Hut Lakes - November 30, 1997
Cast of characters:
One of the perks of having my own web page is that I meet lots of people who are interested in offroading. Case in point: last week I received an email from Martin Chung. He found my page while looking for offroad sites and had read some of my trip reports. We exchanged a few emails discussing local trails and I answered his questions regarding the 4WD Association of BC (4WDABC).
Later in the week he mentioned that he and two other Pathfinder owners were heading up to Hut Lake so I invited myself and my friends, Ed and Phil, along. The Hut Lake trail is quite challenging and the second half is pretty much impossible in a stock vehicle. I thought it would be very interesting to see how they handled the trail. That's how we ended up meeting on a rainy Sunday morning.
When we reached the trail head, the Pathfinders had to back up to let two vehicles pass by. The first was a red Land Cruiser wagon, followed by a luxury SUV which was going to make its Canadian debute the following weekend at Whistler. When I correctly identified it as the xxx which I read about in a magazine, the driver grinned and said to me, "you did not see this." Since its drivetrain was essentially the same as used on the maker's AWD cars, it didn't surprise me that they had to turn around at the first real obstacle.
That obstacle was an uphill rock outcrop which formed a step-like barrier. The step was big enough to make ground clearance a big issue with the Pathfinders. It was possible to squeeze by to the left of the step but the ground was loose and any sideways slip of more than 12 inches would result in a thrilling rollover down the mountainside. Ed, Phil and I drove straight up the step without a problem. Our Jeeps were lifted and we were running soft springs which provided lots of axle articulation. The Pathfinders had neither of these advantages. Front wheel articulation, in particular, posed the most problems. Minor rock stacking was required. With the rocks in place, and having walked the section to choose the best line, Dean delicately crawled his Nissan up the step. Once they knew which line worked, Martin and Derek got through a little quicker.
Their willingness to take their time and walk and spot each other through the difficult sections allowed them to reach Hut Lake without damage. I thought that was a commendable feat, considering that they are new to the offroad scene.
As we pulled into Hut Lake, I made a hard left up a shallow rock face so I could take the back way into the campsite. As I started to climb onto the rock I heard a loud blast of air. Feeling no vibrations coming from my buttocks, I could only surmise that I had blown yet another BFG tire. Sure enough, when I got out to inspect my Jeep, the front passenger tire was utterly flat. It took less than a second to disgorge its contents. What puzzled me was the source of the puncture. There was a huge tear on the inside wall. I didn't see any sharp obstacles under the Jeep. Ed had a close look at the tire and correctly guessed that the stud on my disconnected sway bar had been pushed into the tire. The combination of turning and compressing the suspension had brought the two into contact. Oddly enough, this didn't happen the previous weekend when I was driving through many sections that cycled my suspension to its maximum. Ed offered to help me completely remove the sway bar but I d idn't think it was required. I would just avoid making tight turns for the rest of the trail.
While eating lunch at the lake, we had a bit of fun by egging Phil on as he tried to climb his Jeep onto a five-foot rock. I thought it was too wet for Phil to succeed but on his fourth attempt, he made it. Dean was very impressed with the difference that a rear locker could make. Of course, you also had to have enough ground clearance to avoid high centering on the rock.
Fifteen minutes later, as I started to drive away from the lake, I blew my driver's side front tire not more than twenty feet from where I had the earlier puncture.
I actually thought it was funny. Of course, I had just bought a set of 33" tires a few days ago so that might having something to do with my care-free attitude to my old, heavily worn, 31" tires. To his credit, Ed did not say, "I told you so." I might have threatened him not to say that but I don't remember.
I borrowed Phil's spare 33x9.5 BFG MT and hooked up my sway bar (re-installing the bar's links minimized the extreme articulation and covered the sharp studs). Dean thought Phil was an unusually nice guy because he lent me his brand new BFG even though I had demonstrated an uncanny ability to completely destroy tires at the rate of two per hour. Now that we had no spare tires for the YJs, I decided to park my Jeep. The Pathfinder guys started the return journey while we continued to Upper Hut in the two remaining Jeeps. Upper Hut is always a fun trail but doubly so when it rains. The trail becomes a series of narrow, shallow, rocky creeks which wend their way up to Upper Hut Lake. The recent heavy rainfall had significantly changed the trail. In some places, the old "good line" became impossible and the old "impossible line" became good. We didn't need to stop and scout any of the sections until we reached The Trench. On that day, though, it was apparent why many people also called it The Waterfall. It resembled a canal lock. There was a steep climb of a V-cut rock face to get into a high-walled trench. At the other end of the trench, it narrowed till it was just a bit wider than a Jeep. It was terminated by another steep climb with deep ruts running up either side and curved to the left. The curve put you in danger of tipping the side of your vehicle into the rocky bank. Both climbs in and out of The Trench had water cascading over the rocks, making for a very intimidating obstacle.
Then Ed ruined it.
He just puttered his CJ up into The Trench and out the other side. Phil and I were in shock. Apparently, so was Ed. He later said that he didn't expect to make it up the second waterfall but once he started making progress, he just kept the engine running and the next thing he knew, he was out. Phil didn't have it so lucky. He made a few attempts but just couldn't get his rear tires to bite into the steep walls. Finally, he threw a few rocks into the base of the falls and his YJ was able to clamber out. Even with the rock piling, I was impressed that he made it. I definitely would have been high-centered with my 31" tires. Good thing I had an excuse to park it.
I took lots of pictures and we all agreed that this was the absolute best time to be at Upper Hut. The Trench alone made it worthwhile to travel the two hours from our homes. As a point of interest, the last time we were here, one of our group snapped an axle shaft while climbing into The Trench. On that day, our "day trip" extended into the wee hours of the night, most of us arriving home around 2:00am.
On the way back down, we met up with the Pathfinders as they were picking their way down the first rock outcrop. Being the good offroad citizens that they are, they removed the rocks which they had piled on the way up. These are the kind of people I like to see getting involved in our sport.
Back on the pavement, Ed aired up our Jeep with his engine-driven compressor. What a luxury. I gotta get one of those. That was probably the last trail run for my Jeep this year. The time-consuming process of upgrading the axles and rejuvenating my sagging suspension will begin soon (money permitting). Despite my two tire blow outs, I had a great time and considered it an acceptable end to the '97 fourwheeling season.
Of course, if Ed lends me those spare 31" tires he was talking about...and if we get some snow on the local trails pretty soon...
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