Dusy Ershim Trail Aug 2018

Five Timber Tamers in three vehicles (Steve and Jamie Yeager in their Samurai on 36s; Steve Armentrout and Rudy Drahovzal in their big camo JK on 40s; and me in my white JKR on 37s) drove the 31-mile Dusy-Ershim Trail in California from August 6 through August 10, 2018.  What a great ride!

We started on Monday by connecting at the Wishon Village RV Resort Campground on the shore of the Wishon Reservoir in California, east of Fresno.  Even the drive to here was quite interesting.  From Medera (East of Fresno) it was a 68-mile drive up some of the most twisting and tight paved roads we’ve seen, and I’d almost swear that I turned the wheel of my tow vehicle as much in that stretch as I have in all my prior ownership!  Not that this was enough, but these tight and twisting roads took us up from about 400’ of elevation up to the 5500’ elevation of Shaver Lake, then up another 1100’ to the Wishon Village RV Resort at the Wishon Reservoir. We put our campers and trailer in storage there (for safekeeping), and stored the Jeep hard doors inside my RV for the time we were gone.  One amazing and unexpected thing to see along the way here was the McKinley Grove of Giant Sequoia trees near Wishon Village.  These are such amazing and HUGE trees—and the ones here are small compared with what you can see at Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.  We finally headed up (and I mean up) the 9 miles and yet another 1600’ from there to the Courtright Reservoir for the Dusy-Ershim trailhead.  (This roughly 75-mile drive from Madera to the Dusy-Ershim trailhead is twisting and tight, and has about 8000’ of elevation gain.  Lots for fun for a tow-rig!)

The trail started relatively easily—no actual “gatekeeper”.  We drove the fairly easy trail along the shore of the Courtright Reservoir from the trailhead at the south end to the other end of the lake where we came across the first significant obstacle—Chicken Rock.  Chicken Rock is a massive, tall, steep solid granite slope that rises high into the sky.  It’s actually more visually intimidating than technically difficult, although it does have a relatively aggressive collection of large rocks and small boulders at the base to crawl over before starting to ascend the rock itself.  Each of us in turn crawled up it, and took the lazy right turn at the top—very generously marked with blue road reflectors at the top so we could see the path to take across the solid granite.  (Interesting enough, unlike in Moab, where the trails are very well marked by the black tire tracks on the slickrock, the granite does not hold the black tire marks, so you have to look a lot more closely for the trail.)  The rest of the day was pretty uneventful as we drove down the slope to our first campground at the north end of the Courtright Reservoir and set-up camp in mid-afternoon.  We were pleasantly surprised to find an excellent outhouse there, provided by the Four Wheel Drive Club of Fresno that maintains it.  We also walked to the very nearby meadow where we took photos of the Old Man in The Mountain.  (Check photos on Facebook to see this face on the mountain!)

The night proved to be pretty darned cold—I measured only 30 degrees when we awoke Tuesday morning—and all of us had a poor night’s sleep because this was colder than we’d anticipated!  However, after getting up and moving (and a delicious camp breakfast), we packed up our campsite and hit the trail again.  This was the day we drove the notorious Thompson Hill.  It is indeed everything you all have heard about it.  Think Reiter, except without breaks between obstacles—and straight up.  It proved the wisdom of the restriction of 33” or larger tires (and actually 35s would be a better recommendation for a minimum) as well as the need for lockers front and rear; this is one of those places where you need both of them!  (We also needed our winches, as both Steve Y’s Samurai and my JKR needed to use them to get off being high-centered on both diffs at the same time!  Steve A and Rudy had better clearance with their 40s, and didn’t need to winch.)  After lots of spotting and expert driving, we made it up Thompson Hill.  At that point, it was a short drive to the campsite at Thompson Lake, where we set-up camp for our second night, and we watched Steve A fix a gourmet dinner for Rudy and him.

We were pleasantly surprised to find the temperature on Wednesday morning to be about 43 degrees, which made for a much more pleasant start to the day!  After another sumptuous breakfast, we started our rather arduous day of a long drive over very rough trail.  Not much was technically challenging, but most of it was very extended unrelenting stretches of medium-sized rocks that just threw us from side to side, and virtually required using our crawler gears just to avoid trashing our vehicles (not to mention our bodies).  It also provided us a huge amount of dust.   Like the kind of dust you get following Rudi Peterson at Manastash or Liberty.  The kind of dust that gets in absolutely everything.  We took a break at East Lake where Steve A and Rudy dipped their fishing poles into the lake for a while, but without success.  (I took a nap!)  The drive after East Lake was better (less rough), and took us to our next campsite, Ershim Lake.  Along the way there were some low branches that caused the Yeagers in their Samurai to have an occasional “Yard Sale” when some of the supplies from their roof rack were thrown to the ground.  We arrived at the campsite rather late (about 6:30), and after the long day of rough driving, we were happy to get some sleep.  Most of us dipped toes and fingers in the lake in a futile attempt to wash dust and dirt out of fingernails, and Steve A caught a good-sized trout that he froze in his ARB refrigerator clone.

We awakened Thursday morning to another day of better comfort, again with morning temps in the mid 40s.  After the very long day on Wednesday and with a shorter day of driving facing us, we all slept-in a lot later than we had the prior mornings.  Following our morning repast, we drove a much less rough trail than on Wednesday, and had some fun rock-crawling challenges on the way.  It was also a shorter day through more beautiful Sierra Nevada scenery to our campsite at Lakecamp Lake.  This camp was unique among the Dusy Ershim camps in that it was the only one that didn’t have an outhouse nearby.  Although that was inconvenient, the more interesting thing was the coyotes we heard whining in the distance—then closer later in the night.  Fortunately, they left us alone!

Friday morning again was a comfortable morning in the mid-40s, and with an early start we headed into totally new territory as we drove up, up and up—over the 10,000’ level and into Sierra Alpine territory, essentially at the tree line.  We had incredible vistas both to the west and the east that really gave us one of those “top of the world” feelings.  Once we left that high alpine territory, we had a rather long and very technical descent to the end of the trail that was very challenging—and a lot of fun!  Finally, we at Kaiser Pass about noon where we aired-up.  Then it was a very long 70-mile drive along the very curved roads to the Wishon RV Resort to pack our stuff back into our tow vehicles (well, at least for the Yeagers and me), and then we hit the homeward trail.

The drives home were uneventful for all us, with the exception of the incredible impact of the smoke from the wildfires all along California, but especially around Redding.  Visibility there was down to ¼-⅓ of a mile, and at Lake Shasta you couldn’t even see the lake from the bridge.  Quite dramatic.
In summary, it was a great trip!  We were fortunate that we had NO breakage at all, and only two tow-fees for Casey.  (We felt we needed to keep her happy…)  Necessary things for a future trip are a well-maintained rig, experienced driver, minimum 33’ tires (35’ tires are even better), two lockers, low gears, warm sleeping gear, and a good attitude.  Plan 4-5 days for a comfortably paced trip.  We found that both Jeeps were able to make the trip on one-tank of gas, although we were both near empty as we arrived back at the Wishon Village; the Samurai needed extra gas to get there.  Expect dust.  Lots of dust.  Also, expect great traction on the coarse-grained granite, and also definitely world-class rock crawling!
John Vandergrift
TT #308