Pass Hoppers Trip, 2011

by Adam Mehlberg
photo by photos by Adam Mehlberg, Rick Kilton, Karla Harmon, Larry McGimsey

Over Labor Day Weekend of 2011 Trailridge Runners 4WD Club members headed to the southern mountains of Colorado to cross some scenic passes. Saturday morning the meeting place was in Golden, CO. There were 9 vehicles, Mehlberg's, Harmon's, Comeau's, Moore's, Larry McGimsey, Kilton's, Roger Briden and Linda, and Gene Francis. We headed southwest on Highway 285 toward Bailey, Colorado. In Bailey we turned south following county road 68 to Wellington Lake.

We continued around the lake and headed up FR560 to Stoney Pass. This is the pass on the east side of Lost Creek Wilderness. It is a low pass, 8,530 feet, that is non de-script as you cross over. The forest thins on the southern side and crosses private property. As you continue south toward Cheesman Reservoir you will cross into the northern end of the Hayman Fire Burn Area. This was Colorado's worst fire. In June of 2002 over 138,000 acres burned.

We continued through the treeless landscape punctuated with large rock outcrops shining in the sun to the Highline Road. From here we followed the graded Goose Creek road south through more of the burn. As we climbed the flank of the Tarryall Mountains we had a larger view of the size of the burn to the south. We dropped down around Pilot Mountain and connected with county road 77.

China Wall

Heading north on county road 77 we started looking for the turn off for the China Wall 4WD road, FR212. It was easy to find (since our trip the Colorado Four Wheelers have installed new signs) off of the county road before you reach the town of Terryall. We pulled off and found a stand of trees to have lunch. After lunch we headed toward China Wall. The road climbs quickly up onto the shoulder of the China Wall ridge and then heads south on a ledge road.

Shortly we came out onto a flatter section of the Wall and dropped onto the east side. The road started down making a long turn back to the north. At a T we went south continuing on FR212. This is where the challenges are. There was one small ledge to drop down and then the larger boulder to drop over. After this section the road drops down into a meadow near Terryall Creek and passes "Poser Rock". From here it was a short distance to where the road ends at Terryall Creek.

Rick Kilton on Poser Rock

On the way back Ray and Rick decided to drive down "Poser Rock". At the intersection we continued on FR204 and continued the loop. As we were winding around some large boulders we came upon two couples camping. They had killed the battery in their truck and were looking to get a jump start. It didn't take long to get them running. Further on we dropped down a short switchback and passed a trail head for Terryall Creek Trail. Shortly we were back out onto county road 77.

La Salle Pass

We headed back south through the small town of Terryall looking for our next turn off onto county road 31. A left turn took us up a wide valley toward Martland Peak. We followed Forest Road 44 as it climbed through the trees to the top of La Salle Pass. Here we looked for our first geocache. We dropped over the pass and came out onto a plateau giving us views of Spinney Mountain. This is where we had our first breakdown.

Richard and Karla had a shock mount break and the shock jam against the tire. Ray came to the rescue and got his on-board welder going as the rear tire was removed. It didn't take too long to get rolling again.

We connected up with highway 24 and went through Hartsel and Antero Junction on our way to the top of Trout Creek Pass. Here we jumped onto Forest Road 311, Sevenmile Creek, and started looking for a good, large, campsite. As we passed a few larger sites that were occupied we kept heading down toward Buena Vista. Just before the North Sevenmile Creek crossing we sent Ray and Wanda up FR311.E to see if there was a place to camp. Cindy and I and Richard and Karla continued on and found another geocache as Wanda scouted a great campsite for us. We had lots of space with a large rock outcropping and a split rock as a back to our firepit. After setting up and dinner we watched the sunset over the Continental Divide and then roasted marshmallows while talking of trivia from our past.

Day Two
Day two of the 2011 Pass Hoppers Trip began sunny and cloud free. We had our breakfast and broke camp by 9:00am. The road (Sevenmile) down to Buena Vista was an easy drive with the Collegiate Peaks in front of us shining in the morning light. After fueling up in Buena Vista we headed off to St. Elmo.

