I have been looking for an adventure to test out my rebuilt White Jeep. I have passed through Franklin State forest many times and been curious about the dirt roads on either side of Highway 156. So today I decide to go exploring.
I started at the park headquarters on Highway 156. There was a map posted in the kiosk but none available to take with me. So I downloaded the PDF to my phone.
This year’s fall crawl felt very different with all the founders not in attendance. Thanks to Evan for stepping up as party planner and getting all the food and reservations coordinated.
I arrived late Friday morning and the crew was already on the way up the mountain to Lion’s Den. I caught up just as they we making it though the second obstacle. Evan was still learning his new XJ that Josh has taken through Lion’s Den before. With a bit of winching and some pushing and shoving and a bit of broken glass, Evan worked his way out of the Lion’s Den. Resorting to reverse for the final obstacle.
We sort of expected Dean’s Toyota to make short work of the trail, but his new truck bed hung in spots he may not have expected and he made the most gentle flop ever. He kept backing up until the wheels lost traction. We were able to put him back on this wheels with a tug on a tow strap.
After a break for lunch, we headed over to Mason Jar. I had to have some help with stacked rocks to get my bumper over the first ledge; but after that, Frosty spotted me to a perfect line and I popped right up on the first try. Dean spotted me by the infamous tree. I added a new scrape to Scuffy’s side but made it by easily. Evan had gone on ahead so I kept rolling and used my momentum to climb the double rocks at the top of the hill with little drama. The dry conditions made this trail much easier as well as being familiar with the lines.
Frosty and Dean took more difficult lines in their Toyotas but we all made it up past the most difficult sections of the trail. I ended up in front, so I headed to the exit. I just kept rolling and used momentum over the last ledge taking the far left line.
I noticed that Evan was further behind than I expected. When he eventually made it up, we inspected his front axle that was making a strange noise. We soon noticed that he had actually broken the passenger axle tube and the whole end of the axle was moving away as the steering was turned.
Red took the same line as I did to get out. Dean and Frosty put the Toyotas to work on the nearly vertical right line. Dean’s friend Kevin was behind the wheel. He took a few tries but eventually found a line to get up and over. Frosty tried a nearly identical line but his front yoke found a rock and spit out the front drive shaft. He had to winch to the top.
We put a ratchet strap on Evan crippled rig and started making our way out of the trail. The ATV short cut out (Jerry White memorial?) has been widened to handle log machines so I led us down that way to avoid the big mud holes at the end of the trail. Dean and Frosty went out the regular way.
Evan made it to middle fork before the axle gave out completely. We left it there and headed down to camp. We took my Suburban and trailer on the long trip around the mountain and then up the trails.
Towing a trailer up the mountain trails was very interesting. Being empty, it bounced really badly. The ramps came loose a couple of times and the spare tire mount broke off the side from the vibrations. Also, trying to go slow enough to control the bounce limited the amount of momentum I could get on the hills. The open diffs on the Suburban struggled for traction in a few places.
Trail 20 felt really narrow towing the trailer. Especially going past the wash outs like the one that caught out Paulman last trip.
We did make it to middle fork before dark and lined up with Evan’s crippled rig. He backed it most of the way on, but as the broken axle tried to make the climb it separated more. It took a bit of work with a floor jack and a high lift to eventually coax the Jeep on board. I was glad I made the fenders removable.
We then had to make the climb out of middle fork. It took a few tries to get the truck and trailer lined up in the dark to avoid all the berms and keep even weight on all four wheels. Once I got lined up, the Suburban pulled the hill easily.
Loaded, the trailer had a lot less bounce and was more comfortable. This was a good thing since I needed momentum to get over several spots. The load had lowered the trailer to the point it drug both needs in several places. Trail 12 never seems steep in the Jeep before until I started down loaded. One left turn in particular I had to take faster than I would have liked as I had to let off the brakes to keep the tires from sliding. But eventually we made it back to camp.
While we were gone, Dean had been preparing smoked pork and baked beans. I enjoyed a hearty dinner and the usual great campfire stories.
The next morning, Evan backed his trailer up to mine as was able to drive from one trailer to the other with no drama at all. We were not sure if we should be relieved or disappointed that it went so easily.
I made a plan for the day and after the normal radio checks, we headed up the mountain. Just as I crested the hill to middle fork I heard a pop and discovered I could not steer. Investigation showed that the track bar had broken at the frame end. There was still a bit of the stud left, so Dean rigged up a ratchet strap and held it in place.
I sent the rest of the crew along 15 to meet up at the helicopter pad shelter for lunch. I took the easier route along 20 and 10. We met up for lunch while Dean and Red ran the white tail climb.
After lunch we headed to the eastern plateau area since we had several in the group that had never seen the view from there. The ratchet strap started stretching and popping loose so I parked my Jeep and hopped in the back seat of Scott’s new Big Yellow Bird rig. I got to see firsthand Scott’s excellent coaching as his son Noah drove us to the top of the overlook.
The new rig is an even nicer version of the old red one. He transferred over most of the go anywhere parts as well as the roll cage to the new truck.
While overlooking the far ridge and watching the forest fires we began to hear helicopters. We watched as a couple of Blackhawks circled the smoke plumes. They disappeared for a while then returned carrying huge orange pots below them. Watching them dump water on the fires was quite a show.
I picked up my Jeep and though about how to best get it back to camp. Having made the trailer trip the night before, I was not looking forward to doing it again. I also did not like the idea of going down 45 with the possibility of the track bar coming loose. After some experimenting, I found it only popped loose if the driver’s side was severely unloaded. I decided to take 10 down to the Evarts exit and then take the paved road back to camp. It was a long boring drive at low speed to keep my tire temps down, but I made it back to camp.
The rest of the group hit up the trails near lower rock garden.
Evan did a great job managing the steak and potato boats and we had another great dinner. It was very different not having the regular crew there but it turned out to be a great time in the woods as usual. Hopefully Matt, Mitch, Neal and Adam will all be back in the spring.