Tag Archives: Ouray

Colorado 2019 – Part 3 – Ophir Pass

Our trip to Ouray in 2019 had hit a major issue.  The Mountain passes were overwhelmed with snow over the past winter.  Even in July, we were looking at passes that traditionally had been open by now that we’re still under 20 feet of snow, trees and avalanche debris.  Regardless of this news, we were still committed to camping and enjoying the area, even if it meant limited trail rides.  

On our second day of the trip, we decided to take a run down to Silverton via the Alpine loop.  The “loop” is a series of trails meshed together that run from Ouray to Silverton, over to Lake City and back.  Silverton is probably the ultimate tourist trap in the rockies.  Short of food and souvenirs, the once thriving mining town doesn’t have much to offer outside of   the main street of town  and  a wonderful assortment of small shops  

Our plans got a jolt when we got to the Loop trail head. 

Close your eyes and picture the worst lightning storm you have ever witnessed…   Then add some green and yellow to the clouds to make it look extra eerie….  Smash that vision between two mountains and visualize a rock strewn mountain pass going right up into the storm.  That’s what we observed at the trailhead to Alpine Loop.  It was nasty.  Something out of Lord of the Rings.  Like looking into Sauron’s all-seeing eyeball. Knowing that the freshly cleared trails were still avalanche strewn and now being washed down with rain and hail did not sound  appealing to any of us.  Especially since we were with our Daughters…  This was not a time to be filled with male bravado and jump into a bad situation in the name of adventure.  

Having been to Ouray a few times over the years, we have been on about every pass in that neck of the woods.  Just a few miles south of this pass on highway 17 was another scenic pass that heads to Telluride.  Ophir Pass.  I am obviously jaded from years of travel in the San Juan’s…  Because I was having a “I’m Bummed we have to take Ophir” moment with the other Dads.  Why?  Because I have this perception the Ophir is kinda lame.  Sorry!  I said it!   

Ophir is a below average trail when it comes to technical concerns.  It’s a loose gravel road with a steady consistency for the whole drive.  At the top of the pass was a great little spot to take a break and let the girls throw snowballs… At their respective Dads!  We grabbed some pictures with the sign and headed down the hill to Telluride.  While I am jaded about this “easy” trail…  My 17 year old daughter thinks it looks pretty scary.  So I did the scariest thing I had done on the whole trip… I put her in the driver’s seat for the drive down to Telluride.  

A few of the switchbacks going down require a multi-point turn on loose gravel…  Looking over a thousand foot drop.  My daughter was stressing and handling it like a champ.  Add this experience to her quiver of life experiences that make her that more confident on the road.  Me moving over to the passenger seat was the best thing that happened that day!

Ophir Pass may have been a tame ride from my veteran perspective, but to my daughter, it was an amazing drive!  Sometimes you need to get out of the driver’s seat and share the adventure.  

Next up, Telluride and cooler disasters!  

Colorado 2019 – Part 2 – Bear!

In 2018, when the Trail Team came out to Ouray… We had scouted out an area for camping on the south side of town, up about halfway on the route out of town.  The spot had not been ideal for one camper in our group with an adventure trailer. (There’s a whole conversation we could have as a sidebar to this post)  The trail to the campsite had a few rough patches of rocks and some sharp elevation changes. This year, with the three 4Runner sans the adventure trailer, we again scouted the area upon arriving to Ouray.  The trail was actually kind of fun, and when we reached the camping area, we found 3 empty spots set beside each other, up against a creek in an empty mountainside valley.  

This new-to-us camp spot was ideal, as we were close to Ouray and all of the local mountain passes.  Ouray is called Little Switzerland for a reason, for a good chunk of the year, its surrounded by snow capped mountains.  In a typical late-June trip, we were going to have our pick of a half dozen mountain trails to head over to the surrounding communities of Telluride, Silverton and Lake City.  

As we setup, the three girls took a walk to large boulder that was about 150 yards away, sitting neatly in the grass near the edge of the woods.  This single rock was as big as a Large Airstream Camper. The girls climbed it and watched us setup camp from their perch. 

Two of us with tents setup on the ground while Don, found a level spot to park his truck to use his rooftop tent (RTT).  Don and I were carrying food prep supplies as well… So we unloaded his custom made “chuck box” and my cooking gear to make the trucks easier to deal with on the trails.  Lets be clear, the trucks could handle the weight of the cargo. What we could not handle being on the trail with all of our gear getting bouncing around and the endless rattles of pots, pans and cutlery!  

