Rubicon Trail Report

Discussion in 'Trails - Events - Expeditions' started by Cruiserdrew, Jun 16, 2005.

  1. Cruiserdrew

    Cruiserdrew On the way there SILVER Star

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    I just posted my trail report to the Norcal Wagons list and I thought some of you might want to see it here. It's a bit long winded, but it was a major adventure, given the conditions.

    I have never stacked so many rocks in my life.

    We just returned from running the Rubicon Trail from Tahoe to Loon Lake. It was a 3 day ordeal in very rough conditions. The original plan was to go in with Mudrak's group on Monday morning, but Alvaro and I got a slightly earlier start, and so we were about 1 hour ahead on the trail. I wanted a bit of a time cushion, since I thought my SUA FJ40, being the smallest rig in this group, might hold the main group up. We also had heard that the water holes around Miller Lake were too deep to traverse, but this turned out incorrect-there was much deeper water than that later! We aired down at the staging area, and hit the trail...

    Almost immediately, there were snow drifts in the trees. While we didn't yet appreciate the seriousness of this, we soon found out. The trail climbs from the staging area and soon were were in deep compacted snow drifts, that blocked most of the trail with 45 degree off campber drifts-very hard going. The tops were icy and slushy-super slippery, so that if you tried to stay high, you would frequently slide to the low side, or drop in a tree well. There was lots of potential for a rollover, so I made Jeff walk most of the way. Eventually, we met this father/son duo in a Jeep headed our way-they had turned around at a particularly steep and nasty section that they were afraid to winch through. They then turned around to follow us a bit deeper into the snow banks. I'm glad they did. After Alvaro fixed a flat tire, we came to a really huge drift blocking all but a small sliver of the trail. It was at least 10 feet from the top of the drift to the trail sliver, so the low side looked much more appealing and safer. Alvaro waded in first, into the mud, and then the snow. Suddenly his 80 series dropped into an unseen hole, and the 80 was in a snow and mud mixture as deep as his 35 inch MTR's. It wouldn't go forward or back. I backed into the hole to strap him out, but I didn't have enough traction right there to even consider trying to pull him out. The Jeep had a 6000 pound winch, so we hooked that up and no-go. That's when we started digging out Alvaro's rig, but that still didn't work Finally, we jacked up the rear wheels with the high lift, threw in a massive number of rocks, dug out all the snow blocking the rear axle. With that engineering effort, and the Jeep winching, Alvaro's rig popped up, and out of the snow. Unfortunately, now we had to attempt the upper line, riding the crest of the slippery snow bank. Jeff cut a trench with a shovel through about 30 feet of the worst of the snow sidehill-it was enough to keep the uphill tire in the track and prevent a slide/roll. I had my doubts, but that actually worked and we could inch across that section of snow drift. Soon after that we crested the devide out of the Tahoe basin and began slowly making our way down hill. Within just a few hundred feet of elevation loss, there was much less snow and we could make steady progress to the turn that offically starts the Rubicon Trail.

    Right after the turn, the trees are particularly thick, which ment we were back in the big snow drifts again. We got through a few dicy sections, and then got to a particulary bad spot. The crest of snow was at least ten feet above the trail, but there were deep treewells on both sides that ment a slip would mean an instant roll. Mudrak and the rest of the group caught us here and on Gary's advice, I went from 14 to 10 psi for this section. I had the 40 in SM420 low gear and bogged down the motor to 400 rpm with the brake, and slowy inched up on the snow. At the top, I rode the ridge and then steered into a safer looking line to the right. It worked. After that there were a few more snow banks, and an interesting uphill climb in deep snow. Alvaro and I had gotten ahead of Mudrak, when someone in the rear dropped into a tree well and had to have assistance getting out. Alvaro started up the hill and got stuck at the bottom. He tried several more times at progressive power levels and each time got about 10 feet further. Eventuallly he tried a full lock, full throttle run, and popped over the hill. Now as most of you know, an FZJ80 has a bit more power than a tired 2F. I tried a 2nd gear run for a bit more speed, left the lockers off and went over in the first try. I'm sure having the heavyweight rig pack the snow track a bit helped me and everyone else coming behind. After that we dropped out of the snow zone and worked our way through the upper rock gardens. They were muddy and slippery, but fun. We soon found ourselves fording progressively deeper water holes, including one that had water pouring into the passenger footwell through the transfer shifter boot. Alvaro has a great picture of that on his site. As soon as we cleared the really deep water, we got up on the slabs and then to Observation Point itself. After all we had been through, the descent of Cadillac Hill was anti-climactic. There was no snow but most of the trail was running water. There were no major hang ups and were were at the bottom maybe 15 minutes after leaving Observation Point. The track from there into the springs was interesting. Normally, there are a few water holes and crossings, but this time there was a rushing river crossing the trail, maybe 100 feet or so across. It didn't look deep, but I was worried about being pushed down stream by the current. About half way across was a small island of rocks and grass-I aimed for that and plunged in. It turned out to be hub deep only and no big deal. The stretch from the island to the opposite bank carried most of the main current and was a little deeper, but the 40 went through and up the bank, no big deal. Alvaro then drove Jay across to film, and backed into the current for another run at full power for the camera. That almost ended in disaster when the front pushed slightly into a large tree, but Alvaro came off the power at the right moment, avoided the tree and climbed the bank. From there it was routine into Rubicon Springs and we camped at the traditional spot by the river. About an hour later Mudrak and the rest of the group came in and we settled in for a nice dinner and campfire. All told, it took us from about 11am untill 5pm to go from the staging area to Rubicon Springs.

