2014 Hundreds In The Hills

2014 Hundreds In The Hills

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How often do you hear an event described as “Epic?" Each time I speak with someone, the last event they attended was the best event ever. They may have even described it as “epic."  Is it possible for an event to transcend the epic status and, if so, what’s the next level?

Hundreds in the Hills 2014 Land Cruiser Event Ouray Colorado

I look forward to any opportunity to travel in the mountains, especially with a few good friends. Event or no event, sitting around a campfire long after the sun has set is one of the most rewarding aspects of adventure travel. Campfires have the ability to invoke a primitive comfort inside all of us. The dancing flames, orange glow and inviting warmth can do wonders for your soul.

It’s no surprise that one of the many highlights of the Fourth Annual 100s in the Hills Event was the after-hours campfire. It’s where good conversation, belly laughs and star gazing took place each evening after the sun went down. 100s in the Hills, or HIH as it’s becoming known, takes place each summer in the beautiful and majestic San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. Although we call it an event, 100s in the Hills is more like a gathering of friends than it is a traditional event. The event headquarters are nothing more than an open area of Ironton Park situated along Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. This stretch of mountain road has been dubbed “The Million Dollar Highway”. The origin of that moniker is still largely unknown, but legend has it that the cost of constructing this stretch in the 1920’s was one million dollars per mile. Another legend is that the dirt used to build the highway contained one million dollars worth of gold ore. I like to think it’s aptly named for the million dollar views the highway provides to its travelers. In the case of 100s in the Hills, that’s 35 of the luckiest 100 Series Land Cruisers from around the United States.

Thirty five may seem like a small number of vehicles for an event, but that’s actually by design. The original idea behind HIH was to meet up with a few forum members from the 100 Series section of IH8MUD and camp together, putting real names and faces with the forum names and avatars we’ve come to know. Opposite of long nights around the campfire are long days on some of the most beautiful and famous off-road trails in the country. There is an emphasis on responsible off-road travel that focuses on the Leave No Trace and Stay the Trail ideals. In order to keep the environmental impact as low as possible, a maximum number of 35 registered vehicles has been set. This ensures everyone in attendance will feel connected and welcome as one close knit group and the original idea behind the event stays true to form. The event directors work tirelessly all year to continue that tradition.  It truly is the recipe for an epic event.

Hundreds in the Hills 2014 Land Cruiser Event Ouray Colorado

The official dates for HIH 2014 were August 1-3. However for most attendees, the event started days or even weeks before that. This event has quickly become a centerpiece of summer vacations. Many attendees make this an overlanding trip of dreams, traveling thousands of miles over a 10-20 day period to attend. By the time the first trails of HIH are run, the dirt of Moab, Death Valley and the Arizona Strip is already clinging to the wheels and bumpers of the nicest and most traveled 100 Series in the country.  As for me, I departed Denver early on Wednesday morning, two days prior to the event’s official start. The plan was to meet up with 4 other well built and well traveled 100 Series Land Cruisers and enjoy a double- overnighter prior to arriving in Ouray. It’s a grand way to arrive at HIH headquarters after already spending 2 days on the trail.

Thursday afternoon comprised of setting up camp and preparing for the onslaught on 100’s about to descend on the campground. Arriving early has its advantages and the prime spots are those close enough to the campfire to enjoy, but far enough away to allow some quiet after you’ve had your fill. I selected a spot that a good headlamp beam would reach from the fire . I knew others would stay up long after I followed the light back to my truck and I'd be thankful for the distance between us. The majority of attendees made it to camp by 4pm on Thursday with some of the later stragglers not pulling in until long after midnight. Even the latest arrivals were treated to a cold drink and fresh logs still being fed into the warm fire. The first night is about reacquainting with old friends and making new ones. It usually ends closer to when the sun comes up than when it set the previous afternoon. The anticipation of what's ahead is similar to the night before a big game or Christmas Eve - it’s ripe with excitement.

Hundreds in the Hills 2014 Land Cruiser Event Ouray Colorado

Friday morning broke with cloudy skies and the threat of rain. It had actually rained for the entire week leading up to the event. Slightly out of ordinary for Colorado, the Centennial State has seen an enormous amount of rainfall this year. While that may put a damper on many outdoor events, we weren’t about to let that stop us from hitting the trails or hanging with friends. The upside of all that moisture was the amazing wildflowers in the high country. They were simply spectacular this year and there are few things better than being in pristine Colorado wilderness and bending down to smell our beautiful state flower, the Colorado Columbine. On the other hand, there was an abundance Miner’s Sock growing too. This puffy white flower is visually appealing, but it’s also aptly named for its not so pleasant odor. All the kids at this year’s event had a great time smelling this flower and laughing at its smelly sock odor. Robert Munsch would be pleased.

