| Missouri Mtn – West Ridge from Cloyses Lake
My wife (Jen) and I left our house (which is 30 minutes north of Denver) at 3 a.m. I was pretty much driving in my sleep. That is, until I came across a speed trap in Idaho Springs, which sort of woke me up, you could say. The trooper was in one of those new black Dodge Charger cruisers, and he was facing traffic at the second exit. Luckily, I wasn't speeding ... too much.
The first part of our adventure began in Rockdale, Colorado. This bustling mountain town is almost 10 miles west of Hwy 24 on Clear Creek Road (390). After taking the left off 390, we drove past the four cabins (to our right) and continued down past – and to the left of – the fifth cabin. Just to be sure, we drove up the other road, but it ended abruptly. The "road" we were supposed to be on didn't look like a road at all. It really just looked like a muddy pond that was adjacent to a braided stream.
Before delving any further into what appeared to be mud pit from hell, I got out of my truck (for your reference, it's a stock, 2001 Nissan Xterra with BFGoodrich 255 70R/16 All-Terrain T/As) to investigate the scene. I came to find out that the first flooded road section, which looked like a calm, muddy puddle, was actually rock-bottomed and shallow. Walking a bit further, I noticed two tangled messes of logs that I'd have to cross before making it to the first section (the widest section) of Clear Creek.
After balancing across slippery logs to the water's edge, the creek really didn't look so bad. I thought I could see the bottom in some sections, even though the flat morning light made the river look inky black, and it was difficult to see anything at all.
I fired up the Li'l Mule and Jen and I were on our way. We splashed through the first puddle with no problem. Then we cracked our way over the two log piles, hesitating on the second one for a moment. After gauging the scene, I put 'er in low and plowed on through the water.
Things seemed to be going well. I was even thinking to myself, "Hey, this isn't so bad. The water is only coming up to the top of the tires." Noticing the huge wake we were creating, I felt more like I was in a boat than a truck.
Two-thirds the way across, and already confident in making the crossing, I started to focus on the riverbank. And that's about the time the truck took a deep nosedive into the water, causing a surge of adrenaline to sprinkle through my veins. In situations like this, your instinct is to stop, but I didn't want to lose momentum and possibly stall the truck, so I kept pushing through the wall of water. The position of my K&N air charger (i.e., air filter/intake) is not much higher than the top of my bumper (on the left). Luckily, the truck was dipping to the right, with the water line cresting just above the front-right section of my bumper. I was desperately hoping that my truck would continue to suck only air and not gulp a mass of water; otherwise our trip would be over. Meanwhile, the truck was exhaling through the tail pipe, which was now fully submerged under water.
Fortunately, the river didn't get any deeper and the truck soon crawled its way up the easy riverbank. We pulled up onto the small island and the truck became steaming mad. It looked as if my radiator just blew a hose, as billows of steam swirled up from every corner and crevice of the truck. Three hours of highway driving will do that, I suppose. "Clear Creek, meet hot engine block and catalytic converter."
Here are some 4x4ing pics ... the red arrow is the route I took on the way to the trailhead (bad idea, as it went right through a deep section). The green arrow was the route I took on the way back (much shallower). The upper-left image is crossing that green-arrow section on the way back.
After a quick analysis to make sure the air filter was dry, we pushed on across the second creek crossing. This section was short, easy and shallow, but the riverbank on the other side was steep and rocky. A couple large rocks on the slippery bank demanded attention. After that, the road was relatively straightforward. Sure, there were one or two other rocky sections to contend with (upper-right image above), and the road undulated quite a bit, but otherwise it wasn't so bad. That said the road was much worse than Uncompahgre's or even Huron's, for that matter.
The second part of our adventure began at the trailhead. I was surprised to find so many trucks already parked along the trail or at the trailhead parking area (all of which were campers, I think). Maybe eight trucks total, I estimated. Curiously enough, aside from one Chevy, they were all Toyotas. Great trucks, those Toyotas, as I used to own one. But I wouldn't give up my Nissan's turning radius for anything.
Anyway, we started hiking up the road, passing the gate at 6:30 a.m. Beyond the closed gate, the road, laden with fallen trees, slowly turned into a singletrack trail that steadily ascended along the tree-filled slope. Cloyses Lake was lower in the valley and to our right. Eventually the trail ascended to the left (east) and went up steeply along a gully with a cascading creek to our right.
Further up the gully, we headed a little to the left and made our way up the grassy, wildflower-coated meadow. We did our best to minimize impact by not going single file and stepping on trail, rocks and dirt over greenery wherever possible, but this is more or less a bushwhacking route. Shortly thereafter, the trail faded away. From that point we just made our way up the steep slope toward the ridge. Lazily, as if we were "drafting," we ended up just following a small group that was far ahead of us.
Earlier in the morning we had been keeping a close eye on the sky, which was already filled with fog and clouds. Once we made it to Missouri's west ridge, we were afforded a much clearer view of the sky. While there were a lot of clouds up in the atmos, they didn't look very threatening. They were wispy, low, and not very tall or dark-bottomed (the pic below makes them look worse than they were). Armed with that assurance, we pushed on up the talus-filled ridge.
Where our "trail" merged with the one from Missouri Gulch, and as we crested a hump of land, I noticed a group of four people that looked familiar. Of all the 14ers you could choose to climb on any given day in the summer, we happened to run into a friend of ours, who was also climbing Missouri Mountain with his wife, daughter and son. Just another example of how small the world is.
The ridge section was easy, yet fun. Some sections of rock were still wet (it must've rained the night before … either that or some heavy fog had dampened everything).
We made the summit at 8:45 a.m. and had it all to ourselves. Hung out for 10 to 15 minutes, ate a few Swedish fish, and then headed back down.
Going back down the steep meadow slope wasn't very fun at all, and it was much more challenging than I expected. The ankle-twisting ground was lumpy and loose, and the grass was wet and slippery. We found ourselves on our butts more than once. But at least we stayed positive and kept laughing.
After making it back down to the steep gully, we somehow managed to get off trail and into the forest. Realizing something was amiss, we back pedaled to the gully and got back on trail. There were some pretty distinctive trails leading into the woods, though. Don't take 'em.
Made it back to the trailhead (gate and parking area) at 10:30 a.m.
While driving back down the 4WD road, we encountered at least a few vehicles on their way up. On one occasion I had to back up at least 50 yards to find a pull-off. Another time I had to back up hundreds of feet for a guy that had a pull-off just a few yards behind him. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and figured his truck didn't have reverse, so I let it slide. Thankfully, most people up there were much more compromising and genuinely looking out for one another, as I do.
On the return, the stream crossings went much better, as I found a much shallower section to cross in the large section of the creek. On the way up, it would be on your left, close to the rock fall. On the way down, stay to the right, close to the rock fall. Made it back to Rockdale and 390 at about 11 a.m.
Good times …
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):