Trail Jam Hosting 2021 (John)

For the first time in several years, the Timber Tamers decided to sponsor and send a group of Trail Hosts to the PNW4WDA Trail Jamboree. For those not aware, this is an event that is held annually (well, at least when it’s not cancelled by a pandemic!) in July in the Naches Ranger District of the NFS, and is based out of Jim Sprick Community Park in Nile, WA. This year it was held July 8, 9 & 10, 2021. However, since the Trail Hosts act as trail leaders for this event, we actually arrived at Jim Sprick Park ahead of the event so we could pre-run the trails. And, was it ever an eventful week!

Our team of Trail Hosts (generously sponsored by the Timber Tamers) included Dave & Tammy, Rick & Jennifer, Jake, Shawn, and me. Sadly, Keith and his son Matt weren’t able to make it due to an unforeseen complication out of their control, but Shawn was not only willing, but excited to be able to help out and join our team of Trail Hosts! Sunday July 4 Shawn met me at my house to drive to Jim Sprick Park in tandem. We took the I-90 route, and originally planned to take Canyon Road from Ellensburg to Selah (to avoid towing over the higher passes on I-82), but about 5 miles along Canyon Road we were stopped by a truck with flashing lights who was telling everyone that Canyon Road was closed to through-traffic and that we’d have to turn around. Well, we had to drive a couple of miles farther down to find a spot wide enough for me to turn around as I was flat-towing my Jeep behind my motorhome—and it’s not possible to back-up while flat towing! Although this added time and miles to the trip, at least we made the rest of the trip without problems—other than the added time meant that we missed connecting with Rudi at Jim Sprick Park, which was a bummer. We all connected at Jim Sprick Park, set-up our campsites, and went around checking with and meeting other Trail Hosts from other clubs—generally socializing as the COVID restrictions had finally been lifted!

Monday we took off to pre-run the Naches Trail, our first trail of Trail Jam. Well, at least most of us did. Rick had to stay behind due to having the front axle of his Cherokee totally disassembled. (He had a broken gear tooth on the ring gear, and another one was cracked, so he struggled to source a new R&P set that day. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get one due to the holiday, but was able to put his axle back together and run it gently the rest of the week—and it didn’t break further). We stopped at Whistlin’ Jack’s for fuel, and it was here that Jake decided to take the hood off his CJ5 because the headers were making the floorboards and firewall intolerably hot; we stashed it behind the propane tanks at Whistlin’ Jack’s, and headed out for the trail.

The trail went really well! We found the Rabbit Trails at the beginning to be very tight and twisty, and fortunately there was a bypass for me around a section with trees that were too tightly together for me to get my wide JKR through on the off-camber shelf. We figured that we’d have to take any 4-door JKs and other larger vehicles through the bypass for this section of the trail when we ran it for the event. Continuing on through the beautiful Cascades forest, and just before the pass, we found a nearly dried-up mudhole with a bypass. All of us got past it—one way or another and no one had to winch or strap. We went a short bit farther, up to the Boy Scout Sign at the pass itself, and then found the deep mud bog we’d been told about that was just 20 yards or so past the sign. Since we didn’t have a permit from the Snoqualmie Ranger District to cross Naches Pass into Government Meadows, we did not go through this illegal bog, but respected it (as per good Tread Lightly principles), but did take photos to document it—then shared those photos with the PNW4WDA Washington State Director as she requested.

During the trial ride I developed an unusual noise under the driver side rear of my Jeep—which was a bit disconcerting. But even worse, as we drove back past Whistiln’ Jack’s, we found that Jake’s hood that we’d stashed was gone! No amount of searching turned it up. Needless to say, this was upsetting —and it only took probably about 5-10 minutes back at camp for everyone to know it was missing, and people were on the look-out for it.

Tuesday we headed out for the Manastash Trail. Since none of us were particularly familiar with this trail, we connected with a group from Cascades 4×4 to run it and get our GPS tracks in place. We headed out and drove up Milk Creek Road, then I went up the Otter Slide (a really fun long and steep hill in the woods) as it made a short-cut directly where Milk Creek Road makes a switchback. This was a lot of fun, but the noise in my Jeep worsened, so just before we got the base of the Five Fingers obstacle, I got out to check my Jeep. I couldn’t find the source of the noise, but decided to head back to camp to check it out more thoroughly rather than risk a bad break before Trail Jam had even started. Dave & Tammy really stepped-up and drove on from there, taking a GPS track that they could use later. They really bailed-out our group by doing this! (See Dave’s e-mail report for a fuller description of the rest of their day.) I ended-up greasing my Jeep and checked all the suspension bolts, and ultimately found a loose bolt on the axle-end of my rear upper control arm on my driver side, so I torqued it back up, and it seemed I was good to go. Rick also had returned to camp to investigate another issue that developed with his Cherokee. Fortunately, he never had any other significant problems with his Cherokee throughout Trail Jam. (However, I did see at least another 3-4 rigs with front axle housings emptied and in various states of disrepair while we were at Trail Jam—lots of folks working on their vehicles!!) I also pestered Kevin (the “wrangler” for the Trail Hosts) for our third day’s trail, since we had not yet been assigned a trail for that day. He suggested Rocky Saddle, and gave me excellent turn-by-turn directions for it, so we had our final trail to pre-run!

