I’m going to write this generically as I don’t want to bias anyone against any specific brand of rig based on my bad experiences.
Like most people, I started with what I could afford. Unfortunately, that got me a rig with an independent front suspension.
After some quality time off road, I realized some of the downfalls of an independent front suspension: ground clearance under flex, uneven tire wear, steering alignment, strength, complicated and thus expensive repairs, etc.
So, I finally decided to make the swap. I was going to pull out all the independent stuff and replace it with a solid axle.
Sourcing the solid axle was pretty simple. Pulling out the independent suspension was flat out going to be fun! The hard part was going to engineer the new solid axle into a rig not designed for it.
A before picture clearly showing uneven tire wear and the difficulty of keeping the steering aligned.
Off I went, out with the old, in with the new. I started by getting the rig up on jack stands for safety and all the old independent suspension parts were unceremoniously removed.
Here are the old parts next to the new solid axle that will be going in. I’m going to try and use as much of the old steering parts as possible.
The new solid axle doesn’t look much different from the side. But do note that I was able to use the old adjustable ride height system from the previous system.
But from the top you can already see the better alignment of the tires.
Underneath, where all the magic happened. It clearly shows the new solid axle and how much stronger it will be than the old independent system.
Here is an after shot after quite a bit of time getting everything just right. Measure twice, cut once. Back on all fours and ready for some off road travels.
So far the rig is night and day different. I goes straight with hands off the controls, it doesn’t pull at all when you initiate a turn. Once I get new tires for it, I expect the tires to wear evenly and last much longer.
After all was said and done, I would highly recommend this swap for anyone with an independent front suspension.
On Friday, March 23rd, the FOTR Tahoe side lead (John Briggs) and I had two Rubicon meetings with local government agencies.
The first was meeting Placer County at the trailhead to discuss the snow being piled at the entrance. (The lead photograph)
When we got there, Lindsay from the county was already there. Looking around the area, it was obvious that there was more snow at the entrance than elsewhere in the neighborhood. Lindsay explained that she had talked with the plowing supervisor and that this was ‘normal’ for a “T” intersection as there was extra snow that needed to me removed from the intersection.
After some discussion, I pointed out that this was not a “T” intersection but rather a “4-way” intersection. We agreed that what needed to happen was to move the pile 40 feet to the left. It would take no extra time or effort but would prevent piling snow on the Rubicon Trail.
Now to be clear, the county will not be plowing the Rubicon Trail nor will they be removing the berm but hopefully, if the plow supervisor agrees, the pile (in the future) will be placed further left and if someone wants to play on the Rubicon, they will just have the ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ berm to deal with.
In addition, we discussed putting in two very tall snow stakes documenting the entrance so the plow drivers know where not to dump.
The snow had a very hard top layer after having rained several inches, then below freezing temperatures.
The second was meeting Mike Gabor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) to talk about the new map they are developing and the new kiosk for the staging area, among other things.
This is a draft of the map under construction:
The new kiosk will have a 4’x8′ center panel for nothing but the new map. A 4’x4′ side panel on each side will hold additional material. It will be made out of mostly metal for longevity, not wood, and should last a very long time. If all goes according to plan (remember this is a government agency we’re dealing with), it could be up by the 4th of July.
THIS IS NOT THE ACTUAL KIOSK GOING IN. I JUST PULLED THE IMAGE OFF THE INTERNET TO GIVE VIEWERS AN IDEA OF WHAT COULD BE BUILT. THE ACTUAL KIOSK WILL HAVE MOSTLY METAL CONSTRUCTION.
There is an approved grant that will allow the LTBMU to pave the staging area. Before this happens, the Basin will be reaching out to the users for input on how to mark parking spots (size, spacing, direction), how to improve (harden) the border, how to best protect the trees within the staging area, signage, how to design an actual “staging area” for rigs coming off the trail or preparing to go out on the trail, etc. Figure the planning, design, layout, engineering and such will happen in 2018 and the actual paving will happen in 2019.
I’d like to let you all know about a very special event that happens almost every year. Last year it got cancelled due to the excess amount of snow in the Sierras.
Camp Nejedly is a camping experience for physically challenged kids. It takes these special kids out of the cities and in to the forest, miles from civilization.
