Sometimes even when it is cold outside, and the wind is still blowing, you know that the world outside of your warm tent is going to be so different you just have to get up to explore. This morning we woke up to 6 inches of the first snow on the top of Taylor Pass. It was a beautiful sunny day and the blowing snowdrifts made it seem other worldly.
Taking an easy morning, we finally cooked and packed up to see what the backside of Taylor Pass had in store. It turned out to be some of the most challenging terrain we have ever crossed in a vehicle. We were heading further south and expected to have 4 miles of rough going, but never expected it to be as complicated as it was. The guidebook we were referencing said that the whole 21 mile route we were on would take 3 to 5 hours; we spent about 4 just on this section.
Large boulders, big drops, narrow passages, and wet rocks called for complicated maneuvering that required slow forward movement and constant monitoring. John and I had to constantly talk about route choices and then while he drove very slowly I was "spotting" by walking backwards, and jumping around outside the vehicle looking at the clearance of the vehicle over rocks, and making sure the tires were lining up in the places that he wanted it to go. This careful concert of my hand signaling and his driving goes pretty well about 95% of the time and everyone is happy and the vehicle goes unscathed, but mistakes and miss communications do happen and it can be very stressful.
On most routes, there are difficult sections that are broken up by easier sections where I can get back in the vehicle to have a rest. Not so on the Taylor Pass decent. It was constant, which meant that I was out of the vehicle spotting and jogging along all day. At one point we entered the hardest section we had ever put an expedition vehicle through. The trail was entering a river, not crossing it, but entering it to go down the river bed, and there was a sharp left hand turn with a 5 foot drop littered with boulders. At the bottom of the drop the "trail" was actually at another 90 degree turn to the right to get into the river. Turning a vehicle as heavy and long as this on a dime is obviously not an option so some careful route choice, spotting and luck had to come into play. I set the video camera up to document what I could, and it turned out beautifully...the line up was spot on, the driving was perfect and the vehicle literally slid into place in the end!
|Video of the slide into the creek at South Taylor Pass|
We made it in, and then I found myself spotting in, yes IN the river for about a mile. Thank God I picked up a nice pair of Sorel boots on sale in Aspen the day before! At the end of the river the "trail" then had another 90 degree right turn that faced directly into some aspen trees. It required the smallest two point turn, and here, as I was spotting on the front side, and maybe exhaustion was setting in, we missed on the communication and John backed up without either of us checking the driver side rear. We pushed the vehicle hard into a large sized boulder and the mud flap was bent forward. Unfortunately with the design of this vehicle that mud flap is also connected to the fender flare and the whole thing came off in one piece. Silence.
And nothing else to do but move on. Pull forward, talk about the inches you have to make the turn, use it, do it and roll on. In the river, and downhill with more boulders and tight passages for the last mile that took another hour.
By the time we reached Taylor River Road we were exhausted and the chill was settling in again. Time to set up camp quickly and get some food on. An exhausting day, and disappointing not to have a fun route for other Overlanders to try safely. This route used to be recommendable for all sorts of high clearance vehicles, but we would not encourage anyone to do it in anything bigger than an ATV or at least a skinny rock crawler. It is too bad because the scenery at the top is amazing and being the old supply route from Aspen to Buena Vista and Taylor Reservoir it has historical value.