At our base-camp for the next three days, we started off every morning with homemade breakfast.  I don’t want to brag, but we made breakfasts that would rival anything we could cook at home. As we have done more and more of these trips, I would be lying if I didn’t say that we are getting more extravagant with our meal prep.  That’s not to say we have elaborate meals, but we are not scared to use real ingredients to get the job done. On a recent trip, two days out in the field, done fixed homemade biscuits and gravy using a dutch oven to cook the biscuits… And his skottle to cook the sausage and gravy.  

Our trip seemed to his a high note on day two when a visitor came close to camp after breakfast.  While cleaning up our breakfast, Sophie yelled “Bear”… We all looked at her with question marks over our heads…  “huh?” “Not possible” all of us Dad’s thought in unison. It wasn’t till she yelled it again that we took her word for it and started looking around.

Sure enough… Sophie had witnessed a decent sized brown bear crossing the pasture in front of our campsite.  He was actually terrifyingly close to the boulder the girls had been playing on that first night of camp setup.  The “what-ifs” start flashing through your head when you think about the vision of your kid being on that rock while a bear would have been way closer than us Dads!  No worries… This guy took a look at us and kept up scooting into the woods towards town.

Dear readers… A bear passing by camp is a bucket-list event.  We have been going out west for over 5 years now, and I have never seen a bear in the wild.  We have camped and driven all over Colorado! So, seeing one in the wild, near our campsite… Well, this is one for the folks back home… We will be telling them all the tales of the bear that visited camp!  (And we have!)

10 minutes later…  Those stories got a whole lot bigger!  Summer, was walking to the backside of the camp when she saw a big brown face looking at her from the blades of tall grass behind Jake’s tent.  It was a bear! Probably that same bear that was passing by a few minutes ago. She yelled! Several, short, shocked yells! The bear backed off and started walking away.  Summer’s yell was a whole different vibe than Sophie’s. Sophie’s had been a fun “hey looky” thing… Summer’s was more of a mortal fear blurt!

What happened next was pure Dad instinct or something…  Don, our California guy proceeded to yell in the loudest and biggest fashion I had ever witnessed.  He puffed up his chest and began a guttural yell that said I pretty sure was meant to freak the bear out.  “Go Away Bear” was the words coming out of his mouth… But it sounded as primal as a dog bark! In the meantime…  I grabbed some pans and followed Don with some banging. I know Jake was doing something as well… But I was transfixed on the location of the bear.  (Sorry Jake!) The bear proceeded to wander down to the stream and disappeared into the woods.  

When the excitement was over…  One thing was clear… The RTT was the preferred location to be when a bear shows up.  We had all three girls up in Don’s tent looking out the window at us. Nobody was taking sanctuary in a ground tent!  NOBODY!  

Was this guy hungry and ferocious…  And possibly looking to recreate a scene from the Revenant?  Not likely.  If you had to guess, this bear is probably closer to Yogi and BooBoo in his habits.  I am not denying the danger of a wild animal like a bear… But this guy was on a route.  The valley where we were staying was a series of camping spots that are probably used quite a bit during the summer season.  This bear, like a Midwestern raccoon, probably runs a route through the campsites looking for scraps that campers left in their fire rings or trash from careless campers.  It was probably no accident that he walked right up to our site. (Another opportunity for a conversation about Leave No Trace could be inserted here!)

This was day two of the trip…  We had to question whether leaving out all of cooking gear in the open was going to be a good idea today.  Again, we don’t want to drive the mountain passes with our gear… But we also don’t want items with the smell of fresh cooked breakfast laying around for the sensitive nostrils of the local wildlife.  What do you do? We cleaned up… Pulled all trash out and left our gear out in the open. If he was going to come back… He could really do whatever he wanted, regardless of how much of the campsite we pulled up.  Who’s to say he wouldn’t sniff something on a tent from a camp out years ago? (Again, more conversations about the dangers of eating in your tent, or sleeping in clothing that you have cooked in could be added.)

When we came back that night from our short day on the trail to Telluride (Part 3, coming soon-ish) the campsite was pitch black.  We turned into the campsite, looked the site over with our headlights, and found everything in order. It was doubtful that our new found friend had come back, or that any of his other friends had swung by.  A quick inspection verified the lack of wild animals frolicking in our tents or cooking  gear. That was a relief.  

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that sleeping that night in my Cabella’s ground tent was done with a slight tinge of trepidation, knowing that a giant man eating bear with razor sharp claws could be plotting to eat my daughter and I alive during the night!  Exaggeration? Maybe. But when you hear creaks and snaps in the woods around your tent… You wonder what the intentions are of the beast that is making all that racket. Fortunately, we made it through the night with no incidents.  