The one challenge the organizers need help with is getting the kids, counselors and equipment 11 miles in to the forest and then back out again. There are two camping weeks, so twice in and twice out.
Several different 4wd clubs regularly step up to help out. The Hills Angels and the Tahoe Donner 4wd clubs are two of the local clubs that have helped out in the past.
The Tahoe Donner 4wd Club is reaching out to local 4wd owners to help bolster their number on the day they are scheduled to transport the kids and equipment, August 11th. I don’t know if the other groups need more vehicles.
If you think this is something you’d like to participate in, please contact Jay below. I have helped out on this and it was a blast. It’s not a difficult trail but it gets you in to territory you wouldn’t normally drive.
Jay’s full email is below.
Thanks for your support!
Dear group leaders and 4×4 drivers,
It’s time to plan for rounding up the rigs and hauling some kids to and from camp.
This is an opportunity to offer your time, talent, and rigs to help put smiles on the faces of those less fortunate than us – some physically challenged kids.
Camp Nejedly is looking for a bunch of 4x4ers that would be willing to transport kids and their wheelchairs and gear plus counselors and their gear on a two hour trek to and/or from camp in the High Sierras. The campsite is a bit remote so you need a capable 4×4 with a little clearance and 4low, a KIA Sportage made it several years ago. Most of the trail is easy with just two really challenging spots. The trail is only 11 miles but we take it really slow to keep them safe, so if you are looking for a thrill, please not with these kids.
The dates for the treks are as follows:
July 28, Saturday at 11:45 am Graeagle Community Church – inbound.
August 4, Saturday at 10 am at Hawley Lake – outbound.
August 5, Sunday at 11:45 am Graeagle Community Church – inbound.
August 11, Saturday at 10 am at Hawley Lake – outbound.
If you would like to participate, please have space available in your rig for at least 1 camper and 1 counselor and maybe some gear. We would like to make sure that everyone that participates has a great time, so we are asking for a little cooperation and a little information beforehand so we can plan. If you really want a camper in your rig, just say so and we will try our hardest to make it happen, especially for the first-timers. If you have been one of the very valued transporters in the past, maybe you can reach back in your memory banks to remember the special feeling from those huge smiles to make sure a newbie has the same experience.
Now for the tough part, group leaders you are an awesome part of this program. We need space for 47 campers and counselors and their stuff on the opening inbound trip, July 28 and the closing outbound trip, August 11. All of the people and gear go in or come out on those days. The middle weekend, August 4 and 5 are a little lighter since some of the counselors will stay in camp over the weekend.
I know it seems like a lot to ask for a commitment for a volunteer outing, but these kids need us and our rigs to get them to and from camp. The payoff is huge. These kids get such a big kick out of being like regular kids on an off-road adventure. The smiles you put on their faces will stay with you forever.
So, leaders and any 4×4 enthusiasts out there, please circulate this information to get the word out to come and help some kids that really need our help.
The first inbound trip is pretty full with Diablo 4 Wheelers and Hills Angels groups. And the middle weekend is covered by Grass Valley 4×4 club and some folks from RV West. The last day of camp has been the FJ Norcal and Tahoe-Donner groups plus some locals. For individuals that email me to sign-up, please be flexible and patient as I need to fill- in large groups first then add you where needed. I am hoping that several locals will participate helping take the kids out of camp. But we still need some folks from down in the valley or beyond just in case the bus is overloaded with gear.
To recap our needs:
July 28 – 30 vehicles
August 4 & 5 – 25 vehicles each day
August 11 – 30 vehicles
We will need a list of the vehicles, color, opened or closed, number of extra passengers, and if there is room for gear.
And a little suggestion/hint – get a cb radio and preferably a ham radio to communicate in the wilderness. Cell phones don’t work and cb’s are spotty.
We also want to make sure we alternate experienced drivers with rookies and keep the driver behind you in your rear-view mirror to make sure nobody gets lost.
See you on the trail,
P.S. It really won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t respond until after April 17th.
Please!! I am a CPA.
If you don’t want to receive this notice each year, please let me know. Thanks.
