It had been about 19 months since the family and I were able to get away on a weekend camping trip. It was my fault really since I wanted to build the Jeep, but with that mostly done it was time to reap some of the rewards of that effort. So it was that Melissa, Alex, Cassidy and I left about 9am Friday for Liberty and the Williams Creek campground in an effort to secure a good camp site for the weekend, but it was not soon enough because when we got there we found just one spot that would work for all of the people we knew were on the way. We made the best of it and because we had great campground neighbors it all worked out in the end.
After lunch at the Liberty CafĂ©, Alex and I grabbed the chainsaw and headed up the road to find some firewood because camping is just not camping without a fire to sit around in the evening and talk. There is just something about a campfire that makes a camping trip complete and when you go back to work on Monday after the trip you smell the smoke of the fire on your coat and wish you were back there again. With the back seat full, we made the slow drive back to camp trying to be careful enough not to lose any of our spoils along the way.
With all of the work done there was no question really as to what we would do nextâ€¦ take a ride in the Jeep. So it was that we headed out for a short run up the road and around the corner looking to see what had changed since the last time we were here. The most notable thing was that it was so green everywhere you looked and the wild flowers were in full bloom everywhere you looked. We returned to camp to find that Tom, Penny, Bella, and Riley had gotten there and setup camp already. Chad, Dana, and Colton had just arrived before we got back. It was not long before John arrived who was followed by Cheryl, Ryan, and Travis. Dan O and Julie rolled in not to long after and with the roster complete for the night we all settled around the fire to talk about past runs.
My normal wake up time during the week is 5am and so my plan for Saturday was to sleep in as late as I could. Little did I know that the Forest Service had plans of their own. At 5am Saturday the FS started landing choppers on the air field across the road from the camp ground. Every 15 minutes. Apparently they were spraying for bugs as the choppers all appeared to be setup for spraying. Theory was that they were landing across the road in order to refill the spray tanks. As bad as it was for the people that were trying to sleep in I am sure it was worse for the people that were camping on the helipad and were kicked out so that the choppers could land. I cannot imagine what that was like at 5am in the morning getting kicked out of your campsite.
Curt and Wendy arrived just before 9 am along with Dave, ready to go on a trail ride. With Chris and Ashley running later we decided to head out on a short loop as everyone was just itching to drop there rig into 4 low. First up was the lower part of the 4W319 of which the largest obstacle was a steep descent on a hill marked laced with holes and dust so thick that your tires would slide like they were on grease. No one balked at the challenge and everyone made it down just fine. We ran out the end and headed back towards camp on 4W321 which over looked Hwy 97 for a way giving spectacular views of the valley that you do not see when traveling the highway. Back at camp we found that Chris and Ashley had made it and were just finishing setting up camp. With the group complete now we headed back out to run the upper part of 4W319.
First up was the section that took you to the top of Crystal Mt or as we knew it when I was a kid First Lookout. The hill has a few steep parts and sections with loose rock and dirt which make traction interesting. Nothing this group could not handle though and we made good time to the look out. We all stopped for a few minutes to take in the view, snap a few pictures, and talk about the history of the spot. It was at this point that the decision was made to head for Lion Rock with the intention of having lunch during a survey of the valley. So on we went on continuing along the 4W319 and heading for what is the most formidable obstacle on the route know as Stair Step.
Being in the lead I headed up first and I have to admit I was a little eager to test out the Jeep after the big build. In the past I always opted for the right line between the trees which required a little finesse but was kind to shorter wheelbase vehicles. As a result of the big build the Jeeps wheel base was stretched a bit and I thought it would be enough to run the left line straight up the Stair Step and so when I get there I veered that direction. Sitting in the driver seat my view was a little limited and I was cautious with my approach. Easing up on the step I let the motor just idle to ensure that I had as much control as possible should something start to go sideways giving me a chance to save things. The 37’s started to spin and slip a little on the rock searching for grip to pull the Jeep up the steep incline. Sliding sideways toward the tree the rear tires were dropping into a hole making the incline even steeper. Just as things seemed to be getting pretty serious the tires caught enough traction to pull up the step. The hard part over, I positioned the Jeep at the top of the hill ready to winch people up should there be a need.