Trail Team Adventure 2018 – 300 and Poughkeepsie Gulch

Working in a car dealership with a bunch of car and truck loving guys and gals means that we routinely tell tall tales of triumphs and failures of our auto exploits.  

We can tell you stories of a Sales Manager going off the pavement and spinning out in our brand new SCCA FRS…  We can also tell you all about the trip where our 2010 4runner that we call “Treehugger” got its name. But one of our favorite stories to tell is of our technician, Dustin Harper and his adventure on “the Wall” with our “shop” truck called “300”.  The telling of Harper’s failure at the “Wall” on Poughkeepsie Gulch, Colorado usually results in raised voices and accusations of poor driving or poor spotting. All we know is that watching Harper’s blood pressure rise during conversation ensures that this story will be around for many years to come.  

It’s been four years since our initial foray into off-roading and overlanding in the great state of Colorado.  We started off with a few “stock” trucks and made our way to FJ Summit 8 for a crash course in mountain passes and some of the most scenic views in the United States.  One trip to the mountains and you are hooked. Prepare for many more visits in your future.

Since that first expedition… Our little group of three trucks has grown.  We have had as many as 8 trucks with us at TLCA events near and far from our home base in Pekin Illinois.  Inevitably, when we are around a campfire with friends or strangers, this story about 300 at the “Wall” comes up.

The Battle of Poughkeepsie  

It all started on our second venture to FJ Summit 9 in 2015.  Our group of travelers had grown to 5 trucks and now included a few technicians along with an advisor and the Service Manager.  Dustin, one of the techs, had worked countless hours on our shop truck, “300” it get it prepared for the long journey to Ouray. This young tech had taken a broken down 2000 Toyota Tacoma, with the help of other techs in the shop, created a formidable 4×4 trail rig.  We dubbed the 300,000 truck with the name of “300”. We even duplicated the movie logo for the fenders of the truck.

300 made its way to Ouray Colorado and proceeded to chew up trails all over Summit 9.  It would appear that the Wheeling Gods had blessed this little truck conquer every obstacle in its path.  

Until a fateful day at Poughkeepsie Gulch that would go down in infamy for Dustin and 300.

Our small troop of trucks made an unscheduled run to the top of a trail called Poughkeepsie Gulch.  PG is known as one of the toughest trails in the Ouray area. Not because of the trail itself, but because of its famous final barrier, ominously known as “The Wall”.  The wall is a two jagged slabs of rock faces that are divided by a large fissure that can gobble up wheels and make “The Wall” nearly unbeatable. On this day in 2015, we watched a 3rd gen 4Runner roll down on its side and brake all of its windows.  This is not a walk in the park by any means! (Also of note, in 2015 the “go around” was not available as it is now)

Our small group of 4Runners and FJ Cruisers had made it past the obstacle.  Some easier than others… Style point matter little on this hill. All that was left was for 300 to run up to the top like it had all week everywhere else.  

What happened next is a story that might be best told by the “Spotter” or the “Spotted”.  “Woody” from Ih8mud.com had donated his time that day to help out all the trail runs from FJ Summit on their spotting needs while trying to run the Wall.  Spotting an obstacle like this is a thankless job and anyone who takes it probably doesn’t do it two years in a row. It takes at least a year to forget all the grumpy drivers who can’t handle being told that they are holding up the line and cannot make it up without being “winched”.

Harper setup “300” on a line that Woody pointed him too.  Once set, Harper floored it. The truck didn’t make it up a ¼ of the way.  It wasn’t a spectacular looking attempt, in fact, you might call it underwhelming   Woody called out and asked Harper if his “locker” was on. Harper said that it was…  He retreated backward to make another attempt.

Getting up the Wall at Poughkeepsie is also a great opportunity to do some mathematics about altitude and horsepower.  At sea level when it was brand new the 2000 Tacoma made 190 hp. 300’s stock 3.4liter engine with 320,000 miles (Never overhauled) was probably a few ponies down from age.  Use the factor of 3% loss for every 1000 feet above sea level and you have a 36% loss of engine power. Even when new… That means the truck would have been sitting at 121 hp.  Add some oversized tires that have been deflated to 15 psi… And you have the recipe for a “dog”.

But that’s Ok…  In the game of mountain driving and wheeling… Slow and steady will win the race. FJ40’s are some of the biggest dogs on the trail and are known for their trail prowess.   Rarely do we need to have raw power at the top of a mountain. This spot is the exception. The Wall demands you get a little momentum on the rock face.

