Beckler Dec 2021

We organized our Hangover Run for this year similar to last year—actually a night trail run up Beckler Road on New Year’s Eve instead of doing it as a day run on New Year’s Day. Since last year was a lot of fun, it seemed like doing a repeat would be a great idea! The only downer was that it was discovered after these plans had been made that the FS6530 Road to Johnson Ridge was officially closed by the Forest Service due to repeated dumping of trash as well as “resource damage”. (In other words, some uneducated folks had been driving on and damaging the high alpine meadows. So to protect the delicate meadows, access was closed for the season. This is part of why it can be hard to get and keep “good stuff”, and it’s a big part of why it’s important to educate our fellow 4-wheelers who may not be aware of Tread Lightly principles and acceptable back-country trail ethics.)

At any rate, we met at the Creamery Smoke Stack in Monroe as a good area to get together, shoot the breeze outdoors (where it’s Covid-safe), and have our drivers’ meeting. We left in 2 groups, the first group about 6:45 PM and the second group about 7:30 PM; the idea was to spread out our large group into two smaller ones so we could be nimbler navigating the trails. Since the FS6530 road was closed, I’d initially planned to take the ranger’s advice and take a more aggressive group up the FS6514 road. However, at the Smoke Stack Joe cautioned us that he was familiar with the FS6514 road, and advised that it actually is a shelf road that usually has snow banked on an incline that can throw vehicles off-camber and down the hillside. Off camber on snow leading to a potential slide off the roadway seemed imprudent, so we changed our plans to taking two groups separated by time up the FS65 Road to Jack Pass.

Shawn N in his fun teal TJ was really decked out with tons of festive Christmas lights, including all under the hood as well as all around and over the top of his Jeep! Rudy D in the camo “cow” 4-door JK on 40s had every body panel outlined with lights with changing colors as well as lighting on his Covid facemask—and even a lighted ring around his dog’s collar!! And, Jake A had a brilliant purple LED antenna rising up from his Fourunner’s trailer hitch—hard to miss!!! (The rest of us were much more sedate, and didn’t sport the “fun” lighting.)

As the first group departed the Smoke Stack, we heard on the GMRS radios that Gary M suffered a break just as he left the parking lot! Seems he had a mechanical failure with either his transfer case or his doubler—but regardless, he was broken, and still 30 miles from the trailhead! Gary encouraged all of us to continue on to the trail, and he’d just take his lumps for this year. The one blessing was that at least he wasn’t broken 30 miles away and several miles up a deep snowy trail! (And of course, Casey STILL charged him a tow-fee!!)

As I was in the second group, we waited until 7:30 to leave to give all the opportunity possible for late-arrivals, before heading out of Monroe. We next stopped at the Round-A-Bout Chevron in Sultan where we picked-up Josh Y, and where a couple of folks topped off their fuel tanks. Finally, we got to Beckler Road in Skykomish and aired-down about a mile or two after the turn-off from US2. From there, our second group headed up to the parking area with Travis B driving from side-to-side seeking the ditches because, well, he’s Travis!! We arrived at the parking area to find that the first group was still there! So, we decided that we’d all head uphill together as a single group of our 16 vehicles. Jake in his Fourunner equipped on 40” Nittos took the lead as he was the most aggressively equipped wheeler in the group for “busting trail”—especially since Gary was out of the picture.

So, we hit the actual wheeling part of this trail a bit after 8:30 PM. We found the snow to be strange in the same way it had been strange on the run to White Chuck Mountain 2 weeks earlier. Since it had been very cold, the snow was pretty “dry”, and it didn’t compact well. Actually, it was a lot like trying to wheel on tiny white cold ball bearings, only slipperier at times. Also, it was really easy to slip off the tracks of the vehicle in front of you, making it easy to get stuck and need assistance! It was also fairly deep—I had a time or two where I stepped off the track beside my Jeep and found myself waist-deep in the snow! (In the end, it was a lucrative trail run for Casey with only a very few people escaping tow fees!) We also found that as soon as someone would have a mishap on the trail, that became a “soft spot” where everyone would suffer getting dug-in and require a tow strap or a winch to get out. This ended-up being “wash, rinse, repeat” almost all the way up the trail! Midnight and a call of “Happy New Year!” over the radios hit while we were still struggling to get our group up the trail, but we intrepid wheelers soldiered-on!

