This was my 5th Trek. The last time I did Trek and the Fordyce, it was the toughest trail I had ever done. This year, new rig with an automatic, selectable lockers, fuel injection, etc.; I was bringing more rig this year, so I figured I was good. Wrong. Over the years, due to weather, use and abuse, the trail had deteriorated to being tougher than ever.
We set up our camp at Meadow Lake Wednesday night. We then drove to Tahoe for the night. Our family cabin at Tahoe was a better night’s sleep than a tent. But it was a short night. The alarm went off at 4:30, out the door before 5am and arrived at staging 6:15. We were the last to arrive.
Driver’s meeting at 6:30 and at 7am we were moving. Let me cut to the chase. We made main camp at 8pm. That was not a typo, 8pm. It was a 13-hour day to drive the Fordyce Trail.
The trail is 12 miles long. The first six miles were your typical rock crawling trail. We made good time as only two and a half hours had gone by. The Trek guys had broken us in to groups. Our group was small at five rigs. All 4-door JKs, except me in my 2-door TJ. We all figured we’d have minimal issues. Our leader was in a new to him JK that could have used a little more lift or a little more tire or both.
That’s how our issues started to pile up. Overall, our leader had more hang-ups than anyone in the group. But we stepped up and played rock rollers and spotter as needed. The problem was when one of us needed help, he wasn’t too fast to return the favor. Maybe that wasn’t in his agreement with Trek as this is advertised as an unsupported run.
The bigger issue was the difficulty of the trail. My honest opinion is that the trail is currently too difficult to run this type of event. The Thursday group was a 13-hour drive. The Friday event was a 15-hour drive. There were medical issues both days which didn’t help.
The other issue that didn’t help was the guy who wouldn’t pull over. One individual on the run lost his starter somewhere after winch hill two and wouldn’t pull over to let others pass him. He and his buddies winched and dragged this guy all the way through the trail without letting others pass. Why not park the rig, let people by, keep the event running, run to camp and get a starter out of another LS rig and run back down the trail and install it?
This guy knew better. He was asked, and as I understand it, harsh words were exchanged. This guy is a Cal4 member. He’s worked as a volunteer on Sierra Trek before. The word is that he even chaired Sierra Trek for two years. How is it that someone who knows better can be such jerk to so many other wheelers?
Honestly, our group didn’t encounter this guy until winch hill five. The trail was so tough, we were going stupid slow anyway. We were having our own issues along the way. Although there are five winch hills one through five, we found winch hills 2.5, 3.5, 4.5, that could easily be added to the list of winch hills and staffed with spotters to keep rigs moving at a normal pace.
I had been boasting how nice it was to have a short wheelbase, compared to the 4-doors, most of the day. Bad Karma. The rain had started, things got slippery. At the beginning of a climb, my rig slipped right and the passenger side hardtop window came to rest on a rock, mid window. Not good. I turned left to get the glass away from the rock but I knew I was doomed. As soon as the rig moved, the window shattered. But that was just the beginning.
With the rock inside the rig about three inches, I couldn’t go forward. I couldn’t go backwards because I was up against a rock. My group had to winch me sideways so I could back up. Karma came back to bite me for boasting earlier.
The window was no big deal. Not stupid expensive to replace. I was more bummed out that my group had to step up and work, in the rain, to get me out of my situation. And I was stuck in the driver’s seat and couldn’t help. Thanks again guys!
The group idea is great. Many runs use it. At Trek, there were two guys going pretty slow in front of our group. They were so slow, they dropped away from their group and we took them in to ours. How did the group in front of us lose two rigs and not stop to make sure they were okay? That’s the point of grouping rigs.
We all know not to lose sight of the rig behind us in case they have an issue. We should also know to keep up the pace with the rig in front of us without riding them too close. These guys dropped off our group a few times but we tried to make sure they were at least still rolling along. Ham radios were key to that.
Although Sierra Trek is a great event, well run, great food, scenic views and gets you across a few rivers that are usually running too high to safely cross, I won’t be doing it again until the trail is repaired to prevent another 13 hour drive. I’ll probably be back with my club and just five rigs to do it again.
Trail maintenance for the Fordyce Trail falls on the Tahoe National Forest. There are many clubs that have stepped up and helped the Forest Service in maintaining the trail: Friends of Fordyce comes to mind but there are others.
Winter storms and heavy snowfall changes the trail. But users who don’t Tread Lightly also contribute to the deterioration of the trail. There was erosion in many places. One of the iconic winch hills could no longer be run because the terrain had changed so much. The bypass was now the trail.
Main camp was a party as usual. Good food and plenty of it. The vendors were out on Saturday. The showers were warm and very welcoming after 13 hours on the trail.
I hope the trail can get some seriously needed maintenance and repair over the next few years.
For those of you that don’t know that road, it runs from the Rubicon over to Barker Pass. It was one of the recommended reroutes around the closed staging area last week.
