What better way to celebrate the birth of a nation than by practicing that freedom in the forest of the PNW. So it was that Cassidy, Melissa, and I planned to go camping at Riders Camp and perhaps do a little exploring of Manastash in the Jeep. The invitation to join us for all or any part of the planned 5 day excursion was sent to some friends and the Tamers which resulted in a few taking us up on the offer. So it was that early in the morning on 7/3 Melissa, Cassidy, and I left the house heading out to Riders camp in order to hopefully secure a good camp site big enough for everyone that said they were going to join us.
Traffic only added about 20 minutes to the drive over and we got off the freeway at Thorp so as to bypass Ellensburg and head for Manastash road. I have never taken this route via Cove Rd to Manastash Rd before but having done it now I am sold. About 10 miles out of Ellensburg on Manastash Rd we ran out of blacktop as it turned into a gravel FS road. If you have been around the Tamers in the last few years you will know that there is a reputation about this stretch of gravel road and how bad it can be on camping rigs. If fact for several years many of the Tamers camped up Taneum creek and made the 20 minute drive each way over the top of the ridge to get to the Jeep trails instead of braving the road to Riders camp with a camping rig. This year as we were going to spend a fair amount of time in the area I went ahead and made the decision that we were going to stay at Riders Camp, and I am glad we did. Being so close to the trails was well worth the roughly 30 minutes it took to drive the 9 miles of gravel road with a 1 ton dually towing a 28 foot gooseneck trailer. There were some spots on the road where you had to slow down to a crawl due to the washboard on the road but it was not too bad all things considered and I plan to make the drive again to stay at Riders Camp.
We got to Riders Camp about 10:30 am to find the place all but deserted so our fears of finding a camp site were unfounded â€¦ this time. Having the pick of the campground we decided to get as close to the creek as possible because who does not like to fall asleep to the sound of water running through the woods. Taking into account who else would be joining us we parked the redneck toy hauler and setup camp. With the fake grass rolled out on the 16 foot deck of the trailer I lounged in the zero gravity chair and thought to myself, “It sure would be nice to have a roaring fire tonight”. So it was with a little hesitation that I went looking for fire wood to fuel my desire. Not wanting to do this twice I made sure to collect enough firewood to last the 4 nights for which there would be fire required to roast our marshmallows and tell stories.
Later that afternoon after my nap Tom, Penny, Bella, Riley, and the Great Dane puppies (Meg and Hercules) arrived with the Starship Enterprise in tow. Now when I picked the camp site I did not remember correctly which side the door was on for the Enterprise. As a result the space was a little limited where the Enterprise would fit but Tom said “Challenge accepted”. Let me tell you it was a game of inches to park that beast in the camp site but he did it and it was just wonderful to watch. Not too long after the Enterprise was parked in the star dock John arrived with his motorhome and rig in tow. Finding a spot for him to park was a little easier and he was setup with much less drama and in a lot shorter time frame. Tom brought GaryTJ’s Jeep which does not have a back seat so Bella and Riley’s car seats were strapped into the back of my Jeep so that we could all go wheeling the next day. Given that it was late In the day we all settled down to a relaxing evening around the fire talking and telling stories before shuffling off to bed to let the melodious sounds of the babbling brook sing us to sleep.
One of the great things about camping for a few days is that you do not have a schedule. This allows for things like sleeping in and late starts in the morning of which we all fully took advantage. We all finally got loaded up and on the trail about 10am or so heading first towards tripod flats. In the lead was Tom and Penny in GaryTJ’s Jeep. Melissa and I were next in our Jeep and we had Tom and Penny’s little girls, Bella and Riley, in the back seat. Bringing up the tail gunner spot today was John V and Cassidy in Johns stretched JK. It had rained earlier in the week and I suppose the dust was not as bad as it could have been but I really could not tell. We all gave a far bit of room between each other in order to make sure that we had clear air. Reaching tripod flats we headed for a view point that Tom was familiar with at the south end of Manastash Ridge down a dead end trail. The trail was pleasant if not challenging and with just three rigs it did not take long to arrive at the view point where we all got out to take a look around and appreciate the 270 degree view. Wow what a view.
Taking the opportunity to have a little lunch while we were taking in the view I also happened to notice that there was a geocache nearby so grabbed the GPS and started looking around. People notice I was looking for something and soon everyone was helping to find the cache. Cassidy had the sharp eyes and was the one to find the cache and bring it back to where everyone including Bella and Riley could see what was in the geocache. We opened the small ammo can to find a few trinkets and a log book to sign. Looking through the logs it appeared that we were the first people to visit the geocache in about 4 years. After signing the logbook and putting the cache back in the hiding spot we all loaded back up again in the rigs and headed down the other side of the ridge on the 687 trail in the direction of Milk Lake.
