Walker Valley Trial by Fire
(A New 'Wheeler Gains a Healthy Distrust of Lars)
August 15, 1999
All photos by RJ Pierce and Rudy
A while ago, RJ had asked me to contact him if I wanted to
do any 'wheeling in Washington State so last week, we made
plans to explore Paradise Valley (nr Sumas Mtn). Sunday
morning, we headed down to Paradise Valley. There were four
of us: RJ & Rudy in RJ's stock TJ and Wil and I in my
not-so-stock YJ. We spent a lot of time running into dead
ends and locked gates. Our patience eventually ran out (we
don't have much patience) so during a pit stop at a gas
station, we decided to head over to Walker Valley (nr Mt
Now, I need to make four things perfectly clear:
So off we go to Walker Valley. Things are going pretty well for the first little while. As I expected, RJ is having a few problems but he can get through the obstacles without assistance from my Jeep. His TJ is his first 4x4 although he has ridden with friends during offroad excursions in North Carolina.
We soon catch up to some 4x4s which are lined up for an obstacle near an intersection. We squeeze past and follow some other 4x4s along the less difficult trail (I wanted to avoid winching the TJ so we took the easiest trails we could find...which doesn't exactly mean EASY when you're talking about Walker Valley). Shortly thereafter we reached the first obstacle that required a snatch strap for the TJ. It's a four-foot deep ditch which we have to drive through as it curves left and throws your vehicle into an outside lean. It's also uneven which proves to be the TJ's undoing. It was totally stock, meaning that the sway bar was still attached and severely limiting the front axle articulation. Some time during that pull, the passenger side running board got torn off. It didn't seem to bother RJ.
We snatch strapped the TJ about a dozen times more over the course of the day but I can't recall each event so I'll spare you the details. We snaked our way through a section of the Poop Chute and clambered over some rocks to reach the bottom of Boulder Alley. The TJ wasn't able to climb over the boulders so I turned the YJ around and we hooked up the winch. As far as winching sessions go, it was an ugly one. The driver's side front tire was up against a vertical rock face which made for a stubborn pull. The TJ had to get over rocks one- to two-feet in height with large gaps between them. There was no choice but to keep winching even as the axles and skidplates were being dragged over the rocks. Wil was in control of the winch and made certain that critical components like the driveshafts weren't in danger. Some things you just can't finesse your way through. About this time we noticed that the driver's side running board got torn off, too.
On the next section of trail, which bypassed Boulder Alley, I swung right to squeeze past a tire-eating obstacle on the right and pushed one of my front bumper "horns" into a tree. It bent back quite a bit but no permanent damage resulted (Wil was able to bend it back). RJ took the exact same line except a little bit wider and he punched in his passenger side front fender and dented the bumper cap. Doh!
Minutes later, at The Fin, I took the wrong line and ended up with my passenger side door pressing up against a tree. Rather than damaging the door, I opted for winching myself over the fin rock with Wil pushing the YJ away from the tree. We were able to snatch the TJ through and continue on.
It was getting late and I was relieved when we reached the main road. We headed down the mountain and then took the Lower Cavanaugh trail which is a shortcut to the highway. It was a difficult trail but since we were headed downhill, it wouldn't present any problems. The only concern was the deep puddle near the beginning. I drove through first and the water was over my door sill (about three feet deep). RJ just barely got into the water before getting high centered on a submerged root. Again, we snatched him out continued down the trail. At one section, where we were driving over wet roots that formed a downhill staircase obstacle, I commented to Wil that it would be funny (in a really sarcastic way) if we had to pull the TJ UP this hill. Ha ha. Just before we reached the exit, we encountered a group of CJs we had seen earlier. They were coming up from the highway exit. The lead driver stopped and told us the exit had recently been re-ditched and was now impassable. ARGH! So much for getting home on time. We now had to pull the TJ up the hill (oddly enough, it didn't seem as funny as when I thought about it on the way down). Fortunately, the drive up wasn't as bad as I thought. RJ was getting the hang of dealing with driving in these soggy conditions (it had been pouring rain off and on all day) and doing quite well. At the first obstacle, I drove straight up but signalled for RJ to take the alternative route on the left. I looked easier but I was wrong. The TJ couldn't make it and backing it down proved to be difficult because it started to slide and got crossed up. After several minutes of backing & filling, we finally ended up with the passenger side rear corner wedged up against a bank with the Jeep unable to drive forward. The exhaust pipe was pressed firmly into the ground. Around this time, another couple of 4x4s showed up at the top of the hill. They were also planning on using the exit. Upon learning of the ditching, the leader (he drove a built Samurai) walked down to check it out for himself while we pondered on the TJ dilemma. We asked a guy from one of the other groups to hook his CJ to the TJ and pull it backwards and sideways. That worked perfectly. We were able to back the TJ down the hill and parked it off to the side to let the CJs behind us get past. Then RJ took the same line that I did and almost made it up. A very light tug from my YJ was all it took and we were on our way again. And again, we went through the deep puddle. I learned the value of keeping the drain holes plugged as brown water spouted up from my floorboards. RJ picked a better line and made a full pull through the water hole.
Yeehaw! We were back on the gravel road and in no time at all, we would reach pavement...or so we though. Instead, we reached a locked gate. All the other 4x4s we encountered in Walker Valley were congregated there while the drivers looked for a solution. The solution was a bypass on the right hand side. Watching the various vehicles get through either by winching or by finesse or by a heavy throttle foot took up about an hour. There were some funny moments such as the one guy who finessed his way through, almost. He was so proud to have elegantly gotten through one section which stymied others, that he then floored the throttle to spin all four tires as he made a hard left to get back onto the trail. The Jeep went wide and the front passenger side tire evicerated itself on some roots. The driver got out to look at his completely deflated tire. He was probably thinking, "ok, I'll jack up the front end and change the tire." Meanwhile, everyone else was thinking, "oh God, please don't change your tire there and block the bypass for 15 minutes." Fortunately, one guy mistakenly said that sentence instead of thinking it. The driver agreed and drove out on his flat. One of the CJ drivers was a newbie and had difficulty getting his CJ up a muddy bank in the bypass route. After a lot of unsuccessful attempts, "Joe Cool" (at least that what I christened him) goes up to him as says, "Hey, what's the problem? Would it hurt your feelings if I gave it a try?" The newbie says, "Oh, I don't have the experience that you do, go ahead and give it a shot," and Joe Cool gallantly hopes into the newbies CJ, thrashes it for a while and does no better but does manage to wedge it into some roots which then requires me to winch it backwards for another attempt. Now, my problem with this is, what is Joe Cool doing that is productive in this situation?? The winch was already setup and ready to pull the newbie's Jeep. The newbie already saw Joe Cool make it through without a problem so he wasn't going to learn anything new. So instead of simply winching the Jeep out, we had to wait an extra ten minutes while Joe Cool strutted his stuff right into the bushes.
The winch guys were gracious enough to keep their gear setup to winch RJ's TJ through the bypass and it went very smoothly. I was last and having seen all the various lines attempted, I had an advantage and drove through quite easily.
We were FINALLY on pavement again and could head back to the border. Total damage on RJ's TJ:
I have to admit that I was extremely impressed with RJ's attitude. He took it all in stride. I view yesterday's trail ride as a critical turning point. RJ could either shell out the cash to fix his Jeep back to the way it was on Sunday morning or look past the damage, make a personal vow to come back and defeat Walker Valley and start planning upgrades. Since RJ wants me to take him to see Al at 4Offroad this week, I have a feeling his TJ will never again look like it did Sunday morning.
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