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Sawatch Mtns & Arkansas Valley: Salida, CO Pictures & Trip Report

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Did you guys have the best cabin or were they all totally cool right next to the river like that? Were you allowed to swim in that river?


not sure if you could swim, people were standing in it fishing though!


they cabin was neat looking and perfectly located, but EXTREMELY rustic (i.e. lots of bugs inside), and no A/C with small windows made it get way hot during the day. the other "Pioneer" cabin was just down river from us 100 feet. the "Deluxe" cabins were up away from the river further, but still with a good view. I'll wait and let defectivemonk tell you what he thought of the "Deluxe" accommodations ;)

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Day 1 - Saturday 7/28/2012


Morning comes too soon! We wanted to hit the road by 4 AM and since I still had a few work emails to send and a few things left to pack into the jeep, we were up at 2:30. We did get rolling right at 4, with everything packed and secured well (hopefully)!


There are 2 great benefits to leaving before dawn - no traffic, and the sunrise:




Just as I'm ready to nod off from that McDonalds breakfast, the sun starts to creep up and I get a zap of energy. 830 miles, bring it on! Then suddenly I hear from the back seat, "I don't feel good!" - and so over to the shoulder we swerve...




Apparently even with Dramamine, it's just too early to be doing 80 uphill on a curvy freeway! Fortunately Brady just needed to walk it off, no puke (yay)!


Somewhere just into NM, I got a call from a client that "the websites are all down!!!!" - excellent! At the next little town, I had 3G and managed to use our tablet to remote in and fix the issue. The little bit of work encroaching on vacation only cost us about 30 minutes, not too bad.


I also noticed the Jeep idling a little rough at that stop. Doing the self-test, I only got codes for both knock sensors, but no root-cause code. Later I decided that pushing a fully loaded rig to do 80 MPH with 5.13 gears was just asking a bit much and perhaps I should do as the gas door "recommends" and go with premium octane! That seemed to fix the problem, and after 2 tank fill-ups with premium, the rough idle never came back and no MIL light ever came on.


Somewhere just into Colorado, Brady's stomach decided it didn't like this state either and we had another momentary curb stop. This time I found 2 grasshoppers humping to keep me entertained while he walked it off!




We got some heavy rain as we left Pueblo, CO - but only for a few minutes. The foul weather made way for a beautiful sunset. After over 14 hours on the road, it was nice of someone above to light the way to camp for us:




Seriously, camp really was just past those sunrays! We pulled in to Sweetwater River Ranch just as the sun set, and they were getting ready to close the office. Marcia at the front desk was just putting together an envelope to leave for us on the front door as I walked in.


We drove the few yards over to our cabin and before long we were un-packed and ready for some sleep!

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Day 2 - Sunday


The recurring theme for this trip was "Plan B"...


Originally we were going to run our only difficult rated trail on the first day, Cinaman Gulch. With several people dropping out last minute due to circumstances beyond their control, we ended up with only 3 rigs - my highly modified WJ, a stock 2012 JK Rubicon Unlimited, and a slightly lifted CJ with a locker. None of us had a winch, and I knew that neither of the other drivers were into any sort of body damaged. Those facts coupled with hearing that the trail had gotten tougher than described over the past couple years led me to a new plan.


I met a nice guy name Rob on JeepForum that was from Texas but going to be staying in the same general area of CO as us during the same week. He also knew a local guy and had arranged for us all to run some more moderate trails on Sunday together.


Unfortunately, I got word from Chris (defectivemonk on the forum, with the JK) that he has been in a non-moving traffic jam for 4 hours Friday and never made it out of California (he was coming from San Francisco). Him and his wife Amy wouldn't be arriving till around 10 AM on Sunday, well past the time we were supposed to meet Rob and the locals.


Onto Plan C or B-2 or whatever ;) I called and canceled with Rob and Told Jim (goldigger on here, with the CJ) that we'd just run an easy short trail whenever Chris managed to get to camp and get unpacked.


So that's the backstory for how we ended up on Hermit Pass trail!




We saw plenty of the above, fields bordering huge mountains... these particular ones are the Sangre de Christo range.


Once onto dirt/gravel, we stopped to air down... Chris forgot his deflators so I loaned him 2 of mine for the rest of the trip. I mention this not to pick on Chris, but just to point out that if you forget something, just ask - usually someone can help. There was a trip once with another club where a guy nearly froze all night because he forgot his sleeping bag and was afraid to ask anyone if they had anything extra!




