Photos provided by Lars, Cam, Mike, Jo-jo and Cody.
My Jeep has been sick for the past couple of years with a dead transmission (don't ask) so when the Island 4x4 crew invited some of us mainlanders over for their Trail Jam 2005 event, it provided the ideal motivation for me to re-mobilize my Jeep. Although I have known Jonathan (Jo) Poole (board lord and site owner of island4x4.com) for some time, now, I've never been 'wheeling with his gang, so I didn't exactly know what to expect. Would the trails be cleared for Suzukis with heavily battered side panels and totally destroy the tub on my Jeep? Would the event be a disorganized mess with fifty vehicles impatiently waiting for their turn to break due to poor maintenance on one of but two trails? Would they laugh at my camp chair because it had no built-in cupholders? As it turned out, I had no reason to worry. They did a great job of organizing this informal event. Cara (Sweet Diva) did a wonderful job of keeping track of who was showing up, how much room was left at the campsite, and ensuring that guides would be available to rendezvous with the various ferry arrivals.
On Friday night, Dave Warner and I caught the 8:15p Tswassen-to-Duke Point sailing and met up with Jo in Duncan. Also joining us (in fact, he was on the same ferry) was Artur Pasternak, whom I briefly met once before up on Eagle Ridge. Artur drives a rather large Sidekick which is hard to miss. From Duncan, we drove to the gated network of logging roads where we would spend the next two days in this area camping and 'wheeling. They had gotten permission to camp behind the gates for the weekend, as well as keys to the gate which was a pretty good indicator of Island 4x4's organization and communication skills.
Once behind the gates, we drove for about 10 minutes along a dusty but well groomed gravel road to the lake side campsite which would be our base camp. We pulled in and quickly set up our tents and then ambled over to the communal fire pit to meet the rest of the gang. There were about 20 people there and before long we were drawn into the conversations and general bs'ing that is such a big part of camping with good friends.
The next morning, we got a laid back start as people poked their heads out of their tents in dribs and drabs. By 11am, everyone was ready to roll and we split up into two groups. I ran with the group that would head to Chet's Crack and then hook up with the second group later that day at Wipeout. After about 20 minutes of very dusty roads, we reached the turn-off to Chet's Crack. Chet's Crack is a moderately difficult trail characterized by lots of vehicle-deep trenches and alternating sidehills that really test your vehicle's flex and stability. No one had any difficulty with the trenches and the only trouble was a steep climb over an old, wet culvert going across the road. Cam's Jeep had some difficulty climbing the culvert and its EZLocker started making a long snapping sound, indicating that it was slipping a lot. That was the turn around point for his YJ. The rest of us followed the trail to its end which wasn't much farther away. It ended at the top of a mountain where we enjoyed the view and had a lunch break.
After that, we headed over to Wipe-Out. Of course, just getting to Wipeout was a bit tricky. Part of the trail there included a short descent over some roots and a log, then across a muddy section with another large log laying diagonally across the trail, followed by a climb out. It wasn't too bad going in, but would prove to be a source of difficulty going back out.
At the base of Wipeout was an optional entrance to the trail consisting of a steep vertical step, followed by an uneven climb up a rock face. Dave worked at it hard with his Cherokee, providing huge loads of entertainment for us spectators. A few of the more spectacular attempts resulted in his Cherokee bouncing sideways and slamming hard into the rocks. His exo cage did an admirable job of protecting the sheet metal but the pounding was too much for the driver's side nerf bar. It got pounded into the door, preventing Dave from exiting from his side of the Jeep. Although he came tantalizing close, Dave was unable to beat this obstacle. After Dave's one-man Gong Show was over, Matt gave it a try in his YJ but was also unsuccessful.
Then we started up Wipeout. Dave went first and I followed. Wipeout is a steep climb over loose terrain where you have to make tight turns around trees while dealing with deep ruts, root steps, and rock outcroppings. To make things interesting, the turns around the trees including some nasty sidehills which could easily damage your hood or roof. Dave's exo cage worked beautifully here, allowing him to pivot around one corner using the top edge of his cage. He fought his way all the way to the last obstacle at the top of Wipeout without winching. Once there, he was finally stopped by this sharp right-hand switchback with a huge stump on the inside corner. The stump's root jutted across the trail, forming a very tall, under-cut step. This corner was surrounded by trees so it was impossible to actually drive around the stump. The only solution was to get as much of your truck past it as you could, and then winch the front sideways to pivot and slide over it. Unfortunately for Dave, that's when his winch decided to stop working. He fiddle around with it for a bit before figuring out that there was a problem with the motor and not the solenoids. Rapping the motor casing with a rock while someone tried to operate the winch caused the winch to operate for a second or two. With this bit of knowledge, a plan was formed. Dave decided that the only course of action was for someone to bang on the winch and since that would put him in the dangerous position of being right beside the winch during the pull, he did it himself. He got Jo to drive his Jeep, Trevor to control the winch, and he climbed onto his Jeep's hood and pounded on the winch motor while Trevor wound it in. Matt held Dave's legs so he didn't slip off the hood or get his legs pinned between the Jeep and a tree or the bank. While this was going on, Dave was also shouting out steering instructions for Jo. It was pretty hilarious to watch but it worked and he got out of Wipeout.
My turn up Wipeout wasn't as exciting. I had to use my winch two obstacles before Dave did, and we had a lot of trouble winching me over the last obstacle. I don't know how Dave was able to do it, but my rear tire couldn't get over the stump root. It kept getting caught under it. Finally, Artur suggested using a log as a ramp and that did the trick (after some fine tuning of the concept). But even after I got over the root, I still had a problem, this time with a tree. The Jeep was leaned into a tree and the rollbar was bearing the load. But once I was almost past the tree, I ran out of rollbar and the Jeep leaned over even more, wrecking my tail light and catching the tree between my tub and spare tire. Once again, Artur gave me a hand here, pushing my Jeep away from the tree so I could just barely squeeze by.
