2005 Land Rover National Rally

Trip Report

The following is my account of the rally and does not cover things done by other participants. It is still a draft so may change as I edit it further.

2005 Land Rover National Rally – Leadville Colorado .

I just got back from the 16th Annual Land Rover National Rally hosted by the Solihull Society. I am exhausted, dirty, a little poorer and probably still a bit hung over. Despite joining me for the Rally and enjoying herself, my wife has no sympathy for all my post Rally complaints. This is my 4th Rally in succession and the best so far.

This year’s event came back to Colorado and was held in Leadville. It came back with a vengeance. For the first time in the history of the event registrations were closed off prior to the event due to the overwhelming number of registrations that were received. Officially there were 288 attendees in 142 vehicles. There was actually more Land Rovers at the rally than officially registered because there were at least 3 Defender 130’s yet only one was officially registered. I also saw at least 3 LR3’s during the event yet only 1 was registered. People came from 28 of the 50 USA states with attendees from Canada and the UK also being present. A break down of Land Rovers registered includes:

bullet1 - 109
bullet5 - ‘88’s
bullet6 - Defender 110’s
bullet1 - Defender 130
bullet46 - Defender 90’s
bullet49 - Discoveries
bullet30 - Range Rovers [1 just several weeks old]
bullet1 - LR3

 If attending but unregistered vehicles were added in the total number of vehicles would have been in excess of 160 land Rovers. A number of people from around Colorado came up to talk with me who had come up to Leadville just to look at the Land Rovers, driving their Land Rovers of course. No wonder we did not see many Jeeps driving around Leadville during the event, our large numbers must have intimidated them.

Besides the Venturers in their Defender 130, I spoke with one group of three who flew I from the UK , rented a car to get themselves to Leadville then rode with other participants in spare seats each day. They had a great time. What a way to have a holiday from their wives!

Leadville is an old Silver, Gold and Lead mining town located approximately 2 1/2 hours drive west from Denver right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains . It was incorporated in 1878 and is the county seat. Most of the buildings in the 70-square block Leadville National Historic Landmark District were built between 1880 and 1905 which ensures that it has a rustic and charming atmosphere. Some of the famous visitors to Leadville included Buffalo Bill, Doc Holiday and Texas Jack.

From a Four Wheeling perspective Leadville provided a unique base to call home for an event such as this. Being the highest incorporated Town in the United States at 10,340 feet above sea level [1.96 miles just to put things in perspective] is like being in a Four Wheeling candy store. Leadville is surrounded by: White River National Forest; Holy Cross Wilderness; San Isabel National Forest; Collegiate Peaks Wilderness; Mount Massive Wilderness; Arkansas River Valley; Arapaho National Forest; Pike National Forest; Buffalo Peaks Wilderness and the list just goes on. There are also at least 6 Mountain passes over 11,000 feet that area easily assessable, including the highest Mountain pass in the USA , Mosquito Pass. If all this does not have your mouth watering yet then have you ever heard of trails such as: Red Cone; Holy Cross; Iron Chest Mine; Iron Mike Mine; Hagerman Pass; Weston Pass; Mosquito Pass; McAlister Gulch; Chinaman’s Gulch and Tincup Pass, to name but a few.

Each morning starting from 7.30am Rally participants gathered at the “We Love Leadville” sign to join in the groups venturing out on trails. Over the course of the event there were 17 Trail leaders although on average only 14 went out each day with a group. Groups were on average less than 10 vehicles although on some of the more popular runs there were occasionally up to 14 vehicles. To ensure that all participants were able to take their trucks out and wheel, the trail difficulties ranged from the very easy such as Weston Pass to the Difficult such as Holy Cross.

To supplement the daily trails, events were scheduled for each evening. By having fully inclusive events each night participants were encouraged to get together away from their trucks, talk about the days events and get to know other enthusiasts from around the country. The Solihull Society does not use the event as a club fund raiser and puts back all monies raised into activities that benefit participants. As a result each registered participant received an event T Shirt, track access permits, drinks and food at a cocktail function, a catered Vendor event with Pizza and soft drinks and a sit down banquet  on the last night as part of their up front registration fee. Great value for all!

The Cocktail party on Thursday night was held from 6 pm to 8 pm at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. All participants had full and private access to the Museum along with food and beverages. As this was the first night get together people got to know each other in a relaxed and educational environment filled with the history of Colorado . Captain “Tiffy” Pearce-Smith MBE VSC with his two charges attended in their full Venturers Search & Rescue uniforms, becoming the center of attention. They had bought their Defender 130 Dual Cab over by boat from the UK to see the USA and join in this years Rally. A long way from home and their usual haunt, namely the coastal regions of Britain .

Friday night was Vendor night. This year we had 15 vendors including our own stand for selling Rally items. Companies from Specialist Land Rover Repair shops to official Land Rover Dealerships; from Aftermarket product manufacturers to Exotic Safari Companies; From Four Wheel drive accessories resellers to Land Rover Magazines were represented. The event was held in the Mining Museum Convention Center starting at 5 pm until 8 pm. Refreshments and Pizza were supplied as part of the registration fee. The Mining Museum provided access to a 75 seat theatre where attendees were also able to view the 2004 Land Rover National Rally DVD showing off all the fun we had in Moab last year.

