Colossal has always been about expansive views and the enjoyment of nature both on the trail and back at camp each night. It is not the trip to sign up for if you’re after bragging rights for the most technical trail, or sheer mental exhaustion after navigating a full day’s worth of California rock. As much as I love and respect those trips and trails, this simply isn’t one of them. It’s the wind-down event of the year to say goodbye to the summer season and take in the last of the fall views before the skis come out.
With that in mind, Colossal 2017 needed to hit the mark. I began planning in the spring of 2017 about where in the Kootenays we would hold the event. My planned areas were mapped and researched with little left to the unknown; other than the “pre-run” trip my local 4×4 crew was planning to run with me 2 weeks before the official event. Then summer hit, and the power of Mother Nature smacked us in the face with the worst forest fire season British Columbia has had in nearly 60 years. Homes and towns burned to the ground, the forest service roads closed, and a complete backcountry ban ensued as temperatures stayed high and precipitation ceased to exist. As the deadline approached with no sign of the fires subsiding, we planned a new route that would check off our boxes: a route into the gorgeous state of Montana. Under a slight panic the route came together quickly and we had enough information to be confident of an exciting adventure in the Last Best Place. A week later, and a look at the fire updates in Montana proved an identical situation to that of BC, with fires burning out of control and worsening. Now, with only 4 weeks until our departure, I was on the hunt for “plan C.”
We scratched the pre-run off the calendar altogether, knowing there was no way to pre-run any trails that were no longer local. The hunt was on again and after some good intel from a US forum-friend, we were mentally set on the new directive of running the Morrison Jeep Trail in Wyoming. I knew the trail had its challenges, primarily the notorious switchbacks, but thought the scenery, history, and mix of terrain type suited the Colossal name well. Another 2 weeks rolled by as I finalized the plans for MJT and the route specifics. Low and behold, nature put us in our place once again. We were scheduled to meet the morning of Saturday, September 23, to embark on the trip. Now September 17, I checked the weather around our proposed destination to find my worst nightmare: an extreme winter snowfall warning and sub-zero temperatures for the area. I called Chase, my brother and business partner, and told him the news. While I was busy route planning, Chase and many other guests in our group were slaving away under their rigs trying to prepare for the upcoming journey. Chase and I had a serious discussion about cancelling the trip altogether—it was like it just wasn’t meant to happen. We’d faced roadblocks before, but usually personal or mechanical. This year was an entirely different animal. Finally, Chase said to me, “I’ve spent the last 5 days replacing seized control arms, alignment hardware, ball joints, tie rods, and the steering rack. There is nothing that will stop me from going somewhere for this trip—we aren’t cancelling Colossal!” Props to him for his always optimistic attitude and constant level of excitement. Then “plan D” began to take shape. We had 5 days off, the trucks would be ready, and we were full-out preparing to head to the 4×4 mecca of Moab, Utah, as our last-ditch effort to keep Colossal 2017 alive. We were ready to make it happen, regardless of the destination, circumstances, or lack of planning. With the summer fires keeping us on backcountry house arrest, nothing could get in our way and stop us from exploring.
On Wednesday, September 20, I strolled into work at the usual time, poured a cup of coffee and proceeded with my morning routine of checking emails and news clippings. It was raining outside and it had been since the previous morning. On a whim, I logged into the BC government site to check the backcountry restrictions—even though we were basically set to roll to Utah come Friday evening. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw the restrictions were lifted. I grabbed my cell phone and texted Chase: “Game on, Colossal in the Koots!”
Saturday morning, Game Day, and Chase’s truck had been bolted back together about 5 hours prior. The meet and greet went exactly as it should. All smiles as everyone met new/old faces alike while taking in their morning dose of java. We discussed the route plans for the day and handed out some swag before hitting the road. Saturday was a long day on the road with some highway travel to get to our destination. Although instead of taking the most direct route, I opted for a slight detour that brought us on some of the most gorgeous twisted mountain roads that can be driven on. We headed out of town with radio chatter on high. The fact that we were in the Kootenays and not hard-assing it through the night to Utah was still an amazement to us all. Icing on the cake, the fire bans were even lifted that morning, and we were granted the ability to have a fire for the first time since spring. Unbelievable.
