Why are we afraid of water?

Why are we afraid of water?

Last winter (‘10/’11) was one for the record books, literally. The 2011 Spring thaw seemed to never get here but when it did it made a statement and that was ‘water’. These elements combined to cause problems along the Rubicon and other trails. Time will tell how the Spring 2012 melt will play out.

Everyone was feeling a bit of Spring fever and wanted to get out on the Rubicon. The problem was that the trail still had several feet of snow on it, some places more than ten feet. As the west side started to melt, the Tahoe Basin got five and a half inches of snow on Memorial weekend! Even by the Fourth of July weekend, there was still a tremendous amount of snow on the trail.

The fill material delivered and placed by Placer County in 2010 has taken care of a lot of the standing water on the Trail but there are areas that still get standing water during the melt.

More and more people were trying to get out on the Trail. But here’s where it gets weird. People drive from all over the country (but this applies to local folks as well) to test their driving skills and their rigs ability on the world famous Rubicon Trail. But when they get on the Trail and face a rock challenge or snow or water, some of them do everything they can to drive around them, sometimes even driving off-trail. The challenge and the snow thing I just don’t get. The water presents an unknown but not a reason to drive off-trail. We look at the water and think: how deep, how soft, any rocks, etc. Of course there are the excuses of, “well I saw some tracks going around and I figured that was part of the Trail.”

On that topic, it is always the driver’s responsibility to know where they are at all times and to know where the trail runs. I’ll agree that all trails are not always well marked but that is never an excuse to drive cross county. Sometimes a driver needs to get out, walk around and check out the area in order to figure out where the trail runs and to plan a route through the challenge, snow or water.

So, why are we afraid of water? I know we’ve all seen pictures of rigs sunk to the windshield in water or stuck in a mud bog they couldn’t see because it was under the water. So is the answer to always drive around a water puddle? Not only no but HELL no!

So let’s talk about water on the trail. No one should drive through water unless they are aware of what’s there. The best option is to get out of the vehicle and check it out. If you want to walk out in to the water go ahead but I suggest you grab your shovel and reach out in to the water and test the ground. Walk along the edge of the water on both sides. Yes, it’s slow but it will give you a great idea of how deep the water is and how hard the ground is under the water.

The short cut is to drive up to the edge of the water and open your door and look at your front tire. Is it sinking? That’s a pretty good indicator of what the ground is like further in but doesn’t give you an idea of depth. In this scenario, pre-attach a tow strap to your rear attachment point and the front attachment point of the guy behind you. (I know you don’t wheel alone.) That way you can be pulled back if you get in to trouble.

Moving water is more difficult to predict. Although the Rubicon does not have a large river to cross (without a bridge) the Fordyce is an example of a trail that does. Travel with someone who is very familiar with the crossing. Secure all your gear, have a plan, keep the vehicle moving and don’t let the vehicle shut down.

If you’ve been through a section of water a million times, you probably can take a chance and drive through without checking but be prepared for any consequences. But even if it’s your 173rd time through that water, you should always drive very slowly. While you might think it is fun to drive fast through water it will increase damage to your vehicle if there was something in the water. It will also cause a wake across the water causing erosion on all sides of the water. Erosion releases sediment, which when it flows downstream to Lake Tahoe (or other bodies of water), pollutes the water, causes algae and reduces the clarity of the Lake. Read as BAD.

Another reason for staying on the trail and not driving around water is that it is probably the easier route. The Rubicon Trail has essentially been the same route for 100 years. Driving the same route for 100 years has made the trail surface in most areas like concrete. When people drive off-trail to go around water or obstacles, they usually find a really ugly mud bog just off the Trail. This is because that ground doesn’t get driven on and compacted. So not only is it illegal, not environmentally friendly and cowardly, it’s a harder route not the easier route.

Mud bogs have their place in the world of OHV use but not on the Rubicon Trail, or really any trail. Mud bogs are generally organized events on private property or an area of an OHV park designated for that purpose with safeguards to prevent sediment filled runoff.

If you’re not sure you’re going to make it across any section of water, you might want to hook the tow strap to your front bumper before you start across. It is very comical to watch someone lying flat on their hood, trying to reach down and find the attachment point. Attach it first and bring it in to the cab with you. With a topless Jeep, it’s easy to throw the unattached end to a friend on dry land.

Of course the key to this and similar rescues is to have the right gear on hand. Every vehicle (even quads) should have a tow strap and a pre-designated secure place to attach the strap both on the front and on the rear. There should be at least one winch in the group of vehicles.

This water issue has been around for decades. It was the reason Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR) was formed in 2000. The initial FOTR project in 2001 created 28 rock lined rolling dips to prevent erosion and sedimentation. Those rolling dips are still in place. More are planned. Until then, take your time, get out and check out the trail/obstacles and always Tread Lightly!

The Tahoe National Forest experienced several instances of OHVs driving off-trail last Spring. They have said that they will not tolerate resource damage. Let’s not give them a reason to close the trail.
I’ll leave you with a slogan I should have registered: “Turn Around, Don’t Go Around. Stay on the Trail.”

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