The Rally culminated on Saturday evening with a fully catered banquet at the Local Leadville Elks Lodge. Apparently they made over $5,300 from the event and advised that the Rally was the biggest event they had ever catered. The evening started around 5.30pm although a lot of us who were still out on trails slowly filtered in until about 9.30pm . Yes a Defender, owned by a Land Rover master tech, had broken down and caused some to miss their Steak Dinners. The evening started with everyone having a meal before the Local Volunteer Search and Rescue team provided us with an informative run down on what they did in the area. They were very quick to point out that in all their history they have never had to rescue a Land Rover or it’s participants but regularly went to the aid of Jeep drivers. Does this provide and deep and meaningful insight into the capabilities of Jeeps versus Land Rovers and the psyche of their owners? I guess we will never know. After the presentation the annual Rally Raffle was held. This year $2,698 was raised from the Raffle and donated to the Volunteer Search and Rescue Squad. Raffle prizes ranged from Caps and T Shirts up to a 9000 pound Superwinch donated by Bill Burke.

Finally to Trails: The following are some trails I ran. Unfortunately I could not be on 14 different trails each day all at once. Bugger I wish I could!

Thursday 28th Ju ly 20 05 – Chinaman’s Gulch

Chinaman’s Gulch Trail is approximately 37 miles south of Leadville just outside the small town of Buena Vista . To get to the trail head we even had to drive through the local Prison Farm, signs, warnings and all. The trial is on the edge of the San Isabel National Forest west of Highway 285. Although surrounded by large peaks, we were happy to have drop down to a relatively low 7,000 odd feet above sea level. There were 12 Land Rovers in our group including 6 D 90’s, 4 Discoveries, 1 range Rover and a 1967 Series 109. Our group were form Missouri , Kansas , Arizona , Minnesota and of course Colorado .

After airing our tires down, our first ascent on the trail was relatively easy, albeit that it was continuous rocks and loose soil along a narrow pathway with close in trees. This bought us to our first obstacle, a very narrow gap called the “Squeeze” through some 5-foot high boulders, which required gentle use of the throttle, good wheel placement and a spotter outside to ensure that nobody scraped any panels. Fortunately we all passed through with little difficulty. We then proceeded along to a dry river bed with our capable leader, Chris Davis in his 1994 Defender 90 taking us to the right and up an old riverbed.

Not long after entering the dry river bed we came to an obstacle know as the “Rock Garden”. This obstacle is basically a series of very large boulders over a 30-yard piece of track that challenges vehicle control, wheel placement, undercarriage clearance and ones will power. Even with large tires, twin diff locks and additional clearance it is very easy to get hung up on the rocks and incur panel damage. Luckily for the more sensible amongst us there is a bi-pass of this challenge. Those who tried the obstacle were able to get through with relatively little difficulty although the spotting and instructions coming from outside the vehicle were invaluable in ensuring a clear passage. Lots of undercarriage bumping and metal scraping did however occur. One Discovery needed a winch assist and unfortunately my Rear Drive shaft decided to fail but other than that everyone had fun.

At this time we stopped for lunch under a very nice shady tree right next to the ‘Rock Garden”. This was great relief given that temperatures were quite high. Up till that point we had noticed lots of large quartz chucks all along our route. I was unable to find out why the area was called Chinaman's Gulch, however given that Quartz is usually an indicator of gold, that there were mines in the area and the prevalence of Chinese miners in Gold Mining areas, it is a good bet that the area would have been named after Chinese Gold miners probably from last century.

The next obstacle to be overcome was “The Waterfall”. This is a large rock area, which forms a waterfall when the river is running. There are three ways of approaching it. The left for mad keen lunatics [yes like me]; the middle being the challenging route; and the right being the easy route. Unfortunately our groups luck again run out at this point with our faithful leader breaking a rear axle on this obstacle and another D 90 [names with held to protect their reputations in Minnesota] breaking a front axle.

The trail then loops around without any major obstacles. Before part of the area became private land the trail used to loop down past a nice small lake and then provide a challenging drive up a riverbed through lots of trees and small rock ledges. Unfortunately this part of the trail has now been closed off by the property owner.

We then drove back out the same way we had driven in and back to Leadville for Drinks at the mining museum.

Friday 29th July  2005 – The Mining District.

The Mining District loop is an easy loop trail starting just on the eastern outskirts of Leadville. The local Chamber of Commerce has free maps of the area to help you find your way. The loop travels primarily through private property, namely the mining leases and surrounds and is filled with heritage and history. There are dozens of historic buildings, both mining and non mining, present. This area is strictly a high range driving area so nothing to worry about.