I have to say that I have not spent a lot of time on this side of Manastash Ridge (Naches Side) and I was looking forward to the opportunity exploring new to me areas. The 687 is a fun trail that goes down a pretty steep hill through some trees winding and twisting through the woods. When you get to the bottom where it runs into the 685 and you are a little sad when you realize it is the end as you want it to continue. Reaching the 685 though we ran down that for a bit until we could go jump off on the 686 towards milk lake. Reaching the end of the 686 we stopped on the side of the road to regroup and I shut off my rig. This first sign that there was something wrong was the steam that started to rise from under the hood. Looking under the Jeep we could see coolant leaking until I started the motor again at what point there was no more coolant leaking. Popping the hood Tom had I shut the motor down again in order to find the source of the leak then start it back up once the leak was found. Turns out the water pump was leaking but only when the motor was turned off. Being that Tom was starting to have issues with GaryTJ’s Jeep running hot we decided to head back towards camp.
Turning around we ran back up the road and towards the bottom of 685 which was the shortest route back over Manastash Ridge. We did not quite make it to the junction with 686 before we had to stop since both Jeeps were starting to get really hot. So it was that we found ourselves parked on the side of the trail waiting for the Jeeps to cool down. Once the Jeeps were cool enough we filled the coolant systems up with water from a nearby creek loaded up and headed back towards camp passing Moon Rocks and heading for Barber Springs. We figured that taking the Forest Service roads back to camp would put as little stress on the rigs as possible and help to keep the engine temperatures under control. Turned out that our thinking was right and we were able to make it back to camp.
Once the rigs had cooled down it was time for a little work and I pulled the water pump off my Jeep while Tom took a look at the cooling system on GaryTJ’s Jeep. Turns out the bearing on the brand new water pump in my Jeep had started to walk out the front of the pump. Obviously a defective water pump. Tom found a bad radiator cap for which he also found a spare and then made a little modification so that the hood would no longer contact the radiator cap. Since it was July 4th there was no hope of a parts store being open in town and we all settled in for the night planning to go into town early for parts.
So it was Cassidy, Melissa, and I got up early on Friday to head into town and get a water pump for the Jeep along with a few other things people needed to run out the rest of the trip. John was up early also and decided to join us for the parts run. Nice thing about rural towns is that there is always a Napa with good quality parts and the one in Ellensburg was no exception having just what I needed to fix the Jeep. While in town I made the mistake of taking my phone off airplane mode and it immediately started to make noise like a 3 year old with a new set of toy symbols. Realizing my mistake I rushed to enable airplane mode again and try to retain at least some of my sanity. With the cell phone once again silenced and a disaster averted we all piled back in the truck and headed back towards camp with our treasures attempting to regain that laid back attitude of people who are on vacation and just do not care.
Back at camp I was just finishing getting the water pump installed when Steven and Rudy arrived in the big white camo JKU. While they setup up there tent and got things arranged everyone else got ready to hit the trail. It was about 11am when we finally rolled out of camp heading towards Region 4 Meadows via the Shoestring trail. I think it was about 5 years ago that there was a lightning strike which touched off a wildfire in the area which burned a large portion of the forest along with the bridges on the Shoestring trail. Fast forward 4 years (last year) and the Cle Elum Ranger District with the help of a few clubs in the region replaced the bridges. Fast forward another year (current) and we all get to use the bridges they built on the Shoestring.
Just after the bridges we turned left onto the String trail and headed towards the entrance for the Rock Garden trail. Now if you have never been in the Rock Garden you do not know what you are missing. The Rock Garden is a fun trail partially because it is hard to see where the trail is through the rock field which is several acres in size. You either have to look for the rocks that are painted white and mark the trail or you need to look for where the rocks are laid flat from the rigs traversing the trail before you. Both the painted rocks and the depressions in the rocks are pretty hard to see so it is a bit of a hunt to find the trail which is all part of the fun.
Reaching the other side of the Rock Garden we turned towards the Manastash Ridge trail moving in the direction of Quartz Mountain. Again we were driving though parts of the forest that had been burned in the wildfire a few years before. The trees killed by the fire stood white against the green undergrowth that was covering the floor of the forest like a carpet. We crawled our way toward Quartz enjoying the sites, the company, and the trail. Reaching the top of Quartz Mt we found a little bit of a surprise in that there was still snow on the hill side. The fact that snow was present in July means that you must have a snow ball fight and so thus it was that a bit of snow throwing was had. While people were doing that I took off looking for the Geocache that was nearby in order to add it to my log book.
Snow throwing done and late lunches consumed we headed down the road for a ways eventually finding the Divide trail where we turned off the main track along the trail. Just up the trail there was a tight corner where you needed to turn left and then hard right to get around a couple of trees. No matter what your wheelbase was you were probably going to have to make at least a three point turn to get through but of course I had to try and in the process deprived my driver side mirror of its mount. Oh wellâ€¦ pick up the pieces and keep on going down the trail. Next was the bit of the trail that was redone a few years ago by the Wondering Willy’s in there flatties. As such the trail was a little tight here for some of the newer rigs but we all got through ok and it is a fun section of trail. Next obstacle was a steep bit of hill with a sharp turn around some trees on a rocky ledge at the top. Not too bad of a climb up the section but the maneuvering around at the top and freak you out a little given the close proximity to the drop off. We all made it through and ran the rest of the trail out to the long bridge across the meadow to where it exits just a couple of feet from where we were camped. Rolling back into camp we found that Dan and Julie had arrived and setup camp nearby. So it was that we all settled down for an evening around the fire to talk and boast and have a good time.
