The Island Rock Crawlers marked the end of the summer 'wheeling season with Rock Creep, a much smaller and informal version of their famous Island Rock Crawl event. Mid-October is kind of late to mark the end of the summer season but when you have to contend with gated trails, your schedule is set by the logging companies and the government. Fortunately, the weather co-operated and we were treated to a fantastic bug-free, rain-free weekend of awesome Island 'wheeling.Day One
To get to the trails, we had to pass through Red Ballz. This area was where last year's Red Ballz competition was held and is characterized by monster tank traps. Since the competition, the area has been truck-worn into a tamer version of its former self. It was fun to drive through the tank traps but it was merely an appetizer to prepare us for the main courses of the day, Stinger and Armdong.
Stinger is a new trail that starts below Armdong, and exits very close to it, and they do have some strong family resemblances. They're both very narrow in many places with off-camber sections that throw you into the trees, and very few options for choosing alternate lines. You either make it following everyone else's line or you winch. The entrance to Stinger was a tossed salad of large rocks, loose dirt, and rotted logs, but the whole mess was firm enough to crawl through if you picked your line very, very carefully. Dave went through first in his Toyota pickup. Toyotas usually do well on island trails because of their longer wheelbases, but this section also required some tight turns which made it more difficult for them. Both Dave, and Shane in the 2nd Toyota, had to work at it to get through the entrance. Seeing their difficulties, Gord figured he'd have an advantage with his TJ's shorter wheelbase but that wasn't the case. He ended up with a dent in his passenger side door, compliments of a rotted stump. But most damaging of all were the ribbings he got about his earlier Toyota comments. He accepted it all with a big smile, and you really needed that kind of attitude on these trails. The rest of us had varying degrees of success. I was surprised that I was able to drive through without much difficulty. The new tires (36" IROKs) undoubtedly helped a lot, but I wasn't sure if my new BDS 2" springs would be too stiff or not. As it turned out, they were just right.
The next big section was a hard left that put you at the base of a steep climb up a loose dirt hill. Trees on either side were ready to punish your sheet metal if you slid side ways. I think the two Toyotas succeeded in the climb but I wasn't there to watch them. I do know that there was a deep hole in the hill when I got there, and I made sure everyone saw it before I attempted the climb. It's a kind of pre-emptive strike to preserve my pride if (ok, "when") I failed to climb the hill. While Gord was winching his TJ up the slope (after increasing the size of the hole, I'm sure), I decided that the best line would be to straddle the hole. When Gord's Jeep was clear, I aimed for my planned line, but was just a bit too much to the left, and after a bit of side ways slipping, my right rear tire was caught by the hole. I couldn't even back up for another attempt because the Jeep had shifted sideways and I now had a tree immediately behind my driver's side corner. I had to winch myself over, all the while complaining loudly about the hole.
After we left Stinger, it was a short few minutes before we reached the start of Armdong. I really had no interest in running it because I had already done so earlier this summer. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I had already winched myself through that trail earlier this year. That was a very long day that culminated in a Suzuki with a broken stub shaft between its two (yes, two) transmissions, a CJ with a spring hanger torn from the frame, and my YJ with a rear spring perch torn from the axle tube. My winch got a major workout that day. And that's why I wasn't exactly eager to do Armdong again. But Gord WAS eager, and he and his TJ already disappeared up the climb into Armdong while I was still having my flashback. I asked Chet if there were any other trail that was going to be run while some guys ran Armdong, and he said, "no." Anyone who wasn't going to run Armdong was going to park their truck and watch the action. And since I'm lazy enough to not want to spend the rest of the day hiking up and down Armdong, I decided to drive my Jeep and become part of the action.
The entrance to Armdong is a long, loose-rock climb and the last time I was here, my tires were slipping a lot, even with only 8 psi. I had to make three attempts before making my way up. This time was decidedly different. I drove up without a hitch. The IROKs at 8 psi gripped unbelievably well. I was warned before buying the IROKs that it took a while for the sidewalls to wear in and become flexible but I got pretty good flex right away.
Next up was what I like to call "the tricky part." In my earlier trip report, I described it thusly:
The climb then turned into sharp lefts and rights around trees with some mild off-camber bits. I got my Jeep through all of this without much difficulty, but then the trail combined ALL of these features into a really bad time. We had to deal with a series of off-camber climbs while squeezing between trees, sliding off of exposed roots, and spinning our tires on hard rock covered with wet earth. The only good side to any of this was the fact that if you rolled, you wouldn't roll far before you'd hit a tree. This section was made particularly difficult by two stumps which killed your momentum and caught the axle tubes.With the new tires, I actually drove all the way up to the stumps without any winching. That was a huge improvement over the last time. I couldn't go any further than that because my cross member was sitting on one of the stumps, so I had to get winched off, and then winched up the steep left-hand climb immediately after that. The "tricky part" managed to damage Gord's windshield frame and I think this is where Dane's Suzuki pickup sustained some roof damage.