The wildflowers in this area weren't nearly as abundant as on our previous trip to the Ouray area, kind of dissapointing. Still there were a few here and there:






I should mention Aimee was on camera and navigator duty for 90% of the entire trip, and she did great! She even had to take over and drive some trails that were beyond her comfort level at one point, but that's a story for a later part of the report!


Though clouds like this were typical the entire week, we only really encountered one good downpour while wheeling.




Notice the bands of missing trees on the hill in the following picture. A ski resort opened here in 1978, but it failed for multiple owners and finally all of the equipment was dismantled and sold in 1996.




There were a large number of downed trees on all of the trails we ran. Fortunately they had all been cleared and we never had to resort to pulling down the ax. This trail was however one of the few where you could pass someone on most of it. Many other trails we ran had significant sections that were extremely narrow to put it mildly!




We stopped for lunch in a little area with picnic tables and a 5 minute walk to a small but scenic waterfall.










Closer to the summit, the trail went from a car-accessible graded road to a slightly rougher but still 2wd trail.




As we neared the treeline, a couple of peaks came into view.




It was an excellent easy trail for us to get warmed up on. Here's me just chillin, enjoying driving with the tunes turned down low in the background, and the fresh mountain air - and glad to be out of the Phoenix 100+ temps!




Close to the top, the pace slowed a bit, there was little dust, and so the group bunched up.




Completely clear of the trees here, we could look back down towards Westcliffe:




You can barely see a pair of little legs in the passenger side of Jim's Jeep here...




Jim offered to let Brady ride in his doorless Jeep and Brady was all for it! He spent at least as much time in the CJ as he did with us on this trip! Thanks Jim for entertaining him (or was he entertaining you)? ;)


Horseshoe lake was low, probably due to the record lack of snow this year.




It was almost a toxic green, not the crystal waters we were used to from the Ouray area trails 2 years previous.


Finally at the summit, both Chris and I had to pose:






Looking back down from where we came:






One thing I kept noticing were these plants that I nick-named "psycho plant". I'm assuming they are some sort of thistle species, but they look very menacing.




One thing that was similar to Ouray was the presence of those rascally marmots!




Once we all tired of walking around with the low oxygen content that 13,000 FT elevation offers, we began our descent.




Aimee noticed someone had taken the time to assemble 5 recliners and a table out of rocks near the trail. Brady and I ran over to try them out:




Another psycho plant and some of the scant wildflowers:




Some berries, again I have no idea what species, but probably not good to eat:




Our final picture from the day was of a "privacy-challenged" vault toilet in some trees at a random point near the trail. Though George wasn't there to get his picture taken sitting on it (to add to his remote desert/forest pooper collection), we did think of him and grab this pic:




We got back to camp in plenty of time for dinner. Unfortunately we also found out that the valley where camp was stayed in the mid 80's all day... so our cabin baked in the sun all day and remained fairly inhospitable till dark each night.


Hermit pass turned out to be a great quick warm-up trail for us, I think we spent maybe 4 hours total time on it (it's a same-way in and out trail). It takes you to a great view, but doesn't demand much from you or your rig.

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Very nice, Kris.

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Day 3 - Monday


We got gas in Salida, headed North toward Buena Vista, then went left, heading west into the Sawatch Mountain range. Soon we could see the Chalk Cliffs on the southern base of Mt. Princeton




After passing through a community, the road turned to gravel. We made a left entering onto a steep rocky trail that was the entrance to Mt. Antero.




We should have stopped while still on the gravel road we soon found out... the trail doesn't offer anywhere to pull off near the start. But we scattered out to the few wide spots and all got disconnected and aired-down.


The beginning of the trail is very very bumpy, but soon smooths out some, though it remains relatively narrow for a long ways in.




We took a bathroom break just after crossing Baldwin Creek and making the turn to head up towards the summit.






At this point the trail suddenly gets even steeper and you find yourself climbing steadily on compacted scree slopes.




I apparently pulled a bit ahead, and as soon as I made the turn onto the first switchback, I heard a broken msg from Jim on the CB that "I'm stopped... Jeep's broke!". Neither Chris nor Jim could hear me transmitting back, so I sat for a few minutes waiting to see if Chris had turned around already or was still climbing behind me.


