As of December 30th, 2022, the Rubicon Trail is closed to any type of use within El Dorado County. The closure is for 60 days. It is not clear if the closure can be lifted before the end of February. It is not clear if the closure can be extended past the end of February. We’ll all have to wait and see.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything that happened. I’ve tried to piece the events of this story as best I can.
On December 30th, 2022, El Dorado County closed the Rubicon Trail. It’s not clear who initiated this closure. The official closure appeared on the El Dorado County website on the Parks page. It stated:
“As of December 30, 2022, the Rubicon Trail is closed for public safety in accordance with county procedures and a determination was made with the Department of Transportation, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Parks Division.”
There is debate about whether all of the departments listed were actually all in agreement about the closure.
One theory is that the closure stemmed from a group of vehicles getting stuck along Wentworth Springs Road (not yet on the Rubicon Trail), bringing in a front loader for a vehicle recovery (but not using it). For the sake of the county not wanting to rescue unprepared drivers throughout the coming storm, the county closed the trail.
But Parks can’t just close a road for safety, so the story shifted after the initial closure to high water runoff due to the impending storm. The key word being impending. With the storm coming in, expected to drop a lot of rain, not snow, there was concern about water on the trail. In order for Parks to close the Rubicon Trail, due to water, measurements at specific spots along the trail and digital photographs of those spots must be used to document the conditions. Those do not exist.
But the Department of Transportation can close the road for safety. So, the story shifted back to safety and the DOT closing the trail. It helped that El Dorado County had declared a state of emergency, due to the storms. But this is where I have a problem with the reasoning.
As I understand it, Ice House Road to Loon Lake is not and was never closed. So, to protect the people, then and now, you can’t drive on the Rubicon Trail via Wentworth, but you can drive to Loon Lake and drop on to the Ellis Creek Intertie and drive in to the bowl!
Does that make any sense? Close the Rubicon Trail but keep the road to Loon Lake and the Ellis Creek Trail open. This is a government agency, or multiple agencies, at work and demonstrates why most OHV users don’t trust the government. For the record, throughout this ordeal, the Rubicon Trail has always been open within Placer County.
So, El Dorado County closes the Rubicon Trail for the safety of the people. How many people have died on the Rubicon Trail during the months of December, January, February and March? I do not know of any deaths during those months. How many people die at Lake Tahoe every year, about six. How many people die downhill skiing each year, about 40. How many people die hiking in this country every year, 120-150. Has El Dorado County taken the appropriate steps to protect the people from those activities?
El Dorado County overreacted when people got stuck in the snow. They did something they didn’t have the authority to do. Then they changed the story. And then they changed the story again. Then the Board of Supervisors made it official on January 10th (Resolution 017-2023) and back dated the closure to December 30th in order to provide cover for the unauthorized or even illegal early closure. Here’s a link to my original story and a copy of the signed resolution: https://theotherrubicon.com/2023/01/11/rubicon-trail-closed-within-el-dorado-county-until-feb-30th/
OHV advocacy groups were able to change the county meeting about hearing the above resolution in order to allow public comment but it didn’t seem to help as the board voted 4-1 to adopt the closure. It has been reported that the board members didn’t seem to understand the closure but just took the word of the DOT and passed it.
So, the agreement from 2013 (?) that specified scientific measurements and digital photograph documentation were required to close the trail has been thrown out the window and now any one who thinks it’s unsafe can close the trial on a whim.
We do need to address this issue of winter travel. How do we educate people to prevent travelers from getting in over their heads? Can we require trail users to carry recovery equipment? The state requires that all cars carry chains when driving over a pass in winter. Can certain vehicle enhancements be required to travel during snow conditions, like mud and snow rated tires being required on the highway passes during a storm? There could be precedent there.
If this actually started with a need for a vehicle recovery, do we allow the counties to charge for rescues? Should we, as users, develop a winter rescue group? If so, there should be one at each end of the trail. Should there be a fee to use the trail? Should those from out of the county be charged to use the trail and for rescues, but not locals?
After two deaths in recent weeks, Mt Baldy, in San Bernadino County, is considering a permit system to allow people to climb the mountain. Would a Rubicon Trail permit application ask about driving skills, experience, vehicle upgrades, recovery gear and survival gear? Who would set the standards. Could this be a winter requirement moving forward?
The users need to communicate with all of the government agencies involved with managing the Rubicon Trail and our public lands in order to prevent such knee-jerk reactions. In my opinion, the problem is getting the agencies to communicate with and engage with the users before making any decisions regarding the Rubicon Trail.
-just a user
I just heard a funny story. It’s only funny because no one got hurt. The story could have had a very different outcome.
So, a guy and his wife are traveling across country in their modified Sprinter van. The wife has something to do all day and will be staying with a friend that night. So, the husband decides to camp at Tahoe for the night.
He drives up Blackwood Canyon, a paved road, and sets up camp only a half mile from the summit. It’s cloudy, it’s raining a bit but he’s in his Sprinter van that he and his wife have been living out of for weeks on the road.
It starts to rain.
He goes to sleep.
He wakes up with three feet of snow all around his van.
He’s wearing shorts and sandals.
He thinks he’s screwed.
He has one bar of cell coverage on his phone. He calls his wife. She calls the Sheriff. Placer County Search & Rescue rolls out their snow cat and goes up to rescue him. He asks about getting his Sprinter van out. They tell him it might be there until spring. They take him down the hill without his van.
