Here’s a video I took near the top of Pearl Pass between Crested Butte and Aspen, CO in August, 2009. My friend Johnny Grudzien and I rode a couple of DR-Z400S’ 12,000 miles around the country that summer, taking time in Colorado to cross some beautiful mountain passes. While Pearl Pass wasn’t the highest elevation pass we rode (that was California Pass, pictured below), it was definitely the most difficult.
We camped the night before near Red Mountain just south of Ouray, CO, spending the morning heading east toward through Hurricane, California, and Engineer Passes and the old ghost town mining settlement of Animas Forks. The morning riding was mellow and spectacularly beautiful, not posing any real riding challenges for either of us besides the need to be aware of large steep declines on the side of the road as we traversed the switchbacks up the mountains. Not a lot of room for mistakes up there. After riding through the three passes and reaching Lake City, we took the roads up to Crested Butte that afternoon and recharged at a coffee shop.
Because we didn’t ask any locals about Pearl Pass before heading out of Crested Butte late that afternoon, we had no idea what we were getting into. Although the sun is shining in this video, there were moments of rain on the way up and the clouds were large and dark, not to mention it was getting closer to sunset and we had no idea how long it would take to get over the pass and find a spot to camp on the Aspen side. All of this coupled with the realization that we were riding some of the more difficult terrain we’d faced certainly added to the nervous excitement of the experience.
These guys you see in the video on little 250’s with knobbies had a heck of a time so you can imagine how we were faring with our bikes. They were either impressed by our ambition or thought we were crazy for taking two heavily loaded bikes with 50/50 tires up this route, I couldn’t tell which. That’s Johnny standing there burping, and saying “we have gotta make it up this.” We did, eventually. The pass itself was only a temporary relief as the downhill side towards Aspen proved tricky as well, with a lot of large rock like you see in the video, amongst portions of snow and river crossings. Exhausted and feeling a bit battered from falling numerous times, we made our way down and found a camping spot before the asphalt started up again.
Thinking back and looking over the pictures, it was easily the longest, toughest, and best day of dual sport motorcycling I’ve ever done. Four 12,000’+ mountain passes, the photos below are ordered chronologically throughout the day. If you ever have a chance to do some riding in that area of Western Colorado, I highly recommend it.
Here’s a map of the general route we took that day, just picture a squiggly line through the forest between C (Crested Butte) and D (Aspen) for Pearl Pass:
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This is the riding we woke up to, maybe 10-15 minutes after having coffee and packing up camp. Johnny looking dainty with Red Mountain.
Yours truly on California Pass—12,930’.
Looking back at the bikes on California Pass (we went up at least 70’ from the sign, so technically we “climbed” a 13,000’ mountain that day).
An alpine lake near California Pass.
Outside of Crested Butte, on the way up to Pearl Pass. Check the mean looking clouds…
Getting closer to the top, everything up here was ridiculously gorgeous. These pictures really don’t come close to doing it justice.
A moment of relief after the tough section shown in the video.
The bikes and J-man on Pearl Pass—12,705’.
The view toward Aspen from Pearl Pass.