June 21-22, 2003
Photos by Lars and Alan Chung
Back near the beginning of the year, the 4x4xNorthwest club from Washington state contacted me and the Island Rockcrawlers 4x4 club regarding some locals trails. Their plan was to kick of a week of fourwheeling by starting with Vancouver Island and then working their way south and ending in Oregon. More specifically, it was Rick Newcomb who contacted me, and through a series of emails, we decided that we would take his crew on a tour of a local trail area via a very difficult and obscure route. And this is where this story will raise a few hackles. You see, I am not going to tell you where we went. We entered and exited via legal means but due to the political sensitivity of the area, as well as the difficulty of the trail, the precise details of where we went will be omitted from this trail report. The sad truth is that there are people who, while they may have capable 4x4s and the requisite driving skills, are unable to show the proper care and respect that this area requires. I'm sure some of you will figure out where we were and I hope you'll have enough sense and responsibility to keep it under your hats.
Now that I've gotten that little bit of politics out of the way, I'll continue on with the story.
The original plan was for the 4x4xNW'ers to head to Vancouver Island on Friday and run the R.I.P. trail with the Island Rock Crawlers on Saturday morning. Then they would head to Vancouver where I would take them on a local trail run. Unfortunately, that plan fell apart when it was discovered that the main access road to R.I.P. was gated due to a forest fire safety concern and the club was unable to have the gate temporarily opened. That meant that the 4x4xNW'ers would show up in the Vancouver area Friday evening and that gave me a full extra day with them. As it turned out, we needed every minute of it.
The days leading up to the weekend made it clear that we were going to be wet. The previous weeks of sunshine were coming to an end and by Saturday, the weatherman promised us rain. How absolutely perfect. So when Saturday morning rolled around, it was no big surprise that the skies were dulled by a veil of gray. Nevertheless, we were eager to hit the trail. My passenger for the weekend would be Wes Rempel (the tireless Land Use agitator for the Four Wheel Drive Assoc. of BC). Wes met me at my house, as did Alan Chung (a friend from WA) and Andrew Horvath in his "YJ." The quotes are there because it really isn't much of a YJ anymore. Al would ride with Andrew.
We left my house and picked up the 4x4xNW'ers at the Hazelmere Campground not far from the Canda/USA truck crossing. They were all packed up and met us as we drove into the site. The original estimate was for seven vehicles from their club but reality pared that down to four vehicles, all Jeeps. I didn't get the details on their rigs but here's a brief summary:
We formed up our six-Jeep convoy and drove through Langley and then north to Fort Langley and then onto the Albion Ferry. On the other side of the river, we hooked up with three more vehicles.
By the time we had all gotten together, the rain was pouring down in great sheets. About half of us were running bikini tops on our rigs so we were particularly miserable. And that's how our weekend of 'wheeling began: wet and miserable. How will it end? Here's a spoiler: wet and relieved.
I hate mud and I hate deep water crossings. Any water over your hubs means that you have to tear down your hubs and re-pack the bearings. Any water over the tires means you have to replace all your fluids and run the risk of hydro-locking your engine, as well as destroying eletronics such as sensors or, if you're really lucky, the engine management computer. I was thinking all these things as the front of my Jeep sank into the brown liquid. By the time the back of my Jeep entered the mud hole, the Jeep was no longer making normal sounds. That's what happens when the exhaust is under water, along with half of the drive train and engine. I was using a moderate amount of throttle, just enough to get me through but not enough to dig straight down. Unfortunately, I was a bit too far to the left and found the deepest part of the hole. Trying to climb up the log on the other side was impossible. I couldn't back up, either. Oh, and water was flooding into the tub. It took longer than I would have liked for someone to hook up my winch to the tree saver. I was getting frantic because I knew the water level was dangerous close to the transmission breather hole inside the bellhousing. There was a very high risk of incurring a thousand dollars' worth of damage. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to hit the switch and winch my Jeep over the log. The transmission was now safe but the Jeep's transfer case skid plate was now caught on the log. Now I had something new to worry about: the gas filler cap was about six inches below the water line. I couldn't remember if the cap was water tight but I sure hoped it was. Otherwise the injectors were going to die very soon. The 8274 had stalled and couldn't pull the Jeep any farther. Using the Hi-Lift was pointless since the back end of the Jeep wasn't even touching the bottom. Finally, someone suggested using the Hi-Lift to lift the chassis by jacking between the log and my rocker armour. It worked perfect and I wish someone (like me, for instance!) had thought of that sooner.
Mike came next and just about made it all the way through, but ended up having to do a little bit of winching. His Toyota was nicely set up for this terrain with its huge Swampers and high ground clearance. It made my Jeep look like a stocker, in comparison. Dave and Pam came next and, like Mike, needed a bit of help from the winch. Right after them was the other Early Bronco in our group, driven by Jared. He got his front end into the mud, and then decided to back out to adjust his line. Ok. Here's a math test for you: what is the product of "backing up an incline" + "steering the front wheels?" If you said a "broken axle shaft u-joint," you are correct. KRAK-klak-klak-klak. Yup, we've heard that sound before. Jared was a late invite on this run and I forget to tell him that a winch was a required item. And of course, his was the ONLY vehicle on the group without a winch. He also didn't have spare axle shafts. So I had a talk with Dave and Mike who were the only other drivers who had driven this trail before. What to do? Pull him out by going forward, or turn him around and try to winch him up through the roller coaster? The problem with going back up the roller coaster was that it would be extremely difficult to turn him around. An off-camber slope combined with large, wet tree roots meant and a lack of space made it a daunting proposition. And if we did manage to turn him around, we still had to winch him up a very twisty set of drop-offs. If we went forward, we would have to pull him through four additional mud holes, one of which requires a 90-deg turn, and then up through a very twisty trail (although not nearly as bad as the roller coaster section). We decided to keep the group together and pull him forward. And for the next five or so hours, that's exactly what we did.
