Having arrived at camp well after dark, it was nice to get a look at the place as the sun came up the next morning. Nestled in the aspen, Mike @Digiratus and I were the first two out of our tents, and as he prepped his traditional cup of coffee, I wandered off to get a view of our surroundings.
Perched near the top of a ravine overlooking Brush Creek, a short trek up the bluff behind camp yielded expansive views of the mountains around us, and as the early morning sun crested one to our east, the yellows and blues seemed to jump out of the sky.
As the rest of camp began to stir and prep for the day ahead, I approached Steve @woodnick about trying to figure out what was wrong with my CB setup. Our first order of business was to measure the SWR with a fancy meter that he'd brought along. With a target SWR below 1.5, and anything above 3.0 essentially unusable, the picture for me wasn't pretty.
An SWR of nearly 17. Unincredible!
Hoping for a quick fix, Steve pulled out an extra antenna he'd brought along - and while it wasn't as bad as my existing setup, it was far from acceptable, the SWR reading somewhere in the 12 range. So then, we decided to poke around with my antenna a bit more - ultimately removing part of the rubber casing that held the wrapped antenna wire to the fiberglass shaft. Low and behold, we discovered that the wire had come unsoldered from the base, essentially rendering my setup antenna-less!
The fix was easy - given that, as one does, Steve had brought along a Milwaukee M12 Soldering Iron.
Seriously, a battery-powered soldering iron?!
And with that, I had one of the finest tuned CB setups in the crowd. Read it and weep! (and thanks Steve!)
100% sold on the RigExpert AA-600 that we'd used to determine my SWR, I was sure I'd be purchasing one when I got home...that is, until I checked the price and determined it to be a little above my price target. Still, if you're really into radios, this tool is a must-have in my opinion.
At the same time we were fixing my antenna, Monte @Blackdawg was busy reinstalling the NMO mount for his Ham antenna into the roof of Igor, and before long we were all ready to get moving on the trail - the climb to Pearl Pass, reportedly one of the most beautiful in the state.
This time of year, the report of Pearl Pass' glory couldn't have been more true, and we stopped often (perhaps me more than the rest) to capture the colorful leaves in various shades of yellow and orange.
Filtered light on Tacoma rear ends; magical.
The Redhead looking glorious.
An hour or so after we set out for the morning, we finally broke through the thickest of trees and into a high-mountain meadow - views of Pearl Pass rising up before us and terrain becoming more rocky under our tires. As if we hadn't stopped enough already, Monte quickly slowed in the lead vehicle and soon we were all out admiring the first real pass that we'd conquer on this trip.
Devin @MissBlackdawg, Mark @IDTrucks, and Emily enjoying the view and doing their best to stay out of the "talking about radios" conversation going on elsewhere in the group.
It probably took us a good 15 minutes to pull ourselves away from this vantage point, an amount of time I'd guess several of us would have said was not nearly long enough. But, we were back in the trucks and headed up the mountain, just as I got a call on the Ham radio from operator KG5TZA. Turns out that he'd just gotten his mobile Ham rig working again, and was testing it out for the first time. He'd seen me nearby on APRS, and decided to reach out. We had a nice little chat before wishing each other safe travels - a fun interaction that still seems a little strange to me, even after having it happen several times in the last couple of years.
It was just as we hit 11,000 feet, that Castle Peak - and the bright red ridge leading up to it from the west - poked into view. It's always striking how the ground can vary in color so much, this section of rock clearly richer in iron than much of the granite around it.
Also here, as started up a rocky shelf road through a scree boulder field - Emily relayed to Mark, the quote of the day, "Oh look, more rocks!"
"You'd get along great with @mrs.turbodb," I called out over the CB radio after Mark relayed Emily's comment to the group. "That's the problem with this trip," she came back with quickly, "There aren't enough wives." We all got a good laugh out of that one - because along with the rock comment, it was 💯% true.
We continued to climb now - our ascent slowed by what continued to be relatively rocky terrain - all of us recognizing just how right Emily had been, as we made our way toward the pass. As we reached the tree line, the views really opened up and we took full advantage despite the breeze that was picking up as we got closer to the ridge.
A final push - or rather, what I think we thought at the time was our final push - took us to a saddle about a thousand feet below the bottom of the pass. There, a reasonably large pull-out and flat spot was the perfect location - with 360° views - to pull out our chairs and enjoy a group lunch.
We are so small, even in this little slice of the world.
Laughter, smiles, and chocolate chip cookies, just below Pearl Pass.
The wind is what finally drove us back into our trucks - that, and the knowledge that after Pearl Pass, we still had another pass to go before finding camp for the night. As everyone saddled up, I headed up a hill behind our lunch spot to capture the crew heading up the final scree-field shelf road to the pass. A dramatic ascent through the already dramatic landscape.
