PostedSep-09-2006 09:39 AM
Altitude9,707.99 ft.
HeadlineTomichi Pass to Telluride
Entry Though ground clearance on Tomichi wasn't as narrow as we had anticipated the pitch was different for sure. Any time you're leaning towards a drop large enough to turn out the lights everyone is a little on edge (no pun intended). Getting word that Mark of is planning on making a run of Engineer Pass with a few other rigs we pick up the pace attempting to meet him in Lake City at noon that day. However along the way we run into multiple problems of re routing while traveling through back roads where countless ranches have closed down through roads. Passing one closed gate however its not until our backup route failed as well before we notice that it simply asks that the gate is closed behind us. With rain coming down for the past 3 days there's mud but boy is it fun. The idea of puddle stomping takes on a whole new meaning as we rip across open fields sending up 50 foot waves of mud water. In attempting to catch one on film and surely thinking that I'm backed up far enough away to not get splashed, Hanley runs in around 60 miles an hour and only a minute after am I rained upon by sprinkling mud.

Running far behind on time we use the satellite phone to attempt to contact Mark with no luck as we're sure his cell is out of service as well out here. Arriving in the Gunnison National Forest on the fringe of the San Juan's the scenery reaches new heights. Passing Cathedral Colorado (probably made up of 12 or so people) we enter what is hands down the most beautiful country I've ever seen within the United States. Words can't describe it and I'm not going to try.

We arrive at Lake City around 3 with no sign of Mark though we assumed they must have taken off already to begin with. We step into what looks like a barn from the outside and turns out to be a all in 50's diner within for a killer burger grabbing gas across the street. With the gas station doubling as a jeep rental the owner came out to see what the rig was all about and is this guy a character. Coming from Texas and moving to Lake City he gave us his card being more than willing to come pull us out seeing as we we're ready to attempt Engineer Pass though he strongly suggests we take the highway to Ouray at this hour of the day with not long till dark. Dark? Sunlight or Lightforce, there is no dark. After his brief moment of caring he gets a crazy twitch in his eye, chuckles, and says you guys better get your ass going (somehow knowing full well we have no intentions of touching tarmac tonight).

We head out rounding tall walls of slate rock making our way into the heart of the San Juan's approaching Engineer Pass. It almost seems suitable that we would need to stop for a heard of sheep to cross the road. So of course we did. I mean if you're about to crawl to 13,000 feet you need sheep. To each side of us are spouting water falls shooting off the mountain side and this place seems like its out of a fantasy movie. We cross over a cattle guard and still have absolutely no idea how those things work. They're not really a gate but simply a few feet of graded steel to cross over but somehow this keeps cattle from crossing onto other property. Beats us. The air begins to thin as the clouds seem to grow nearer and nearer when we reach the summit and the temperature change has never been more apparent. Its freezing with snow lining the hillsides and the sensation of looking down from above is out of this world. Creeping down the far side of the pass does make you sit a little straighter in your seat. There's something about this fall that makes it impossible for you to even rationalize the possibility of surviving. As Han has played off before, death is just as far away when traveling down a two way road a few feet from a head on collision. This provides little comfort. Having a hard time not stopping every 5 feet for photos as every turn looks ridiculously majestic we continue downward passing stone faced hunters and to the T at the Million Dollar Highway.

Right to Ouray? Or left to's so close we can taste it. From this approach there is only one direct root into the backside of the box canyon which is Black Bear Pass. Looking closer at the map we spot Ophir Pass just south of the canyon and make a go of it. Though it's growing dark the orange-ish rock and dirt can still be seen on the mountain tops and this area seems unreal. You begin to lose the sensation you're still in the United States and feel as if you've entered a secret Switzerland. This place is so sweet that I really don't want anyone else to know it exists in fear of a Jackson Hole or Aspen scene ruining it. Post this trip I have no intention of ever speaking of this place again. Coming through Ophir Pass, now pitch black out, the lights hit a giant V of two conjoining rock slides we pass through and for a moment we think we're in a scene from Lord of the Rings. Wrapping around a giant canyon and down into the small town of Ophir we're yelled at to slow down but are doing the limit of 15. We let him know.

Rounding up towards Mountain Village we pass some of the meatiest homes I've ever sceen. Onto the top we pull into Han's cousin's home with mud dripping onto the driveway and are welcomed despite our appearance. When offered a place to sleep we mention we trade 3 nights of sleeping in a bed for a shower at the moment. Cleaning up we're given a ride from Madeline down to the gondola (the country's only free public air transportation system) into Telluride. Cresting the hill into town is a visual overload as not one light lines the mountain side above the compact little town. Setting foot outside down below feels similar to touching earth after crossing the Atlantic. Finally here. We take a walk around town and find our way into the Side Street Tavern where dogs freely peruse in and out. Of course Mount Gay is stocked on the back wall above the cash register bungee corded to a wooden stool and a 3 piece plays in the back while a few hippies in another lifetime party like its New Years. Heading down the street we grab a bite and catch the free, yes that was free, shuttle back to Mountain Village. This could be love.