Our group headed up Chalk Creek to the old railroad grade that leads to St. Elmo. We passed the busy side road to Mount Antero and then turned off onto the retired line of the Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad. Following the old grade we passed the ghost town of Romley and then made out way into Hancock. There were a lot of cars in the trailhead parking lot for the Continental Divide Trail / Alpine Tunnel. With very little left of the ghost town of Hancock we continued on to the Hancock Pass 4WD road.

The Hancock Pass 4WD road is not that hard. It climbs quickly up through the trees to a switchback above timberline. Once on top it is a short windy drive to the top of the pass. We stopped here to take in the views and to find a geocache. Even with almost all of our group wandering around the rocks near the pass we could not find the geocache. It was time to head down and check off our third pass.

Hancock Pass

Hancock Pass drops quickly into Brittle Silver Basin where we stopped for lunch. We had great views all around from our lunch spot. While we were having lunch we were checking out the top of Tomichi Pass, our next challenge.

Tomichi Pass starts in the bottom of Brittle Silver Basin and then climbs up to timberline. As you leave the trees the ledge road of Tomichi Pass is very obvious. The main challenge is to be sure no one comes down, especially with a large group coming up, there are very few places wide enough for vehicles to pass. Luckily we climbed to the top of the pass without oncoming traffic.

Tomichi Pass

From the top of Tomichi Pass we looked back at Hancock Pass and the mountains along the Continental Divide. After the picture taking it was on down the other side of Tomichi Pass and counting our fourth pass. Our next geocache at the Tomichi Cemetery was ahead.

This time we found the geocache and Karla wrote about our adventure in the log. We headed down through Tomichi and on into Whitepine, which are not ghost towns anymore with seasonal residents now. Our next stop was the Whitepine Cemetery where our next geocache was . This one was going to be a challenge with three coordinates to find, each one giving you the coordinates to the next. We found the first one easily enough, and probably the second one. But the math involved in finding the numbers for the third coordinate and the cache eluded us. In the end we gave up and headed on.

The majority of our band turned off to Black Sage Pass while Roger, Linda, Mike and Caroline headed on home. It was a quick drive to the top of Black Sage Pass (number 5) where we redeemed ourselves and found the geocache hidden at the pass. Over the top is Waunita Park, a tranquil meadow in the mountains south of Pitkin. With only Waunita Hot Springs Ranch in the valley our only spectators were the cattle.

Black Sage Pass

From the county road we drove less than a quarter mile before heading up into the forest again and switchbacking to the top of Waunita Pass, number 6. With lots of trees blocking the view we went on down to Pitkin and tied in with pavement. It was getting late, time to find the next campsite. I had planned to connect back into the public lands past Ohio City, but the road I was looking for turned out to be gated and it was right next to a house. So, plan B. We jumped onto County 44 and crossed over to Wood Gulch and climbed back toward public lands. Just after crossing on to the Gunnison National Forest we found a nice hunting camp and decided to set up for the night.

Day Three
It was again sunny with a few high clouds. Our group started packing up after breakfast looking forward to another day of passes. The drive down Wood Gulch back to our planned route was a bit dusty. We stopped just before Hwy 50 and searched for another geocache where we could loose our marbles. Ray borrowed my Garmin GPSMAP to try his hand at finding the cache.

Ray learning the geocaching ropes

It didn't take long and Wanda was looking along the fence line where she found the geocache. This one was set up to collect your marbles, I had brought some just for this cache. When the container gets full, the marbles will be donated to the Gunnison Mibsters Chapter of the Colorado Marbles Club. After reaching Hwy 50 Ray and Wanda Comeau as well as Rick and Erin Kilton headed on over Monarch Pass for home.

Our remaining Hoppers continued on to Doyleville where we left pavement for a gravel county road on our way to the Prosser Rock geocache. The pull off for the Prosser Rock geocache is where Cindy's CJ5 decided to quite. She said it had shut off before, but had started back up. Now it would not start. I popped the hood and looked for electrical issues. Everything looked ok. I checked the fuses in the relay box, all were ok. Next I pulled the processor relay and swapped in one from the off road lights. As I plugged it in it clicked, Cindy still had the key on. That was the problem. While we were stopped we found the geocache.