    We were rolling again by 9am the next morning. The track around the main stage area of the Springs looked like a lake-I drove in and found it to be about 30 inches deep, routine at this point! We spent some time trying to drain the road by digging a trench to the river, but this mostly failed. Mudrak, Jim Brantley, Pismo Jason, and Ross Woody then tried a full power run through the water all together in an attempt to push off enough water off the trail to make it more easily passable. While spectacular, it didn't do much. Jim Brantley was having so much fun and going so fast, that he hit a ridge of rock hard enough to smash in the inside of his rim and instantly flat the tire. After the wheel was dismounted, the rim was hammered back into shape and the tire reset on the bead. You have to love steel rims! After that, we found yet another deep water hole blocking the way out of the springs. Alvaro drove out first and soon found his front end sinking to the headlights. After a quick reverse, he tried a line through the pond to the right, which Jeff and I followed as well. Then we went up and over a long rock ledge and dropped back into the water. I saw Alvaro struggling with the exit, so I cut behind and out into the water and found a deeper but safe route back onto the trail. Then through a rock squeeze canyon (technically a "Graben" ). I was ahead on the trail now, but talk about pressure-I had Mudrak and the entire double locker crew was right behind. I started up the rock garden at the very base of Big Sluice. I was doing well, but then got hung at a spot that wouldnt let me go forward or back. Alvaro had to pull me off that. In the same spot, Alvaro got stuck, then tried to go higher on the bank, got stuck, then went even higher and got pinned. I hooked up the strap, but trying to pull a 7000 pound truck off a boulder and uphill was too much for my FJ40. Then we tried a snatch and Alvaro came free after 3 tries. He came free but ended up tipped into the hill. As he went forward, the front wheel came up and La Cabra almost rolled into the side of the mountain. Three of us got on his rocker, he backed up and saved the roll. There were a few more tough spots before we got to that nasty uphill ridge of rock that tips you toward the abyss. That spot is my least favorite on the entire trail. Many, many rigs have rolled right there, including Jack in the group behind us. We got over and worked up the Big Sluice to the top. I struggled there at the top for at least an hour. Mudrak and crew were dealing with a stuck down the canyon, and I tried the line I had used last year in this spot. There is a 4 foot ledge, with a 6 foot hole just to the left. If you come off the line, you roll. I tried every line I could think of but the truck just wouldn't climb the ledge. With one final attempt, the truck slid way left and the right front came up-Alvaro and Jay climbed on the side to prevent a roll and I could ease off the ledge. We also had noticed that one of my front wheels wasn't turning despite the locker being engaged. Mudrak, observed the situation, locked my left front hub, and I went up on my usual line in one try. Shait. There was evidence of a rock strike on the hub face, which must have unlocked the hub lower down the sluice. Just above this, I got tangled in some FJ40 sized boulders, but with a good spot from Nick Demrest, I climbed up and over the biggest one and then I was free! I motored from there to the top, overlooking Buck Island Lake and ran back down the trail to help the rest of the group. Unfortunately, Alvaro had followed my line into the boulders, and while possible in an FJ40, the big heavy wagon was not going through without help. For the next 30 minutes we stacked muddy rocks, and tried every line you could think of. Finally, the 80 series went up, over and around and could move on up the trail. The rest of us had sore and muddy hands. The rest of the group got up the ledge and took a better line through the boulders and we all headed toward Buck Island. There are some fun rocky sections there, a few offcamber scares and a very tippy spot just before the rocks that lead to the dam. We whet up and over the dam, down the rocks and into the traditional camp. It was 5:30pm and I was set to stay for the night, but the group wanted to push on to at least Spider Lake. The trip over the slabs was exciting and tippy, especially for the SOA rigs that made up the majority of our group. I took a line I have used in past years and had a clean run to the top of the slabs, but unfortunately found myself back in the lead. There is a 10 foot shelf at the very top of the slabs that I had to climb with everyone watching. I got tippy with one front tire 3 feet in the air, but I went up and over in one try. Whew. I drove up the rock ledges at the top, then stopped at the entrance to Old Sluice to let everyone else catch up. I ran back to find Mudrak winching up the ledge, since his rig is not only tall, but top heavy with his new roof-top tent. We then drove into the "Mud Lake" - more 3 foot deep water and into the rock gardens at the top of the ridge. Mudrak took a line through there that had almost rolled me with Jim Brantley last year, so I cut down to the right. That way leads to a steep but short stair step ledge but I got up that in one try. Unfortunately, it put me back in the lead. I lead from there to the base of Million Dollar drop. I asked Mudrak to go through here first since there were really no good ways up the drop. Also, a group of 4 jeepers were camped in the middle of the trail at the top of the drop. We had them move their tents so we could attempt the climb.