I woke up Saturday at 5am to the sound of rain on the camper roofâ€¦. Uhh Ohh â€¦ there is no top on the Jeep. So began the race of the topless 4wd owners to cover their rigs before they were soaked. Participating in the race were Rudi with the red YJ and Steven with the white camo JKU. Both were winnersâ€¦. Sort of. About the time the rigs were covered we both had made it back to our respective shelters to hear the rain stop failing. Funny mother nature â€¦ real funny.
Fast forward several hours after a little more sleep and we were all ready to hit the trails again. Tom and Penny’s little girls really wanted to ride with Mom and Dad so we swapped rigs with Tom driving my Jeep and I driving GaryTJ’s This day we would head towards Quartz Mt but turn off before reaching the end of the road onto the Wells Meadow trail. Down the trail we went through a couple fun switch backs and skirting the sides of a few meadows with a little brook running through them. We reached the Manastash Ridge trail again and this time turned to proceed in the opposite direction of the day before. Reaching the top of the 617 trail we dropped down the hill into the Naches area, running the trail for a pretty long way and eventually ending up at the bottom of the new Milk Lake trail for which this was the inaugural opening weekend.
The new Milk Lake Trail (I believe it is 676) is a fun little connector trail which is tight and twisty dancing back and forth across a hillside. Even the short wheelbase vehicles had to make multipoint turns on this trail in order to make the corners without hitting trees. My biggest hope is that the trail stays as true to form as when we ran it for the first time. If that happens this is going to be a fun trail for years to come.
After Milk Lake we headed back up the hill on 686, part of 685, and then finally reached the top of Manastash Ridge via 687 which is another fun technical trail. It was near the top and the end of 687 where I got a surprise when the left front tire of Gary TJs Jeep caught on a stump flipping the rig on its side for a nap. I reached for the CB and asked for a little help only to hear total disbelief from the people I was asking for help. Tom came back and I was able to run the in cab winch controls and use the winch on GaryTJ’s Jeep to get it back on its wheels. All told, the Jeep was only on its side for about 5 minutes but it was long enough that people got pictures and video of the momentous occasion. Rudi actually earns the cowbell.
With the joking all said and done we headed off down 4w307 in the direction of 4w330 with the ultimate goal of bagging another geocache before ending the day. Things were going pretty well when we ran across a few rigs and pulled over to the side of the trail in order to let them past. As I pulled back on the trail the PS pump in the TJ started to whine pretty bad and after a quick consultation via radio we decided to stop and take a look. Upon investigation we found that the high pressure line on the TJ had a pin hole leak so each time the steering wheel was turned more fluid would spray from the system until there was not enough to allow for the hydraulics to work. Just to add insult to injury when we were trying to cobble a fix together it was noticed that the sector shaft was cracked probably from the flop not so long ago. Well fiddlesticks our day was done and now the only plan of action was to try and get back to camp without totally breaking the sector shaft in the steering box and losing all steering control. So it was that we started the long slow drive back towards camp.
I took the first shift in the TJ taking it easy and trying to ensure that the sector shaft stayed in one piece. All power steering was gone in about 10 minutes which helped to slow things down and make me plan out my turns as far in advance as I could. We went on like this for about 45 minutes before Tom could not stand it anymore. So it was that Tom and Penny jumped back in the TJ then Melissa and I got back in the YJ. Let me tell you nothing makes you appreciate power steering like not having power steering. Drivers swapped, we all headed out again and if you can imagine it Tom was driving like a mad man. I think that he was using front wheel drive only most of the way to help make steering a little easier but none the less he had to be getting a work out and we made much better time now. Eventually we got back to camp and breathed a sigh of relief that we made it without the sector shaft breaking.
Back at camp we all cleaned up except for John he packed up as he had to head home that evening. The rest of us were sticking around and leaving Sunday morning trying to extract every ounce of the trip possible out of the weekend. So it was we settled down around the fire to eat dinner together and talk. With an ample supply of firewood and no desire to leave any we were not shy with feeding the flames and everyone was very warm as a result long into the night enjoying the company of friends.
Sunday dawned and people started to pack things up in preparation for the trip home. Steven and Rudy left first in an effort to beat traffic and truth be told they had the best chance of doing so out of the whole group. Dan and Julie left next after lingering as long as they could trying to extract as much of the weekend with friends as possible. Finally it was for the rest of us to throw in the towel and accept the inevitable truth that employment was calling and we must answer to fuel the need for Jeep. So it was the Tom, Penny, Bella, Riley, Melissa, Cassidy, and I headed back down the gravel road towards Ellensburg and home.