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.
This year’s spring fling was one of the more interesting ones for me in a while. I was happy to get away for the stress of work and just be in the woods with no access to my work computer or cell phone for a few days.
The prediction had been for rain so I think we all planned more for leisurely trail riding and hanging out at camp. Neal and Frosty built a huge shelter so we could hang near the fire in the rain.
It also provided nice shade during the sunny times. We also had a couple of EZ ups for shelter as well.
Evan and I arrived Thursday noon. Neal, Frosty and Derek were already there. We made it out onto the trails Thursday afternoon.
Evan is now wheeling the chop top long arm XJ that Josh built. As a training exercise, we headed to lower rock garden. We made our way there via, trail 45 up the mountain from the Harlan County Campground. Trail 45 is becoming quite a challenge itself.
We then took trail15 with is not too bad when dry and dusty. I managed to find the elusive 15 connector that we always seem to miss and dropped us down to trail 20 to get to lower rock garden.
We watched Evan begin to explore the capabilities of his new rig. About five minutes in he found the limit of the tie rod. Both front tires got a good bite while the rear was hung and just toed in making a big arch in the tie rod.
We removed the tie rod from Evan’s Jeep and used a winch and Frosty’s metal working skills to get it straight enough. We made some calls for spare parts to be delivered by the later arrivals and then headed to Killin’ Time.
I had never run this trail before. It is a short run just above the lower rock garden. The change in terrain in such a short distance is amazing and one of the things I like most about Harlan. While the rock garden was flat and dry, Killing time was steep and sloppy wet.
Neal hopped in an powered through the mud and up and over the rocks on his 38” swampers. My 33” Buckshots required finding some more gentle lines and eventually the winch cable to get up some of it. This was a very fun run for all of us. We attracted quite a crowd of spectators in the parts that can be seen from the parallel road. This viewing point is another thing that makes this a fun trail since once you exit you can come back and watch those behind you run.
We then headed back to camp and enjoyed our set up.
The next morning, we used a piece of water pipe donated by Adam to sleeve Evans bent tie rod.
We then made a decision to go explore some trails that we have missed in the many years we have been going to Harlan. According to the map, we saw there was a middle downhill trial leading out of middle fork that I had never run. I lead us onto that one with no promises on not getting lost.
I managed to lead the group to a nice lunch spot close to where I thought we were on the map. After our on trial lunch, we moved on to Your Turn. We dove in knowing that we could likely not make the exit. Your Turn is nice and wide so there are multiple lines. None of them are easy.
We worked Evan and Derek over the big ledge in the last third of the trail when we caught up with another group of Jeeps. They had gotten stopped by a tree across the trail even before the impossible exit. They chose to take a bypass to the right that involved a long narrow winch run.
We chose the left exit. All of use but Derek had to winch past a big rock with an under cut. When my winch stopped working at a critical moment, Red turned his rig around and set up to winch me and the rest up the last few feet. His new synthetic winch line got a lot of use this weekend.
Derek was able to go wide and powered over the rock. We waved him on to the last point where most of us had also winched. He carried more speed than any of us had and ended up on his side.
It took a bit of rigging but we were able to get him back on his wheels pretty quickly. His exo cage saved him from any new damage. But somewhere along the way he developed a brake line leak that slowly consumed his brake fluid.
We then looped back around to the entrance and continued exploring new trails. Next was trail 8. It does not have a name like some of the tougher ones. But it is coded orange (difficult) on the map.
I soon found out why as I headed up. The trail has some very long very steep climbs. They would be much tougher if it had been wetter. Eventually we all made it to the top.
Then we decided to try T_R_O_U_B_L_E. I have wanted to run this one for a while also. But were had never seemed to be able to find it. It was right at the top of 8 so no trouble finding it.
The gate keeper is a steep dusty climb with a undercut rock right at the top. The ruts were deep enough for me to drag my diff. I tried hopping out of the ruts at the last second to hop over the rock but it did not work. I had to call for assistance in pulling my winch cable to make it over the ledge. Frosty got behind the wheel of Evans rig and tried the right side line. He needed up getting scary sideways and we winched him to safety.
Kim then drove Frosty’s Toyota up. Just as the trail got really steep at the top she stalled and then found neutral. She took a scary roll backwards several feet before getting it stopped.
After seeing our struggles the rest of the group decided to bypass and meet us at the end of the trail. I explored an unmarked short cut that took us right were we wanted to go and we made our way back to middle fork and then down the mountain.