The first morning, we saddled the 4Runner up for a short trip to a fun climb not far from the cabin. I took a shot at the rocky dirt hill with a mild approach after engaging four-wheel-low and locking the transfer case. We easily reached the summit in first gear. Then I turned around and activated the Downhill Assist Control, which comes standard on all 4x4 4Runners. The DAC system, along with the ABS, traction control, and Vehicle Stability Control, utilizes a hydraulic control assembly to pulse brake pressure at each wheel after the ECU analyzes traction conditions using data received from the wheel-speed sensors. I tapped the gas to initiate the trip downhill. The DAC performed as promised, while the hydraulic actuators clicked away and maintained a low-speed controlled descent at about 4 mph.
Next on the list was the Routt National Forest, so we headed for Hahns Peak, which tops out at over 10,800 feet. The 4Runner's front coil-over-spring gas-shock suspension did a respectable job of absorbing gullies, roots, rocks, and hard turns. We stopped and evaluated the target climb after reaching the mountain peak's base ledge. The main boulder-covered route, angling up the north face of the mountain, was awkward but not a problem. Once on top, I became a little gutsy and made a sharp turn off the path into a severe descent--but not before triggering the Downhill Assist. The crew became anxious, but we made a safe landing, thanks to the electronically controlled hydraulics. The real test was to make an about-face to go back up the way we came. Taking no chances, I hit the accelerator hard and began the ascent with a convincing head of steam. The 4Runner scaled its way back up to the main trail.
The following day was Yamaha's turn in the Rockies. We prepped the bikes for a preliminary ride. The first thing you notice when dealing with the WR's four-stroke, five-valve, liquid-cooled one-cylinder "thumper" engine is the increase in power as compared with its air-cooled predecessors. We fueled up and hit the pavement to do a quick side-by-side drag race, pitting the WR450F against the reliable Honda XR600R. The Yamaha emerged victorious, technology winning out over engine displacement.
The first Honda/Yamaha ride was through a semi-tough trail on the way up Farwell Mountain. As we neared the crest, a lightning bolt struck close to our location. On hearing the fierce crack of thunder, we thought it might be a good idea to steer toward lower elevations to avoid a direct hit.
The subsequent trek was westbound into the Elkhead Mountains. A few years ago, a rider friend of ours was seriously injured in this area. We paused at the site for a moment before advancing north to Whispering Pine Lodge, an isolated getaway. We stopped to visit the proprietors who'd been kind enough to help transport our wounded friend to the nearest hospital. We washed up and replenished our water supplies before starting our long ride home. As soon as tires hit the trail, we noticed smoke pluming off the horizon. It was a forest fire ignited by a lightning strike after we had started out that morning. It was hard to judge from our distance, but we hoped the flames were far from the cabin. We returned to find our lodging secure, but the valley was overtaken by the dense cloud of smoke.