May Long Weekend, May 17-18, 2003
Although the Island Rock Crawlers declined to put on a Rock Crawl event for 2003, that didn't deter some of the club members from getting together on the May long weekend to do a little fourwheeling in the Sooke area.
Most of us mainlanders who were joining the IRC crew headed over on Friday night, right after work. Upon our arrival at the Sooke Flats Campground (the traditional camping site for the IRC Rock Crawl events), we found the club members sitting around the campfire and in very high spirits. We had a lot of catching up to do vis-a-vis beverage consumption but were soon caught up in the general goofiness that always accompanies the start of a weekend of great off-roading. The only serious business was concern about the Americans who had come up on Thursday, gone 'wheeling late Friday afternoon, and were still on the trail. They had suffered some axle breakage and a couple of club members had gone to the rescue with a flat bed trailer. Finally, they did return and we gathered around to admire the carnage. Specifically, it was a CJ5 which had sheared the wheel flange off of its one-piece AMC 20 axle shaft. Dave Podmoroff showed us his video footage which clearly showed the Jeep climbing a hill when the wheel simply parted ways with the Jeep and went rolling down the hill. The Jeep slid sideways a bit and listed heavily to the driver's side but fortunately, it didn't roll. Besides the video clip, the breakage also provided entertainment in a different way: we got to admire the trail fix that consisted of a banana-shaped lot chained to the axle housing. Basically, they built a log skid to get the Jeep back to the trail head so they could load it onto a trailer.
The next morning, we had the luxury of running one of two trails: Doomicon or R.I.P. I chose R.I.P. and since that was the tightest trail in the area, myself and the other Jeepers started folding down their windshields. Doing Rock Crawl trails but not during a Rock Crawl event was a nice change. Everyone was very laid back and we had plenty of time to get ready. All the 'wheelers that were attending were driving built rigs that were suitable for the terrain so there was very little worry about P.O.S. rigs that were ticking time bombs waiting to break down ten minutes into the trail.
The drive to the trail head was great. The weather was nice and warm, the top was off the Jeep, and although the road was dusty, R.I.P.'s trail head is extremely close to the pavement so I didn't have to eat much dust at all. Once we aired down and managed to stop doing that thing that fourwheelers do, where they stand around and gab about trucks every time they stop, we hit the trail. I had the unenviable position of being in the lead. That wasn't so bad for the first little bits which consisted of some twisty turns around the trees and a few off-camber bits and the "Guardian Trees." But then came The Drop-off which was responsible for barrel rolling two vehicles which is a lot, considering how infrequently this trail gets run. By the way, the last group that did R.I.P. had one vehicle do a barrel roll down this section and three others that flopped on their sides elsewhere on the trail. I'd only driven R.I.P. once before so I was a tiny bit apprehensive about being the first one down the descent. But as we all know, the apprehension is always worse than the obstacle itself and this proved the rule. The descent wasn't bad at all, especially since Shane (one of the guys that opened this trail) spotted for me. Although everyone had their camera out, no one took the bait and rolled their vehicle so the resulting photos were quite boring. On the plus side, no rollover meant that we didn't have to deal with trying to get a damaged vehicle off the trail. You see, with R.I.P., there are NO bypasses. If you break anywhere on the trail, you will have to make your vehicle drivable if you ever want to bring it home again. It is impossible to bring a trailer in here and in most places, towing is not an option, either.
The Drop-off marked the start of the really tight sections. Immediately after reaching the bottom, we had to climb up a steep slope and then run lengthwise along a tall fin rock which bore the tell-tale white scratches from its encounter with driveshafts and axle housings. To make it extra interesting, you also had to perform several back-and-fill maneuvers to get past the phalanx of trees that was perfectly arranged to cause maximum grief to the drivers.
After some more twists and turns, we descended along a narrow spine which got even narrower thanks to a large stump that shouldered its way onto what little trail we had. You could just barely squeeze past it or you could run a tire over it and hope that you don't cave in your rocker panel when you drove off.
Once near the bottom, the trail became even twistier and we were hard pressed to keep the trucks from taking body damage. This was exactly why every one who could, had their windshields folded down. Those of us with full roll cages had a major advantage because the cages would lean into the trees first, saving the sheet metal from any damage. I think I had the only 4x4 without a full cage and consequently, it was a very sweaty time for me. When I finally got out of the trees, there was a little rock climb and then a short drive before reaching Hamburger Hill.