    Mudrak and I took the slot line to the left of the main drop. Mudrak went straight up and got hung and pinned at the very top. There was no way my little truck was going through that way. There is a second side slot to the right that Jim Brantley and I had taken last year. I locked up, got the front wheels up on it and then the rears. I could feel the tires clawing at the rocks and they finally caught and I went right up and into the Jeepers camp. They could tell I wasn't (and couldn't) stopping and the one guy had to drag his tent out of the way as I charged up the slot. If I had hesitated at all, the truck would have slid off and back to the bottom. The jeep guy was nice about it though-After all, he had pitched his tent in the MIDDLE of the Rubicon Trail. I drove to the top of Little Sluice and stopped there to help and watch the show unfolding below. Mudrak was seriously hung on a bolder wedged under his rear bumper. There was no access for my FJ40 to assist with recovery, so he was forced to winch off a distant tree. Alvaro had attempted the direct climb up Million Dollar Drop but couldn't get his front tires up the final ledge. Since he was headed directly into the Jeep camp one of them offered to strap him up the ledge. I had my doubts, but it worked and La Cabra was also at the top of Little Sluice. So far on the trip he had been winched by a Jeep and strapped by a Jeep-Alvaro tells me he is giving up on the 80 series and buying the Bronco II he was considering after Moab. The rest of the group took the line up the slot. Since it was almost 8pm and getting dark, Alvaro, myself, Jason, and Peter Straub decided to camp on the rocks just above Little Sluice. Mudrak and the rest of the crew pushed on. I was beat at that point and needed a night of sleep and some dinner.

    The third day was a gas. Jason, Alvaro and I were packed and rolling by 7am. First up and over the Little Sluice bypass and down into the rocks and mud at the bottom. We had to stack some rocks to get Jason's and Alvaro's 80 series through a muddy off-camber section which I could avoid by a mud ledge climb not possible in a long wheel base truck. We crawled through the boulders and began the steady ascent through the backside of Walker Hill. I took a bad line at one point and got wedged off-camber on a climb. Jason gave me a good spot and I was able to work off of it and continue. At the very top of Walker, we tried to make cell phone calls, but to no avail. The upper descent of Walker was the most dangerous section of the trail. There is a huge deep gully with a slick mud bank to the left. The only way though is to ride your passenger tires down a narrow ridge of rock with your driver side tires up on the mud slick bank. We all came through OK, but again 3 of us found ourselves on Alvaro's sliders. We learned later that Jim Brantley had rolled his FJ60 right there the night before. That must have sucked in the dark, but he wasn't hurt, and only one of his doors was mashed. By some miracle, none of the glass in his truck was even broken. Minor damage given the circumstances. We made excellent time from the base of Walker to the top of the Granite Bowl, where we found Mudrak and crew camped out and fixing Mudrak's broken front axle. Jason led us into the Granite bowl, and I led the climb up the other side. That section is exciting and fun. At the top we met the ranger patrol on quads-there were having way too much fun for a work day. I went right through the Alligator Pit and it's morass of giant boulders and mud. It's a great place for an FJ40, but the 80's really had to work. Jason got pinned in a way I could see no easy way out of. We tried stacking rocks, but when that failed, I hiked back to my truck at the Gatekeeper to look for Ross Kuzma who was heading in with the official run I was supposed to be on. Ross agreed to help winch Jason from the front, but by the time we arrived, Jason and Alvaro had solved the problem and were free. We pulled aside to let Ross and his run through, and I got to say hello to many of my old friends. I had hoped to be on this run, but was too low on gas to turn around and head back in. Going over the Gatekeeper in reverse was easy for the FJ40 but we had to stack yet more rocks for the two 80 series! I was so sick of stacking rocks, and I don't have any actual skin left on my hands! Once through there, it was a quick trip across the spillway of Loon Lake and out to pavement. We then drove to Ice House to get gas. The original plan was to head back in and go back through in the correct direction. Jeff was feeling sick and this made a convienient excuse to head back to civilization. We got to Pollock Pines, and when he refused a late lunch at a Mexican restrauant, I realized he really was sick. Good decision to leave the trail.

