Once again, the XJ list met for its semi annual outing in the Harlan, Ky. We had to change campsite this time due to Rock Buggy race scheduled at the new race track in our normal camping spot. We stayed in spot 4 instead of 3 at Harlan County Campground. This might have been a nice spot out of the wind but recent logging had made it a muddy mess with barely enough room for tents and tow rigs.
We made the best of it with big fires each night made with scrap left from the loggers. As usual, the stars were amazing under the dark night sky of the back country. While the view was not great, being in the cove blocked the worst of the wind.
On Thursday, we had a small group and took a run at Mason Jar. We made an interesting observation that this group had only manual transmissions. Normally we have about an even mix of autos and stick shifts. However, in this group, everyone got to exercise their left leg.
The Toyotas played on the big rocks at the entrance while the XJs took the scary and still challenging left line. Took us about an hour to get the first fifty feet into the trail. We soon picked up the pace and noticed the trail has changed dramatically over the last ten years. Places that were hard are near impossible but there are new passages that have their own challenges. We all took various lines just to see what they were like.
Neal had a break in his air system so he had to run most of the trail with open diffs since his ARBs require pressure to lock. I got hung on a rock and needed a short tug with my winch. However when I got the cable good and tight the winch failed. Would not go in or out. I was seriously stuck until Frosty turned around and gave me enough of a tug to release the clutch and free the winch.
We made it back to camp just after dark. We built a huge fire to ward off the cold and clean up some of the logs.
Friday we had a few more rigs. We headed up trail 15 and had lunch at the helicopter pad. We played on the White Tail climb until Brian broke his rear yoke and had to be rescued. He drove back to camp in front wheel drive via the paved road stopping at a junk yard to get parts along the way.
The rest of us headed to lower rock garden and made a few passes on the beginning. Frosty and Dean played on the waterfall near rail bed and Frosty ended up breaking an axle shaft.
We then hit Fish Fossil. I had to back out of this trail last year so I was excited to lead the group in this time. Still with no winch, I was determined to make it. Neal’s expert spotting helped me get over the little water fall in the middle. However the long climb at the end was rutted too deep for my 33″s. I had to try to straddle the ruts. My first three attempts had me sliding into the ruts and having to back down. We finally sent a winched jeep up to give me a tug.
I hit it again and this time held on almost to the top. Just a few feet from the top I slipped into the rut again. More throttle from my 4.7 storker motor was probably not the best choice but I was giving it a go. Then there was a snap and the left front wheel stopped turning. Thinking it was just a U joint, I tried again. Then the front wheel gained LOTS of camber.
I accepted the cable and as I was drug to the top the wheel was separating more and more from the Jeep. The lower ball joint was gone. Is was nearing dark so while the other made their way up the hill, Evan made a rally racer run taking me back to camp to get the trailer. We made the long drive around the mountain to come in form Evarts.
With lots of help and some ratchet straps I got it on the trailer and made the long run back around to camp.
I figured I was done for the weekend and even wondered how I would get it off the trailer when I got back to the shop. In the daylight I saw it was just a ball joint and not the axle C. Scott had his ball joint press and as a group we had all the tools I needed. I picked up some ball joints from the parts store in Harlan and an hour later I was back on my wheels ready to ride. Thanks to all who helped me wrench, hammer and press the new parts into the damaged axle end.
We headed up the trail 45 which has become quite a challenge in its self. It took awhile to get every one to middle fork. We then decided to take the easy way (20) to lower rock garden. Along the way one jeep took a bad line through a wash and ended up on its roof down an embankment.
We spent the rest of the day recovering the Jeep and getting it back to camp. This extraction was an amazing feat of team work and recovery skills. No one was injured and the XJ made it way back to camp on it wheels. It ran most of the way but having lost most of its vital fluids during its long time upside down it suffered some drivability issues. We got back to camp just after dark again.
We made our usual delicious steak and potato boats. After that there was wood chopping demonstrations and other “manly” games.
Once again the events of the weekend showed me the benefits of good friends and working as a team. These are the reasons I enjoy wheeling with this particular group.