The Last Hurrah of our summer 2016 camping season almost didn’t happen as my husband was traveling on business in the Carolinas with Hermine fast approaching. However, he managed to make it home so we loaded up the Jeeps for Labor Day weekend and caravanned with friends several hours southwest to Hermit Pass where we camped at tree line (about 11,000 feet altitude) and had a great time, despite Mother Nature’s attempts to rain us out and blow us away.
Hermit Pass trail itself is easy, though rocky. We actually opted to air down and disconnect sway bars for a more comfortable ride. Several trucks passed us while we were airing down and poked some fun, but as we saw other vehicles bouncing along on the trail while we swayed over the bumps I think we got the last laugh!
Getting there was easy enough – three and a half hours from Fort Collins to Westcliffe. From Westcliffe, County Road 160 heads from town to the mountains, becoming a gravel road and then intersecting with Hermit Pass Road, which is the trail. We wheeled for about two hours, looking for dispersed camping areas. Most were taken and we turned around above tree line (where the wind was whipping and daytime temps were in the low 50s) hoping to find a suitable place to spend the night.
On our way back down we lucked out on one of the trail spurs that led to a fantastic dispersed campsite nestled below mountains looming on both sides.
We spent a few minutes admiring the scenery, then went about setting up camp as we saw dark clouds sailing over the mountains and heading straight for us. Yep – we didn’t even have the tent up and rain fly on before it started pouring, and that became the theme for the weekend. It rained, and it rained, and it rained. Camp chefs E and M made an amazing marinated pork loin meal for dinner Saturday evening, which we ended up eating in the Jeeps to escape the rain. At one point our son cooked hotdogs over the fire, which we barely managed to keep going through the drizzle.
Saturday night brought more of nature’s adventures as the wind blew at gale force and our tent kept collapsing upon us in the gusts. My husband and I spent most of the night pushing the tent back up into place while the dogs freaked out and our son slept through everything (don’t you miss being a kid?!). Things looked better in the morning in the warm sunshine, though...
But minutes later, dark clouds once again signaled...what? You guessed it –- more rain. *sigh*
There is nothing worse, in my humble opinion, than being wet and cold and sleeping on the ground. Doesn't this make you want to run out and go camping right now?! Well, it was somewhat miserable but there’s always a silver lining. And this time?! MUD!!!! All the rain made the trail quite muddy in areas, and even though the strong wind finally splintered our tent pole on day two of our trip – which made it impossible to stay the last night - we ended up having a blast on the trail back down the mountain.
At the end of the day, there are always lessons to be learned and plans to be made for the next adventure. Here are some things we’ll be considering:
- A high profile tent is not ideal in windy areas (such as the high mountains at treeline). When we bought this tent we were happy with the size for our family (which includes two dogs) and we liked the easy set-up (just two poles). We didn’t consider that the height might be an issue in the wind, or that fewer poles would make the shelter less stable.
- Always be prepared for any weather. We stayed warm enough, but we wore every layer of clothing we brought (base layer, fleece/vest, down jackets, rain gear). Make sure to bring extra footwear and extra socks, including waterproof boots or shoes. And, don’t forget to bring warm gear for your pets!
- Always laugh! At one point on day two when things were cold and miserable and we were sitting out the rain for the fifth time, my husband pointed out that in survival situations mindset is the most important thing. Staying positive and finding the humor in any situation not only helps one survive, it makes the experience more fun for everyone!
As we neared the trailhead we stopped for one last photo opp.
Overall I liked Hermit Pass trail. It was a nice, easy time with fun mud… nothing too challenging, but after the rain and wind some easy wheeling was just what I needed. I’d definitely recommend this trail to anyone looking for an easy drive with great views. Stock Jeeps would have no problem as there are no areas requiring super high clearance – but airing down tires at the very least will make the ride more comfortable.
Did you have a Grand Finale camp outing to end the season? Leave comments below!