Following that were a bunch of tight turns in the trees, some greasy rock climbs, and a particularly nasty off-camber section that tilted you hard to the left and then required you to make a hard right turn up a climb. To avoid the trees, you had to keep your truck to the right, which only made the off-camber worse. I had the advantage of having driven this section before, so I knew that as soon as my windshield frame cleared the tree, the Jeep would suddenly drop down and stabilize again. If you didn't know this, you'd swear the tilt was going to get worse and you were about to flop over. Of course, if I mis-judged my line, my experience wouldn't have applied and I would've flopped, but I didn't...so I guess I got the right line. Some of us had to winch ourselves out of the off-camber, while others had to winch up the right-hand climb, and fewer of us drove through without any winching at all.
The next notable nastiness was the "big hill." Essentially a long, broad, moss-covered rock spine that is dangerous to climb in the middle, and only moderately safer on its sides. But the sides also have less traction. It's one of those hills where you have to be careful of climbing even on foot. The popular line was the far right but it was chewed up and no one was able to climb it, anyway. I tried the center line which let me get quite far but I still had to winch. Chris Olson took the far left and got the farthest, but at one point, his front end kicked right and his flat fender looked ready to barrel roll down the hill. He carefully backed down a bit, tried again, and ended up sliding into the trees and had to winch from there.
After that were a few more greasy climbs up some short (about 6 feet tall) rock walls and some very tight threading and drop-offs between trees. The only damage was sustained by Jon when he dragged Lynn's CJ7 along a tree at the last rock climb. After that it was back to camp for dinner and lies around the fire.
Like the first day, we drove through Red Ballz to get to the trail of the day. This time, we were heading for a new, un-named trail that was built by Jojo and his crew below the Proving Grounds. The entrance seemed tame but after a few hundred metres of driving through dense brush on an old hard-packed gravel road, we got into the juicy bits. First up was a steep rock ledge fronted with wet, loose dirt that made it impossible to climb. It was a small obstacle, as obstacles go, but none of us could beat it.
The trail wasn't as heavily forested as yesterday's, and the terrain was mostly bare rock, so we had a lot more options for dealing with the various obstacles. There were a lot of short climbs and drops as we followed the waves and convulsions of exposed rock to our unknown destination. Gord was in the lead so he got to be the proof-of-concept test pilot. He got to prove to us that we weren't going to roll or endo at each new section by virtue of him being dumb enough to be the first person to drive up the trail head. At one point, Jojo and his heinous henchmen had routed the trail over the side of a very large rock that was near vertical at the bottom. Like primitive apes discovering the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we chattered nervously in its shadow, looking at it and throwing wrenches and Vice Grips at it in order to determine its nature. It was, in short, a great photo opportunity and photos were, indeed, taken.
But the real scary section, for me anyways, was a seriously steep off-camber that I had to make in order to avoid smashing my fender and windshield into a tree. Right at the point where my fender would pass the tree, there was a rock on the high side that would cause my Jeep to slip side ways toward the tree. It took several attempts before I was able to clear with an inch or so to spare. Even so, I ended up tearing my duster cover because the passenger side rear of the tub was leaned up against another tree.
The final major obstacle on the un-named, but soon to be named, trail was in the form of a combination challenge. There was a huge rock face with a dirt shelf near the bottom. The first challenge was to climb onto the bottom shelf. After that, you had to make a hard right and climb left and up along the right side of the rock. Many tried to climb straight up instead of making the hard right but none succeeded. Dane climbed onto the shelf in fine style, but as he was slipping and sliding in his attempt to line up for the climb up the right side, the rear of his Suzuki pickup slipped into a hole and the truck did a slow roll onto its roof. Dane and Charlotte were a bit shaken up but unharmed (to everyone's great relief). The roof damage he took the day before was now gone...and replaced with much more severe roof damage. When the vehicle was winched back onto its wheels, there was a deep V bend in the roof.
But the worst was yet to come. The standard procedure was followed before attempting to start up the recently re-built 16-valve Sidekick motor. Plugs were pulled, engine was cranked, and no oil came shooting out. Plugs were then installed, engine started, and it ran for about 2 seconds before it hydrolocked. The plugs were immediately removed again, and when the motor was cranked, oil shot out of the cylinders. Our best guess was that there was oil pooled in the intake, and it got sucked in only after the plugs were re-installed and vacuum was created. After another session of turning over the engine several times to ensure no more oil was coming out, the plugs were installed but the damage was already done. It ran very poorly and wouldn't idle. It probably had a bent rod. After it was winched to the top of the hill, some further examination was done, and while it was revving, the engine through a rod through the block. The stricken Zuk had to be towed back to camp behind Shane's Toyota. The hill is now named, "Dane's Hill" and the trail has been christened, "Orange Crush," or "Crush" for short.
The four wheeling potential in this area is immense, and the people from Island4x4.com and the Island Rock Crawlers club are proving that every time I visit them. In this one area, someone with a well-built 4x4 could have a very full weekend nailing all four trails (Stinger, Armdong, Orange Crush, Proving Grounds). If the Island Rock Crawlers could also find some trails suitable for more modestly built 4x4s, this would be a great location to stage the revival of the big Island Rock Crawl events -- from Rock Creep to Rock Crawl.
A big THANK YOU to the Island Rock Crawlers members who planned this event and made the stay at camp so comfortable and care-free. And a big tip o' the hat to Rob McFadyen who spent a lot of time organizing the event and, tragically, couldn't get his piece of junk ready to 'wheel in time.
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