Due to the different speeds of travel, we ended-up in 3 groups. The first group, led by Jake, made it to the open area at Jack Pass about 1:00 AM. Our second group arrived there about 30 minutes later. (Waiting was “fun”, as we think the temperatures at that point were in the lower teens to single digits!!) After another 30 minutes or so, we could hear on the radios that the last group was not just struggling, but struggling really hard. Also, especially give the conditions of the snow and the innumerable soft-spots, there was NOWHERE to turn around while on the trail itself. Since there was no turning around until arrival at the open area at Jack Pass, Jake and Dave F jumped-in and backed-down the trail the 3/4 to one mile or so to where the third group was stuck. Then they daisy-chained about 4-5 vehicles together with kinetic ropes and winch ropes to keep themselves held together and that group pulled itself all the way up to the pass. (Video of this is on Facebook.) After that, they disconnected and backed-down AGAIN to daisy-chain the rest of the third group up to the pass. (Although Joe, who had volunteered to be tail gunner didn’t need to join with the daisy-chaining, and he made it up just fine without help!) We pretty much turned around right then, as by that time it was between 3:00 to 3:30 AM—and it wasn’t getting any warmer!

At that point, we made a plan to alternate more experienced drivers with bigger rigs and less experienced drivers with more modest rigs, and we connected each of these pairs together with kinetic ropes to help get through the very soft sections in the first mile of the descent from the pass. This was where the snow was the most challenging, and where we’d struggled with so terribly many people getting stuck. Since Jake had his truck and trailer parked at a business in Skykomish that had given him permission to park there—and they’d warned him that they’d tow his truck and trailer if it wasn’t gone early enough in the morning, Jake took off ahead of the rest of us to high-tail it back and try to keep his truck from getting “hooked”. Needless to say, that didn’t go to plan, and Jake ended-up stuck off the side of the trail right in one of the soft areas! Travis & Dean were after Jake, and Curt B & Shawn were next in line. Curt got Jake unstuck—with a few photos that also are now on Facebook! The next pair was Rick M on a kinetic rope behind me—and we promptly got badly stuck in the first soft spot hardly out of the open area at the pass! I lost count of how many times we tried to pull each other (me pulling Rick from the front, and Rick pulling me from the rear), then I was finally able to get free to a point far ahead of Rick—who was still stuck. We broke out a long winch extension, attached Rick’s winch to it, and winched him a LONG way to get him through that horrible soft spot. (This was an especially difficult spot for Rick as he’s on 33” tires with open axles!) Once we got past that, we had pretty much smooth sailing for us the rest of the way down. Following us was Josh Y in his Samurai (who had no problems), and then Dave F with Terry W, Jeff S with Jeremy J, Rudy D with Tony & Jon behind him, and the ever-intrepid Joe R was still the tail gunner. Fortunately, it sounded on the radio like everyone else did pretty well through that spot that caught Rick and me so badly.

About 6:00 AM or so we arrived at the parking area on Beckler where we’d started, and we all aired-up. This took a while, and as all of us were pretty darned tired by that point, people left as they finished airing-up and said goodbyes, wishing each other Happy New Years. The last of us left about 7:00 AM, only to see the skies getting lighter with the dawn as we turned off Beckler Road onto US2. A few of us fueled-up at the Sultan Round-A-Bout Chevron (which was already open again!) We continued back west toward Monroe, where we said our last goodbyes and wished each other a Happy New Year one last time.

A really good trail run again, and a tremendously good time for all! (And there were enough tow-fees to help make-up for our not being able to hold the Reiter Rock Crawl this past summer!) There’s lots of photos on Facebook for folks to peruse, and a lot of these were posted as soon as soon as some of us got home—even before getting to bed after this very long, exciting and fun night!

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Hangover Run!!

John Vandergrift
TT#308