Wednesday we made for the Rocky Saddle. This is truly one of the premier trails in the Naches and Manastash area! Challenging trail and some of the most varied terrain of any trail—it includes virtually all the coolest stuff in the area!! We first headed up Milk Creek Road again, drove up the Otter Slide, then ran through the new Milk Lake Trail, which is extremely tight and passes through trees about 10-15 years old that are like a bunch of newly growing Christmas Trees! From there we drove up a trail nicknamed the Upper Woodpecker—another tight and twisting trail, but this time through mature forest. From there, we arrived at some of the shale fields, which are really different—driving across them sounds like driving across a bunch of broken pottery! (And of course, there are very steep loose and broken climbs over ridges to pass from one shale field to the next!) Finally, we ended up at the burned forest above the Shoestring Trail. This is always eerie, and the wind was literally whistling through the trees. Shawn said it seemed like the ghosts of the dead trees were calling to us! We had our lunch here, and enjoyed the scenery! After driving through the burned trees (always a very tight and twisting route—and hoping the trees don’t blow over and fall on you!), we came to the intersection of several trails in the area, and then took one that headed us down to the Lilly Pond. So, of course once we got there, I took us on a wrong turn! However, with the good maps we had, we found that rather than taking a “Tamer Turn-Around”, we could simply take one of the loops to get us around the back side of the Lilly Pond and onto the 519 Road to take us back to Milk Creek Road, then back out to the highway. Once we got back to camp, we found that a lot had changed! The participants were arriving, going through Tech Inspection, and really filling up the campground. We also had a Trail Host meeting followed by a Drivers Meeting, and then had the opening events for Trail Jam. Then it was time to get to sleep to prepare for our first day.

Thursday we met our group at the Mather Parkway Rest Stop. A modest sized group of 9 participants; we had them sign the waivers (always a part of an organized event), air down, and then we took off on the Naches Trail. This went well, and as we entered the Rabbit Trails, we took them all down the bypass, but didn’t offer the tight off-camber squeeze between the trees. We had a good time going through the trails with lots of great spots, including also a tight uphill chicane between two fallen trees in the middle of a steep uphill. And, Shawn had the opportunity to demonstrate how to turn a deep water hole into a “mudnado”!! (I was told the mud and water went completely over his roof without even touching it!!) We went all the way up to the Boy Scout Sign and looked at the unauthorized bog at the top, then went back down to a picnic area for our lunch—just in time as the second Naches Trail group was right behind us! After our lunch time, we headed back down mostly the forest service road to the beginning of the Rabbit Trails, where about half our group wanted to go through the Rabbit Trails again. So, being good hosts, how could we deny them?! This time, however, we were able to spot them through the tight off-camber trees, and all seemed to have a good time. (So, either they did, or they lied to me!!) We then headed back to camp where we had the supper that the Trail Jam prepared for everyone—then we hit the hay. Sadly, the noise I’d had returned, and I found that the control arm bolt had loosened again—so I torqued it back in place to prepare for the next day. (But more to come on that…) The really good thing was that “eagle-eyed” Shawn spied Jakes missing hood in another spot at Whistlin’ Jack’s! Someone had apparently moved it. So, it was a happy thing for everyone that that which was lost was found!!

Friday we met along Milk Creek Road for our Manastash Ridge Trail Jam Run. We met our group and signed waivers again, and found that we had a few folks who had been on our Naches trail run the day before! This time we had about 10 participants with us as we headed-up Milk Creek Road again. Just before the Otter Slide, a Grand Cherokee with us stopped to inspect a noise—and found that he had lost the upper mounting bolt for his passenger rear shock. This was a fairly easy fix, and he got to use his HiLift Jack to raise the back end of his Grand to replace the bolt. That was done easily, and ended up being our only breakage of the day! I led a couple of people up the Otter Slide, and the rest took the switchback up Milk Creek Road to meet us at the top. Since this was where I’d bowed out a few days prior, Dave & Tammy generously took the lead (since they had the GPS track), and led the rest of the trail run for the day. Needless to say, they didn’t mind getting out of the dust! From there we went to Five Fingers (well, really Six or Seven at this point, but it’s still called Five Fingers!), and we let the people drive up it who wanted to. After playing there, we took Upper Woodpecker, and then connected over to the edge of Funny Rocks. We looked at it (really no one on it that day), and half the group drove up one mild obstacle right at the edge while the rest of the group took the bypass. From there we went across and along the Manastash Ridge with all of its fantastic views. After that, we headed down the extremely dusty 1701 Road to Highway 410, and then the short distance back to camp. We had another good evening of socializing, and found that a few people in the other groups had suffered vehicle breakage—but we were left otherwise unscathed (So far, at least!).

