Georgia Pass, Middle Fork of the Swan River & Saints John
Sometimes we just need to take a random Friday off work to head out of the crowded city and into the mountains to clear out heads before those same crowds get to the mountains themselves for the weekend. Occasionally I'm fortunate enough to have the company of my stepdaughter on some of these trips. I enjoy watching her gain confidence off-road in her recently acquired Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and on this day she outdid herself, particularly on the Middle Forks Tombstone Hill.
Like any other morning before off-roading, we were running a bit late. Today's delay was mostly a result of some debate about taking the JK topless for the first time. After a bit of discussion about the weather, which was to be chilly at best, it was a GO for no top. Finally we gassed up and hit the road. Since it was 8 when we finally headed out, instead of 7 as planned, we ran into some morning commuter traffic. Luckily we were headed out of town while most others were headed into town for their workday.
We made short work of 285, even with stopping in Bailey to top off with gas, and soon we were heading North from Jefferson, CO to start up Georgia Pass. The ride up Georgia Pass from the South Park Range is an uneventful dirt road for the most part; but once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with great views and a nice semi-technical downhill drive immediately afterwards. Or choose the stunning views on Glacier Ridge Trail and exit on SOB hill for a highly technical decent onto Middle Fork of the Swan River trail. But, since my 4Runner has a low lift for 33’s and Kristi’s relative lack of experience on a trail that challenging, I decided it would be best to skip it this time.
Nonetheless we had a nice ride down Georgia Pass’ North side until we came upon a group of about 6-8 KTM riders, from an even larger KTM rally, who were blocking the trail at the North gate due to an injured rider and damaged bike. Not one to complain under such circumstances, we waited patiently for them to clear the trail, which took about 45 minutes. The rider was okay. But the bike suffered from a cracked radiator and he was forced to coast back down to the trailhead for help from the rally events support team. Once past the gate, we made relatively quick work of the trail while taking in the views along the way.
Georgia Pass Pics
Georgia Pass ended and the 2nd leg of the day was to head up the Middle Fork of the Swan River trail. I was looking forward to this segment as I’d only been DOWN this trail before on X4, but it was just after climbing Radical Hill and on that trip we had immediately come upon a fast moving snowstorm just as we reached the stop. Having learned our lesson on high mountain storms while defending Mt. Sneffels, we very quickly made our way down with little consideration for the view or the terrain. This time I intended to take it all in. Including the challenge of climbing Tombstone Hill. I’m happy to report that the trail did not disappoint. The views were excellent and the trail was a perfect challenge for my 4runner without lockers. Tombstone Hill took a few attempts while adjusting momentum and line, but I made it!
I mentioned Kristi’s lack of experience earlier and I was impressed that it didn’t show even a little as she maneuvered her way up the steep, rocky and off camber climb with a calm that comes with more experience than the has. Her dual lockers and a bit of spotting helped, but we all know that poise has its place on a sketchy climb. When she was finally up she heckled me with the usual “What was your problem here?” I suggested she go back down and try it again without her lockers, which she declined with a smirk.
Being that it was Friday, the trail was mostly clear. We came across a few side by sides and KTM’s, but only two other street legal vehicles back on the downside of Georgia Pass. So when we reached the summit of the Middle Fork trail, we had the views almost completely to ourselves. And what stunning views they were!
Middle Fork of the Swan River Pics
Having missed out on the North Fork trail when I was in the area a few years prior, I was very excited to travel along the near vertical hillside heading toward Wise Mountain. The views and exposure here didn’t disappoint.
I planned the descent down Saints John because my understanding of the trail is that it was a mellow ride down into Montezuma. Of course many of you know better and are chuckling at my ignorance. Others should know that, while not technically challenging, there are some significant hill climbs and switchbacks to negotiate, the trail is well worth it and I wouldn’t change a thing about the trip. Except that maybe we had left on time so that we could have taken in more of the views, even if just for one extra hour.