A quick stop in an old mining town for a pee break and we were off once again. Winding through the Selkirk Mountains on a fall day is hard to beat, even if we were just sticking to tarmac. The fall foliage glistened in conjunction with the bright green pines and snow-capped mountains. A couple last-minute stops at the next town to refuel all petroleum and coffee provisions and we were headed north for the real backwoods.
This is where the fun truly began and the excitement grabbed hold. All the anticipation, attempts at route planning, vehicle maintenance, everything lined up to this moment where your tires hit gravel and you realize you are free from the daily grind. The air in this region is literally crisp to the lungs. So fresh, cool, and untainted. Before I know it we were aired down to trail pressures and the layer of dust on the paint was already formidable. The first trail on the list for Colossal 2017 was not overly technical but it’s not the technical aspect that we were here for, it was the views, and this trail never disappointed. We eagerly began the ascent, navigating the drainage channels and switchbacks with ease.
We all seemed to be enjoying the time in the wilderness and catching up with each other over the comms. Once near the top of the mountain, the trail suddenly popped out of the dense, old growth to reveal a view that must be appreciated.
Looking northwest, the lake below and the river valley could be seen in the distance. Looking north and east, two glaciers displayed their year-round snow and ice stockpile; something we are lucky to see in the distance with a decent ceiling height.
The group gathered at the fire lookout and signed the log book which sparked discussion about our failed attempt to reach this very summit during Colossal 2016. Soon this summit will be unreachable by anything other than a set of touring skis or a snowmobile. We take in the 360-degree panoramic views, snapping photos and capturing video as the sun began to drop to the east. For the repeat attendees, this was a triumphant moment without worry of an icy and sketchy descent back down the mountainside. We were here 2 weeks earlier in the year and also earlier in the day than the event past which ensured us a fairly relaxing trip back down as we headed for camp to wrap up Day 1.
We set up camp with John rolling in as late arriver from Calgary. Our spot was a large group rec site on the waters of the lake we were overlooking most of the day. This late in the year we have the site almost all to ourselves and enjoy the clear evening on the waterfront. A large fire is tended as we all begin to loosen up and break the ice with all of the group members now together. A couple of beers later and we are all in bed at a respectable time for the big day ahead of us.
Our camp came to life around 8 a.m., with everyone except Ian waking up and starting an easy breakfast. We left Ian sleeping in the truck, knowing he was up for nearly 48 hours to make it to the event on time the previous morning. We conversed and walked around camp enjoying the amenities of this amazing spot overlooking the calm morning waters of the lake. As the clock rolled around and Ian got up, we brought the group together for our first official drivers’ meeting. We did all the formal introductions and discussed some of our basic rules of trail engagement. The route for Day 2 is outlined and we do our first morning raffle for the Element collapsible fire pit. The Chwazi app is quickly opened to select our winner. The random sounds and colours bounce around the phone display until one of the fingers laid on the screen is selected at random. Digital fortune favoured Kevin as he walked away with the awesome fire pit! We then head for the vehicles and prepare for departure. Chase and Dallas are already set up with the RED camera for a couple camp departure shots.
The gravel road leading to the trailhead today is a beautifully kept section of road. Speeds of 100+ km/hr are easily and safely achievable so we allowed the group distance to spread out for some safety margin and dust avoidance. Maybe having a little too much fun, I wound down my speed and started looking for the location for our surprise challenge. One that the group has no idea about, the winner of which will receive a pair of Baja Design Squadron LED’s! Every rig here has been logically and meticulously set up for a variety of circumstances, terrain, and uncertainty. Setting them up for a timed straight-line pull, however, was probably never in the cards. The backcountry drag race was born. We had an official timer, flag dude, and traffic scouts all set up along the remote stretch of road. Each attendee tried a different strategy to propel their heavy beast to top speed. There were a variety of motors: inline 6, V6, and V8, as well as some fully armoured expo rigs and some lightweight simple builds. Some with gear reduction, some without. The group enjoyed the unpredictable challenge and we laughed at how surprisingly close each time was. Cody’s light and simple ’98 4Runner on 285s took the prize. Proof that despite all the power and gear reduction, weight plays such a huge role in driveability (or drag racing).