Next was John in his stretched two door JK. He opted to take the left line also being as he had the wheel base to make the attempt. Crawling up to the Step in order to maintain as much control as possible John picked a line just a little more to one side than I had. The JK tires slipped just a bit searching for traction to pull its way up the step and then through the rest of the difficult part.
Curt and Wendy were up next in the JKU which had a wheelbase even longer that John’s or My Jeep. I have seen JKU’s run the line between the trees but Curt who was driving opted for the left line. Coming up on the left line and reaching the point where the skid plate was just touching Curt applied a little finesse but with tires spinning and no traction to be found he was denied. Curt was not giving up and taking the cable so he backed up and moved over just a bit adjusting his line. Up on the Stair Step again tires slipping slowly on the rock trying to find purchase but eventually having to admit that it was not working. OK crawling was not working, how about a little bit of momentum. Curt backed up and on the same line for just one more try but with just a little bit of speed to help carry through the part where traction was the most difficult. With just a little bit of tire spin and searching for traction the momentum was the ticket to get the JKU up the Stair Step.
Now it was Cheryl and Ryan’s turn in their black JKU on which they had just finished installing a whole host of upgrades including tires, wheels, lift , etc. Having the wheel base they opted for the left side line also. Cheryl was driving and is still a little new to off roading. Being so she cautiously approached the step taking direction from the spotter. In the end Cheryl probably would have done just fine without any spotting as she walked the JKU up the step as if she had done so a million times.
Chris and Ashley were next in there TJ on 33’s with a bit of a lift. Having a shorter wheel base they opted for the right side line between the trees which is much kinder to the short wheelbase vehicles. Chris does not have locking differentials and so has to use a little finesse to get through some obstacles of which the Stair Step is one. Chris used a bit of momentum in order to get through the first loose rocky part of the step. At the point where you go to the right and between the trees he managed to get the front end of the rig through ok but when the driver rear tire got to a large tree root traction was lost and forward momentum stopped. After a little bit of trying and with a strong desire to avoid breaking an axle Chris opted to take the cable to get over the root. With that done and the root behind him he went ahead a drove the rest of the way up but not before lifting the driver front tire off the ground about 12 inches for 3 feet. Nothing like the TJ lifties to make you pucker.
Now it was Dave’s turn in his new to him YJ running a spring over using stock springs. Dave made a good effort but ended up winching most of the way up the step because of some wicked axle wrap and a desire to not break something. It was very interesting getting his rig up through the trees with the limited number of winch points available on that hill. At one point Curt backed his rig down the hill so that we could use it as a winch anchor point when there was nothing else that would work. I think Dave might want to look into an anti-wrap bar for the rear axle to control some of that axle wrap.
Travis was up next in his JKU on 35’s with a lift. Having the wheel base and having seen all of the longer rigs take the left line Travis headed that direction also. It is a big advantage to see someone else go up the obstacle before you try it as you can learn from what they do. Travis must have really been paying attention as he drove up the left line with just a little bit of wheel spin searching for traction at the steepest point.
The rest of the trail is fun but not super difficult and we all reached the end of the trail in a decent time. The trail ends at the edge of a meadow which was bursting with wild flowers. We all gathered and then pointed the rigs west towards Lion Rock. Arriving at Lion Rock with all parked to one side so that the other people visiting the former site of the FS fire lookout could get through. We took about an hour to eat our lunch and talk before the wind turned a little chilly prompting thoughts of heading down the hill towards the next trail.
Moving in the direction of camp we ran the Hole In The Wall trail along the way which had a few tight spots for the wider vehicles but was a pleasant trail none the less. The end of the trail ended at what we called “Castle Rock” when I was a kid. It is a great big sand stone rock that you can climb up through the center of and stand on top to get a view of the surrounding area. Getting our fill of “Castle Rock” we headed towards camp bidding Curt, Wendy, and Dave good bye as it was their intention to head for home. The rest of us settled down to dinner, and a campfire where we talked late into the night reliving the day’s events.
If you were not there you might have wished you were, and for those that were there you have some stories and experiences to share around the fire in the years to come.