Attempt number two did not end much differently than the first one.  Harper had followed Woody’s line, but he was still not making it up the rock face.  Harper started to ask for a different line but Woody refused and told him that 300 was going to need to be winched.  

It didn’t take long before you could feel the the seething and hatred pouring out of the cab of 300.  Too the defense of both individuals… A lot more was going on beyond the Spotter and the Spotted.

Harper was an experienced driver with a truck that didn’t look like much on the outside.  Even to the studied eye of Woody, “300” looked unprepared for the Wall. Harper had the knowledge and experience that he probably should have been given another shot on the line he wanted.  But that wasn’t going to happen.

Harper could not see what Woody saw behind “300”… a growing lineup of trucks waiting their turn.  To complicate the situation, the overcast sky started spitting rain. A little bit of moisture on these rocks can make this hazard flat dangerous and far more time consuming if everyone needs to be winched up.   Woody was making a call that took every driver into consideration. It’s the kind of call that loses popularity contests!

This is where the story sat for the past two years.  Harper and 300 had to be pulled up “The Wall”. Constant ribbing and laughs have been pointed at Harper from every driver that has made “The Wall”.  Even folks who had never seen the rockface knew that this was one of Harper’s biggest regrets from our trips out west. Bringing this story up with Harper induces flashbacks and repressed memories that will start a flood of obscenities and excuses of what happened that day.  

Since then, Harper has taken 300 to countless off road events and parks.  In 2017 he traveled all the way to the Mojave Desert in the little truck that will not quit…  He has also run about every obstacle in Moab (Including a hot tub or two). He knows this truck.  

This past summer the Fort’s Trail Team once again made its way out to Colorado with several trucks.  At this point, we now bring customers with us as well. The planned run to Poughkeepsie Gulch was obviously the most anticipated stop of the trip.  On July 18th we made our way back to the scene of the past failure. There was an audience in tow with 300 that were looking for a front row seat to a redemption… Or a serious personal meltdown.  Either way… Everyone was sure that they would be entertained.

A couple trucks in our caravan this time around were sporting V8 engines and led the way… Even at 12,000 feet, those high powered trucks made “The Wall” look more like a traffic hump.   A couple V6 Gen 5 4runners were next… It was a little more struggle, but ATRAC proved its worth and they were up and over with little drama. Now came the defining moment of Harpers off-road reputation.  Was Woody right? Was this obstacle too much for 300? Would Harper make it on his own line?

Golfers lining up their puts take take less time than Harper when he finally got his chance to set up.  He was out of the truck several times making sure he liked the “line”. Nobody but Dustin was going to make the call on what approach to take.  

In and out of the cab…. Setting it up just perfect… And then…. Just a few seconds later, a momentous roar came up from the peanut gallery.  300 loped and flexed its way up and had bested the rockface. The audience cheered a hero’s welcome. Harper pulled the truck to a clearing and hopped out.  

The glow that exuded from Dustin was nearly blinding!  For years he had waited for this moment. While he had the confidence in his truck and his ability to get the job done, sometimes gravity and physics have their own barriers that faith just cannot break through.

Dustin’s grin was nearly contagious.  Everyone, and mean everyone, adults, kids, friends and complete strangers felt the electricity of the moment.  It was high fives and reviews from everyone about how well he and the little truck had done. This was worth the drive from Illinois by itself!  

It would a slight fib to say that we dont enjoy giving grief to Dustin anymore about the past failure.  Even a couple months later its still exciting to see him grin and talk about this moment of personal accomplishment.  We can consider this story now closed with an appended, happy ending.

The story of “300”

IMG_0556
300 at the top of Black Bear Pass

In April of 2015  we traded for a tired little Tacoma.  We had sold this 4 door V6 Tacoma new in 2002 and it then proceeded to roll to 315,000 miles before being traded in.  The truck ran pretty good for 300,000 miles.  It was hard to fault it on outward appearance only.

Underneath lurked the biggest problem with this truck.  The Tacoma was nearly sway-back from a rusted frame.  Salt from midwest winters had slowly eaten away at the frame over the last decade leaving it in a precarious condition.  This truck, while in decent exterior condition was ready for the auto auction and an uncertain future.

300 Before
The core truck before modifying

As the Tacoma sat on the back row…  The employee members or Fort’s Trail Team inquired with the sales manager about it.  The truck was a V6, 4×4 with factory rear differential lock.  After getting more info about what was needed, we decided that it could be an amazing project.

