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After a very successful trip last fall hitting Black Bear, Engineer, Imogene and several other passes in the San Juan region of Colorado, I thought I’d climb over the mountain from Crested Butte to Aspen. Has anyone out there been successful on Brush Creek Trail? I was well prepared with spare axel shaft, tools and jacks. It was a Thursday with great weather, but I was alone. I was confident, but when I began asking around, I was warned the backside was the more difficult section, with a few sections that may simply too narrow for the FJ to get through. everything was great until I was a mile or two from the summit. I had to pass through what I believe I’ve heard referenced as a “tallow field”, basically blasted rock and rubble debris. It was so ungodly rough, I thought I broke my steering, and had to inspect a couple of times to verify both wheels were still connected. It WAS NOT a problem of getting through, just braking something. I did tear chunks out of my BFG All Terrains. I began thinking about the backside being the “hard part”. Not wanting to breakdown out there alone, I turned around.
I will be returning this summer and I want to complete this trail. Have any of you finished, and what do you think? What other trails in the area would be recommended.
 

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Brush Creek Trail is commonly known as Pearl Pass Road. Its doable, but its a rough one. I have done it about 40 times on a dirt bike. Seems like it get rougher and looser each year. I think that is partially due to ATVs, SxS now tearing things up and loosening the rock that was typically compacted by Jeeps and 4Wheelers over the year. Coming from the south (from Crested Butte), it gets particularly tough after you pass the Cumberland Basin Trail (579) to your left and starts climbing through a scree field (not tallow field...and that isnt blasted rock....that is just normal accumulated rock fall that is all over the Rocky Mountains). There are several shelf roads crossing these scree fields from where you stopped and turned around. Once you hit the top and descend into the Castle Creek Valley, there is a very long scree field (scree fields can be large enough they become what geologist call rock glaciers, ice and rock slowly plowing down the valley just like a snow glacier.) Its a straight shot across this area and going down should be no problem going downhill. You will hear some very hollow sounds as you pass over the scree fields and you can usually hear water flowing somewhere underneath all those rocks. There are plenty of tight switch backs on the Aspen side and its rough (if you did Mineral Creek just off US 550 past the waterfall up to Engineer...I would say that is about equivalent but longer. The biggest problem with Pearl Pass is that that area is prone to many avalanches and deep snow accumulation that typically does not melt until mid to late August. The greenies around Aspen dont plow any of the 4WD passes like they do in the San Juans. It is usually dug out by offroaders. You should have no problem if you go in the fall, but I will tell you anytime after the leaves change you can be tempting fate if you run into bad weather and snow. So you need to pay attention to the forecast. Plenty of hunters have had their equipment get stuck in surprise October snowstorms, only to have to return next summer to retrieve it. Special note: last week of September is typically peak aspen in this area near CB.

My recommendations around the area you are discussing is the Pearl Pass, Taylor Pass, Italian Creek Pass loop. (Italian Creek is also known as Reno Divide road - you want to take lower Reno Divide not the Upper Reno Divide Road as it has a very sketchy shelf road across a scree field where you can see someone rolled their 4WD vehicle off there a number of years ago. Last summer there was so much new rockfall and damage on the upper shelf road, only dirt bikes were able to pick their way through. Also note this area is near Taylor Park which has become the dirt bikers nirvana destination over the last decade or so. (used to be great...now just overrun by outsiders).

As far as other 4WD roads and passes.....there are lots and lots of them in Central Colorado. My suggestion -- join traildamage.com and start looking through those reviews. I also recommend the FunTreks Guide to Colorado Backroads & 4 Wheel Drive Trails and the FunTreks Guide to Northern Colorado Backroads and 4 Wheel Drive Trails (no affiliation).

Here's a pic from Upper Reno Divide last August. Sorry for my finger in the pic, but I had to quickly grab a photo of my buddy, one footing it and likely sh*tting his pants about toppling over to the right.

totoppling of
20200829_160325.jpg
 

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just as a reminder: here is the pic of what remains of the 4WD vehicle in the center foreground
20200829_160630.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks for your advice and experience. I’m going to upgrade my steering this spring, and I plan on making another trip out in September.
 

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We did Pearl in our Tacoma several years ago. There were a few times where I was concerned. That scree field you mentioned, some fairly deep snow near the top, and the rushing creek you basically drive down on the Aspen side. I remember it took a very long time. My plan was lunch in Aspen, haha! We had dinner there. I’ve got very tired of the beating we were taking. Came back on Keebler. Happier wife, but it got late.
Fyi, I was not with another vehicle, saw some bikers, and some four wheelers. I just saw it on the map, and decided to try it. I had no idea what I was getting into.
 

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Yeah the 3 pass loop of Pearl, Taylor, Italian Creek might be a several day adventure. You might look to do some overnight camping if you want to do all three when you are there. That loop is a long day on dirt bikes with a pace that is much faster than 4WD vehicles.
 

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We have a 4-wheeling group in Crested Butte that goes out every Monday June thru September. We usually do Pearl over and Taylor back each year (clockwise). The other direction (Taylor then Pearl) is considerably more difficult, not that I consider it particularly challenging, but our group doesn't have much experience as a whole. We did it counter clockwise 4 or 5 years ago and had something like 13 or 14 instances of people getting high centered. Me and a couple of buddies met a Rising Sun group about a decade ago that had done Marble to Crested Butte via Lead King Basin and the Punch Bowl the previous day. They were heading to Aspen and then back to Denver. We took them up to Reno Divide and then Upper Italian over to Taylor Pass. They turned off to head to Aspen at the top of Taylor so we continued on to Pearl. We got to the top of Pearl just as the sun went down so we went down Pearl in the dark. Kind of fun actually. When you get to the highway after going over Pearl and take a left towards Ashcroft you'll go past the Pine Creek Cookhouse in short order on your left, which is a fabulous place to eat. We always try to eat there when we do the loop. Pearl usually isn't passable till sometime in August. It was completely blocked on the Aspen side several years ago. We did it the following year and it was fine.

I'll take the group on Upper Italian Creek (Upper Reno Divide) from time to time, once I get a reliable report that there isn't any blockage of the trail crossing the part in the picture above of that section of the scree mountain (there is nowhere to turn around and backing up would not be something I would want to have to do). Here's a picture of me one time approaching that section:

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And HERE's a short video of me going through the technical section in question in my 4-Runner.
 

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We usually do Pearl over and Taylor back each year (clockwise). The other direction (Taylor then Pearl) is considerably more difficult, not that I consider it particularly challenging, but our group doesn't have much experience as a whole. We did it counter clockwise 4 or 5 years ago and had something like 13 or 14 instances of people getting high centered.
Doing the river downhill on Taylor rather than uphill is preferred? Seems like you'd hit more traffic that way, and I'd be hard pressed to think of any great spots to pass two groups in that section. Pearl is one of the few trails in that area that I haven't done, in either direction. May need to make an effort next year to fix that.

p.s. wife and I were shopping for a spot this time last year and Gunnison was my first choice, which would have allowed me to hang out with you guys up there. She vetoed due to the cold, so we ended up with a spot near Winter Park instead.
 

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Wife and I were shopping for a spot this time last year and Gunnison was my first choice

The real estate market in Crested Butte is insane and I suspect it's rubbing off to some extent on Gunnison as well so it could be you missed an opportunity (depending of course on what's going on in Winter Park).
 
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