If you don't come to crawl, don't come at all." The tagline emblazoned on every event T-shirt at the 3rd Annual Montrose Memorial Day Madness perfectly captured the no-nonsense essence of this unique Southwestern rockfest. Created by hard-core four-wheelers exclusively for those who want to play in only the most profound terrain, Madness is a truly special event. Five extreme rockcrawling trails available over the four-day span promise just about as much ridiculously challenging fun as any aficionado is likely to enjoy.
The hosting Western Slope Four Wheelers from Montrose, Colorado, live among some of the finest 'wheeling in the world. The world-class scenery of the San Juan Mountains is just a short jaunt down Highway 550, and the red rock environs of Moab beckon from just over the Western horizon. One might think that a club surrounded by all this four-wheeling glory would be content to simply hit the existing trail havens, but no. The Western Slope crowd found and then developed its very own rock garden paradise in the canyons west of town.
The canyons really belong to all of us because they are on BLM-managed land. The club members worked with the local agency to develop a fantastic selection of trails and then announced it to the four-wheeling world in the form of an event. And so, Memorial Day Madness was born. The organizers limit the crowd to only 80 vehicles, and the exclusivity serves a dual purpose. It limits trail delays to an acceptable and manageable level, and perhaps just as importantly, ensures the gathering has an intimate just-the-club-and-a-few-friends ambiance.
The most defining features of this incredibly fine event are the showcased trails. In the inaugural 1998 Madness, Cactus Ridge and Clutch Creek were the featured offerings. Last year, organizers delighted the participants by pulling the wraps off two new trails. The first of these, Calamity Canyon, was a huge hit with the 1999 crowd. But without a doubt, the biggest impact, literally, was made by the second trail, a new mile-long addition called Die Trying. Die Trying set the local rockcrawling scene on its ear and sent more than 100 veterans home in pieces. Could the hosting club possibly duplicate the success for the third year in a row?
To the metal-crunching delight of the year 2000 crowd, the smorgasbord of mayhem got even richer with the addition of two more unforgettable trails. This year's additions were aptly named Scratch and Dent and Topless. For the second year in a row, we were lucky enough to be numbered among the few, the dented, the rock addicted, and have driven them all.
After enjoying Cactus Ridge and surviving (no really, we enjoyed it), the pre-event rumors around Topless had us in a state of extreme anticipation. We were lucky enough to hold a number that ensured we would be in the coveted Topless caravan on day one. In a canyon adjacent to Die Trying, Topless shares many of its neighbor's most endearing features. It is almost a mile long, it is extremely tight and technical, and there is very little room for retreat once inside. We loved it.
We will admit that a 1/2-mile into the wash bottom, we were wondering what all the fuss was about. Topless was rocky and tight but pretty much ho-hum as far as Montrose 'wheeling was concerned. About halfway up the canyon, we ran up against the vehicles from a group in front of us and walked up to see what was causing the delay. Up and over a few big rocks, around the corner, and we suddenly knew what all the hoopla was about. Topless' namesake obstacle is a long, narrow defile that climbs sharply up a steep waterfall. With a huge pile of boulders forming a mobile approach ramp, a sharp turn in the middle, and a sizable tree leaning precariously across the top, the reason for the name was clear. Drivers between the crack and us were busy removing tops and lowering windshields before Topless did it for them.
It took several hours of serious labor for the group to scale the waterfall. After that, the rest of Topless never let up. Tighter and tighter, Topless was a never-ending progression of fender eating turns, panel crunching squeezes, and skidplate catching ledges. As we clawed our way up the canyon, the carnage mounted as broken axles, driveshafts, tires, and hubs were added to the pervasive punishment the rigs were incurring. The leaders finally admitted that the upper end of Topless still had a bit of hair on it when only two vehicles had completed it prior to the event - and one of them was a Samurai. The trail was a bit wider and the vehicles a bit narrower by the time the group finally topped the ridge at dusk and called it a day.
Saturday morning's trail sign-up found us near the tail end of the selection process with the dregs as the prime trails went first. Dregs? Not at Madness. We were on Calamity Canyon for the day and it was sweet. The Calamity Canyon trail winds through several smaller and much shallower canyons than Die Trying or Topless. The canyons were still deep enough to provide all of the rockcrawling pleasure and ledge-scaling antics that anybody could desire. The featured obstacle that afternoon was not successfully scaled by anyone in our group. It did not remain unconquered for lack of valiant and often pulse-quickening efforts. There is a valid reason why winches are required on these trails.
Sunday found us on the second of the newly unveiled trails, Scratch and Dent. Much shorter and not quite as severe as Topless, Scratch and Dent was a blast. The first several hundred yards are a steeply uphill battle through huge rocks, just mobile enough to change with every passing vehicle. We were finished by early afternoon; it was a relief to have a little bit of time to clean up before the big dinner.
Montrose Memorial Day Madness has, in its three short years, established itself as one of the premier rockcrawling events in the country. An unbeatable combination of fantastic trails, western slope hospitality, and that special excitement when all of the big dogs come to play makes Madness a must-attend event for the rock-bitten crowd. And if you don't come to crawl, don't come at all.