The Camel Trophy Trail
(How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accepted the Mud)
November 7, 1998by Larry Soo
Boy, this is going to be a great memory some day but right now, it sucks in a big way. That's what I was thinking as I was unspooling the winch cable for the umpteenth time. I was covered in mud. Wiping off my hands on my clothes just made my hands dirtier. The GPS showed we had traveled just over 1km. That took us about 2 hours and I was about to hook up the winch for the sixth time.
Earlier that morning, I found myself with some unexpected free time. Chris Waterman also had the day free so we decided to do some exploring in the Maple Ridge area. I had to meet my wife and her friends for a dinner/movie date in Vancouver by 6pm. That gave us lots of time to enjoy the great outdoors in unseasonably sunny weather. At 11am, Chris and I met up at the Shell station in Maple Ridge and made our way to the trailhead.
We climbed along the main trail for about 45 minutes before we reached the turn-off which took us into dense brush and under the tree canopy. Fortunately, the GPS and rollbar-mounted antenna combination was able to retain a lock on the satellites so I could record our progress. We drove along a 100m stretch of rotted cribbing which indicated that this was an old logging track. Shortly after that, we turned up and onto a branch which my friends had told me about. The trail was supposedly extremely difficult and narrow. I was warned that all vehicles on this trail would need a winch but since Chris and I were just out for a casual exploration, I didn't think it would be a problem. Yeah, right.
The next time Chris got stuck, we winched him out and then I got stuck. "Hmm," thought I, "it's getting worse." To appreciate the added burden of both Jeeps requiring winch assistance, consider the steps involved in extraction. Chris gets stuck. I hook-up the winch control and unspool the cable while Chris drags a wet, muddy and bulky tree saver strap to a suitable anchor tree. Then he unscrews the clevis pin and hooks up both ends of the strap, the snatch block, threads the muddy winch cable through the block, and then re-attaches the clevis pin. Then we attach the cable to his Jeep, I route the winch control through my window and we hop into our vehicles. Chris keeps the tires spinning while I work the winch. Once we free his Jeep, Chris parks his Jeep and unhooks the tree saver, snatch block and winch cable. We have to spool in the cable and/or wind it around my front bumper. Then I pull forward and get stuck in the same hole as Chris and repeat the entire process for my Jeep. As you might have guessed, it got old very quickly. Each time we approached another mudhole, we used more throttle to try and clean the tires' treads. While this approach helped, the extra speed was rough on the Jeeps. The buried pot holes and deep ruts threw us around like a cars on a rollercoaster ride. Who would have thought that mud could be so bouncy?
The next stuck was just ridiculous. Chris drove into the next mud hole and got stuck with just his front tires buried in the muck. I mean, when you get stuck going downhill into a mud hole, you just KNOW that you're driving on a trail that has an attitude problem. So we repeated the tedious winching process which was great because then I was able to get stuck in the same spot and had to winch myself out. (That was sarcasm.) At that point, I stopped washing the mud off my hands before getting back into my Jeep. I looked at my hands, looked at my mud splattered, formerly white t-shirt and wiped my hands on the shirt. I would have used my camo pants but they were already covered in mud and perfectly able to stand on their own.
To add to the merriment, I noticed that it was getting late and I was in grave danger of missing my appointment with my wife. It was also going to be dark soon. Chris got stuck again. I trudged through the mud with the winch cable while Chris went back to my Jeep to get the tree saver. Instead of waiting for Chris to come back, I started walking down the trail to see just how many more mud holes we had to slog through. Another one, another one, oh, look, another one. Then I came across a sadistic beauty: a mud hole with a switchback turn in the middle. Yup, not only would we have to winch out of this hole, we'd have to do a 120-deg turn at the same time. Great, just great. What could be worse than that?! Well, a few metres later and I was sliding down a wet, loose slope which ended up at a rocky stream bed. From there, I couldn't see the trail's continuation so I figured it must go along the rocks before turning into the brush again. The GPS showed that we were roughly halfway to any possible main trail. If we managed to get through the switchback mud bog and down the slope, we would be in very big trouble if we couldn't find the rest of the trail. Going up the slope would require an excruciating winch session and then we'd have to re-do the switchback as well. I had to be back on pavement within two hours. It was getting dark. I decided to call it quits. Problem was, WHERE could we turn around???
I trudged back to the Jeeps and gave Chris the bad news. He was disappointed that we couldn't continue but agreed that we were too short of time. This also meant that we didn't have to hook up the snatch block to pull him forward. We winched him backwards out of the hole, re-spooled the cable and started looking for a suitable spot to turn around. The only likey spot didn't look like it would be wide enough. Chris spotted me while I see-sawed back and forth, inching the Jeep around a little more each time. With a sigh of relief, I finally had the Jeep facing the opposite direction. Chris got turned around even faster and then we steeled ourselves for the return journey.
Going in the opposite direction meant that we would be climbing up a slight grade, even in the mud. As expected, we had to do even more winching than on the way in.
Although we had the routine down pat, it never got any easier. In fact, as the minutes went by, the winch cable and tree saver seemed to get heavier. So did the mud. In one hole, Chris Jeep with its 35" tires and 8" of lift started to take on water through the door sill. That meant the mud was about three feet deep! The thick tree cover blocked most of the sky. As dusk approached, it looked like nightfall under the canopy. Even if we had more light, visibility was obscured by the fat clumps of mud smeared across our windshields. I can't speak for Chris but by that point, I didn't really care too much if I took a wrong line and scratched up my Jeep. I just wanted to get out of there. And so it went. Through a combination of cable wrangling, winching, and driving by feel and desperation, we finally emerged from under the canopy and onto firm ground.
I was late meeting Sue and her friends. After washing off and changing into clean clothes at Chris' place, I rushed off to find the address for Sue's friend where she was waiting for me. Upon entering Chris' underground parking lot to hop into my Jeep, guess who I saw? Sue. Apparently, her friend and Chris lived in the same building and she was on her way to wait for me on the sidewalk. What a weird coincidence.
A few days after our ordeal, I talked to my friends who had
thoroughly explored the trail. It turns out that we were
just about at the end of the mud holes when we turned
around. In effect, we did the hardest part of the trail
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