Drivers had three trails to choose from Friday morning. The easy family run was Clear Lake Trail, located just north of Silverton, Colorado. This mild dirt road is a fantastic segue into some of the more extreme shelf roads of the area. Even though it’s one of the easier trails, attention is paramount. You’re traveling well above treeline and a mistake on this shelf road would most likely be your last. The views from the trail are some of the best in the state and the spots for this run filled quickly during registration. As with all the trails in the San Juan’s, the beauty around you makes it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. After a morning of fishing, hiking and relaxing around the lake, the members of the Clear Lake Run were treated to a secret route back to camp where wildflowers and majestic views dominated the windshield. This is a landscape photographers dream and the views from this secret trail didn't disappoint.

Hundreds in the Hills 2014 Land Cruiser Event Ouray Colorado

Friday’s second and medium rated trail option was Imogene Pass. At 13,114 feet, Imogene is the highest pass in the area and the second highest drivable pass in the entire state of Colorado. It’s also more difficult and much longer than Clear Lake. Imogene Pass connects the towns of Ouray and Telluride and at just over 17 miles, it takes a few hours for a group of 10 to make the voyage. The beauty and history of the area are stunning and you’re almost forced to pull over now and then to take it all in. It’s a requirement to stop at what's left of the old mining town of Tomboy. In the 1880’s, Tomboy was a bustling mining town, home to nearly 1000 year round residents. It’s hard to imagine life in Tomboy 125 years ago. That was long before Land Cruiser's were climbing mountains and heated seats were warming backsides. The allure of striking it rich made folks do a lot of crazy things back then and Tomboy was a major producer of gold from 1880 until 1927. In 1897 the mine was sold in for an amazing two-million dollars. Today, Tomboy is just a skeleton of what it used to be with broken down buildings and old mining relics dominating the small area. Like many mining towns of the 1800’s however, it’s just one golden nugget away from reemerging as a boomtown.

Friday’s difficult trail was the infamous and notoriously dangerous Black Bear Pass. This trail is one of the main attractions of 100s in the Hills each year. Very few trails invoke the emotion, fear and rugged beauty of Black Bear. Although from a difficulty perspective, Black Bear growls more than it bites. There are very few obstacles along the route and a completely stock 100 Series can navigate this entire trail with little difficulty. Black Bear is the only trail that is run all three days during HIH with many attendees saving it for Sunday, their final day. It usually takes everyone a few days to become accustomed to peering over thousand foot drop-offs and looming cliff edges and Black Bear is filled with such things. Most folks from outside of Colorado never get to experience anything like Black Bear, regardless of how much 4x4ing they've done. If most of your 100 Series driving is done to and from work for the other 51 weeks of the year, this road is sure to capture your attention. This being the family event that it is, a few of the wives took the wheel for the day and we even had a 16 year old at the helm of her dad's Land Cruiser. On the flip side, there were also tears shed and a few passengers who hit the eject button and walked down narrow switchbacks as opposed to trusting their partners driving abilities.

Hundreds in the Hills 2014 Land Cruiser Event Ouray Colorado

After all the trails are finished on Friday, the true colors of HIH are displayed back at camp. An enormous pot luck style dinner is served with each attendee providing a dish of their favorite local fare. If there is one thing you learn about this event, it’s that 100 Series owners are serious about their food. Many meals are prepared prior to arriving and finalized over camp stoves, open flames and Dutch ovens. Immediately following this harvest is the enormously popular, much anticipated, and totally free 100s in the Hills raffle. HIH has some amazing sponsors who step up each year and give away thousands of dollars in products and prizes. The 2014 event was no exception. The giveaways included a rear bumper, a roof rack, suspension kits, LED lights, clothing, gear and thousands of dollars in gift cards to some of the greatest vendors in the industry. There is even a kids raffle. Prizes included glow sticks, toys and clothing from the sponsors. Seeing a young boy or girl jump up and down with excitement when their winning ticket is pulled is what true smiles are made of. There is no faking that excitement.

The rest of the weekend is much more of the same with the addition of the other local trails such as California Gulch, Corkscrew and Ophir Pass. Even Poughkeepsie Gulch, the most difficult trail in the area is on the agenda. After the initial excitement of Friday, the rest of the weekend is basically just good friends enjoying each other's company. Everyone mulls around camp, kids play frisbee, ride bikes and chase each other around. It’s a real respite from the standard event protocol that we’ve all become accustomed to. It’s more about getting to know each other and our families. Wives bond over similarities between their kids or husbands and conversations shift from talking about Land Cruisers to talking about personal life. Things like hometowns, education, professions and even sports teams dominate the sounds echoing off the hills. It becomes less about 100s in the Hills and more about new friends and good conversation. It’s amazing how a warm campfire can bring a group together. It’s confirmation that events like this showcase everything that’s right about what we love. Friends, family, beautiful scenery and the idea that no matter where you’re from, the mountains have a way of cleansing your soul, lifting your spirits, and inviting you back. See you next year!


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