Once we concluded that they must have both stopped further below, I had Aimee get out to try and spot me doing an off-camber reverse back into the switchback valley to get turned around. Soon another Jeep came up behind us, and so Aimee asked the driver if he would spot me since she wasn't sure when to tell me to start turning versus getting too off-camber and rolling down the mountain ;)


I finally reached the rest of the group, Jim having picked a nice steep place to break down:




He already was well into diagnosing the problem, it seemed like the mechanical fuel pump wasn't working. Eventually we pondered vapor lock as the cause - but none of us had any familiarity with that particular issue.


Aimee wandered around with the camera while we tried adding more gas, blowing in hoses, and other such fruitless efforts. She got this "where's Waldo?" picture of a critter:




Jim figured he was crazy enough to just head back down the mountain with no power brakes or power steering (since the Jeep wouldn't run). And I was crazy enough to go in front of him so that I could tow him on any flat spots...


Fortunately, as soon as we started down, I hear on the CB, "it's running!" So we trucked on back down to a nice shady spot by a creek to have lunch and discuss "Plan B" for today!


It was decided at lunch that Jim was comfortable heading out the rest of the way by himself and would go into Buena Vista to pick up some hose and an electric fuel pump and get some advice from the parts store folk. The rest of us would continue over to the Boulder Mountain trail back near the start of the Mt. Antero Trail and run that. We all had to exit back out the same way we came, so if something stopped working on Jim's Jeep again, we'd eventually find him beside the road.


The start of the Boulder Mountain trail is clearly marked that it's OK for Jeeps, but we found out that perhaps they only meant narrow Jeeps!




The trail begins steep, rocky, narrow, a bit overgrown, and looks like it's primarily used by quads. However, both trail books assured us it was also a Jeep trail! At first there are plenty of trees on both sides, so you don't feel the narrowness too much.




Climbing through the thick dark (especially on a cloudy day) forest is neat. We saw some old cabins at one point:




As we moved past the tree-line, the narowness of the trail could really be felt.




There were great views back towards Mt. Princeton:




Soon the trail got so narrow that the inside wheel was forced up the hill a bit and we ended up sitting slightly off-camber towards the outside edge. It got to the point that I made Aimee and Brady get out and walk a small section which was making me particularly nervous.




Seeing there leader send the women and children away zapped some of Chris and Amy's enthusiasm for the trail too... And then it started to rain.... At the next switchback, we all decided to turn around and head back down the mountain with our tails between our legs.




Later in the week we would end up doing other trails that were almost as narrow... perhaps us flat-landers should have warmed up on some of those first. To make matters worse, that night I noticed a picture of a Suburban doing the Boulder Mountain trail in one of the books!


As we aired up and got back to pavement, Aimee told me "0 for 2!" ;)


Nearly back to camp I came across Jim on the side of the road. Fortunately not broken down, he was just using one of the few spots where cellphones could get service to talk with ob1Jeeper about vapor lock. He felt like he had everything figured out and was ready to hit the trails again the next day.


We got back to camp and opened up the front door to the cabin, turned on the fan, and began our daily evening ritual of waiting for the place to cool down.


Laying in bed that night, I resolved to myself that Tuesday we were running the trails we had planned, and we were going to finish them no matter what damnit!

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Great story so far and awesome photos - kudos Aimee!

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Day 4 - Tuesday


We ventured back into the Sawatch range on Tuesday, past the Mt. Antero trail entrance on to the partial ghost town of St. Elmo.




St. Elmo has a general store and ATV rental and is quite busy for "ghost town". It's also got a lot of privately owned old buildings on the main street. There's an old school house and also a court/jail that you can sometimes go into. The jail was closed when we were there, but the schoolhouse was open. Apparently there's also an outhouse you can use, but only if you are really brave - I didn't try it.






We all took a few minutes to tool around the store and town.








There's a strange mix of dilapidated and partially restored old buildings.






Outhouse row:




The general store has hummingbird feeders out, and the little guys seemed very accustomed to people, zooming in and out just above everyone's heads.








Across from the store is this pile of wood with a strange amount of people congregating around seemingly nothing...




Turns out that the store sells seeds as chipmunk food, and everyone sits there and feeds the wildlife... the chunky-cheeked little varmints are friendly to say the least.




