Red Cone – Radical Hill – North Fork Swan River
We wasted no time getting into our trip by tackling Red Cone. Whatever notions I had of this trip being epic were very quickly exceeded entering this difficult trail. Red Cone was very fun with a few nice switchbacks and rutted out sections with larger rocks to navigate. I hadn’t been trail riding for a very long time, so this first part was good for a refresher course of driving off road again. I did find myself not being aware of the altitude change driving in the trees until we got to the tree line. The overlooks and views above the tree line where simply breathtaking for me mainly because of the clear skies and favorable weather, but also because of my shortness of breath as I had to adjust to the altitude. I quickly had to learn about hydrating and taking it slow to cope with the high parts of Red Cone.
A little dose of reality set in as we got to the base of the steepest incline and drove past a rolled Land Cruiser that had trouble negotiating the ascent. Two hours after we started on the trail we reached the peak of Red Cone, 12,800 ft., and the view was even more spectacular. We came across some mountain goats as we made our way to Wise Mountain where we stopped for a bite of supper. I got some driving time on the way and learned how to navigate loose rock, steep descents, and some off camber sections. The Jeep was really capable and eased over all of it without much effort.
We had to hustle our way down into the trees to find a good place to camp for the night after supper because it was getting dark fast. It took about an hour total to drive to our spot and set up for our first night in the tent. I was really impressed with the gear. The OZ tent and cots were up in under 5 minutes. It was nice to lay flat and still after a long first day of motion. My body felt like I went a few rounds with a sparing partner.
Mosquito Pass – Tincup Pass
Up at daybreak with a hot breakfast to warm up after a chilly night. We packed up and were on our way to the next trail. After a quick stop in Breckenridge for some supplies, we took main roads to the entrance of Mosquito pass. This nice moderate trail had some great spots to stop and explore old buildings and take in some expansive views. The day was sunny and absolutely perfect and after an hour and twenty minutes, we reached the summit, 13,185 ft. I got some drive time on the way down to Leadville and learned more about trail etiquette with on-coming vehicles.
Headed to Buena Vista for lunch at a great restaurant, Eddyline, then Mt. Princeton Hot Springs to soak in the hot springs for an hour. This hit the spot to refresh after a long first day of the trip.
Stopped in at St. Elmo to sight see for a couple of minutes before starting Tincup Pass. We found a nice spot to camp about a half an hour up the pass and set up camp. It was a beautiful clearing where we gathered some wood for a fire and made supper. The night sky was clear and every star was out including several shooting ones. Simply stunning but brutally cold. We had some wildlife stroll through our camp on their way down to the river, a few very large elk, which was a bit unnerving at first.
Tincup Pass – Continental Divide – Engineer Pass
We slept in and took our time eating breakfast and breaking camp for the rest of Tincup. After about an hour we arrived at the Continental Divide and got ready for the long, slow, rocky ride down to Mirror Lake. This stretch was very rough as we worked our way around the large loose rocks, but the reward of kayaking in Mirror Lake made it worth every minute. Our conversations by this time of the trip were deep and good. The ones that are much needed with a sibling after a long time apart.
For lunch, we stopped at the Nugget Cafe in Taylor Park and had some great food before making our way to the start of Engineer Pass. Getting to Engineer Pass was a great 3 hour trip on the main roads. It was smooth and fast, and we got to stretch the Jeep’s legs a bit. With a quick stop in Lake City for rest and hand warmers for our sleeping bags, we headed to Engineer pass. Along the way, we stopped by Whitmore Falls to get some pictures.
After wandering up Engineer Pass a bit we came across an ideal site to camp for our final night. The best spot of the trip. It was tucked in some tall trees right along the riverbank between some rapids and a 20 ft. waterfall. Picture perfect in my book. We set up camp, gathered a good amount of wood for a fire, made supper and enjoyed a good sunset. We expected it to be just as cold as the night before so we broke out the hand warmer packs and tossed them into our sleeping bags which helped us stay toasty
Engineer Pass – Black Bear Pass
Woke up early very refreshed after a great night. After breakfast and packing up we headed up to the summit of Engineer Pass, 12,800 ft., for some more spectacular views. It only took us about a half an hour because of how far we got on the pass the day before, so it was really quick. For the next 2 and a half hours we took the rest of the pass at a steady pace. I liked this pass because it had so many different types of trail along the way. We had tight one lane tracks and switchbacks, quick open trail sections, slow rutted out areas and decent inclines to navigate. A great build up to our last pass of the trip. The great Black Bear Pass.
This was icing on the cake for me. A wonderfully challenging course that gave me some good bits of adrenaline excitement. We didn’t get far into Black Bear before we were met with a Range Rover reversing course because they were either lost or not willing to finish it. Matt drove us up to the summit, 12,840 ft. so that I could get accustomed to its difficulties and challenges and then traded seats with me so I could finish out the pass going into Telluride. Probably the toughest thing I have done in a 4×4 to date. I really had to learn to trust the Jeep’s abilities on a different level. My hesitations were making it work much harder than it had to at first but after every steep, tight, precarious switchback I let it do more and more of the work and it seemed to come alive with each challenge.
We spent around 2 hours on Black Bear Pass, and when we pulled into Telluride, I felt like I want that pass to last another couple more hours. After eating lunch at Steamies headed for home. This was about a 6-hour trip where we could pass the time talking about family and the good things in life.
I wasn’t sure what to expect leading up to the trip. Would it be too hard, too easy, or somewhere in the middle? Was it going to be too long or too short of a time away? To my delight, though, this was simply a perfect trip. Great weather, great trails, great company and the perfect amount of time on trails. There was an easy pace to this adventure and lots of time to soak in the surroundings. The luxury of being able to pop into local cities and towns was really nice and didn’t make me feel like I was completely off the grid. Being able to camp in spots where there weren’t any others in the same proximity gave us great opportunities to feel like the space was our own and not be bothered.
This definitely was a bucket list trip for me, and I am so thankful to Matt and Funtreks for the experience.