We just got through a series of major storms. Honestly, the biggest of the season. The summits got more than six feet of snow. The Homewood Mountain Resort claims about five feet over the last the last week. That means the Rubicon is buried.
So, I drove past Monday (March 5th) and took a few pictures of the entrance. I was up there just before the storms and took some to compare:
Last Monday the 26th: really no berm to speak of…
Again, this was before the storm just 100 yards up the trail:
After the latest storms: now the neighborhood probably got two feet of snow but notice the snow is piled higher than my six foot tall truck.
Compare that to berms around the neighborhood, maybe three feet tall. I have already sent an email to Placer County letting them know this is unacceptable (dumping snow on a county right of way) and that although the County probably didn’t do it, they need to remove it as they would a load of rock dropped on any county road. Don’t hold your breath.
Looking over the berm, where no motor vehicle has driven, yet; it looks like a good place for a fun day of snow play.
The berm will need to be taken down. Right now you could get a quad or snowmobile through the slot but not much else.
Let me get on my safety soap box…
I can’t say it enough but travel prepared. Figure something will go wrong and you have to spend the night, or two. Have food, water, clothing and shelter for multiple people and many nights.
Believe it or not, some people still don’t get it.
(Photo stolen from a post on Pirate4x4 by “The Fixxer”.)
This rig has been stuck on the trail for a few weeks now. It’s just east of Miller Lake at the water hole. There was room to go around but not much. Now think about this with 4-5 feet of snow burying it.
You might be wheeling along just fine and not realize the rig is underneath you. Honestly, it’s probably still visible but there is a greater chance of sliding in to it if you try and go around.
Some fellow Hi-Lo’s are reaching out to the authorities and the owner to see if we can help get the rig out or at least off to the side for the safe passage of others.
I’ll keep you posted.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for years. I wanted to be able to rate the trails in the Rubicon area to give those new to the area an idea of what they will encounter before they get there.
I looked in to different scales from different groups: 0-10, 0-5, 1-10, etc. Each had something the other didn’t, I didn’t want to be that guy that says “This is how it will be!”
Luckily, I recently came across a scale from a group I greatly respect. The Overland Journal. I was there getting lined up to give a subscription as a Christmas present. Poking around the website, I came across their trail rating schedule:
(Copied directly from the Overland Journal website)
Improved/Graded Dirt Road
Passable by most standard vehicles, excluding those with low hanging body panels or that are designed for on-road sport driving with ultra low ride and tire section height.
Graded Dirt Road
Still passable by most 2WD vehicles. However, caution is required and lower speeds may be necessary for vehicles with less clearance. Small rocks (less than 5″) may be embedded in road surface. Sufficient room for passing on most of the road. Some steep grades possible. AWD required if road is wet or icy.
Not passable by standard passenger vehicles. High clearance preferred, AWD preferred. Steep grades present, larger rocks embedded in trail (less than 7″). Some loose trail surfaces and shallow water crossings possible. A spotter may be required on the most challenging portions to prevent body damage on vehicles with less clearance. Sand and dry washes may challenge available traction requiring lower air pressure on some vehicles. Trail may be narrow and require backing to allow other vehicles to pass.
Not suitable for 2WD vehicles, or low clearance cross over vehicles. AWD required, low range gearing preferred. Rutted, crossed axle terrain possible, with loose, steep climbs required. Deep sand possible. Some rock crawling possible on loose rocks up to 8″ in diameter. Some larger rocks may be present, possibly requiring a spotter to negotiate. Small ledges possible, with larger embedded rocks present. Water crossing to 12″ possible. Loose surfaces will be present, with tight clearance, smaller margin for error, and the possibility of body damage. Within the capability of any high clearance stock SUV or truck. AWD cross-over vehicles will struggle and may suffer damage due to lack of low range gearing.
High Clearance SUV or Truck required with low range gearing. Trail will be very rough and heavily eroded, with large, loose rocks present and steep, loose climbs requiring good traction and driver skill to negotiate. Wheel placement critical. Skid plates required, along with larger tires (31″+) necessary to prevent damage. Deeper water and mud crossings possible. Parts of the trail may be entirely in a wash, with loose sand and large rocks present. Possibility of rock ledges, and severe crossed axle obstacles. Good suspension articulation required to maintain traction. Rear limited slip differential or traction control system recommended to limit trail and vehicle damage.