After me came Artur. He was doing pretty well in his steroid-addled Sidekick until its destroyed the passenger side yokes. With no spare shafts available (I had a spare Scout inner that he could use but my outer wouldn't work with his flavour of Dana 44), his only choice was to remove the damaged shafts and turn around in 3wd. So he and Cam worked on the Sidekick while the rest of us sat in the peanut gallery cracking jokes and making really unhelpful suggestions. Adding to the entertainment was Shad who was surreptitiously activating the voice box on a stuffed monkey that he hid under his shirt. The monkey call sounded strangely far away and every time he triggered it, people's heads would swivel back and forth, wondering aloud, "where the hell is that coming from?" Once the 'Kick was fixed, Artur backed down to somewhat level ground so he could turn around, and in the process he slipped into a huge rut and hit a tree, putting a dent in his fender and hood.
That was all the 'wheeling we did for the day. Back at camp, we tried a variety of methods for pulling Dave's nerf bar away from his door. First, we tried Artur's idea of using a log and winch line running under the Cherokee to pull the nerf down. That didn't work very well and we finally ended up bolting two Hi-Lifts together to force the nerf away from the door. The other repair that evening was to Cam's YJ. He conducted an autopsy on his Dana 35c where it was discovered that the EZLocker's teeth were pretty badly worn, explaining why it was slipping so badly when going forward. Artur suggested re-installing the gears on opposite sides so the Jeep would drive forward and lose reverse, which I thought was a rather brilliant idea so Cam set to work while the rest of us drifted to the campfire and started cooking dinner.
The next morning, nobody woke up when I did at 6am, even though Dave and I had threatened the night before that we would be ready for an 8am run so that we could catch the 3:15pm ferry later that day. For that matter, Dave wouldn't wake up, either! So I farted around camp for a couple of hours before the rest of the gang began to stir. Once everyone was up and about, Cam's YJ was put back together and Matt arrived with some parts so Artur could repair his broken axle shaft. And so, just like the day before, we hit the trail around 11am.
Since Dave and I were trying for the 3:15p sailing, Jo chose a trail that where weren't like to get tied up due to breakage or winching difficulties. That trail was the Proving Grounds. This required another 20 min. run along dusty roads, and then bush bashing our way over some heavily overgrown roads to an old logging clearing situated at the mountain top. This partial plateau was dominated by large rock formations and provided great views of the surrounding valleys. In fact, that's how Jo had discovered this area. He spotted it from below and wondered if there were any old roads leading to this area. As got out of our vehicles and walked around, I didn't see any obvious trails and, in fact, any non-fourwheeler who found this place would never guess that this was, in fact, a 'wheeler's playground. Jo pointed out an imaginary line up a loose rock face and then traced his finger in the air to indicate a possible route up the spine of a large rock outcrop. That outcrop was called the Camel's Back and looked like it would be a very entertaining climb and nerve-racking for anyone who hated heights. Once at the peak of the Back, the "route" headed down the other side, cut sharply left, and then dropped off a ledge into a gully and then climbed up and through a gateway formed by a pair of stumps with a large rock in the middle that was ideally positioned to catch your differential. The Proving Ground was ideal for anyone who loved crazy climbs and wasn't scared of steep descents. That described Dave pretty well and so Jo walked the course, pointing out directions to Dave. It was like watching a dog handler guide a police dog through an obstacle course with Dave's tires doing the barking. And just like a good police dog, that Cherokee completed every obstacle pointed out by Jo.
Ingo also took his yellow Samurai up the Camel's Back circuit and in the process, he snapped a main spring near the top of the route. After a bit of jury rigging, he was able to complete the circuit including a scary looking drop off a tall ledge. That ledge, by the way, is named "Strap-On." Last year, Artur was the first to drive it so he got to name it; and he named it that because the Zuk that followed him had been strapped just in case it started to nose over.
Since we had a few minutes before we had to leave to catch the ferry, I decided to do the Camel's Back route as well. Coming down the other side of the back, my Jeep started to choke and lose idle while my front end was jammed against a log at the bottom of a somewhat steep descent. Something like this had happened before when I was on Hell's Gate at Morningside. Back then, my Jeep was low on fuel and the steep angle sloshed the gas away from the pickup tube. I thought that's what was happening here, but after we winched my Jeep over the log and it was on level ground, it still wouldn't start. Dave tried purging the air out of the fuel rail but that didn't help. Finally, he noticed that he couldn't hear the fuel pump solenoid click when the ignition was turned on (my hearing's not that great so I never notice it). That got me to thinking about the fuel pump ground wire I had trouble with in the past so I crawled under the Jeep and sure enough, the wire had torn free from its connector. I quickly fixed it and the Jeep started up just fine. I was able to complete the Camel's Back circuit including that crazy drop-off and then Dave and I made hasty goodbyes to the Island 4x4 crew. Jo was kind enough to guide us back to the main logging road and from there, Dave and I went as fast as my unbalanced tires could take us to the Duke Point terminal where, after some nail-biting and emotional highs and lows, we were among the last five vehicles permitted onto the ferry. Woohoo!
Fourwheeling breakdowns are a great way to learn about people. Being stuck out in the bush, covered in dirt, harassed by bugs, and trying to hammer a bent yoke through an impossibly narrow knuckle opening really puts stress on people (not to mention the mysterious monkey calls), so if you can enjoy their company in that situation, then you know they're a pretty good bunch. And these folks were a really good bunch. Also, thanks to Ibby and Lister and family for watching our gear at the campsite while we were out playing. That made the trip a lot easier not having to haul our gear with us.
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