He calls around and gets Nick of the Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo’s. Nick has a rescue service when he’s not engineering something or racing the Baja 100, literally. Nick was instrumental in recovering “Glacier Girl” which was buried under eight feet of snow some years ago.
The guy thought he was prepared. He had the traction block, tracks, boards things. The problem was that they were mounted UNDER the rig. Hard to get to with three feet of snow all around.
Nick was the hero again. It took some work. The Sprinter is only 4wd if the rear axle starts to slip. Nick had to literally pull the van DOWN the hill the snow was so thick even after it was packed down by the snow cat.
This should be a lesson to everyone. Check the weather before you travel.
Be safe, don’t be this guy.
So, I get a random phone call late Friday afternoon. I actually missed the call and just listened to the voice message. I didn’t get all of the details but something about a guy, Dan, stuck on the Ellis Peak Trail, a side trail off the Rubicon on the Tahoe side.
I called him back and got the short story. Slipped off to the side of the trail, rocks gave away underneath, slipped farther off to the side. No winch points anywhere to be found. Could I help him out?
An email and a few phone conversations later. I had a friend and fellow Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo, Paul, lined up to take two rigs out (never travel alone) and get this guy a winch point to get him unstuck. Saturday morning 9am we were at the staging area ready to help this guy out.
I should mention that I was running later that expected as I left my phone on the charger and had to go home after fueling to get it. Only a 15-minute dely. I actually picked up the guy where he was staying and gave him a ride to the staging area and then his rig. But wait, he forgot his keys to the stuck rig and we met his wife half way back. Now 30-minutes late.
Paul and I pulled up on the rig which ended up being on the Buck Lake Trail. We got out, surveyed the situation and then I said to Dan, “if you had sent me a picture, I would have brought more help”.
This guys Jeep was completely off the trail on a 45-degree slope. I have no idea why this thing hadn’t tumbled down the hill. Then I heard the story of his wife and two large dogs bailing out the passenger side, the high side, and then the driver, Dan, climbing out.
Paul and I had a plan but didn’t like it. So, we decided to drop back, punt, call in reinforcements and come back the next day.
Note red circle around Jeep hanging on cliff.
More phone calls and emails, this time with pictures. The Hi-Lo’s stepped up and we went back in at 8:30am the next day with six rigs. One of which was a bright yellow, 8900 pound Unimog!
The initial set up, using the Unimog as the anchor and a winch and snatch block on each end to pull the Jeep a little sideways, just pulled the Unimog toward the Jeep.
Both winching rigs had a back up rig anchoring them to prevent them from getting putted forward.
I have to admit it was a beautiful place to spend a day at Tahoe.
To prevent the Unimog from getting pulled sideways, I had to drive up the trail and work around to a position above the Unimog and send down a 200’ winch line extension to secure the Unimog.
A second rig would have been nice to anchor me but all I had was a boulder with a tow strap around it.
That allowed the Jeep to be pulled side ways to get two tires on the trail, sort-of. The lines were reconfigured to pull the Jeep forward. A come-along from the bumper of the Unimog to the rocker guards of the Jeep was used to keep tension sideways.
Three hours onsite and the Jeep was back on the trail. No body got hurt and no further damage took place.
It was a very rewarding day working with a bunch of great guys and helping someone had had only met the day before.
Let me start by thanking my friends who are getting out on the Rubicon Trail much more than I am. They keep me informed of trail conditions and occasionally pass along a good story. Here is the latest story.
So, last week my good friend got with one of his friends and they headed out for a day of snow wheeling on the Rubicon. My friend is on 38’s with lockers front and rear. I’m sure his friend was running something similar. I do need to teach them to take pictures.
They came across another guy at the Rubicon trailhead they didn’t know who was thinking about heading out on the trail. This guy was less equipped but they dragged him along anyway.
I guess it got interesting when they got to the intersection of the Rubicon and Forest Road 03-04. That’s the road to Barker Pass. As my friend and his buddy turned left down the Rubicon, they turned the lesser rig around and sent him back to the staging area.
Their thought was not to let this guy wheel downhill as it would be too difficult to get him back up that hill later in the day as the snow melts and gets really slick.
My friend, and his buddy, wheeled past the narrow section that looks down on Miller Creek and then another maybe ¼ mile. It was getting late, no reason to take chances, so they both turned around.
They reached the intersection where they turned around the lesser rig and headed to the staging area. Just a few hundred yards from the intersection, there was the lesser equipped rig they had turned around. While my friend and his buddy had wheeled about a mile out and another mile back, this guy had only gone a few hundred yards.
With one rig in front, again breaking trail and occasionally using his tow strap, of the lesser rig and the other behind (not easily done in the snow), they headed out to pavement.
Near the turn for Richardson Lake, they came across a few rigs also out to play in the snow. They had no shovels, no winches, no tow straps, no gear to spend the night. And they were stuck.
What should have been a quick drive out, turned into quite the exodus. Again, there is no room to maneuver one rig around the other to be able to pull rigs through tough spots but these guys made it happen. Five hours after my friend thought he’d be home in his warm house, he finally got there.
The question is, how do we educate these people about the seriousness of the conditions when you go snow wheeling? The unequipped rigs did well to get in as far as they did but it’s a four mile hike out from the Richardson Lake Trail. In deep snow, with out snowshoes, if they had tried to walk out, someone might have died or lost toes or feet to frost bite.
So I have a thought. What about yet another sign…
I don’t know what it will take to get this sign out there but I’m going to try. Even if I turn one rig around who isn’t equipped, it would be worth it.