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Defeated By Mosquito Pass

• CATEGORIES: Features
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Ann’s son Daniel exploring the London Mill area in Mosquito Gulch.

Making a long story short, Ann and I drove to Omaha (non stop for 24 hours) to retrieve her son Daniel. On our way back we decided to take a slightly scenic route (he’s never seen Colorado or Utah).

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After all our driving on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we knew how those Pony Express riders felt as they raced across America! This was taken Wednesday evening at a rest stop near the board of Nebraska and Colorado.

With that in mind, we left Colorado Springs on Thursday on a northwest course to Alma. I then planned to head east over 13,000ft Mosquito Pass, drop into Leadville, and continue onward to I-70. Mosquito Pass sounded like it would be a harmless little pass, but we discovered the name belies the difficulty.

We started in Colorado Springs and drove west toward Grand Junction. I’d hoped to cut across Mosquito Pass.

Mosquito Pass’ history is as old as Leadville. It was built in 1877 for $25,000 by the president of the St. Louis Smelting and Refining Company to serve Leadville miners. The wagon road was desperately needed to bring in supplies from the Denver area and ferry smelted ore out of the Rockies. the road was crucial for Leadville’s transformation into a boomtown by the late 1870s. In 1879 my great great grandfather joined the crowd and built the Billing & Eilers smelter (which became the Arkansas Valley Smelter, the last smelter in Leadville).

In 1881 my then fifteen year old great grandfather Karl Eilers and two of his Denver friends decided it would be neat to visit Leadville. So, during the summer they hopped on some horses and rode the one-hundred-mile route. They traveled from Denver to Breckenridge, up over Hoosier Pass, and then over Mosquito Pass. How many kids get to do anything like that these days??

Leadville and the tales of my grandparents fill some of the pages of my newest book, so I wanted to make the journey over Mosquito Pass to see what they saw. Since the weather was perfect and the pass was open, I decided this was a great time to do it. I just didn’t know I needed a better 4×4 vehicle!

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Started on the east side of the pass on CR 12.

The road to Mosquito Pass, CR 12, starts just south of Alma, Colorado. We entered the dirt road ready for an adventure. The road begins as light washboard, then smooths out some as it winds through tiny Park City. After Park City it gets rougher and I rarely topped 20mph for the next mile.

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Nice dirt road at the start of Mosquito Pass.

Between mile markers 3 and 6 the road is somewhat rocky, but most vehicles could get through it. Around mile six is the abandoned London Mill, where we stopped to explore.

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Daniel, Ann and I jumped back in the jeep and continued westward for another half mile, crossing from the northside of the valley to the southside. The road was still rough, but nothing terrible.

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The road was getting rougher, so it we took our time, but not unmanageable.

However, as we navigated a sharp switchback we suddenly encountered a steep hill with large loose rocks and sizable undulations. The road ahead became very concerning.

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The road was much steeper, the rocks looser, and the undulations larger than they appear in the photo.

Our jeep Laredo is All-wheel-drive, so there’s some good traction, but it lacks low range and doesn’t have a great deal of ground clearance, two attributes I desperately wanted as I looked at the hill in front of us. Still, I thought I would tentatively work my way up the hill just to see how firm (or not) the rocks were. We got about twenty yards before it was clear the idea was a bad one. I decided to shift into reverse and carefully back down. As I carefully rolled back, the lack of low range was very noticeable. I worked the brakes gently and rolled as slowly backward as I could, but we still shifted toward the side of the hill. My normally mild mannered wife expressed some concern.

I will spare the details of temporarily getting stuck, as I would hate to diminish any lofty thoughts you might have of my four-wheel-drive skills, but lets just say that while we were close to sliding off the side of the hill, we didn’t. Instead, I managed to free the jeep from its temporary prison, avoided calamity, and got us back to the switchback. Whew!

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Safely back at the switchback.

Back at the switchback, Daniel and I hiked up the hill to see if there was any chance we could make the climb. However, defeat haunted us with every careful step.

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My altimeter indicated we were at 11,500 feet as we walked up this portion of the pass. Daniel and I made it around one corner, but the climb continued. I feel it was best not to re-attempt to climb the hill.