Sprinting down the hill and to my truck, I finally caught up just as everyone else was done at the pass and heading down the other side. The view here at 12,705 feet was spectacular, the sharp ridge offering one of the most iconic views of any Colorado pass I'd experienced to date.
And with that, I headed down the back side with the rest of the crew.
If the climb up had been slow, rocky, and full of bumps, the descent down was double the same. Though our progress was aided by gravity, our going was - if anything - slower as we passed Castle Peak and made our way down toward Castle Creek.
Just as we reached the creek, we encountered the most significant obstacle of the trail. In the downhill direction, the rocky ledge was simply a steep drop off that most of us utilized our rear bumpers or towing receivers to slide down; if we'd been running the route the opposite direction, this section may have provided more of a challenge - our tires wet from the melting snow and clearwater springs that pocked this section of trail.
Eventually - as we had on the west side of the pass - we hit the tree line and the terrain changed from rocks to a dirt-rock mixture, our pace picking up slightly as we passed by the Tagert Hut, an old mine, and a Jeep left by its owners as the (surely) explored the area on foot.
The bottom of the trail - and about 3 miles of pavement - came just in time for Mark. His zip-tie solution had been working so well for the last 24 hours with his side marker light, that he employed the same solution to secure is driver side front fender to the truck for the remainder of the trip. Zip ties are, after-all, the new duct tape.
Who needs bailing wire when zip ties are available?
While Mark patched up his truck, Monte and Mike discussed our second pass of the day.
Already 3:30pm, we wasted no time in heading out for Taylor Pass. Rated with a similar difficulty as Pearl Pass, none of us were all that worried, but given the time of day, we knew we'd be pushing it a bit to reach camp before dark.
Once again, the colors at the bottom of the climb proved bright and dramatic - we really had chosen the right time to visit this amazing place.
Aspen eventually gave way to slightly more arid terrain, evergreens lining the trail, our increased elevation resulting in more dramatic views of the surrounding mountains.
In what seemed like no time - at least compared to the time it took us to climb Pearl Pass - we found ourselves at the top of Taylor Pass, looking east over Taylor Lake and the hills that spilled into the distance.
Where the route up had been easy and taken a mere 45 minutes, our route down from Taylor Pass was anything but. Almost immediately the nicely graded road became rocky, rutted, and steep. UTV-created bypasses scared the landscape, with some places sporting 4-5 different tracks that split off from the main route. We did the best we could to navigate the designated track, everyone more than a little surprised that the trail hadn't been closed due to the abuse.
And then, we hit the rough stuff. About halfway down the trail, the boulders got large and line choice important. There wasn't - at this point - any question about whether we could make it or not; once again we'd encountered the hard stuff in a downhill direction - meaning that we'd make it, even if it required liberal use of our sliders and skid plates.
Monte headed through first, with me right on his tail.
Mike and Steve followed, with the FRVs long wheelbase making for an interesting time.
And then it was Mark and Dan's @drr turn. Unlike the rest of us, both of these guys were running on 35" tires, and made short work of places that had been tight for the rest of the group.
The trail followed the creek for the next quarter mile or so, our trucks bouncing from rock to rock, slipping from pool to pool as we slowly made our down. Squarely in the "evening" timeframe at this point, it was just after 6:00pm and we had no idea - not really - how long it would take us to reach the bottom, where we hoped to find camp. Mentally tired, a small sigh of relief was shared as we exited the creek and re-entered the aspen cover of lower elevations.
Even in the aspens, the road was still rocky and slow-going.
We had less than 2 miles to go at that point, but it took us almost an hour to cover that distance and reach the bottom of the trail. To our relief, a wide-open, unoccupied camp site sat there waiting, and we immediately pulled in and setup camp.
It'd been a long day, and the underbellies of our trucks bore the scars of relatively heavy use, the streaks and indents apparent on our skids.
Still, when it comes right down to it, we'd enjoyed every minute - even if some of them had been a little bumpy for all of our tastes. Chips, salsa, and guacamole - which Mone and I were no longer able to consume faster than the rest of the crew - were consumed with great delight. Dinners were made and eaten; the propane camp fire was enjoyed.
We even talked a little politics around the fire - a rarity in a group used to the rules of TacomaWorld. The particular topics and opinions were irrelevant for the purposes of this story - rather, the most important aspect of the conversation was that we were all able and willing to listen to various opinions, agreeing and disagreeing as we saw fit. And at the end, we were all still friends - as good or better than we'd been a few minutes before - despite the fact that we might not agree on everything politically.
This, readers, is how it should be: it is critically important in this day and age - where all types of media work to polarize us one way or the other - that we recognize that no one is the same, and that is just fine. We're all just human beings, and while we may disagree on one issue or another, respecting each other, and remaining friends through it all is the surest way to thrive!
It was a late evening to be sure as we all climbed into our tents and cozied up under our covers, shielding ourselves from the temps at 10,000 feet. The next day would bring dramatic change to our group - two of our six vehicles opting to call it a trip; but that's a story for another day!