Back in our rigs and hauling down the backroads once again, we arrived at the trailhead in what seemed like minutes. We fully aired down and assembled in line for the trail ahead. The trail started fairly wide and not terribly rough. A half dozen long switchbacks before the overgrowth on the trail started to show–the alders fighting to reclaim what was once unmarked territory. We drove with caution and a little speed, dodging through the narrow points, occasionally cringing at the sound of paint against branch.
Everything was going smoothly when suddenly I heard a crackle on the radio: “I think I have a flat.” John in the gorgeous Expo’d Tundra was down a tire. A huge gash in the sidewall from what we would later find out to be a 14-inch log jammed inside the tire. Luckily, John’s truck was in a spot where an easy tire change was plausible. The group rallied at our first setback and within minutes it was like team Nascar doing a pitstop. Cody was on the jack, Ian had the spare tire ready to swap on, and John worked the impact gun. Literally, a 5-minute trail swap—impressive, gentlemen! We proceeded without much caution trying to get through the tight alder and into the old growth.
This trail, new to even myself, did not disappoint. As we climbed, the alder disappeared and we found ourselves exposed in a vast avalanche chute. The foliage was spectacular with the neon yellow of the moss and mature tundra on the ground, against the deep green pines and aqua lake glowing in the background. As we carried onward the colors continued to impress. Now, red foliage was mixed with the moss and it was like the whole color spectrum lay around us.
We continued to climb until we reached the summit. A flat, rocky area overlooking the region we came from to the west and some more remote valleys and peaks to our east. The view is spectacular in 360 degrees!
We broke out Goose (the Tamarack drone) for some aerial shots before heading back down to explore another route that seemed to follow the ridgeline. We had enough daylight to play for approximately another hour. The new directive was a shale trail that traversed the mountain just below the ridge. It’s exceptionally beautiful with a unique mix of rock, old growth trees, and stunning tundra. The scent of the fresh mountain air was almost too much to handle—truly imprinting the raw and untouched terrain in our minds as we slowly crawled through the backcountry. As far as the eye could see for the entire day, there was not another soul to be found or any hint of civilization other than the trail itself.
In my happy place, I was nearly startled when I heard Kevin’s voice on the radio: “I think I have a flat too.” Low and behold, we are lucky (to a degree) once again—this trail is tight, barely allowing enough width for our vehicles to belong, especially when driving a wide LT Tacoma on 35s. One wrong move and you’re rolling down the mountain to the valley bottom below. Kevin happened to get a gash in his sidewall in one of the few places safe to pull off a tire change.
Bummed about his brand new tire being destroyed, but thankful for a useable spare and a safe tire change, we continued on. We were greeted with several tricky manoeuvres where we had to navigate awkward brush in order to pass, yet still remained on the trail. Our tires half on, half off on the downhill side of the trail. We were fortunate for the good stability in the trail where no sloughing occurs. Soon we reached the trail’s plateau and were turned around by a washout and a very sketchy traverse—maybe good for a dirt bike, but not our wide 4x4s.
Satisfied with the day, we turned our rigs around for the trip back down to the valley bottom. With little light left, the group made the unspoken decision to make it down rather quickly, and we all got a chance to heat up and test our fancy suspension systems. I can only speak for myself here, but the Icon absorbers shined as I cruised spiritedly down the rough, steep, and rocky terrain.
Hitting the odd 2-foot drainage ditch at 40-60 km/hr, the truck soaked everything up with only minor grunts when the front end was fully compressed and the Toyo tires just knicked the bottom of my fender flares. With breakneck speed, we are back on the main road and heading toward camp only a couple minutes away. One of my favourite campsites in the area remained unoccupied, giving the whole group a perfectly flat and grassy area to set up camp right on the edge of the deep blue lake.
Camp life at Colossal is critical. It’s as important as the trails themselves. Challenging yourself mentally during the day and also taking in the spectacular scenery is only made better when you get to reflect on the experience with others at the end of the day. This day is no exception and another big camp feast was prepared by each party. We bounced around vehicle to vehicle chatting with everyone and sharing any supplies overlooked. It was dark outside but there was more than enough camp light to go around and we were all winding down by the fire in no time. A few evening laughs and antics had us in bed before it was too early in the morning—tomorrow was to bring a different pace to the trip but one I was looking forward to.