How in the world horse-drawn supply carts went up this hill and horse-drawn ore wagons went down it safely is a mystery to me! Next time I am bringing a REAL jeep and will make it over the pass!!!

So, yes, we retreated from Mosquito Pass with our tails between our legs. When we reached Alma, we turned north for Frisco, where we sat down for some German Sausages. We are driving toward Utah as I type this, but I haven’t decided where we will stop for the night.

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Ann and Daniel and Daniel and Ann with a little help from Photoshop in Fairplay at the South Park sign.

 

9 Comments on “Defeated By Mosquito Pass

  1. Merlin Hanson

    Defeated but still a great adventure 🙂 I often look back at things my father, grandfather and ancestors did in their youth and wish our kids nowadays could get out in the world and have such experiences. Cannot wait for the new book.
    -Merlin

  2. Steve E.

    There’s no such thing as “fail” in off-roading. Well, unless you do something foolish, like breaking something needlessly. The point is to drive until you can’t drive no-more. There’s always a point where the trail becomes too narrow, too weathered. The skill shows when you know the limitations of your machine. You weren’t defeated. You had your adventure and were smart enough to know when it’s time to turn around. You proved you’re a great off-roader. You proved you’re not foolish. The road will still be there when you return with Biscuit.

    Mother Nature always bats last.

    Enjoyed the story,
    **Steve E.**

  3. Mom

    I agree with Merlin and Steve. Enjoyed your story and I imagine Daniel enjoyed this outdoor adventure too. Maybe you will add another Jeeper to the family!

  4. Seth

    You drove by my house (including my CJ Camper), next time you’re passing through on 70 email me…

  5. David Eilers Post author

    The defeat was only temporary. We still had fun :-). Daniel had never seen the mountains of Colorado nor the red rocks of Utah (pics forthcoming).

    Seth: this trip wasn’t very organized, so I didn’t do a good job of broadcasting where we were going. I am confident we’ll be back through next spring. By then I ought to be peddling my books to areas impacted by the smelting companies 🙂

  6. Thomas Vines

    I attempted Mosquito Pass this past weekend, 8-27-2016. I had rented a 2016 Ford Explorer, the Counter guy said he thought it would make it over the pass, Also I have a friend who has gone over the pass many times said it would make it. I went at it from the Fairplay side, I made the switchback and started up the steep incline, I had some serious concerns about getting up this section, but I made it up to the ruins of a Mine structure, I went past it and started up a very rocky section, I got about 300 yards into it and determined I could go no further, I had to back down the trail. I had a ball trying to get over this pass, but on the bright side, I saw some Moose grazing as I went back to Fairplay with my tail tucked…

  7. David Eilers Post author

    Thomas, sorry to hear you didn’t quite get over that. Had the counter guy ever been over that pass? I’m surprised they’d rent a vehicle knowing someone was going to attempt the pass.

    I WILL make it over that pass some day!

  8. Robert Beery

    please tell me about your book regarding mosquito pass. we just bought a cabin in Park City and love learning more about the history.

  9. David Eilers Post author

    Hi Robert,

    The book I wrote is called SLAG & The Golden Age of Lead Silver Ore. It includes a chapter about Leadville, including some history of the town, because my great great grandfather Anton Eilers teamed up with Gustav Billing to build a smelter there in 1879. That smelter was sold to August Meyer (another well-known Leadvilleite) in 1882, then later became the Arkansas Valley Smelter, which was subsequently bought by American Smelting and Refining Company (which later became ASARCO) in 1899 and run by the company for decades.

    So, there’s quite a bit of Colorado mining and smelting history in the book (Leadville, Pueblo, and Cripple Creek) spanning the years roughly from 1868-1905. Overall, it covers my family’s involvement in the smelting business from 1859-1921. It is 400 pages plus 100 pages of footnotes and appendices.

    You can learn more about the book here: http://www.deilers.com/?p=70 .. if you have questions or would like a signed copy, feel free to email me at d@deilers.com.

    Thanks!

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