In my quest to prove the dominance of the Toyota Land Cruiser, I’ve been putting mine through a series of challenges. Last time, I stupidly drove my 1999 Lexus LX470 through very deep water, and eventually up a waterfall — which it did with relative ease. This time, I piloted my 352,000 mile luxury Land Cruiser up a ski mountain — but unfortunately, things didn’t go perfectly.
During the summer months, a few ski resorts in Colorado actually let you drive vehicles around the slopes. By August, there’s very little snow remaining — and the roads are maintained well enough that a Prius could probably handle it. This is hardly worthy of my fully built expedition rig — but in Breckenridge, Colorado, you can go well above the ski runs — and well beyond anything resembling civilization. The elevation is so high that when I attempted this trail last May, it was still impassable due to snow.
The steep climb of this trail requires a low-range transfer case — and while my Land Cruiser certainly has this, it didn’t want to cooperate. This was the first occasion that I ever needed to touch the transfer case lever — and judging by the wear and tear on the interior from soccer mom duty, I suspect the previous owner never used it during their 15 years of ownership. It took everything that my pipe cleaner arms could muster to pull the rock solid transfer case lever down into low range — but after a few attempts, it mercifully engaged. Feeling a bit like King Arthur after pulling the sword from the stone, I was thrilled that my Land Cruiser had not failed me — and I could continue upward.
After my previous traumatizing event, I told myself that I would never do a water crossing again — but I still reluctantly splashed my way through one shallow crossing. From there, I made my way up well above the treeline, following a poorly maintained trail that services a weather station at the top of the mountain. The trail is full of loose rock, narrow turns and very steep drop-offs — but the most off-putting part is the elevation. The lack of oxygen makes simple tasks, like dashing up a hill to set up a camera, seem like you’re running a marathon — and it’s not just because I’m totally out of shape. The V8 in my Land Cruiser certainly felt labored pulling the hefty rig full of gear up the mountain as well.
Obviously, the Land Cruiser is aging much better than me, as it reached the summit at 13,286 feet with relative ease — and I struggled to huff and puff my way up to the roof to pose for a few pictures. Going down was way more terrifying than going up, as a brake failure would mean launching off a cliff to certain death. While this certainly had me concerned, I was actually more worried about what was coming after that: camping.
After using my leg to violently press the transfer case back into the high range setting, I made my way to a lakeside campsite at a much lower elevation. It cost $24 per night to stay there, and I stupidly chose a spot right next to the community dumpster. It wasn’t until I had completely set up the tent that I noticed the smell — but I was too exhausted to move, so I settled in for the night. Sleep eluded me, as a warning about bear attacks on a nearby picnic table had me concerned, especially since I was right next to all the rotting food. Every rustle in the nearby trees woke me up, until I eventually buried myself in my overpriced sleeping bag like a cocoon.
Minus the arthritic transfer case, I’d say my Land Cruiser is still proving itself to be the best SUV in the world. While a Jeep could have certainly handled that trail with ease, it’s nowhere near as comfortable as this Lexus. Of course, an old Range Rover shares these versatile characteristics as well — but there’s a good chance it would shed a few parts, and do some environmental damage with fluid leaks along the way. As for camping, I might give it one more try — but don’t be surprised if you see a slightly used roof tent offered up for sale soon.
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