Saturday—the last day of Trail Jam. Rocky Saddle—a tough trail. At this point, Shawn and Jake were pretty spent, and wanted to take a day off to just enjoy the camp. Rick & Jennifer, this being their anniversary, wanted to take their own gentle trip back up to Naches Pass. Since we only had two participants with us for this trail, Dave & Tammy and I were fine with that. We headed out to the Mather Parkway Rest Stop again, met our two participants (got the waivers signed), and our four vehicles headed out to the trail. The nice thing here was that all four of our vehicles were all pretty well built—which we thought should make for a good day. (Or so we thought…) This time, everyone went up the Otter Slide—no issues, just fun! We then drove through the Milk Lake Trail among the Christmas Trees, and after the Upper Woodpecker, we sampled Five Fingers. (With a small and built group, this stuff moves quickly!) From there we headed out the 4W330 road to Rocky Saddle proper. Just after a very steep hill at the end of the first shale field and just before getting into the burned forest, we took a stop, and I wanted to check that loose rear control arm bolt to re-tighten it. Only I couldn’t see it from the rear—like I couldn’t even see where it was supposed to be… Looking more closely, I discovered that the mount had completely ripped off my axle, and the axle end of my driver side rear upper control arm was just floating up in the wheelwell! (At least the bolt was still there!) I decided just to remove the control arm so it wouldn’t catch and tear out my brake line, and realized that I’d just have to drive gingerly through the rest of the trail. Dave & Tammy, ever the stalwart back-up, offered to take the lead in case I needed a tow at some point. The ironic thing was that the other JKR with us also has the same suspension system I have; when I found my “issue”, he decided to check his suspension bolts—and found a loose one himself!! So, he torqued that back up too (125 lb-ft, no less!) before we headed up the rest of the trail. (By this point, we were only about 1/3 of the way through the trail!!) Fortunately, we drove through the rest of the trail without problems—that is, until we were back on the 519 Road on the way out. It was then that the other Jeep with us (a very nice orange MB with a 4.3L Vortec under the hood) started having a terrible engine-belt shriek. We stopped and found that the pulley on the front of his water pump had cracked and virtually torn loose! We ended up removing the belts (he had an electric fan), and immobilized the pulley (which we couldn’t get off due to being too close to the electric fan). Since at this point, we were actually off the trail, and it was virtually all down-hill to the highway, he simply coasted the whole way back to where we’d staged on Milk Creek Road—about 3-4 miles and about 2000’ down! From there, Dave and Tammy took him to get his truck and trailer to tow him back while I stayed with the other folks and the Jeeps. (We may be at Trail Jam, but we’re still Tamers, so we leave NO ONE deserted on the trail!). Well, as if that wasn’t enough, while we were waiting, two more sets of Trail Hosts came by headed up to rescue a breakdown higher up on the Shoestring trail. Seems a Full-Size Wagoneer lost its steering gear when the welds on the mounting bracket failed. Then, as another Jeep with an on-board welder went up to make the repair, that rescuing Jeep had a fuel pump failure! So, the second crew was going up with another Jeep equipped with an on-board welder. By the time they all got back down, the repair welds on the Wagoneer failed again and had to be welded a second time—and it was about 3:30 AM before they finally all got back down to camp!!!

Saturday evening, we had the big raffle, and it seemed like almost 100 raffle prizes were awarded, including the ones the Tamers donated! We had a decent meal, then headed for some well-deserved shut-eye. The next morning, we had the traditional Pancake Breakfast served by the Wandering Willys, and then everyone broke camp and headed for home.
In the end, we all had a fantastic week, and it’s truly some of the best wheeling in Washington!

John Vandergrift

PS: And yeah, Dave wanted me to point out that after our “official run” on the Rocky Saddle Trail on Saturday, the only vehicle that didn’t have some sort of problem was his LJ. (He’s just sayin’…)

PSS: Also, sadly for Casey, never once did we have to use a tow-strap or pull out winch line while on this trip!!