Sunday, August 24, 2008

Schofield Pass

On this trip we had driven over the highest vehicular pass in the U.S., Mosquito Pass, and now we were ready for the "deadliest" pass in Colorado, Schofield. Somewhere between 17 and 20 people have died driving the pass in the past 20 years. The worst accident was in 1970 when an inexperienced driver had his vehicle packed with 12 people. After driving through the water crossing at the top of the Devil's Punchbowl, he put on the parking brake to take a picture. The water crossing is deep enough to wet your brakes, and the vehicle slid off and down into the punchbowl and only 3 people made it out alive. In and around Crystal there were three different people that we told we were going over Schofield Pass that said, "Do you know what you're getting into up there?" Of course we knew. We've read about it and seen as many pictures as possible. At the beginning of the trail there isn't a sign stating that it is Schofield Pass, but the sign pictured below. "Vehicle Traffic Discouraged" made Jay laugh. The beginning is a very pretty and easy short stretch of road through aspen trees.
Yes, we're headed for Crested Butte. I would like to go back and do Lead King Basin sometime. It leads you right behind the Maroon Bells mountains.
The road quickly becomes narrower and rockier. From what I've read, it is more common to drive from Crested Butte down to Marble which seems to make the Devil's Punchbowl area even more dangerous. It is a two-way road, but thank goodness we didn't meet another vehicle until we were out of the Punchbowl. There is no way to get around someone.
Looking back you can see how narrow the road is next to that tree.
Looking ahead at a steep part of the road next to the snow bridge. There have been years that the snow bridge didn't melt off the road enough for the pass to be open the whole summer.
This was looking down at where you don't want to end up. Pictures really don't capture what it's like on this pass.
Driving past the snowbridge, we were almost at waterfall of the Devil's Punchbowl.
This is it! The infamous Devil's Punchbowl. It's actually very pretty and I didn't see any devils.
There is still a steep climb to get up above the waterfall/Punchbowl.
I took this looking back down in the Punchbowl. The pile of tree limbs is so close to the road it looked like it had probably blocked the road at some point and had to be cleared. A close up of one of the really rough and rocky sections.
We finally reached the main water crossing of the Crystal River. This was August 20 and I can't imagine how deep the water was in late July/ early August when the pass was first driven this year.
The sign on the other side of the water crossing is for the traffic heading down the Devil's Punchbowl. It says, "Dry Your Brakes. Steep Hill." Don't get out of your vehicle to take any pictures and definitely don't rely on your parking brake.
A look back at the water crossing.
Nearing the summit there are the same warning signs before you enter the hard part of the pass.
The rest of the pass is pretty relaxing. Jay said that driving over Black Bear Pass is more difficult than Schofield. I think the forest service and the law enforcement around Schofield discourage people from driving it because if you do need help or get seriously injured, it's extremely difficult to get to and takes a long time. The difficult part of Black Bear Pass is one-way, but since it's right above Telluride you can get help quicker than on Schofield. The road was always plenty wide enough for our Jeep Rubicon Unlimited. I've even seen pictures on the internet of someone that drove a Hummer over the pass. If you are an unexperienced off-roading driver or steep dropoffs or water crossings make you nervous, do not attempt Schofield Pass.
The Baroni Mine Portal.
The view at the summit is not impressive nor is the elevation compared to most mountain Jeep trails.
Emerald Lake.
The road smooths out but is still narrow and we had to work our way around this group of cars that was heading up to the lake.
In the center is the first view of Mount Crested Butte.
The ghost town of Gothic is above Crested Butte and you can only enter with permission.
This appeared to be a non-ghost town part of Gothic.
The Gothic Town Hall.
Finally back to civilization with an awesome view of Mount Crested Butte and the ski runs. I really like that mountain!


Lois said...

These pictures are just amazing! I would never be brave enough to attempt driving on those roads.

Anonymous said...

I drove over that pass with a full size f-150 2 wheel drive with no trouble.

Did the same with black bear pass.

Lisa Wilson said...

2-wheel driving anything sounds crazy for both of those passes. I'd love to see those pictures!

Lisa Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug said...

I drove down Schofield Pass on a large 4-cylinder street motorcycle in 1980. Details and pics here:

And drove up it in a bone-stock Suzuki Samurai in 1989. Both trips were etxremely interesting....

Lisa Wilson said...

Wow, Doug! That's a great trip report. Scary!

beetlebugg said...

My husband just took over Schofield Pass. It is one of the most dangerous passes! This is the first year that it was totally passable in a long time. We took our Jeep Rubicon unlimited over it. It was mighty scary in some parts, however, very beautiful! There wasn't as much water as when you guys went! However, the rocks that were coming up out of the road, were a lot taller this year! Like you said, if you are not sure, don't do it! I would not have done it, except, my husband was driving and we could not back down! Great pics. We took a lot too!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just found this page and I'm not sure if anyone is reading it lately. But, I tried the link for Doug's trip report and got the message "Page not found." If Doug still reads this can you please update the link? i would really like to read your trip report.

Also I very much enjoyed this post; it's the best I've seen about Schofield Pass. Your photos are wonderful!