    So that was the trip. It was by far the most difficult trip through the Rubicon that I have experienced. From the snow, to the deep water, to the mud and all the new boulders on the trail, it is extremely tough this year. Three days to go 12 miles. I may try it again in September when conditions should be better. Every time I go through there, I am amazed by that trail. There is always something new, and something to learn. It was an awesome challenge for me this year, and it is a great priviledge to have such great friends to do it with.

    Cast of characters:
    Andrew Pollock FJ40
    Jeff Pollock (14)
    Alvaro Rodriguez FZJ80
    Jay Deshelter (videographer)
    Gary Kardum (Mudrak) FJ45
    Nick Demerest sans Cruiser this year
    Jim Brantley FJ60 "Knuckles"
    Jim's friend-name forgotten by me
    Pat Kennedy FJ40
    Ross Woody FJ40
    Jason (insert last name here!) FZJ80
    Wade-Jason's firefighter friend
    Peter Straub BJ60 on 54 inch tires!!!!!!!
    Mark-Peter's Friend BJ40
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2005
  2. NorCalDoug

    NorCalDoug problems solved daily...

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    Great write up Andy!

    I'm both disappointed that I didn't join you guys (not that I really had the option with all the work I had to do around the house ;) )...and glad that I was only up to my ankles in mud while digging holes and doing some landscaping.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2005
  3. alvarorb

    alvarorb Color Geek in Charge

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  4. cruiserdan

    cruiserdan SupportingVendor Emeritus Moderator

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    And you want me to go on that with you?..... :eek:



    What about my :princess: flares?......... :flipoff2:
     
  5. Brentbba

    Brentbba Former Golfer SILVER Star

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    Wow - I think I'll stick to the expedition trips only! Nice write-up and pics guys! I'll stick to living vicariously thru your adventures!
     
  6. lowenbrau

    lowenbrau

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    Thanks for the report. We were beginning to wonder if Peter and Marc had made it all the way down there or not.
     
  7. Cruiserdrew

    Cruiserdrew On the way there SILVER Star

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    It's much easier later in the summer. Even your truck could make it. :flipoff2:
     
  8. cruiserdan

    cruiserdan SupportingVendor Emeritus Moderator

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    With a transmission in the back?........... :flipoff2:
     
  9. e9999

    e9999 You want to do what...? Moderator

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    so how would you characterize what gave the 40 and the 80 respectively the most trouble, and what were they each best at?
    wonderin...
     
  10. PKP80

    PKP80

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    Great write up and awesome pics. Thank you for sharing, the rig with the 54's is Ridiculous.

    -Sam-
     
  11. stuck in GA

    stuck in GA

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    Man that 60 is insane. I remember seeing it in 4 wheel Drive magazine. Aren't those tires 53's?
     
  12. alvarorb

    alvarorb Color Geek in Charge

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    Josh,


    Yes, they are 53" tires.
    It's a point and shoot rig.


    Alvaro
     
  13. concretejungle

    concretejungle

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    Holy crap, that looks gnarly! Dan, better keep the :princess: at home for that one.

    How did that huge friggin' rig do? Doesn't it have a diesel in it? :flamingo:
     
  14. 65swb45

    65swb45 Elder Statesman Supporting Vendor

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    Andy, remind me to give you a few lessons on paragraphing! :flipoff2:

    Interesting writeup, but you didn't say anything about the weather. Dit rain on your 'parade' as well.

    Up to another stab at this in a month or so.

    PM me with the dates for Ershim. :)
     
  15. pygpen

    pygpen

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  16. Cruiserdrew

    Cruiserdrew On the way there SILVER Star

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    Pat-thanks for posting all of those pictures. That was a very fine trip. Thanks for the spot at the base of the slabs!

    Mark-Sorry about the long paragraphs! I'll send Dusy info tonight when I get a chance.
     
  17. petescoffee

    petescoffee

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    Great Write up.
     
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