This year's Island Rock Creep event was a reprise of trails I've run on previous years, but that didn't stop me from enjoying myself. They were as much as fun as the last time I ran them, and I got to see fresh carnage, which is always enjoyable when you're a spectator...and not parked behind the broken vehicle.
Rock Creep is an informal event put on by the Island Rock Crawlers 4x4 club and participation by non-club members is by invitation only. As with previous years, we were camped at a great little provincial campsite not far from Duncan, B.C. It was close to the trails so we weren't faced with a long commute to reach the trail heads. This meant that the morning departure times were quite civilized, requiring us to be mobile by around 10:00am each day.
Saturday morning, there was a grandiose plan of hitting Wipe Out first, and then Rock of Gibraltar and Snake Pit. But as the day wore on, we resigned ourselves to the fact that getting through Wipe Out would be more than enough for the day. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's see...on Saturday morning we organized ourselves into two groups. The Easy group and the Hard group. The Hard group headed for Wipe Out. It is basically a loose dirt climb that wends its way through some trees and then makes a stupidly steep and sharp right hand switch back over a huge stump root, and then a short climb onto a road. In point of fact, you could easily reach that self-same road if you simply stayed on the main dirt road at the very bottom and avoided Wipe Out entirely. That's what I did. Don't get me wrong. I'm no coward. I actually ran it two years ago: http://www.bc4x4.com/tr/2005/trailjam. So I felt secure in my manhood as I drove my Jeep past the start of Wipe Out and took the easy way to the top. Once there, I parked the Jeep, grabbed my camera gear, and then began the knee-damaging trudge back down to the bottom, just in time to see Wil's Toyota on one-ton running gear trying to climb the optional wall to get into Wipe Out. He didn't make it. No one did. I think Dave Lippmann made it in his Bronco about four years ago but he couldn't repeat the feat on this trip.
After winching up the rock wall, there was a steep, straight climb which intersected the Wipe Out trail. Turning left onto the trail, it continued climbing higher while weaving between a few strategically placed trees. Besides being steep, the ground was very loose, wet, and off-camber. In some places, the off-camber sections leaned the trucks into trees, making a tight squeeze even more difficult.
Some trucks squeezed between the trees while others took a scarier, off-camber line which went around the trees. Either way, it was slow and delicate going. Wil's truck suffered the most because its carburetor-equipped truck did not enjoy operating at such steep angles.
The worst part, though, was near the top. It was a steep, hair pin turn to the right, with a huge stump root right in the apex of the turn. Momentum was a rare commodity here because the steep grade and loose ground made it very difficult to carry any speed into the corner. If you hugged the inside of the corner, near the stump, your right front tire would get caught under the root. If you went right, you'd hit or climb a tree.
Here's a panorama from a location just below the stump root obstacle.
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Like the rock wall obstacle, no one managed to conquer this one, either. Chris Olson came the closest in his Nissan diesel-powered Willys but ended up on a winch cable like everyone else. Dwain's Road Warrior-esque Jeep Wagoneer didn't even make it to the stump. He twisted a rear drive shaft and had to turn around. Armin worked it hard with his CJ7 but some nasty bouncing resulted in a compacted rear drive shaft which snapped his D300's output shaft. Winch difficulties with the CJ7 required some re-arranging of trucks and winches in order to pull it through the obstacle. Ben Olson's diesel-powered LJ80 also took some damage, snapping a stub shaft. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty smug about my choice to bypass Wipe Out.
In all honesty, my reason for skipping it was because if we got through Wipe Out in reasonable time, the Rock Crawlers were going to show us a trail which I hadn't seen before. So I figured by keeping my Jeep off this trail, I'd speed our progress. I suppose I did, but no one expected this much carnage. (Speaking of which, Rob McFadyen's YJ had to turn around before the start of Wipe Out because he discovered that his steering box was leaking.) Our whole day was spent on this short trail. By the time we got the last truck off of Wipe Out, it was too late to hit any other trails.
Awaking the next morning, I was happy to see blue skies peering through the tree canopy. The warm, clear weather helped me face the morning after a late evening of imbibing and raucous discussion around the campfire. After a somewhat confusing drivers' meeting where multiple conclusions were arrived at, we hit the trail and somehow ended up at the same place: Carnage Alley. Unfortunately, it needed some heavy duty clearing thanks to recent blow down. So for Plan B, we headed to Stinger, which I had also run on a previous visit to the island. But since I didn't do any 'wheeling yesterday, I happily joined in as we left the forest service road and began the climb up Stinger.
The entrance is difficult because the uneven ground, rocks, and stumps make it hard to visually gauge the relative height of the obstacles. In short, it was tough to spot a good line. For Wil, it wasn't a problem. His 39" IROKs gave him plenty of ground clearance but for those of us running smaller tires, we caught our diffs and axle tubes on various stumps and rocks. Once you got past the entrance, there was a stump root obstacle that created a deep step on the passenger side of the vehicle. Too far to the left and you ended up climbing a side hill made worse by the dip on the right. Too far to the right and you drove straight into the stump. Everyone had problems with it except Phil in his CJ5. He ran his rear tire into the stump and when it bounced off, his Jeep kicked sideways, to the left, dropping the tire onto the top of the stump root. It was a perfectly finessed maneuver and we were all duly impressed.
After that came a sharp left turn which formed the base of a short but steep climb up a loamy slope. Taking the time to do a lot of cutting and filling really paid off, allowing you to set up for the perfect line. If you didn't get on the right line from the start, you were likely to get caught in one of the potholes or dig sideways and get trapped against a tree.
That was the end of the really tricky bits. From that point on, it was mostly a matter of making extremely tight turns around and between trees. There was one very long and steep, bladder-loosening hill climb but aside from difficulty in getting traction near the bottom, everyone made it up okay.
After some more slaloming through the trees, we emerged onto another forest service road and we were finished with Stinger. We had the option of continuing on to Armdong but it was getting late. Most of us mainlanders had a ferry to catch so, with the briefest of regrets, we passed by the Armdong trail head and drove back to camp.
While I was packing up my camping gear, I heard someone calling out on the CB. He sounded quite worried and was trying to reach anyone he could on the radio. He had broken an axle shaft on his TJ and had no idea where his buddy was, who happened to have his spare axle shafts. He was fortunate that he was within CB range of us. One of the Rock Crawlers, Glynn, went back to help him out. None of us had spare D35 shafts so they did the "ol' strap a log to the side of the Jeep" trick, to keep the axle shaft and wheel from sliding out of the housing. On the subject of CB range, I should also mention that I recently got a VHF 2-meter radio and tried it out while we were four wheeling. Using a local repeater, I was able to reach camp from any of the trails we were on. In fact, using that same repeater, I was able to talk to Phil when I was at the Duke Point ferry terminal, and he was at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. That's a straight-line distance of over 60 km. Sure beats a CB, doesn't it? I mention this because I'd like to see a lot more four wheelers get their amateur radio licenses and start using 2-meter radios. The added safety factor and convenience is tremendous.
Hats off to the Island Rock Crawlers for showing everyone a good time and arranging for the beautiful weather.
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