FJ Summit #9

FJ Summit #9

Get Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine on the App StoreWe had a long day of driving as we made our way to Ouray, CO. We had spent 3 days at the Grand Canyon South Rim and one night near Monument Valley. Our mini-convoy of three FJs from S. California rounded that final corner off the 550 highway into Ouray and I was excited. We had finally arrived at another FJ Summit, my 4th. We parked the FJs and walked into the vendor area, caught many familiar faces and exchanged greetings. Attendees were lining up for dinner at FJ Summit headquarters, Twin Peaks Lodge while others were browsing vendor booths. You could sense everyone was ready to hit some trails and make memories with new and old friends.

After dinner we took off to set up camp just above the town near the Amphitheater campground. There’s an entire section of free camping at the “secret” meadows and many chose that route this year as we were told there were many FJs camping there. The moths and flying bugs were out in force, but this time I planned for it and brought along some battery powered LED lamps (GLOstick Flying Insect Trap) that had a sticky tube to catch the buggers. We made camp with our new to us Turtleback Trailer and settled in for the night.

Day 2 The Infamous Black Bear Pass

Our first trail day prove to be a long one, but it doesn’t matter when you get to romp on trails all day, have dinner with a few hundred FJ friends and then go on a night run. The entrance to the trail head is up Highway 550 near Red Mountain. The trail passes through lush green mountain sides, waterfalls, rocky ledges and tundra at the summit. Your view is far and wide showcasing the surrounding peaks as you stand at 12,840 feet. The previous winter brought lots of snow and there was still plenty left, in large patches, and more than usual above 10,000 feet. Black Bear trail is always blocked with snow that the city waits until the very last minute to clear and open the trail for the event.

There are many stories of death on the notorious Black Bear trail. It was only months ago a four-door Jeep Wrangler flipped over the trail and ended up sitting on the trail below. Luck was on their side and the Jeep didn’t end up rolling completely off the mountain and they escaped with their lives. Stories like this are a dime-a-dozen. Some near misses and deaths make Black Bear a pucker factor of 10+, especially if it’s your first time. I had the pleasure of photographing many of the FJs in our group going down the precarious steep, rocky section near the mouth of Bridal Veil Falls. It really gave me a new perspective and it’s not as bad as it seems. Everything always looks worse in the seat of your rig, so get out and check it out if there are any doubts. We were fortunate enough to have excellent Black Bear Ambassadors to help navigate the steep descent.

The infamous Black Bear switch backs are a 2-point turn journey down the face of the mountain. It seems there is always drama, traffic or both on the switchbacks. This year was no exception. We had a hard headed ol’ Jeep guy who didn’t want to perform a standard 2-point turn on a switchback and cut the inside of the switchback and ended up breaking his axle and pointing cliffside on the trail. One of our own FJs offered up his help and immediately got shut down with a, “F off, I don’t need any help!” I guess you didn’t need any help breaking your axle either. Nice one jerk. I began relaying info about our situation to the spotter at the top of Black Bear’s rocky descent and after an hour or so his Jeep buddies finally got him limping down the trail. There were several FJ groups behind us and we were finally on the move again.

We rode into Telluride behind schedule, broke for lunch and took the Ophir Trail back to FJ Summit HQ. After dinner and wandering around the various vendor tents we went back to camp and I got ready to go on the new official night run to Imogene Pass. The run was sponsored by Baja Designs, one of the premiere off road lighting brands and was accompanied by two reps from Baja Designs,

Night runs are special, especially at 13,000 feet. If you’re like me and have lots of lights (all by Baja Designs) you are giddy with anticipation. Finally you get to light up the night with all those lights you installed… and blind all your trail buddies at the same time. I had the honor of having Trent Kirby, Operations Manager from Baja Designs riding with me. We of course talked lights and what I had installed and what I may need to finalize my lighting on the FJ. Our group of FJs lit up the trail. I was about 4th in line and I had over 40,000 lumens piercing the darkness with an arching view from driver side to passenger side. Everyone had their lights on and you could see light beams dancing through the tree line as we made our way up to Imogene Pass.

We stopped briefly at the top of the pass, took photos and were mesmerized at the moon lit scenery. The air was brisk and chilly. The stars were out in full glory and the milky way stretched across the night sky. We made it safely back down the mountain and went our separate ways back to hotels or campgrounds. I didn’t plan on a trail the next day and could sleep in.

Day 3 A Lazy Day

We woke up leisurely and started breakfast. Our daughter wandered around camp and played with Sadie, Ben Ohlin’s dog. He and his Dad were our our camp neighbors. The  camp was perched on the side of the mountain and had wonderful views of the surrounding mountain sides above Ouray. We wandered around town, relaxed and then had dinner with the rest of the attendees back at camp.

Day 4 Into The Clouds

High atop Imogene Pass clouds were fast approaching while we enjoyed the cold damp air taking photos with the official summit sign. It read Imogene Pass Elevation 13114 Feet. Within minutes the clouds engulfed the summit and we were in for a cautious ride down to Telluride. Visibility was about two car lengths and it was exhilarating, but we took our time and slowed the pace to make it safely down the mountain. I was updating the ground crew below (mostly Arizona FJs waiting for us at a mine below, waiting to drive up) via HAM  about our condition. They were having fun joking about all the lights on my FJ. “Hey Dennis, you need more lights!” They could also see that our intrepid trail leader (Rob Elliot) had his 40” Baja Designs Stealth light bar strobing from inside the cloud as we made our way. That must have looked impressive. As the AZFJs passed  us while on our potty break we chatted about our experience in the clouds and wished them luck on their way back to HQ up and over Imogene Pass. Back at HQ, the Ouray Fire Department was hosing down a massive line of FJs and collecting donations, an event tradition.

Raffle Time!

After dinner we helped clear the tables and set up the many rows of chairs and got ready for an epic night of raffle prizes. The sponsors and prizes lineup is nothing short of amazing. All the biggest names in the off road industry were representing; TRD, Discount Tires, Fox, Total Chaos, All Pro Offroad, ARB, Baja Designs, Baja Rack and lots more. It takes about 2 hours to get through it. I won nothing this year, but it doesn’t matter knowing that it’s all about giving back to the great community of Ouray and supporting the FJ Summit organization. Year after year they work diligently to bring you the best FJ event possible.

A Very Early Morning

The morning after I woke up before the crack of dawn (4:00 am) and drove to town to get there early for the popular FJ Summit group photo. They close the main street, bring in a crane and take photos of each vendor and many more of the FJ owners and there rigs. It was still dark and there were FJs lining up along the street and waiting for the final positioning. While waiting, many of us looked in awe as the sun started to light up the surrounding mountain peaks with alpenglow. I would later find out I didn’t need to get there so early, because I would be included as part of the TCT Magazine vendor photo in the front. Writing for TCT has it’s benefits. It’s a site to see so many FJs lined up in one pace then all departing like a herd of cattle stampeding the town of Ouray. That wraps up another successful Summit. Next year will be special one since it’ll be FJ Summit number 10. I wonder what they’ll do to commemorate it?

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