Rewind 19 years to a 17-year-old me, I was, to put it politely driving adverse, this pretty much continued for the next 14 or so years, until I purchased “Alan” the Mazda 3, a necessity for a new job. I put good few kilometers on Alan, but not a single one of them qualified me for this.
These were the thoughts that were bouncing (literally bouncing) around in my head in between avoiding boulders and picking lines up a mountain on a 4×4 only road. It may seem that I have become heroically brave, throwing the Hulk up dirt roads, the truth is a little less impressive, I am actually kinda lazy, and cheap. You see we have discovered, that there are often two trailheads for the 14ers, a lower 2wd one or a higher 4wd one with free camping. Higher means shorter walk, and cheaper means more beer money. Also if you don’t drive the road you have to walk it, there are no nice trails to take, but this as a factor ranked far below the other two.
The first of the two 4wd roads to date was to the Torreys and Grays trailhead, it was mildly sphincter twitchy, but lead to a great camping area, with a bathroom which was a nice surprise. We were up there with a land rover, a couple of jeeps and a few other off roady type vehicles, we were all pretty proud of ourselves, manly nods all around, as we all conveniently ignored the blight to our bravado, a bloody Toyota Prius parked in the corner. As none of us saw it get there and it was still there when we left, the only logical explanation is that it was put there by aliens, or as a part of a misguided advertising campaign.
The hike was, a relatively easy one, except for the freezing winds on the saddle between the two peaks, I contemplated bailing on the second peak because my hands we so cold. We pressed on and fortunately as we made it to the top we managed to find a little shelter and relief from the wind so we could enjoy the views and tuck into some M&M’s. The descent was easy and fast, we even got our run on.
The descent from the trailhead was not especially fast, the road down was now littered with 2wd drive cars that had gone as far as they could and parked up, adding to the complexity of the drive. We did however stop and pick up a lovely family from Arkansas and gave them a ride to the bottom, they even bought us a pint of beer on the website, which was really unexpected but a blooming lovely surprise.
Next up was Humboldt, well it was the next 4wd road, not the next 14er. The next 14er was Longs Peak, but that particular mountain will be better described by Heather.
I was relatively confident going into this next drive, as I was one for one in the “not destroying our house to save a couple of hours” department. Then Heather helpfully started reading recent updates noting that someone last month had rated it a 4 out of 6 in off-roading difficulty. What the hell kind of scale goes to 6, is this a real scale, oh bollocks, that 66.6% difficulty, if any if my academic grades are anything to go by that is about 6.6% outside of my wheelhouse. Oh well onwards.
So the 4 out of 6 lesson learnt on this one, 4 wheel high does not cut it on this road, as the automatic transmission temperature warning light helpfully pointed out to me. Quick rest half way up, let things cool slip into 4 low and we were away again. Very slowly, this road was certainly more intense than the last, Heather was dispatched on more than one occasion to confirm that we had clearance for the line I had chosen, what we started to learn and feel comfortable with, is that we have a pretty capable vehicle, with good clearance, and the driver seems able not to always pick the shittiest route.
We did almost kill a chap on a motorbike on our way up, but that was probably his fault. As we neared the top I spotted the guy coming down, so I stopped and started backing up to a clearing I had just passed. Unfortunately he also stopped, and as we finished our backing up maneuver he completed his falling off his bike maneuver. We waited a minute or so for him to come by but no biker appeared. I headed up the hill in my flip flops (bad 4wd footwear) to see if he needed help. Turns out it was his dad’s bike and he had only been riding it for 2 weeks and wasn’t sure how to right it. We finally muscled it up, before I had to hold it for him to get back onto, it was an odd sight, like a parent sending a child off for the first time without training wheels, I do hope he made it down.
Again the reward for nearly soiling myself was another great free camping spot right on the trailhead.
The hike was pretty straight forward, just a tough rock scramble at the end, and the ubiquitous false peak to break the spirits. This was probably the best views we have had, on any 14er to date, the other mountains in the basin felt so close and we had beautiful blue skies. It was also pretty warm for once on a summit so we hung out chatting to other hikers.
We chatted to three young guys (Joey, Johnny, and Wade) who had blasted by us on the way to the summit. Very cool chaps spending their summer vacation bagging 14ers, we agreed to meet them at the trailhead and give them a lift down to the 2wd trailhead, earning as much good trail karma as possible. The freezies we shared at the trailhead also must have earned some trail God brownie points, who doesn’t love a frozen treat at the end of a hike.
Not sure when our next off-road adventure will be, hopefully soon, I think I might enjoy this 4wd nonsense.