This was a weekday run on short notice and it was staged just days before a larger group planned to run the trail on Saturday. There were only two members on the run, and other than that the day turned out to be all that you could ask for. The weather was ideal, with frost on the grass in the early morning and ice still on the puddles at higher elevations. Temperatures were in the mid 60s to the low 70s under deep blue, cloudless skies at mid-day. Even though it was too early in the season for the aspens to have turned, the colors had started to appear in the scrub brush at higher elevations.
As it turned out, we ran the whole trail without seeing another vehicle of any kind. We only saw one elk hunter along the trail and a group of four hikers joined us at Holy Cross City. Everyone was very friendly, enjoying the scenery. The hikers reached Holy Cross City about five minutes after we had, in spite of having started their hike a half-hour after we left the trailhead!
The trip started with our meeting at Downieville at 7AM. There was just the two of us, so we left on time. There was very little traffic on I-70. We drove straight to the turn-off from U.S. 24 onto Forest Service Road 703. The road was a washboard, so we pulled over, aired down, and disconnected our sway bars to make the drive to the trailhead a little more comfortable.
We reached the trailhead at 9:15AM and after a short stop to finish taking out windows and opening and dropping the soft tops, we headed up the trail. Roger took the lead as he had run the trail before. The early part of the trail was mild, and since it was dry none of the early rock sections created any challenges. We kept to the right side of the Slab as we did not want to risk damage before we got to French Creek. That would have been a huge letdown.
Having read the previous trip reports about Steep Rock being tippy at the top if you take the left line, we went up the right side. Our tires were wet and we didn't want to take the chance. Again, we didn't want to risk being sidelined before French Creek.
We were moving along at a good clip and were soon at French Creek. We took our time here, walking around and discussing the various lines either around or over the boulders. Roger confirmed that the original "easy" route was on the left, but that had changed considerably since he was last there about five years ago. The far right line might be doable, but if you didn't make it up over the boulder, you'd likely be stuck since you'd have to make a sharp left turn in the creek as you approached the boulder. If you slipped back off that, you'd be wedged against the rock face behind you and your only option would be to winch forward.
We had read of Bill's problems on the middle line during a non-TrailDamage run, breaking a bead and needing to winch through, so that didn't seem like a good choice. We'd also read of the issues on the left line, but we decided it presented the best chance for us to get through without damage. Roger lined up first. The plan was to put his driver's side tires up over the boulder that had fallen in from the left, and to keep his passenger's side tires on top of the rocks on the right side of that line. It was kind of like trying to follow a very twisted, bumpy set of rails, trying to keep all four tires up on the rails.
All went well until a bit of bad spotting (it's tough to take pictures while spotting!), and that resulted in Roger's right rear tire slipping off the rock it was supposed to go over. It was a disadvantage having a long wheelbase this time. Roger ended up with his front differential hung up on a rock and his right rear resting on his control arm mount. He couldn't go forward or back so he broke out the winch.
He was soon off those rocks, but now he was out of position for the second part of the obstacle. His right front tire slid in a crack between two rocks and they squeezed the bead off his wheel so that his tire was losing air. Through use of the winch and power, Roger got through the second section. He would later need to air that tire back up as it was down to about three pounds of pressure. Checking his Jeep after the obstacle, Roger found that he'd scraped up the ears on his rear drive shaft's U-joint sometime during that obstacle. Luckily, it wasn't bad enough to break the U-joint but it easily could have been much worse.
Mike was next, following the same line that Roger took. Roger spotted Mike through the first part of the obstacle, placing his driver's side tires over the boulder on the left and keeping his passenger's side tires on top of the rocks. Mike was over the first rocks with only minor scraping on his skid plates. The short wheelbase helped keep the tires on the correct line as a hard right turn is required while making this maneuver. The second part of the obstacle provided a little challenge because his wet tires wouldn't grip to pull up the last rocks. After a couple attempts at bumping it up and over, Mike hit it with a little momentum -- just enough to pop up over the rocks. We were both through with no damage and could breathe a sigh of relief!
The relief lasted until we got to Tippy Tree. Even though the left side of the obstacle has been built up and widened with rocks, it looked like it would be very off-camber with a good chance of sliding off the trail. We opted to take the line on the right with our passenger's side tires going up over the tree roots. Mike went first and was able to get his front tires up onto the top without difficulty. After that though, the front of the Jeep just wanted to slide to the left, getting tippy. After a couple attempts with the same result, Mike again used a little momentum to bounce up and over the roots without sliding sideways. Roger followed the same line and was up and over with only a couple tries. This time the advantage went to the longer wheelbase.
After Tippy Tree it was a short drive to the mine site and then to Holy Cross City itself. We were there just in time for lunch. The weather was perfect with just a hint of fall in the air. We did a little exploring, and then relaxed for a while, eating and taking in the views. After lunch we drove up to look at Cleveland Rock. It looks like it deserves its reputation. We'll leave that one to the more adventurous types as it looked like it could leave some bruises.
The trip down was relatively quick. Going down Tippy Tree can be intimidating as your rear end wants to slide to the right, but if you keep rolling forward you can drive right through it. French Creek was again relatively easy if you can keep your tires on top of the rocks. Mike and Roger both got through it with no theatrics. We took another breather after French Creek, sort of hoping that someone else would come up so we could watch them, but it wasn't to be.
We were soon at the exit, and after a dusty ride back out to U.S. 24, we were done by 3PM. We aired up and headed home, tired but feeling great.
Reports from Other Days: 9
Use the arrows or dots to flip through the previews of the other reports for Holy Cross. Click one of them to read more and see all of the photos from that day.