Could we take this old Tacoma with heaps of miles and bring it back to a fully safe and drivable condition?

After talking about the project with the owner of the dealership, Mike Fort, he came up with a bigger idea yet…  Have this truck ready to go to FJ Summit in Ouray Colorado by July!  We offered the two technicians who were involved with restoring the truck the opportunity to take it to FJ Summit and drive it to the tops of the Colorado Rockies on some of the most famous 4×4 trails in the nation.

They were all in.  The techs came up with a name; Project “300” was born!

It would have been a lot easier project if money were no object and they were given a blank checkbook.  We had to keep it reasonable!  The goal was to get the truck running mechanically sound and make minor modifications that would help in Colorado.  The ultimate goal was to bring it back to Illinois and show off what a 300,000 mile truck could do without a ton of modifications.

Step 1:  Remove the body from the frame.  This was the longest process.  The purpose being to send the frame out to the local welding shop for frame repairs.

Step 2:  Upgrade and fix anything that needs repaired for drivability.  Valve covers, spark plugs, timing belt, control arms, brake lines, ebrake cables, headlight restoration..  You name it…  We fixed it.  The last thing you want at 13,000 feet is a breakdown.

Step 3:  Make upgrades to the suspension and tires.  While it would not out of the realm of possibility to do all of FJ Summit completely “stock”.  We decided that an Icon Variable Lift setup with taller tires would make the trip into the mountains a lot easier.

Step 4:  Drive the heck out of it before getting to Colorado.  This was hard to do, as we finished the project with 2 weeks to spare!  The drive alone was 1000 miles to Ouray.

We left with a truckload of youthful bravado on July 10th for the rockies from Central Illinois.  The truck did well…  Until North Platte Nebraska.  We had a breakdown that required immediate attention.  The crank pulley was lost on I80 and now the truck had no power from the alternator.

Now, we could go into a blame-game about who was supposed to check that..  But it would detour us from a great segue about Premier Toyota in North Platte.  As our truck limped off the interstate, we were able to catch a technician working in the shop at 4:55 on a Saturday.  He had a crank pulley in his box from an older Tacoma!   There were a few complications, but the tech, Tim, stuck it out all night and helped the guys.  The General Manager, Dave, heard the story, and he was on board as well.  By Sunday afternoon, the road trip was back on.

IMG_0192
Minutes before the North Platte breakdown!

“The little truck that could” blazed a trail to Leadville and run Mosquito pass without incident before heading to Ouray and FJ Summit 9.

After the “Platteville Incident”, as it is now called, and successful runs at Mosquito Pass and some other trail runs, 300 had built a small following on Facebook.  It was becoming battle tested.

At FJ Summit, 300 was scheduled to run Imogene Pass, Black Bear Pass and Poughkeepsie Gulch.  Imogene was a great start to the “Summit”.  Lots of driving and beautiful surroundings.  Not a whole lot to get stressed about.  Black Bear is a lot of hype for the most part.  But it is dangerous if you are a rookie driver without spotters or have a vehicle with run-down equipment.  This is not a place to have an axle go bad or lose a tie rod!  300 did amazing on a very soggy and muddy Black Bear.

IMG_0607
The “Wall” at Poughkeepsie Gulch

The last official run at Summit was Poughkeepsie.  This was pretty exciting, by trail rating it’s the toughest run at Summit.  The final hurdle on this trail is a rock ledge called “The Wall”.  Its such a formidable opponent that permanent winch points are installed to assist in the recovery you will likely need to get on top.  We were in a group of 12 trucks Saturday morning…  Of that group…  Only 3 got up the “Wall”.  300 was not one of them.  Dustin, the head technician on the 300 project was driving that day and to say he was distraught by this would be an understatement.  The stars had seemed to line up at every moment for this truck.  Every obstacle had been run down literally and figuratively to get this truck to Ouray!  How could it fail now???

It was not a fail.  300 had accomplished its goal.  A 300,000 mile truck with little hope for the future was brought back from the dead and given a new lease on life.  At a total cost of just over $6,000.00, it had competed with trucks that cost 10x what it did to run at FJ Summit.  It was just one more point proven to us that Toyota makes the most solid truck in the world.

IMG_0532
Dustin and Drew, the project Technicians.

300 now rests comfortably on our lot at Fort’s Toyota of Pekin (until its next trail event).  The truck is a testament to the quality of product we see everyday at the store.  We are happy to show it off!  Please come out and take a look!

Eric Stahl, Fort’s Trail Team