Trailridge Runners



by Cody and 'Ranger Rick' Wigle

'I don't want to alarm you, but we could die.' Ranger Rick scratched his head and frowned. 'Think that's a little strong?' he asked me. 'No,' I replied, 'but perhaps you could tell the Mt. Blanca group the same thing in not so many words.'

Rick was gathering the necessary information for those who would go with us on the Mt. Blanca trail. We would leave Saturday, August 22nd, camp overnight, do the trail on Sunday, spend one more night at the campground (if we weren't stuck on the mountain) and return Monday. As ever, his planning and timing were impeccable.

I don't think he ever mentioned death or dismemberment in particular, but he did impress upon all participants the importance of a well-prepared rig, ample supplies for every possible eventuality, and the need for serious driving skill and unwavering focus on this very challenging trail.

We have never before guided a group on a trail that we didn't pre-run. Circumstances prevented this level of preparation. So, Ranger Rick did the very next best thing; hollered for Jerry Jensen (our ever-faithful 4X4 companion and guide extra-ordinaire), and research, research, research, including the Rick Russell video on the Mt. Blanca trail.

After I saw the video, Rick had to pick my jaw up off the floor and guide me to the couch. (The smelling salts helped.) Then I did my own style of preparation - prayers, prayers, prayers!! Including speaking to the weather guardians and the mountain herself, asking permission for a safe journey to the top and back. (It never hurts to be polite.)

The day of our arrival was sunny and warm, with the ever present afternoon thunderheads bringing some rain as we drove through La Veta pass. We hoped the thunderheads would take a break the day of our mountain run (although Ryan's daily mantra, 'It's gonna rain,' didn't help our enthusiasm much).

Camping that night was pleasant with lots of laughter and good company. We finally got to sleep after Phil Johnsey took a walk to our neighbor's camp site (a group of rowdy young French travelers obviously working on a different time zone) and asked if they were quite ready to settle down for the night? (Lisa Johnsey's not so subtle 'Go Ta SLEEP!!' prior to Phil's visit had either been misunderstood or ignored.)

Blessed silence quickly ensued and we finally got some Z's before waking - late -at 5:50 am. (It was all Lisa's fault, although she claims the alarm she borrowed from Ryan didn't work.) We had told everyone to be at the trailhead by 7:00am. So, of course the group that had stayed with friends in Alamosa arrived on time and the rest of us straggled in between 7:10 and 7:20.

To our surprise, the friends in Alamosa volunteered to be the leaders up the mountain: Jim and Nancy Bailey of the One Hour Photo, and Larry of the Perfectly Clean White Jeep. Their club, Creepers Jeepers Gang, has adopted the Mt. Blanca trail, and their skill and knowledge was a welcome addition to our quest. Although we'd never seen them in action, their well-equipped, undented vehicles and quiet confidence spoke volumes. Watching them drive the obstacles prior to Jaws 1 confirmed their off-road experience, and Rick and I breathed a great sigh of relief to have assistance from such competent drivers.

Just before Jaws 1, we were the first to break, blowing an ARB line. Not wanting to replace the whole line, we begged David LeMaster for a repair coupling which he graciously provided. We dropped back three spaces while making the repair, allowing Jerry to become the guinea pig for our new guides. (Jerry has since put Mt. Blanca on his list of 'Been there. Done that.' Perhaps he has no fondness for terror?)

The Four Musketeers, aka, the LeMasters, Bob, Dave, Larry and Dan, and their vehicles could do no wrong, and they scooted up every obstacle with enviable grace (in spite of Dan LeMaster's troubles with stalling - not him, the Jeep). The extra light provided by 'Mad Steve's' vehicle, Mellow Yellow (remember Road Warrior? He was the one with the mohawk) helped to illuminate the trail so that, even with clouds, all shadows disappeared and the obstacles were easier to see. Steve drove the trail like a true Jedi - oh, sorry, Road Warrior - with lots of screaming and great style.

At some point along the trail, seemingly from nowhere, came a grumble about motor trouble, and suddenly Matt stepped into view. Yes, non other than 'Camo' Matt, hero of six year olds. ('Look, Mom, there goes - um - something!') Why, he'd been driving a vehicle! (That camo paint job is really effective.) Of course, he was doubly hard to see since he was just behind Steve. Or was he in front? Well, he was somewhere. It was difficult to look in that direction without an arc welding shield, or maybe a double layer of Foster Grants. We think Matt did really well, when we could find him.

Richard and Ryan followed the line, showing Phil and Lisa behind them the right and wrong things one can do with at Toyota. Phil watched R&R carefully, embellishing his own performance with a spectacular two-wheel stand on the driver's side of his 4Runner, shamelessly exposing his undercarriage for all to see.

Allowing Phil and Lisa the lead on the return trip, Ryan was able to wedge Richard's vehicle between a rock and a hard place. Since we were the tail-gunner at that point, we had a good view of this mathematically impossible feat. Although we were enjoying the show, Richard wasn't excited with Ryan's attempts to remove weights, valve stems and lug nuts from the rear wheels without getting out of the vehicle. With a twist, a turn and some speed astern, Richard's Toy leaped to freedom.

Phil and Lisa had the least experience on tough trails, but performed beautifully throughout the trip, scratching neither rock, nor tree, nor Toyota. Well done! (Phil must have been a little nervous because there were times when his eyebrows disappeared into his hair line. But then, this trail should make the wise driver nervous, and very, very careful.)

The day throughout was blessed with good weather and the threatened afternoon rain never materialized. Everyone did so well, we made it to the top of the trail by mid-afternoon and were down well before dark. The fun, companionship, and good fortune of the journey was equaled by the awesome beauty of Blanca's slopes. For Ranger Rick and I, the whole day was a wonderful gift. Grateful thanks to the guardians of the mountain, and a huge 'Thank You!' to all who participated in this unique, unforgettable journey.

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