High clearance SUV or truck required, taller suspension and tires recommended. Few stock vehicles capable of completing the trail without damage. Very large rocks exceeding 12″ present throughout trail requiring a spotter or heavily modified vehicle to traverse. Very loose and cambered climbs present, also heavily rutted requiring good suspension travel. Tall ledges present requiring good clearance or rocker panel protection. Little margin for error, and possibility of body damage. Tires must be 31″+ with aggressive tread and strong sidewalls. Lower tire pressure, skid plates, and limited slip or traction control required to prevent vehicle or trail damage. Rear locking differential and 32″+ tires recommended.
High clearance modified vehicle required. Not within the capability of a stock vehicle without damage. Trail likely in river or wash bottom with very large rocks present. Deep mud possible requiring aggressive tires and higher speeds. Water crossings in excess of 24″ possible. Heavily rutted and crossed axle terrain present, with large ledges and very steep hills with embedded and loose rocks. Body protection required to prevent damage, with good skid plates and stronger (or spare) steering components necessary. Winching and extraction possible. 32″ tires, rear locking differential and flexible suspension required. 33″ tires and front locking differential recommended.
|outside the scope of this website|
Heavily modified vehicle required. Extreme rock crawling, with very large ledges present requiring winching for shorter wheelbase (SWB) vehicles. Body and drivetrain damage likely. Very cambered terrain may cause rollovers. Water crossings may be hood high, and mud will be very deep and heavily rutted. Vehicles will require heavy modifications. 33″+ tires required, along with front and rear locking differentials in upgraded axles. 35-37″ tires recommended. Winch required on SWB vehicles. Roll cages or full metal roof required. Driver must be experienced.
Custom vehicle, very experienced driver required. Competition-level vehicles on insane terrain with frequent rollovers and drivetrain damage. Full custom vehicles with massive axles, 37″+ tires, cutting brakes, very low gears, 1-ton drivetrain, and custom chassis.
So, applying this to trails around the Rubicon:
Trail rating of 1:
-Forest Road 03: It’s paved from the lake (Tahoe) to the summit. After that it is an improved dirt road due to the gravel put down, at least to the kiosk and bathroom area.
Trail rating of 1.5:
-Forest Road 03 past the kiosk area. Graded by not improved.
-03-04: This is the road from Barker Pass to the Rubicon Trail. It starts as a 1.5, well graded, large rolling dips. BUT, it finishes as a 2.5!
Trail rating of 2.0:
I’m going to put most of the Rubicon Trail from the Tahoe staging area to the turn at Forest Road 03-04. There are a few 2.5 sections as you climb out of the basin, but doable in 2wd by a skilled driver.
-14N39 Richardson Lake Trail: this has been worked on by the Forest Service over the last few years in order to meet S&G100 issues and to reroute an erosion prone climb near the summit.
-16E79 Upper Barker Meadow OHV Trail: this is a rolling trail that doesn’t offer much challenge
Trail rating 2.5:
The Rubicon Trail from the turn at Forest Road 03-04 to Observation Point.
-16E76 Barker Meadow OHV Trail
Trail rating 3.0:
The Rubicon Trail from Observation down to Morris Rock (or The Steps)
Trail rating 3.5:
The Rubicon from Morris Rock to the Springs
Trail rating 4.0:
One could argue that a few of the obstacles on Cadillac are 4.0 but I’ve seen less build rigs maneuver through without issues. It takes a very skilled driver but it can be done.
Trail rating 4.5:
I’m putting the Fordyce Trail in this category. Now not the entire trail but it has MANY sections or obstacles that rate a 4.5.
Trail rating 5.0:
It’s my website, so I would put trail such as those in Johnson Valley in this category. Competition level stuff.
Remember that weather can change a trail rating in a heart beat. Just a little rain on a slab of granite, turns that fine dust in to micro ball bearings. And if that water freezes on that slab, look out. Always travel prepared to spend the night: food, water shelter, etc.
Over the winter, I’ll try and update each trail page with a better description and a trail rating.