Updated: May 30
I had been anticipating this run for quite a while since it was to be my first real run with the club. I was looking forward to getting to know fellow club members, and excited to spend some time with my son and fellow Club member, Justin Pryor. I should have realized something was up when, planning the day with Justin, he said, "why don't we just go in your truck, no need to drive two. That way you can tell me all about your [just-completed two weeks in Utah] trip." In retrospect that should have set off all kinds of alarm bells.
When he arrived at my house early Saturday morning I told Justin I was waffling on putting my Cooper SST Pro's on [MT's] in place of the Falken A/T3W winter/street tires [AT's] I'd been running since last December. While the weather was overcast and threatening rain, I didn't think there'd be any issues with the "dry" NV soil. He seemed to agree. After leaving breakfast at Heidi's in Carson City Justin said, "you probably don't want to hear about my last time on this trail with Mark [Weeks]. There was this particularly muddy hill at the end that was pretty sketch." Hmmmm.....
As planned, those going met up at the Sinclair in Dayton by 9 am to begin the trail, and we followed the route shown below [in orange], ending up back in Carson City.
We had a good turnout with eight rigs on the run. Mark Weeks led the way in his 40 (thank you Mark!), club president Tony Farson was in his newly acquired 80, Ryan Eckland was in his built mini truck, Ray Hancock, along with his daughter, was in his 80, Scot Martin was in his (Ahem!) Blazer, Greg Fisicaro was in his 100, and in the back club VP John McBride was in his 40 series, with myself running tail gunner for most of the trail in my 60.
We headed off down the trail and after a bit stopped to air down.
While I had locked the hubs on my 60, it took me awhile to actually engage 4WD and low range. The deceptively easy nature of the early part of the trail was to be offset by things to come.
We played leap-frog with a group of three Jeeps we'd seen leaving the Sinclair in Dayton, passing them as they aired down, them passing us as we aired down, passing them as they took a break, them passing us on our break, etc.
Eventually both of our groups took a break at "the cave". We chatted with them for a bit, and they seemed like a good group of guys. That was the last time we would see them - either they innocently turned around, or they knew what lay ahead (spoiler alert: we all lived to tell the tale, so it wasn't THAT bad...).
Just before reaching "the cave" I hear over the radio, "I think we've got a broken truck," or something to that effect. It turned out that Ray's 80 had a broken brake hard line feeding the flex line at the passenger front hub. The situation was assessed, Vice-Grips were asked for and Vice-Grips were provided, and after a few minutes of work Ray had folded and crimped the hard line enough times that it wasn't leaking under application of brake pressure, so we continued on our way (personally, a very good trail-fix lesson for me). Later forensics work would reveal that his sway bar mount had broken, taking out the hard line as a result.
My only 'day job' in the world of off-roading is leading the Wagon Run for TLCA's Rubithon event. This particular issue with the 80 series, while not well known, has happened often enough that we recommend every 80 on the Wagon Run remove their front sway bar. The fact that this happened on this trail, and when it did, is a good reminder for me that a trail doesn't have to be too difficult to encounter this problem.
From here we continued on. Up to this point we had been driving in, out, across, and back again into the creek flowing down the canyon but always in fairly sandy/gravely conditions. There was even a chance to get down into the river bed and rock crawl a bit (side note: I was impressed by the grip of my Falken's following Ryan's wet foot prints over the river-polished rocks in the river bed). But as we continued on, the soil became increasingly muddy with a high clay content - it became very slippery. This wasn't 'sink your truck up to the frame rails' mud, rather it was like someone had put a layer of Mobile 1 synthetic grease on the trail. My AT's didn't stand a chance. Even those with MT's were having trouble (but not as much). It did not help that several sections of the trail were very off camber whilst being covered in said grease, with one large off-camber washout that had to be negotiated. I knew that when it was my turn to engage this obstacle things would be "interesting" when instead of the normally stoic Chuck Yeager style commentary from trail leader Mark, something with a distinct bit of tension came over the radio instead saying, "look out for the passenger rear tire drop!"
After I'd cleared that obstacle, a rousing debate followed in my cab between my son and I. Justin was of the camp that I should have gone faster to save our lives from the rear end sliding off the trail. I patiently reminded him that going fast through off-camber things with major bumps was a great way to lay your rig over, thus my slower pace was actually the reason for his current well being. He didn't buy my "trust me, I'm an engineer" argument. The debate continues (although I know I'm right :-) ).
The glee of being upright and moving up the trail was short lived as we ran head on into an obstacle that had stopped us all - Mud Hill.
