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With the 4th of July (2000) coming up I knew I was going to have a long weekend. So of course this meant a camping trip was in order. I wanted to go somewhere that wouldn't be too crowded and also a place that I wouldn't have to spend a day on the highway driving to get there. After going over some trails in my head and looking at the map, Wheeler Lake seemed to be the perfect fit.
Wheeler Lake is located North of Fairplay, just outside of Alma. I have done Wheeler Lake twice before this trip, once in my scout when it was stock and I didn't make it past the last obstacle. The second time I did the trail was last year with a few modifications and that time I made it past the last obstacle to the lake. We decided to do the trail on Monday the 3rd and come back to Denver on Tuesday for the 4th.
I invited my friend Justin to come along and bring his TJ. On Monday morning we packed everything up and left Denver by 8:30 A.M. Justin brought his girlfriend Becca and my girlfriend always comes along and has gotten to be quite a good spotter. We reached the trail head which is just past a reservoir at around 10 A.M. Justin has a ?99 Jeep Wrangler TJ with 3 inch Tera-Flex lift with rotating control arms and a disconnectable sway bar. Justin's Jeep has the stock front Dana 30 axel and the rear is a Dana 35C with a ARB Air Locker. His Jeep runs 33 inch BFG Mud Terrains, and is set up very nicely with bullet proof bumpers front and rear. I was in my ?77 Scout with a 2 ? inch Rancho springs and a 1 1/4 inch shackles giving my scout almost 4 inches of lift. I have a 345 with a edelbrock 600cfm 4bbl carb. To keep the 4bbl from flooding out on the trail I turn the pressure regulator down to half a pound. My scout also has Dana 44s front and rear with ARB Air Lockers front and rear. I run 32 inch BFG Mud Terrain tires. We aired out tires down to 15 psi and began the trail.
The trail starts out pretty rocky from the start with a few rock fins to climb up, but nothing a stock vehicle couldn't handle. Shortly the trail climbs through some aspen trees and comes to an old mining facility that is still in good condition. The boiler and crushing wheel are still in pretty good shape as in cable system that brought in the ore. We walked around for a few minutes taking in the scenery and snapping a few pictures.
Farther down the trail is the first obstacle that would challenge a stock vehicle. It is a long steep rock out cropping that has a few small ledges cut in it. We both made it without even spinning a tire, but there was a red jeep Cherokee with a lift and no lockers that spun out a few times but eventually made it also.
A few minutes later down the trail is another challenging spot. There are three ways to get take this obstacle. One is to straddle a deep crack then at the top of the crack turn and cross it. The other way is a steep rutted out hill that I have climbed before but it took several attempts. The easiest way is to go up the smooth rock face in the middle. Justin and I gave the crack a try. I went up and over on my first attempt and lifted a tire a little bit at the end. Justin got a little off center in the crack and slipped, but didn't do any body damage. On coming out the top of the crack his TJ lifted its left front tire also. For the TJ to lift a tire it has to be a pretty twisty situation.
After this, the trail levels out some and there is not any hard obstacles, though the trail stays rocky and at one point it goes up a river that can be tricky. After the river comes the real challenge, first "Bowling Ball Hill", which is a long fairly steep hill full of big loose rocks and water flowing down it. Once at the top of the hill is the last obstacle, and the hardest. It looks kinda like a big V cut in to the rocks with water flowing down one side making it too slick to straddle. I lead the way up "Bowling Ball Hill" and spun out a few times on big wet rocks and Justin followed behind in the TJ. We both made it to the top of the hill after spinning some tires and taking a few different lines.
The last obstacle was all we had left to conquer. First I tried running up the slick left side of the V and trying to turn in to it. After spinning out a few times and hitting my front bumper, I could see that this was not the proper line to take. Next I tried climbing on the right side of the V and keeping the left side of the Scout in the crack. This put me on a very nice lean but proved to be a successful line to take. Climbing out of the V my right front tire did a pretty nice wheel stand but nothing like going back down the V.
On the way down I didn't cut the turn in time and lifted the drivers side tire close to 3 or 4 feet off the ground. Justin was next to go up and attempted the same line that got me up and over. His TJ doesn't have front locker so when its tire lifted it kept spinning out. But with some excellent driving skill and a rock that fell in the perfect place, Justin took the TJ right up with few problems. On his way coming down he took the perfect line and showed us how much his TJ would flex, and it flexes a lot.
At the top of the trail is Wheeler Lake. It is a fairly large high elevation lake that sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains on three sides and has two large water falls flowing in to it. It is one of the most beautiful places I have been. While most hard core 4 wheelers would probably find Wheeler Lake not very difficult it is a great trail and one of my favorite. We all had a good time 4 wheeling, exploring and camping, and we made it back to Denver in time to beat the holiday traffic and see some fire works.
From Denver take I-70 west through Dillon and look for Highway 9 South to Breckenridge. Take 9 south through Breck and then up over Hoosier Pass. Shortly after the pass, look for FR 408 or CR 4 to take you west up to Wheeler Lake. The Forest Service will be installing a gate to keep the trail closed during the winter months (probably closes around Nov.1). Please respect the gate so we can keep the trail open in the future. Patrol 12 of the Mile High Jeep Club, the Fugowie Four Wheelers, who maitain the trail will work to get the gate open as early in the Spring as possible.