High cloud ceilings allowed for ample light and the feeling of calm that only a morning in the mountains can provide. The lake remained still as glass and people began to emerge from their sleeping quarters. Some slower than others (guilty) as breakfast was cooked and the crowd prepared for the day ahead. I made a mental note again how we all cook our food individually but it becomes a smorgasbord as you move truck to truck and are offered samples of each person’s fare. Stomachs full, we headed for the drivers’ meeting at the site picnic bench. This morning, David Wakely of Untitled Offroad presented everyone with some Untitled Offroad swag and a chance to win a killer Ghost Wild Truckruck, stitched with the new Untitled Offroad patch. The Truckruck is basically a Trasharoo on steroids, built and designed right in Calgary with a lot more thought than the ol’ Trasharoo. We turned to our good friend Chwazi for another round of random finger draw. Terry walked away a winner, stoked on his new trash carrier.
Before we departed, the calm and crystal clear waters were more than some of us can take. We knew this was the last opportunity before winter to go for a swim. The water was cold, but only getting worse by the day. Plus, after a couple days in the woods it’s always nice to have a reset rinse. Most of us geared down to our shorts and rushed the cold water. The water hit our bodies like a hammer, stealing the air from our lungs. We screamed, yelled, and carried on, hoping the outbursts will enable us to endure the waters for longer. I dunked my head and swam out a good 15 feet before I headed back to the warmth of my towel. Freezing cold, I looked over my shoulder to see Terry a good 100 feet away from shore and still paddling farther. Spending time surfing in Tofino appears to have paid off for him as his ability to withstand the cold water is unmatched. Once dry and back in the trucks, we turned northwest with a solid 100 kilometers of high-speed gravel and some exploratory trails on the horizon.
The gravel blurred by. This area seemed to have received some rainfall so the ground was tacky and dust free. Our group tightened up slightly while still remaining a safe distance apart. The pursuit of speed pushing each driver close to the edge at least once. Some more literally than others. This road deploys several extremely tight hairpins, proceeded and followed by section upon section of chicanes and high-speed bends. We continued onward at a playful speed, stopping shortly in Trout Lake for lunch on the pier.
With daylight now receding sooner than the peak summer months, we continued onward. A mix of smooth gravel and asphalt allowed us to relax a little as Chase and Dallas maneuvered around the group for some rolling shots of each rig.
The pace was easy as we turned off the “main road” and headed toward the prospective trail. We meandered alongside the aqua blue river, catching slight glimpses of the vibrant water’s color while travelling under an equally impressive canopy of old growth. A mental note was taken to return to this road when filming future auto projects—it’s literally picture perfect.
Before we knew it, we were at a trailhead which we believed headed up to a snowmobile cabin. The road and elevation gain look promising enough to make the attempt despite the complete unknown of the trail itself. Within minutes we were greeted with a gatekeeper obstacle—a narrow passage between boulders before a steep descent into the creek and immediately back up the other side. A deterrent for others, but we were eager to tackle the obstacle. The boulders being sharp and close together had us discussing a quick winch setup to rotate one of the rocks enough to make the challenge more reasonable for the larger rigs (mine included). Mr. Wakely spoke up, eager to try before the situation was altered. With a good line, he attempted to work through the pinch in his wide FJZ80. Rim on rock, we wondered if he would be able to swing the truck around the rock angled directly for his passenger door. Dave crept forward with good finesse and only slight sheet metal-on-rock persuasion before he was free on the other side. Ian in the ’98 4Runner on 35s steps up—his narrow rig with a wide stance and tons of clearance made quick work of the obstacle when coupled with his good driving technique and line. He didn’t even touch his sliders on the rock! The rest of us opted for the safer route with the right-hand rock slightly removed as to avoid body damage. A quick winch and the rock was rotated just enough to allow us through.