Just getting to the bottom of the hill was an exercise in applied physics and thrust vectoring. I looked at that hill and thought, "okay, I'm winching up that for sure." No. Friggin. Way. We spend some time searching for work arounds, but to no avail. Then I see movement. Tony. The sound of very high RPM's. I imagine he's thinking, "okay, Patagonia Milestar MT's, let's see if you're up to the hype!" We cheer him on and watch him claw his way to crest the hill!!! I was ecstatic - we at least had a winch point on top now!!! (trees were in short supply where we needed them). But to my horror he kept going, and all I could think of was "NOOOOOO!!!!". What I didn't realize from below was that there was a second snot-slick muddy climb, with deep ruts to tip you way off camber if you slipped into one, and if you were lucky enough to make it up the first hill keeping your momentum seemed like a really good idea. Then Ray went, and was up. Then Ryan went, and was up.
Suddenly there was another flurry of movement.
Scot, in his (Ahem!) low-slung red Blazer, the same one we'd watched playing pinball off the rocks with reckless abandon all through the trail thus far, must've hit the Nitro button on the dash because suddenly he was going like a bat out of hell up a left hand track that promised less slope at the expense of more off camber. He almost made it when his rear end slipped out, and he went sideways, coming to a rest nose-up on the hill and across the track. There was no traction to be had to fix this situation. At this Mark decided to take a hike, and, after some careful surveying, improvements, and hazard abatement, works out a path that will take him and his 40 up to a point above Scot in order to be of some service. Ray has maneuvered back down the hill to also try to be of service and almost gets himself stuck, somehow managing to back up to safety. Scot, in the meantime, not waiting on anyone else to save his skin, and that of the (Ahem!) red Blazer, pulls out a set of tire chains and proceeds to get them around the rear tires well enough to be of service. It takes some work, but eventually, with the help of the chains, Mark and a tow strap that Mark is somehow literally pulling on himself, Scot gets free and get's up the hill to the Safe Spot at the top.
While this is going on, Greg decides it's time to put the 4.7L V8 2UZ-FE in his 100 series to the test. Knowing that his rear locker isn't responding, I watch with keen interest as we are both running the same shoes. I hear the roar of the engine, watch as he deftly builds some momentum while not sliding off into the ruts next to the narrow, only this will work, path leading up to the hill proper, and when just free of those traps he pins the throttle and starts the hill climb. "Yes!," I shout in my head as I watch him crest the hill. But as he starts to slow down the radio comes alive with emphatic shouts of, "keep going!!!". He responds instantly, back in the throttle, and starts the next section. Midway up, we all hold our breath as we see him slip off into the huge ruts on the diver side. Seemingly unfazed by this severely off-camber turn of events, he keeps his foot in it and somehow manages to complete the climb and top out.
Back at the bottom, I'm watching the drama with Scot unfold on the "left line". Buoyed by Greg's success I decide I need to give it a go. But first I'm going to have to get across the big ruts separating the "left" line where I am to the "right" line of Tony, Ray and Greg. After a lot of slipping and flailing, lockers on, and driving sideways somehow, I'm finally in position to attempt the run up to the bottom of the hill. Sitting in the driver's seat, the path between the ruts to the bottom of the hill seems even narrower than I thought. Knowing that I've got an inch or two of clay packed onto the surface of my tires doesn't help.
So now I'm nervously starting my pre-flight check. Lined up - check. Best gear selected - low range third - check (I'm manual - there'll be no shifting once in motion). Front and rear lockers on - check. Two hands on the wheel - check. I mentally channel my inner Justin and think that in fact now IS the time for some Jeremy Clarkson "SPEED AND POWER" if ever there was one, hoping the turbo does perform its witchcraft with the otherwise anemic 1HZ diesel under the hood, and slowly let out the clutch and start to build speed. Once clear of the traps at the bottom I open her up and let her rip!
After successfully making it to the midpoint of the climb (and there was much rejoicing!), I made the mistake of stopping, thinking I might be of service to Scot and Mark. This required me to get going again, something that almost didn't happen. Halfway up the second grade, right where Greg went over into the ruts, I started rotating on the hill myself. Carefully, toggling the lockers on and off as needed to not skid steer when moving with large steering wheel input, I got myself lined back up while somehow managing not to drop my driver rear end into the big ruts. Once again, lockers on, I eased off the clutch and somehow managed to get to the top.
After Scot got up, Mark and John followed in their 40's without difficulty, at which point we took a short, much needed break.
After this the remainder of the trail was very benign. The views of the snow-capped Sierras as we headed back to Carson City were just stunning, even if they were viewed through a mud splattered windshield.
I kept saying to Justin, "yeah, if this were the middle of Nevada or Utah and I was looking for a place to camp, that right there would do it." Once back on pavement, we aired up on the banks of the Carson River, said our good-byes and went our separate ways. Due to my schedule and life commitments it might be awhile before I get to go on another club run, but I am surely looking forward to it! [Special thanks to those of you who unwittingly contributed photo content to this post via Facebook and Mud!].