While much of the country was enduring a heat wave in June 2017, our progress in the Rocky Mountains was stopped by snow. We had linked up with Eric Younger and the crew from D&C Extreme to run up to Holy Cross City, an old mining town at over 10,000 feet in elevation. We knew we were pushing our luck. We couldn’t find any reports of other people traversing the trail yet this year, and there had been a lot of late snow in the mountains. Still, who can resist the possibility of being the first to open a trail for the year?
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. We got off to an early start and conquered the Knotch and Steep Rock before being stopped at French Creek. Despite full exposure to the sun, the snow on the far side of French Creek was too deep to pass.
It would be another two weeks before any vehicles made it all the way to the infamous Cleveland Rock (the most difficult obstacle on the trail) and Holy Cross City. Boasting a population of 300 people in 1884, Holy Cross City once had a school and a hotel. Now a few cabins are left standing and several foundations can still be found, along with old mining equipment. Given that we couldn’t even reach the trail in June, it’s hard to imagine anyone living at Holy Cross City year-round. Off-roaders are tough, but they have nothing on miners!
Dennis Brown was camp cook for the weekend, and his food is almost as tasty as his Jeep. After running a warmed up six-cylinder for years, he recently upgraded to an LS3 engine in his 1985 CJ-7.
Phil Gilbeau’s early Bronco is a work in progress. The latest upgrade was a ZF five-speed manual transmission between the FITech-topped 302 V-8 and the Atlas II transfer case. Now that all of the drivetrain is sorted out he plans to put a paint job on the 1969 Bronco.
Carolyn Bradford had a blast wheeling the family’s 1974 Scout II through Holy Cross. D&C Extreme built the custom suspension with Radflo remote-reservoir coilovers and aluminum links at all four corners.
Eric Younger’s 1972 CJ-5 is affectionately called Leftovers since it was made mainly from parts he had lying around the shop. For a Jeep slapped together in a matter of weeks, it works incredibly well.
William Herman bought his Bronco before the prices went through the roof. These days there isn’t much Bronco sheetmetal left and the powerplant is a GM 4.3L V-6. What the rig lacks in Ford purity it more than makes up for in trail prowess.
We brought our Junior Mint Toyota pickup out to Colorado to run Holy Cross. The 38-inch Maxxis Creepy Crawlers worked exceptionally well on the wet rocks and ledges that we encountered on the trail.
The sign at the beginning of the trail warns of the perils to come. The good news is that Holy Cross is an “up and back” trail, so if you get in over your head you can always turn around and head back down the mountain. We saw plenty of people who drove partway up the trail and then hiked farther towards the top.
Greg O’Connell added a turbo to his four-cylinder YJ to give it enough power to spin the tires, even in the thin air at 10,000 feet. The factory axles were upgraded with lockers and chromoly axleshafts and the leaf springs were tossed for a Pro Comp coil conversion.
The coilover suspension on Dennis Brown’s CJ-7 provides ample flex, and the wheelbase was stretched at the same time the suspension was built to add stability on climbs like this one. Full-width Dana 60s also help keep the Jeep stable, even with 40-inch tall Maxxis Creepy Crawlers.
Eric Younger was our trail leader for the trip. He built many of the vehicles with us at his shop, D&C Extreme. As a result, he knows quite well how each works and reacts. He was happy to spot everyone through the more difficult sections of the trail.
Full-width axles from a 1976 F-150 were stuffed with 4.88 gears, chromoly axleshafts, and selectable lockers before being slung under Phil Gilbeau’s Bronco. The fenders were cut to make room for 37-inch Cooper STT Pros, and all the front sheetmetal is hung on a tubular substructure for easy removal.
French Creek was flowing swiftly when our group tackled the trail in mid-June. An exceptionally wet winter with several late storms meant that snow runoff was abundant.
Kevin Geiger’s YJ has a spring-over to make room for the 37-inch Cooper STT Pro tires on Rev Offroad beadlock rims. He is the first to admit that it’s too tall with the spring-over and 2-inch lift springs, but it was even taller when he bought the Jeep!
Eric Younger did his best to break trail through the snow on the far side of French Creek, but the sugar snow provided zero traction. Others in the group gave the snow bashing a try also but didn’t have any more success.
This area was under snow just a few weeks before we arrived, but the wildflowers were in full bloom during our June visit to Holy Cross. In the background you can see the actual Mount of the Holy Cross, which stands at 14,009 feet.
Our Toyota pickup’s custom Deaver leaf springs provide ample flex and keep the truck stable on the trail. A 1-inch body lift and cut fenders help provide space for the 38-inch Maxxis Creepy Crawlers on Champion beadlock rims.
Kevin Geiger’s YJ has a 5.7L V-8 engine backed by a 4L80 transmission and an Atlas transfer case. The rear axle is a Currie RockJock with an ARB Air Locker. The final piece of the puzzle will be upgrading the front Dana 30 axle in the future.
We camped at the base of the trail outside of Minturn, Colorado. This area is an outdoorsman’s paradise with endless hiking, mountain biking, and fishing.