One by one we tackled the obstacle, stopping only for a couple good flex shots. The rest of the day progressed as one would expect. The road continued upward in a switchback fashion allowing gorgeous views of the lake below. Unfortunately, the views are all that’s provided; we hit a dead end at the top of the mountain with no cabin sighting. Further map investigation against our GPS tracks showed that an alternate trail we had passed earlier was probably the way to the desired cabin. We enjoyed the scenery nonetheless. It’s the nature of exploring unknown terrain—take the enjoyment from the current journey regardless of the expected outcome. We flagged the other trail for the next exploration trip out in this area.
We rolled back down the mountain with our targets set on some backcountry hot springs in the next mountain range west. It was now midday and we’d been exploring for several days. The long bumpy road into the hot springs had us eager to hit the hot pools and sooth our backs and unwind a little as the trip neared its end. The group parked at the lot and we headed on foot down the steep, rooty, trail down to the valley bottom. This trail is something out of a fairy tale; the steps cut into the mountain reminded me of the technical trail somewhere along Frodo’s journey to dispose of the ring. Moss and dark forests were all around us as the sun glanced through the pines.
Once at the valley bottom, there was another indication of nature’s potential force. A massive chunk of the mountain had at one point in time broken off, anchoring itself in the valley bottom. The rock measured the size of a bus, and remained most awkwardly placed amongst the poison ivy-covered ground. The path continued to wind down the mountainside until the first series of hot pools were reached. We said hello to a couple in the pool but opted to head down to the riverfront and the next series of pools. Luckily, we were the only ones at the site and we had the nourishing waters to ourselves. The springs here trickle out of the rock cliff next to the river. A wall made from river rock keeps the warmth separate from the icy waters of the river and allows an easy transition to cool off should the hot waters become too much. After several days in the wild, this was an extremely relaxing and refreshing experience. Our group conversed for a couple hours, taking in the unique features of the area and enjoying the springs. We reluctantly made the hike back up to our rigs.
We departed the hot springs and headed back toward town trying to find a quick-and-easy campsite without any luck. With so much trouble finding a campsite close to the road, we voted for an easy dinner at a local pub in one of the nearby towns and pushed onwards for 15 minutes down the highway.
The local pub sits on the waterfront with awesome views and an interior with some definite character. Kevin unfortunately lost the Chwazi match and picked up the group’s tab as a result. Now with darkness upon us and still no campsite, the group consulted further and decided that a Provincial Rec Site located about 10 kilometers east of town would provide us with some certainty in acquiring a spot for the night. We arrived late with most campers in bed. A tight squeeze for our large group but an easy option considering the hour and our desire to get a fire going. The site host was surprised to see the high volume of modified trucks rolling into camp this late, but he was a kind gentleman who seemed happy to let us cram into the limited camp slots remaining. We hit the sheets for the last time on Colossal 2017—the next morning everyone would part ways and head home.
This was a sad day. The event we had so painstakingly prepared, planned, altered, and planned again had finally come to an end. Fall was here and the snow already upon us at higher elevations. This morning was not only a goodbye to our awesome travel companions but also to the 2017 camping/4x4ing summer season. One by one, we trickled out of camp after saying our goodbyes and capturing a couple solid group photos. The majority of the group this year travelled from Alberta and had a long drive east in order to make it home before nightfall. A gorgeous drive at any rate (especially in the fall) but one that marked the end of our Colossal journey for 2017.
With that being said, four of us were either local or did not have to be at work the next day. With the sun shining and the spirit of adventure still vibrant on our faces, we headed out for one last run? Without too many more words we found ourselves busting back down the gravel tracks we descended a day earlier. Headed for a trail that was on our radar but one we hadn’t planned on hitting for this year’s Colossal event. Terry knew the location of the trail, so he took point as we rolled our small convoy of four toward it.
