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.
Yesterday, I received an email from a forest service employee boasting some great trail work on the Richardson Lake Trail up to Sourdough Hill. The only pictures he included were those of trails demolished and covered in trees and brush. I was horrified!
The series of pictures looked like this…
The next morning, I was up at 5:15am and out by 6:15am to get to the trail to see what the Forest Service had done to one of my trails.
Although the Forest Service had blocked off the last climb to the summit of Sourdough Hill, they had put in a switch back and more than a quarter mile of new trail.
For those of you who’ve never been there, here is a photo of the old route. This does not give you the idea of how steep this trail was originally. The ruts show previous wheel spinning and rain runoff causing erosion.
The old trail can be seen on the right side of the next picture, the new route goes from left to right in front of my Jeep. This reroute was warranted as the old route was a steep, loose, rocky, rutted trail that was causing erosion and was not safe as shown in the previous picture.
A better look up the trail after the switchback…
Here is another look up the blocked off ‘hill climb’…
Up from the switchback…
Back in to the trees. Note the trees cut down in order to create this new trail.
Nearing the summit. Those familiar with the trail should know the radio hut is to your left in this picture. You used to come up to the summit with the hut on your right.
The parking area is the same as before you just approach it from the bottom not the top.
Here is a shot of where the trail used to come up. (The radio hut to my left.)
Poser shot at the summit! A selfie if you count the shadow.
Views on the way down.
Hats off to the Forest Service for the reroute but I need to talk to my contact about communicating the entire story with more pictures.
August 3rd, the Deer valley Trail officially opened for the 2017 season. The Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo’s jumped at the opportunity to do some trail maintenance and open the trail.
The South County Trail Riders have adopted this trail but they were extremely busy getting the Cal4 Sierra Trek set up and running smooth. My thanks to them for that because Sierra Trek went very smooth. The Motherload Rock Crawlers were also out on the trail working with the Forest Service making final plans for the maintenance scheduled for the last three weekends in Sept.
So the Hi-Lo’s went to work. This was typical of what we found, trees either on the ground or ready to fall.
We pulled out our saws and started cutting.
Once we got a system going, it went great. One team took off down the trail to deal with “THE” tree. More later. The second team would cut downed or hanging trees in to manageable lengths and would move on. The third team would clear the trail of the chopped up trees. We removed about 24 trees from the trail.
When I refer to a tree across the trail as “THE” tree, it means it was a really big tree. This tree had been driven around by those breaking the law. We try and educate to fellow users to stay on the trail but there are those who don’t care.
Our crew used the bed of a truck to safely attack the tree.
With a lot of hard work, the first section of the tree was removed.
Some of the guys wanted souvenirs. See the photo of the month.
The last section was removed and the original route was reopened.
The Hi-Lo’s returned to the trail on the 12th and removed even more trees in preparation of our Gambler’s Poker Run on the 19th of August.
The mention of future maintenance refers to three weekends in Sept: 9/10, 16/17, 23/24. The plan is to move several hundred tons of rock to prevent erosion at the two creek crossings.
Please contact the Motherload Rock Crawlers if you plan on attending. Trailers are needed but not required.
Basically, winter seems to be hanging around.
There is still a ton of water on and around the trails. Snow drifts will be found in the shade. Mud in other places. Please Tread Lightly!
Here is the pond at the Ellis Peak Trail intersection. This was taken on June 19th, so most of this is probably gone, but it’s a heck of a lot of snow for June!
The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has a list of closed trails on their website. Those trails include, but are not limited to Noonchester, Buck Lake, Middle Fork, Forest Road 03, Twin Peaks, 16E16, etc. It is the users responsibility to know what trails are open or closed regardless of trail and gate conditions.
Although the Tahoe National Forest has not published a list of closed roads, be aware that most of the TNF trails in the Rubicon area will have deep snow drifts for some time.
There are a lot of snags in the forest right now. John Briggs and I spent five hours on June 19th cutting back downed trees along the Rubicon. And that was only between the staging area and the turn for the Ellis Peak Trail at the pond. Be prepared to remove trees from the trail both on the way in and on the way out. Trees could fall after you’ve past and you’ll need a way to get out.
We were able to pull down this snag by hand and cut it up and throw it off the trail. There is plenty of firewood to be had. Go to the Tahoe National Forest office in Truckee for the permit.
Do not drive around downed trees. The motto of this website is: “Turn Around, Don’t Go Around”. That means don’t drive off trail to get around an obstacle be it snow, a tree or just a tough section of trail. The anti-OHV people will use such incidents against us to get our trails closed.
There is a report of a HUGE boulder on the trail below Morris Rock. It would be great to split it up and harden the trail with a few smaller obstacles. Until that boulder is moved or reduced in size, Cadillac Hill will be very tough to get up.
Another report had Miller Creek flowing at 48″ deep. I find this hard to believe but if it’s anywhere near true, it will be tough to cross. The section west of there will be VERY wet and very deep in places. Check the depth before you charge in to any water holes.
There was a report of four rigs stuck on the trail, two with blown motors. One of those was in that wet section described above. I’m hoping work has been done to start the removal of those rigs. The two snow bound rigs were removed earlier and both driven out under their own power.
I believe that this one had a blown motor. If you look closely, the trail is up on the snow bank. But the snow bank is a little off camber and thus the heightened pucker factor. The rig it technically off trail. Remember, “Turn Around, Don’t Go Around”.
Years ago, I think it was for a very early “Cantina for the ‘Con”, Matt & Shannon made an epic entrance with the ice cream truck music blaring and the truck (and ice cream) to back it up. Since then they have made many fundraisers for the Rubicon and other OHV causes.
Work has begun on the “Ice Cream Truck 2.0”. Although the previous truck was 4wd, it wasn’t really trail worthy. Truck 2.0 will be fully capable of traversing the Rubicon.
Matt & Shannon have always been there for our trails. Matt has sat on the Rubicon Trail Foundation (RTF) Board of Directors. Shannon is the current Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR) Trail Boss. Both have been volunteering for a long time.
Shannon & Matt in the back of the original Ice Cream Truck:
They are building this new truck on their own with help from friends and family. The proceeds from the sale of the ice cream goes to our trail, troops (Wheeling for the Wounded) or wherever they decide to donate. They do not keep the profits.
If you think you can help them out, they have created a “Go Fund Me” account, the link is below:
It’s efforts like this that keep our trails open and make the maintenance events a fun experience.
Thank you Matt & Shannon!