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Black Bear Pass, Once a Year, Backwards

Posted in Features on September 23, 2016
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Did you figure out the title? It’s Black Bear backwards. We recently got a chance to run the infamous trail backwards. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most four-wheelers, and we had to take advantage of the chance when we got it.

The story goes like this. Our buddy Mike, like many, is a lifelong four-wheeler. He lives, loves, sleeps, and eats 4x4s. Much of his life revolves around getting out in the dirt and engaging locking hubs, lockers, and low range. In fact, he has now added four-wheeling to his professional resume after spending a season as a Jeep tour guide and driver for Switzerland of America Jeep Tours in Ouray, Colorado. As a part of this unique 4x4 dream job, Mike got connected with the Wild Bunch 4x4 Club of Montrose, Colorado, and as it happens this club does backflips through flaming hoops to get permission from local authorities to lead a few lucky souls through this incredible trail once a year—backwards, swimming upstream, against the flow, fighting gravity and physics.

Coming down Black Bear Pass, the generally correct direction, is nothing to sneeze at. With the amazing views, the off-camber and often slick stair-step portion at the top of the impressive decent, and the breathtaking switchbacks, it is probably not that surprising that people have died falling off this old mining road near Telluride, Colorado. Doing the trail backwards takes steady nerves and a cool head. Beyond the pucker factor of driving inches away from thousand-foot drops and a few technical climbs, the trail is not all that hard—not even backwards—but add a little rain and the rocks get slick and the trail becomes that much more intimidating.

One day in August 2016, we woke up well before sunrise so we could can make it to the top of the one-way section of Black Bear Pass by 9:30 and thus not interfere with too many folks running the trail the correct direction. We loaded up in Mike’s 1947 CJ-2A and headed for the . . . er, end of the trail near Telluride, Colorado. Now, we could wax poetic on is amazing experience, but instead we will just show you the pictures with some light captions.

Bridal Veil Falls is one of North America’s most beautiful waterfalls in our opinion. Usually when you are running Black Bear Pass the falls are one of the last spectacles of the trail as you descend towards Telluride, Colorado. Today the falls greeted us for our backwards blast up Black Bear Pass.
One way only, unless you get special permission that involves backflips through a flaming hoop. They are not kidding. Running this trail backwards without permission could lead to serious trouble or even someone’s death.
The Switchbacks are a series of—you guessed it—switchbacks that allow the trail and vehicles on it to drop down into the valley of Telluride. These Switchbacks are no joke, requiring multipoint turns from almost all vehicles up, or down. Our pal Mike shows that even a flattie isn’t short enough to make this switchback without a three-point turn. Some of the switchbacks have large rocks in them, and all border on loose edges that lead to hundreds of feet of drop-off. These drops would easily kill people and destroy a vehicle if the driver isn’t very careful during the turn-and-back portion of a multipart turn.
See the loose rock edge behind this JK that belongs to Joel Swedberg? That loose rock edge is all that comes between the trail and a steep drop without much to stop a falling vehicle for tens if not hundreds of yards. Danger!
Hug the upper wall when going up or down the trail, but mind those rocks. Getting a tire up on one of the rocks gives you a tippy feeling that you won’t enjoy while looking down into Telluride hundreds of feet below.
Above the Switchbacks is a mine tailing pile and the remains of a mill at the Ingram Mill where rock that had been drilled was crushed before being transported before being processed to recover precious metals. This area is beautiful with a crystal clear creek crossing the trail. It’s a good spot to regroup and calm nerves after the Switchbacks and before going up the Steps.
Whether you are going up (backwards) or down Black Bear Pass, the Steps are the most nerve-racking part of the trail. Here the trail crosses bedrock that has ledges and an awkward off-camber tilt towards the creek bed, cliff, and certain death—or at least disaster. Add in a little rain or moisture and expect your tires to slip the wrong way. Nerves of steel, a steady foot, and keeping calm are all key on this stretch of the trail.
PhotosView Slideshow

Sources

Switzerland of America Jeep Tours
970-325-4484
soajeep.com
Wild Bunch 4x4 Club
Montrose, CO
www.wb4x4.com

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