XJ List Spring Fling 2009

May 2009 Trip to Harlan, Ky

The semi annual meeting of the Yahoo Groups XJlist was held once again in Harlan, Ky.

We began the trail runs Thursday afternoon by doing some exploring. Even though the group has been to the park many times before, there are still places we have not been. We began by looking for some places that we had seen on YouTube. First we went in search of Pinball and Railbed. Our maps were somewhat hard to interpret and these trails were not marked but we soon figured out which ones were which.

Still being a bit cautious after Adam’s tumble at the end of the last trip, the group decided to avoid the steeper climbs and try Railbed. Railbed begins with a vertical water fall and then proceeds up the hill in a boulder filled gully. No mud, just a lot of rocks. Neal tried the waterfall in his XJ with lockers and 35 inch swampers. There just was not enough room to get his XJ into the correct position to climb the steep slick face of the waterfall.

We all took the bypass and headed up the rocky trail. The loose large rocks made lockers a must for the climb. We each tried different lines and eventually we all made it up the trail. This was one of the most fun climbs of the trip. We noticed the big piece of rail road track buried in the dirt beside the trail. This is where the trail gets its name.

We moved up to the nearby lower rock garden where we have played many times before. While I was waiting and watching I was surprised when a fellow in a Chevy Avalanche showed up. After talking with him for a few minutes, I discovered he was in charge of parks and recreation for Harlan County and is basically the guy in charge of the park.

We discussed the future plans for the park and I learned his goal is to make Harlan County the premier off road destination on the east coast. The new permit money goes directly to the park maintenance and improvement fund. The permitting system was instrumental in getting the land owner to agree to the long term lease needed to get grant money to further improve the park. Turns out he is a avid off roader himself and has personally carved out many of the trails on the mountain. I feel good about having him in charge.

We did some more exploring and learned how some of the trails interconnect. Not a bad warm up for day one.

On the way back down the mountain to camp, I noticed my voltmeter suddenly drop. Back at camp, I tested to find that sure enough my new alternator had quit charging. Ironically, I bought it right there in Harlan last fall. I quickly pulled it off the Jeep while my burger was cooking on the grill.

After a quick snack, I borrowed Jenny’s Jeep and drove into town for a completely no hassle swap at Advance Auto. It was sprinkling rain when I got back so Jenny draped a tarp over my Jeep so I could keep working. Just as I was trying to align the bolts, I heard a loud noise and felt something stinging my legs. I realized it was not just raining but hailing. I quickly dove into my Suburban and waited out the storm.

When the rains finally slacked off, I hurried to finish the job before dark. Long summer days are nice. I got it all back together and tested before settling in by the fire to catch up with my friends who I only see twice a year.

Friday morning, we awoke to find very slick and wet conditions. Harlan gets very slick form these sudden thunderstorms. Even the road up the mountain, Trail 45, becomes a serious obstacle when it is wet like this. We took time to remind each other of the danger and agreed to have fun anyway but to watch out for each other on the trail and pay close attention to our radios.

Our fist challenge was trail 15. This is fondly know to our group as the Slip and Slide after we had to come down it late one evening after getting caught in a sudden thunder storm. We headed up the slip and slide hill.

The second climb of trial is punctuated by a small two rock step. It really does not look that intimidating. However, because of the steepness of the climb the near ninety degree turn just before it, it is difficult to arrive that the first rock with enough momentum to get over it. The rocks are also deceptively simple looking.

Neal, after having quite an interesting time there last trip, decided to winch up. Evan and Kevin made the climb using lots of throttle and even with out the benefit of lockers made the climb easily. There was plenty of drama associated with the speed but his Bilstein shocks served him well as he hopped over the last two rocks. I thought I had plenty of momentum to make it over the crest but to my complete surprise, I simply bounced off the first rock and stopped between them. Even flipping the switch to the front locker was not help and I found myself in a very scary slide backwards just as Neal had done last year.

I quickly regained control and backup for another run. Again I bounced on the first rock and slid backwards. Knowing a unlocked Jeep had just made it up just aggravated me more. I backed up again and using all the traction my Maxxis Buckshots could find and the torque of my Titan Stroker, I blasted up the hill with plenty of speed to carry me over both rocks. I was glad the stock lower control arms were up to the task of continuing to locate my front axle.

We did a bit more exploring of the park and made another trip up Railbed just for fun. We had planned to get in Mason Jar before dark but when we arrived there was a large group of Toyota Truggies there. We really expected them to make short work of the gate keeper at Mason Jar with their large bead locked tires and flexible suspensions.

However after nearly an hour of watching and waiting, they had only one truck past the gate keeper and it was stuck at the second rock. We decided to call it day and try Mason Jar the next morning.

The story of Mason Jar will continue in the next post.

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