The first time one crawled up Brady's leg, he jumped up, and it hung on for a minute before darting off. Once he got used to the fact they were harmless, he was loving it, this expression says it all:




The best part though was when Aimee was turned feeding one, and suddenly another one decided to run up her leg where she wasn't watching and she let out a high-pitch "Shit!!!" I'm sure some of the younger children learned a new word that day. ;)


Soon we got going on the Hancock Pass trail. We passed plenty of old cabins, mine tailings, railroad bridges, etc.




We took a short spur trail to the Mary Murphy Mill...




We passed what's left of some of the old tram towers on the way up:




At the main mill site we saw the old boarding house and the main tram control building. This mine had used a bucket tram to carry ore down the mountain.








Here's the main tram house:














Continuing on Hancock Pass, we passed an often photographed old mine building that has nearly collapsed as it's top has slid down the mountain:




After lunch we began climbing up to the actual pass, where the road gets a bit rougher.




The views were great and the stormy weather made things even more spectacular in my opinion.






While taking a photo break at the top, several Jeeps came towards us from the opposite direction. One CJ had his hood off and it was strapped to his rear tire! When they stopped, Jim asked him "vapor lock?" Sure enough, he had removed the hood to reduce the temps around the engine as they had been having vapor lock issues - I guess that's one way to solve the problem!




Jim's Jeep however was running just fine after a tip from ob1Jeeper about how to orient the fuel filter/regulator. With the storm looking eminent and seeing lightning in the distance, we decided to get moving quickly.




We stopped briefly at an old mine in the valley between the Hancock and Tomichi passes. Originally we were going to take a spur over to Alpine Tunnel, but with the storm coming and it already getting fairly late, I decided to just keep us moving.








We then began the narrow switchbacks up to Tomichi Pass. An old wreck down below reminds you to take it easy.




Though not as narrow as the Boulder Mountain trail, I did have Aimee sticking her head out the window to make sure I maintained 1 foot of space between my tire and the outside edge... any more and I crawled up the mountain on the inside and became off-camber quickly... any less and I would be putting a tire on the loose rubble at the edge that didn't seem safe.


The road was rough and bouncy, but the "difficult" rating from the Wells book seemed a bit excessive actually. We all made it to the top easily.




At the top Jim let Amy know that Brady had fell asleep half way up in his Jeep! Apparently crawling up the side of a mountain on a narrow shelf road in a doorless Jeep is no big deal when your 7 years old.


Coming down the South side of Tomichi we entered back into the treeline. The trail was mostly dirt pack, with some rocky and rutted sections but we kept a good pace weaving through the forest. At one point we passed an Elk lazily grazing. I enjoyed this forest trail, it actually got dark enough that the Jeep was turning on the headlights automatically.






We stopped for a bit at the Tomichi Cemetery. The thick forest and dark weather made for an extra eerie visit.


The actual townsite is all but undetectable - I read that an avalanche in 1899 destroyed almost everything. The majority of the town had already been abandoned before then due to the silver crash of 1893. Only a few prospectors remained when the avalanche struck (killing most of them).












Soon we were on a graded road, headed out to the highway. I decided we should take the "short-cut" of Old Monarch Pass road. It would angle us back closer to Salida before hitting the highway. The road turned out to be an extremely curvy, but well graded one. It started to sprinkle rain, and Jim was doorless, so we went into full rally-race mode.... I'm not sure how Jim's short wheelbase felt, but Chris and I were both sliding the back end around curves as visions of the Pike's Peak Rally took hold in my brain!


There was a full on rain shower by the time we hit the highway. Jim's engine-driven compressor is quick, and so as soon as he was aired up I told him to get going before he got completely soaked! Chris and I finished airing back up in our rain coats and I presented Amy with an "I survived Tomichi Pass" decal which I had optimistically purchased from the St. Elmo store ;)




We then headed down the long grade back towards Salida. Fortunately the rain ended only a few miles down the road.


That night we had a small camp-fire in front of our Cabin and Amy had her first camp hot dog with EZ Cheese! Yes, I've converted yet another non-believer to fake-cheese!




Stay tuned for the report from rest of the week!

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in case anyone hadn't figured it out yet, or was getting confused....


Chris and Amy were in the black JK...

Me (Kristoffer) and my Aimee were in my black WJ...


yes, it's quite a naming coincidence.

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in case anyone hadn't figured it out yet, or was getting confused....


Chris and Amy were in the black JK...

Me (Kristoffer) and my Aimee were in my black WJ...


yes, it's quite a naming coincidence.



Oooooh....I thought that you were still showing signs of altitude sickness. LOL :D


Great writeup BTW!

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