On the way out of the Mining District we took a stop a the Matchless Mine. This mine was made famous firstly by the amount of Silver taken out of it in it’s hey days but secondly because of it’s most famous inhabitant, “Baby” Doe Taber. The mine was purchased by Horace Taber in 1879. At it’s peak it was producing up to $2,000 per day in Silver before the price dropped out of the Silver market. The Taber’s went from being worth millions to being penniless working for $3 per day in wages. “Baby” Doe lived the last 36 years of her life in the 1 room mining building next to the winch room of the mine. If you are in the area and get the chance it is well worth the small entrance fee. This was a short day so we could all get back in time for the Friday night vendor event.

Saturday 30th July 2005 – Weston, Breakneck, Browns and Mosquito Passes.

We had a small group for today which was great. Karen Kreutzer was our trail leader and this is the first year in which she has lead trails on behalf of the club. Knowing this we of course proceeded to give her a hard time, questioning every turn, every leadership decision and comment. Basically we just gave her a hard time. Despite our heckling she ploughed on through the day ignoring our taunts.

At 11,900 feet Weston Pass is the 9th highest pass in Colorado . Or is it 11,921 feet? I’m not sure as different sources state a different height. The trail starts just south of Leadville. We initially drove through the Mt Massive Lakes area which is a low lying valley area just on the edge of the San Isabel National Forest . As we drove along the valley toward the rise to Weston pass we many Beaver Dams as the trail shadows the Union Creek. After leaving “Beaver Central” we started our slow gradual climb to the pass. From the trail a number of old derelict mining buildings could be spotted along the way. This area was clear cut in the 19th century at which time it was covered by Douglas Fur Trees. The area is now covered by re-growth and the Ponderosa Fur Tree. The tree line ends at approximately 11,000 feet where the distinctive moonscape appearance emerged.

Our group stopped at the peak of Weston Pass to take photos and breathe in the atmosphere of driving over such a high pass. The drive down the eastern slop of the Mosquito Range into the Pike national Forest was easy and uneventful other than seeing a few Deer racing through the trees at the roads edge. After a short drive on hard packed dirt roads we again headed off road towards Breakneck Pass. This pass is not even high enough to make it onto the High Pass list but it is a very scenic and interesting drive. First of all we drove along a narrow trail surrounded by close in Trees that gave us the feel of driving in a tunnel with just a little sunlight coming from above. As we dropped down from Sheep Ridge and Breakneck Pass we entered into a high mountain meadow aptly called Sheep Meadow. The area was know for some major “bloody” range wars in the past between Cattle Ranchers and Sheep Herders. Obviously this high pasture was a favorite of the Sheep herders so that the name has stuck.

The climb out of this meadow was to take us to Browns Pass. Unfortunately our first problem occurring here. One of our Discoveries [From Connecticut if memory serves me] had had trouble all day getting the low range to engage. Now he was stuck high range with no center diff lock. Given the climb out of this area he struggled to gain traction until Ralph Brandt in his 1970 Series ’88 came to the rescue and towed him out. Ever seen a mouse tow a wheel barrow? No! Well this was close to that. The area around here, whilst not a difficult drive, has fantastic scenery and offered a medium level of difficulty for stock standard vehicles.

After stopping for lunch before us lay the piece de-resistance for the day, Mosquito Pass. This pass is know as the Highest drivable pass in Colorado at 13,185 feet above Sea level. We approached from the Fairplay or East side. When we first turned off the highway we traveled through what amounted to be an almost ghost town. This area was recently populated but has since been deserted by almost all residents. A few miles further on is a small town called Park City , don’t blink or you may miss it.

Towards the end of the valley and before the climb to the pass starts we passed London Mountain . This area boasted 2 mines in it’s hey day, South London and North London mines. They provided so much ore that a rail line was pushed through to the base of London Mountain just to remove the ore. The remains of the mine buildings can be seen from the trail. Just after we passed the mine ruins we started to climb. This side of the Pass is rocky and narrow in places but easily handled by s tock vehicle. Clooney Lake is off to the North [or right ] from this point. About half way up the trail became somewhat rockier and our High Range Only Discovery only needed assistance over one small section. The climb and views were spectacular view vistas out to the south looking to Mount Evans at 13,577 feet and Mount Sherman at 14,036 feet. Down and to the left [that’s south] we also enjoyed a great view of the South Mosquito Creek Valley . The last part of this climb is on BLM public lands having left the Pike National Forest about half way up the climb. The views to the West and Eat form the top of the Pass were nothing short of amazing. We had a clear view as far as we could see.

For those with acrophobia the descent down to the West will be a little unnerving, if not downright terrifying. The descent is quite steep along a very narrow and shaley trail. There are several very tight switch backs that caused us no concern but the trail was quite dry with no snow around.  We had some fun with our passengers pretending to loose brakes and steering around the tight turns recovering just in time. Trouble here could see you tumble more than a 1000 feet over the edge. As our group was not set up for Hard Wheeling we did not take the option route up Birdseye Gulch and continued West past Mountain Lake , Diamond Lake and into the Mine District just outside of Leadville. Form here it was an easy drive into town with plenty of time to spare to shower and get ready for the final night Banquet.

Karen Kreutzer did a fantastic job as trip leader and nobody would have guessed that this was her first rally as a Trail Leader. In fact thanks should go to all 17 Trail Leaders on the event.