned around. We took the escape route avoiding the last mile of road. Airing up in a hikers parking lot and rest break had us leaving at about 5:00 pm. 

                A pause in Leadville for some ice cream at Wild Bill’s and a 2-hour drive and we were back in Salida.  I was exhausted but happy, content in knowing that my 2 weeks in Colorado had ended with a successful trip to Holy Cross City.

What a way to end 2 weeks of glorious 4-wheeling, hiking, exploring, and rafting, with my Family and Friends. Many Thanks to Bear, Chuck and Steve as well as The New Mexico 4-Wheelers for hosting another fine event in beautiful Colorado.

Happy Trails to You!

                                                                              

                                              Ken Womack...