We were quite lucky that Dave and Pam's big Bronco was right in front of Jared. The yellow Bronco's weight, huge tires, heavy duty axles, and automatic transmission made it the perfect tow vehicle. Behind Jared was Rick and Jackie. Rick's CJ7 was equipped with a 10,000 lb Warn which was idea for those times when we had to winch Jared's Bronco forward and couldn't turn Pam and Dave's around. In fact, this trail was so tight that I think there were only two possible turnarounds on the entire route.
It didn't take long before virtually everyone was soaking wet, thanks to the combination of intermittent rain and constant mud. Everyone pitched in to help each vehicle get through the mud holes. After a few hours, we were all free of the mud holes and I thought the last section through the trees would be a cake walk. I'm stupid that way. I forgot how muddy the non-muddy section was. Being the lead vehicle, I was the first one to attempt the climb out and I made it all the way through without sustaining any damage or using the winch. Well, I did drag my tub along one tree which tore a small piece of my Bestop Duster cover, but that was it. Mike also made it up without winching but his truck got an invigorating tree massage along the way. Now both sides of his Toyota were mirrorless and the box was looking more "distressed." Everyone behind us had a much harder time of it. Dave and Pam should have done better but they claimed that the 4,000 lb weight attached to their bumper impeded their progress. I generally can't abide that kind of snivelling but I let it pass in the interest of being polite. Besides the Lippmann's big yellow Bronco, Jared's Bronco received assistance from other sources. Chief among those was Rick's 10,000 lb Warn winch. It was used several times in the mud holes and on the climb out. Once or twice the we reached the end of the cable and had to use a tow strap to extend its reach. Jared's come-along also came in handy in a few situations where he used it to pull his Bronco side ways to save it from body damage. By this time, the trail was extremely slick. Rick, Bryan, and Andrew all got through with minor difficulty. Ken and Lana had more issues since they were at the end of the line and had to work with the few tiny scraps of traction that were left on the trail. Some side-ways winching and man power were employed to save the TJ's windshields and soft tops from damage. Everyone helped each other to overcome the trail's challenges, but I must give Dave Lippmann the Most Valuable Player award. He made a huge effort in getting Jared out of there. Slogging through mud and dense brush to re-set the various recovery devices was gruelling work but Dave never let up.
Just before reaching the exit, Dave and Pam's brake pedal went to the floor. The Bronco had a cracked front brake line. Rather than attempt to do a fix, Dave decided to crimp it off and drive to the campsite for the night. In the morning, a fix could be applied. Everyone had to winch over the final obstacle except for myself, since I left my Jeep parked at the exit, while Mike had driven back down the trail to see how everyone was doing. This was no big surprise since it had become very difficult just to walk up the obstacle, let alone drive over it. By now it was around 10:00pm. Dave and Pam had gone ahead to find a campsite while I stayed behind to make sure everyone got out.
It was pretty disgusting, setting up camp. Everything in the back of my Jeep was soaked, including my stash of "dry" clothes. Around the campfire, after enjoying some hotdogs and hamburgers cooked up by the 4x4xNW folks, some of us held our clothes near the fire, hoping against hope that we'd have something dry to wear in the morning. My Bubba-size can of beer wasn't as enjoyable as I had hoped. I was wet, tired, and had a sneaking suspicion that I'd feel the same way in the morning. Everyone turned in early.
The Next Day
Around 6:30am, I got up and drove off to find a creek where I flush the mud out of the interior of my Jeep. I cut the top off the Bubba can to use it as a pail and spent over an hour washing out the mud. I was extremely pleased that I had the interior of my Jeep Rhino-lined. If my Jeep was carpeted, that carpet would have been in the garbage as soon as I got home. Arriving back at camp, I was surprised to see that everyone was packing up their tents and almost ready to roll. Although I had missed breakfast, I was able to load my gear back into my Jeep without covering it in mud. While I was washing out my Jeep, Dave had borrowed Andrew's brake line parts and tools and was able to make himself a new length of hard line to fix his brakes.
The weather was even worse than the previous day, with fog and rain guaranteeing a miserable Sunday for our fourwheeling enjoyment. The only bright side was that we wouldn't have to drive through any mud holes. And after the previous day's trials, it was a lot to be thankful for. So off we went for a rainy day of fourwheeling. Well, not all of us. I led Jared and his wounded Bronco to the pavement, first, and then caught up with the rest of the group. Things went far better this day and there really wasn't much worth writing about. We took our time and played on whatever obstacles we came across and made it back to pavement with plenty of time left to get home at a decent hour. I had a great time and am looking forward to heading down to WA to see the 4x4xNW crew's trails.
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