Hamburger Hill had never been driven before. Everyone on past trips who encountered it had to winch their way up and this was true for us, as well. But even when winching, Hamburger Hill could be quite treacherous. It's a steep, off-camber climb so it's not unusual for your vehicle to suddenly pitch sideways even when you're on the cable. As with The Descent, we were fortunate and suffered no damage. Once at the top, we were at the first big clearing on the trail so we decided to enjoy the sunshine and have lunch there.
Next up was an un-named hill-climb which everyone conquered without difficulty, and then came the most technically challenging section on the trail (at least in MY opinion), which was an extreme off-camber section where you had to make a choice: either go way off-camber or risk leaning your 4x4 into a tree. We all made it through unscathed except the TJ which suffered some bark rash. After that it was an easy drive down to the main road.
After milling around for a while in "apres trail" mode, we got to wondering about what to do next. We still had a lot of daylight left so a handful of us decided to go do the first part of Doomicon while the rest of the crew headed back to the campground. The trail head wasn't too far away but it was far enough that getting choked on road dust was a major problem. Fortunately, I had the unusual foresight to bring some ski goggles which helped my visibility a lot, especially since the windshield was still folded down. Chet, who rode with me, wasn't so fortunate and spent most of the transit alternately squinting and tearing. The handful of vehicles in our group were the basically the Americans (three CJs and one TJ), myself, and Andrew Horvath in his "YJ."
The last driver to make the attempt was Andrew and after he finally stopped playing with the lower gears in his dual tcase ensemble, he bounced his way through as well, forcing Tom to share the glory. Actually, I think Andrew did an even better job of conquering the obstacle because he did it WITHOUT wounding me in any manner.
Once we had reached the top of the hill, it was time to turn around and head back to camp. The descent was, shall we say, interesting (steep with loose, wet rocks) but no one needed a spotter. At the bottom, Chet and I watched Andrew (who was now directly behind us) as his YJ slipped sideways as he crawled along the side hill (a side hill which had claimed Jason's big Bronco a few years ago). Back at the trail head, Chet abandoned me to ride in a vehicle which actually had a windshield and I was left to drive alone in the dust.
Upon reaching the campground, we were greeted with the smell of hamburgers on the BBQ. Yep, the Island Rockcrawlers were providing a free dinner for everyone. Spurred on by Lori, we stayed up late into the night trading lies and stealing each other's beer.
The next morning, the sky looked horribly dishevelled, the only colour in its ashen face coming from eyes that looked like bloodied egg yolks. Then I realized I was looking at a mirror. Oh well, there's nothing like a day of fourwheeling under clear skies to shake off a hang-over.
Today, we decided to try D.S.S. After breaking camp (in preparation for catching the ferry later on) and buying sandwiches and drinks in Sooke, we hit the trail. The D.S.S. trail head was much farther from town than R.I.P. was so we ate a lot of dust. Once again I was very happy that I brought some goggles. Along the way, Rob McFadyen noticed a bad shake in his CJ5 as well as some intermittent brake problems. Rather than risking a trail breakdown and slowing down the group, he opted to head back to camp and deal with the problem. The rest of us continued on to the trail head. The first part of the trail was an easy drive through some very dense brush. I was alternately ducking and shielding my face with my arm to protect myself from branch whippings. After about a half hour of this, the trail opened up a bit and not long after that, the trail become rocky and we began climbing. The loose rock surface could be a challenge for stock 4x4s but the modified 4x4s in our group had no problems. After a few more switch backs, things got interesting but again, no one had any problems. I wish I knew the names of the various geological features because this narrative is going to sound rather lame without them. For instance, we eventually reached the top of "some unnamed mountain" and then proceeded downhill. The downhill was long with a hard off-camber turn at the bottom. A few more zig-zags later and the trail became run-of-the-mill again. Then we started climbing another "unnamed mountain" which would climax (no pun intended) with "Neil's Knoll" (NK) at the top. NK is a very small area notable for:
And for those of us in the group who had never driven Neil's Knoll before, the prior description is about as close as they were going to get. Why? Because about 100 metres from NK, the trail was blocked by felled trees as far as the eye could see. The mountain was being logged. NK, as we knew it, no longer existed. D.S.S. had lots its crown jewels and our day was over. We had no choice but to turn around and head back to camp. The only bright side to the day was that we ran half of D.S.S. in the other direction, which I had never done before. That made some of the obstacles more interesting. It's a small consolation, I know.
Back at camp, the IRC fed everyone again and we said our goodbyes. It was a mediocre end to a great weekend but the company more than made up for disappointment on D.S.S.
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