It’s probably twice as far to get to Lake Tahoe than the Rubicon, but it’s twice as smooth. And it just got better.
While the staging area was getting paved, Forest Road 03-04 was getting groomed. The first mile off the Rubicon was always little rough and severely rutted. But the road got progressively better the closer you got to Barker Pass. The last few miles at Barker Pass you could drive a Honda Civic down, it’s that groomed.
Back in 2016, there was water running down the trail causing erosion, allowing sediment to get in to the water system.
Hard to see, but looking back down the trail towards the Rubicon, there is one on many new rolling dips along Forest Road 03-04, so many I lost count.
Just south of the intersection of 03-04-14, looking up the trail, 2016.
Just last week, looking down the same section of trail.
Forest Road 03-04 is classified as a ‘road’ not a ‘trail’, so it is maintained at a different level then say the Buick Lake Trail. The FS got serious with 03-04 this time around. The work done on this trail will allow emergency vehicles to access more of our forests. For the Rubicon, it means we can bring in material with very large trucks much closer to the actual trail.
There are a ton of places to camp along and just off Forest Road 03-04. The most popular is Bear Lake but it’s usually crowded. Some of the other side roads have great views and are always empty of campers. You should check them out.
Way back in 2011, 42 OHV routes within the Eldorado National Forest were closed because someone filed a lawsuit claiming they were damaging near by meadows.
A few years later, 18 of those routes were reopened after it was determined that they NEVER were damaging near by meadows. Yes, it took years.
The Deer Valley Trail, although cleared of damaging near by meadows, took longer to reopen due to endangered species concerns.
Well, the ENF has finally finished repairs to all of the routes in questions and all of the once closed routes have now been reopened. Of course, most of those are approaching their seasonal closures so check for the status before you head out.
Here is a link to the Forest Service news release:
What I would ask all of you to learn from this is you need to need to develop a very close relationship with your local FS representatives.
What should have happen in this case was local OHV clubs keeping an eye on these trails to do maintenance in certain places to prevent damage to near by meadows. Now it’s hard for the basic Jeeper to know when that type of damage is being done but a few of these trails were obvious issues.
The Richardson Lake Trail was one case. For a few years I had notices a section that literally went through a meadow and it was looking bad. I had a plan in the back of my head to move small boulders to eliminate the mud by harden the crossing, but I never acted on it. My bad, the route was closed for years.
With a close relationship with your local FS rep, maybe there could be an immediate field trip to each meadow to evaluate, in a very public way, the condition of each trail and to develop a plan to repair each trail rather than close it.
The anti-OHV people will do anything to close our trails, we need to do everything to keep them open.
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.
So, last week (June 4/5), I finally got out on the trail with the ability to focus on trail maintenance. Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite as planned.
The plan was to wheel in to the upper hairpin on Cadillac Hill, set-up camp, moving a bunch of rock to stop erosion, re-trench the upper creek crossing and evaluate what the lower hairpin needs.
The drive in was fine. I got a little hail at Observation. Light sprinkles from there down to the upper hairpin on Cadillac Hill. It stopped just as I started setting up camp. I wanted to make sure I had a dry camp before the predicted thunderstorm rolled in.
The first task was to harden the actual upper hairpin turn. As you can see, over the decades, there has been a little erosion taking place here. There are now a few differential busters that have ‘grown’ up out of the ground.
I took my ‘trusted’ trailer up the trail and collected rocks from off the trail. (No reason to weaken one section of the trail in order to harden another area.) On my third trip with the trailer loaded with rock, I noticed a bad noise. I stopped and checked the trailer connection.
For those of you not familiar with the “Lock-n-Roll” hitch, it provides full articulation in ALL directions. But after a few jack-knifes (on previous trips) and once running the hitch upside down, the hitch has seen a lot of abuse. This time, I took it a little too far.
I spent over an hour trying to re-bend the middle piece back in to position to give me full articulation. I had the trailer tongue strapped to a tree and my winch pulling on the hitch trying to straighten it out. Not too successful.
Update note: I called Great Basin Forge and explained my issue. Even though they don’t list parts for sale, they sold me only what I needed and got it shipped out the same day! Thanks guys.
So, I called it a day on hauling rock with only three loads delivered. As you can see, I did get a little done. At least the diff busters are minimalized.
I hiked up to the upper creek crossing and trenched the crossing a little deeper and further away from the log ‘water bar’. This almost immediately stopped any flow of water down the trail.
The growing puddle/hole above the step just above the creek crossing was also addressed but not completely. I hauled quite a few half full five gallon buckets of rock and dumped them in the hole. It will need more but I was running out of fuel for the day.
The next morning, before heading out, I walked down to THE hairpin turn and worked there for about an hour. Again, the flowing water was trenched away from the route that would let it flow further down the trail. This area will also need some follow up.
Once I get the trailer rebuilt, I’ll head back out and continue the projects.