Prosser Rock

We crossed Hwy 114 and went south around Cochetopa Dome on our way to Cochetopa Pass. The road on the west side runs up a valley. Along the way were old telegraph lines with glass insulators every so often. At the head of the valley we did two switchbacks and then topped out at Cochetopa Pass. We stopped and read the information plaques before heading down and connecting in with Hwy 114 again.

Cochetopa Pass

Our group came into Saguache on Hwy 114 looking for fuel and nice place for lunch. We got directions to the City Park where we grabbed a nice picnic table in the shade and watched all the traffic heading home from the Labor Day weekend. We got to sit back and relax in the shade.

From Saguache we backtracked a bit to cross over Ute Pass and then head over to Villa Grove before doing Hayden Pass. We had some ice cream from the Villa Grove store, it was snack time, then it was off again to the east. Hayden Pass on the west side runs right up the gulch for Hayden Creek. The road is a continuous climb with some moderate rocks to navigate. Finally the road crossed the creek and did a series of switchbacks before topping out on Hayden Pass. We dropped down the east side which runs the top of a ridge before a quick descent to County Road 6. Shortly we were jumping onto Hwy 50 from Coaldale.

Ute Pass

Hayden Pass, west side

Hayden Pass

Hayden Pass

Of course the masses were here too heading home from the long weekend. As always there are a hand full that have to pass everyone no matter how risky. Luckily it wasn't long before we exited just west of Canon City and got onto a gravel county road again. We headed north on County Road 69 to the connection with County Road F24. This was the back way through Red Canyon Park. There was a geocache just as we began F24 that we found before heading on through the park. There were interesting rock formations in the junipers to see as we wound our way down to County Road 9.

This geocache had some money in it! Time to fill up the gas tanks.

Fremont County 9 becomes Teller County 88 which is the Shelf Road that heads to Cripple Creek from Canon City. It was late afternoon as we drove along the scenic Shelf Road looking for a turnoff for the evening campsite. As it turned out the road I was looking for was gated private property. It was on to Cripple Creek now looking for any suitable camping site. Our search came up empty as we got closer and closer to Cripple Creek.

That's when Cindy's jeep quite running again. It was pumping fuel on the ground. The little spring clip that holds the high pressure hose on the fuel pump outlet was gone. I turned around and hooked up the tow bar to pull her jeep the rest of the way to Cripple Creek. As we started out there was a small black bear that jumped down from a tree and ran up the road in front of me a ways before heading into the brush. There was a flat spot that was a bit wider that I pulled over on to drop Cindy's driveshaft for the tow into town. As I was unbolting things the black bear was spotted again.

Everyone that was helping me out ran off to take pictures of the curious bear. As it turned out Richard's weld job on his shock mount was broke again, so he dropped the shock completely off the jeep.

We finally got into town, got a couple hotel rooms and had dinner at a casino restaurant. Ok, this is where I screwed up. The night before I had flipped the fuel pump kill switch off. In the morning the plan was to tow Cindy's jeep down to Woodland park to get some new fuel line clips, but my jeep wouldn't start. (I should have left myself a note!) Larry, Karla and Richard and I went to Woodland Park, got the clips and headed back to quickly fix Cindy's jeep. We pulled my jeep around the back of the hotel and I began draining fuel assuming the pump was bad (I was carrying a replacement pump). At about half empty Gene asked if it could be an electrical problem and the memory cells kicked in. I stopped the draining, flipped the switch, and started the jeep up. Doh!!!

After packing up we looped around toward Victor and had lunch at a road side park. Then we drove through Victor to Goldfield and stopped at a mine that had a geocache we couldn't find. We did look around at the mine. Next it was on to the Eagle mine above Beacon Hill. To get there we had to cross the main mining road and avoid the huge mine trucks. We all made it across the road and walked around the Eagle mine interpretive area looking for our last geocache.

This geocache had an interesting clue "Its near a long reach, but is just a short grab". Of course that meant the double lined winch engine that was part of the area. Everyone was looking all over for the cache. Finally Larry reached into a part of the cast footing for the winch that was broke off and found the final geocache.

Larry with the final geocache

We took some pictures of the modern glory hole mine on Beacon Hill and then dodged the mine trucks once more to head on home through Woodland Park and then along the South Platte River.

The mine trucks were just a bit bigger than our jeeps