Terry is a linesman by trade and a true outdoorsman at heart. His vibrant and kind personality makes him hard to dislike especially if you have a sense of humour. One of many proofs witnessed as we drove down the highway at speed. Terry in the lead, myself behind, I see some wild grouse emerging from the ditch on the near side of the highway. Terry tried to react in time but ultimately came up short as a cloud of feathers suddenly exploded around his Tacoma and blew backward onto my windshield. A direct hit. The radio fired to life and after we established that he was ok and his truck appeared to be fine, we pulled over to inspect for further damage. Terry’s tube bumper took the brunt of the impact and actually captured the disgruntled grouse within the maze of steel. I assumed that the next natural course of action was to dispose of the bird in the ditch. Terry acted otherwise and ran to the back of his truck, pulling out a zip-lock bag, naturally. Within minutes, he had the bird bagged and in his truck, ready to be cooked for dinner.
We pushed forward knowing the day was already ticking away. Within an hour we were at the trail, aired back down for crawling speed and ascending the steep slopes of the trail. Tight and slightly overgrown, this one seemed like so many others. The escalating hairpins began to get tighter and tighter, and we made sure to pay attention to our truck’s position at every moment. The trail narrowed slightly, and we were met with several steep rocky climbs that had two of our tires uncomfortably close to the downward slope. The motors hummed as we maintained a constant slow and even pace for about an hour and a half. The odd obstacle removes us from our seat but we continued to climb without too much trouble. We were approaching 1600 hours as the trail seemed to start flattening out ahead of us. The majority of the trail so far was keeping us in the proverbial dark without too many glimpses of the scenery beyond the treeline. Suddenly the trees broke and we were welcomed with a view that will not to be forgotten.
The ground covered in more of the colorful high alpine tundra with an epic 360-degree view. There were several glaciers visible from our vantage point and today the lighting and cloud ceiling were perfect, almost highlighting the already spectacular visuals. We parked the trucks and climbed 500 meters up the mountainside to a rock vantage point to gain access to an even higher perspective. The view was stunning and we enjoyed the warm, late afternoon sunlight on our faces for a half hour, simply taking in the view. So vast, quiet, and beautiful. These really are the reasons why I am so enticed explore. Combined with good company, it’s hard to beat!
From our lookout, we scoped a small area to the north that looked like it could be accessed from a side trail near where the trucks were parked. With the day getting late I was almost tempted to pull the pin and head home. #Adventurelust got the best of us and we decided to spend “two hours tops” exploring the next trail. The trail wound us around the next arm of the mountain and across a spectacular boulder field. The boulders were larger than our vehicles, making the passing almost otherworldly.
The sun continued to dip and seemed to make the scenery more stunning with each passing minute. We quickly found ourselves in a mossy meadow with a small mountain lake at the base of a mountain saddle. We spot a cut line that appeared to head up to the ridge and decided to make an attempt. The road quickly narrowed off to the point that none of the Toyotas were able to forge ahead.
The mystery of the ridge too much for our weak minds; we decided to make the trek and get some real exercise. A seemingly long half hour struggle up the scree trail had us on the top of the ridge—a sheer dropoff on both sides with the apex barely wide enough for a single person to stand. The view down both valleys was spectacular and proved well worth the hike. We walked and had some fun trundling a few rocks down the steep bank before heading back down the trail to our rigs.
The sun was now beginning to set and as we continued to explore the immediate area, the golden sunlight began to create a memorizing glow over the mountainside. The already colorful tundra came to life and it literally felt like something out of a fantasy novel. The neon colors were vibrant around us and to top it off, a rainbow appeared above us. It is certainly these rare moments in nature that you are belittled by the massiveness and beauty of the outdoors. We laughed like children, proclaiming that this is probably one of the most unique and beautiful locations we had ever been. We postponed the trip back down to ensure we indulged every moment of the sunset.
Only then, in darkness, did we proceed back down the trail we ascended earlier that day and finally head for home.
With Colossal 2017 a wrap, I simply choose to honor my friends and recent acquaintances for making this trip what it is today. Each year we are faced with utterly different challenges, but we always seem to overcome and return home from our journey with a couple battle scars and a chest full of memories. Colossal 2017 is officially a wrap. I’m looking forward to 2018.
A huge shout-out to Dave at Untitled Offroad, Dallas from The Real Pool Service, and the awesome peeps at Element by RA Motorsports, Baja Designs, and Factor 55 for helping to support the event.
This story was produced by Tamarack Media Co, and a video is soon to follow. To learn more about what they do, and the services they offer, check out their website here.