A brief history… On June 8th of 2002, the Hayman Fire (the largest wild fire in Colorado’s history) was started by a US Forestry Technician who claimed she was burning a letter from her estranged husband. Other evidence came to light as the investigation continued to her inevitable prosecution, but the damage was done and it was extensive.

 For 6 weeks the fire blazed across 4 counties, consuming 138,114 acres of forest, burned 132 houses to the ground (as well as nearly 500 other structures), evacuated 5340 people from their homes and claimed a woman’s life.

As a local, born and raised in Colorado, I have forever been an avid outdoors-man who gets out into the forest as often as possible. From mountain biking and hiking, to 4-wheeling and camping, I can say that in my 38 years I still manage not to take these mountains for granted. Some of my favorite 4 wheel drive trails are “The Gulches” in Divide, CO. They consist of Hackett Gulch, Longwater Gulch and Metberry Gulch which were consequently closed for many years, due to the fire.

Thanks to the efforts of a Colorado Springs based 4 wheel drive shop, Predator 4WD, and their hard fought negotiations and  long history of volunteer work with Teller County, the trails re-opened to the county line in 2009.

The trails are open, with their challenging terrain and breath-taking, although obviously scarred scenery. There are sections that are still closed by the river with deep water crossings and tough obstacles that I miss dearly,  but I am excited to finally be back to run this particular trail, Hackett Gulch. It has been nearly 15 years.

Initially, I had up to eight Toyota’s interested in doing this run, but had several last minute cancellations. Honestly, it took far longer than expected for two of us, with nearly an hour long rescue of a jack-knifed truck and trailer loaded with ATV’s stuck in the snow and blocking Cedar Mtn Rd. Between snapping photos at seemingly every turn, and just generally enjoying the day, it was evident we wouldn’t make it to Longwater and Metberry…

Hackett Rock is a major obstacle on this trail that can rate from moderate to legendary, depending on current erosion and vehicle travel. There is a giant slab of steep, slick granite at the bottom of the hill that leads to a long steep washout before reaching the dip beneath this trail’s most notable feature.

My on-board air leaves a bit to be desired, so we chose not to air down to avoid an hour long ordeal back at the trailhead… Full pressure in our tires, still wet from the snow and a thin layer of scree that coats every rock in the area, meant Pete Norvell’s 2005 Tacoma got to test out the winch cable for the first time. My 2001 4runner made it look easy, but to be fair, Pete’s longer wheel base made me look bad on the steep granite slab, lower on the same climb.

Meandering up and over the mountain from there, reveals stunning views of the burn scar and a very steep descent with off camber sections that you will climb on the way back out.

We stopped to take in the view, and the disappointment with our lack of time to do the other “Gulch” trails, disappeared. 60 degrees in February? Colorado is full of surprises. What a great trail day.

Words and Photos~Scott J. Hunt

Mountain Exposures (Limbwalker on T4R.org and Expedition Portal, @Limbwalker_ on Instagram)

2001 Toyota 4runner SR5 4×4 with Tundra Bilstein 5100 adjustable struts and Eibach/Toytec 3″ coils,Old Man Emu 891 rear springs, Rough country N2.0 shocks and adjustable Toytec panhard bar. Savage Offroad bumpers front and rear, Superwinch 8500, TRD supercharged,Treadwright Guard Dog 285/75s, Tepui Kukenam roof top tent, and too much more to list. Its an obsession! Get Outside!

~Pete Norvell’s Tacoma specs:

2005 Toyota Tacoma SR5 6 speed manual with IronMan 2″ suspension, ARB bullbar, IronMan 12k winch with synthetic line, color matched OEM steelies with 255/85 ST Maxx, and Softopper.