Knowing what to pack is always a challenge. Here are seven things I never hit the trail without.Continue reading “7 Essential Off Road Items to Carry.”
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.
When we got to the bottom of the hill on Iron Gap Road, we were faced with a creek crossing. Dropping down into the creek was challenging due to the spring that wet the rocks about half way down and by the off camber nature of the drop.
Places to Ride in Tennessee
We read on a few internet forums about a road called Iron Gap road. We finally found it on the map and saw it was between Cowan and Winchester. There are a lot of interesting things to see in that area so we thought we would make a scouting run before loading up the Jeep on the trailer and making a full scale assault.
We got to Iron Gap by taking the road through Cowan and then taking the new 64 bypass just outside of Winchester. We then took HWY 16 due south to the top of the mountain.
Just at the top there is a fire tower visible. We turned there and hit Iron Gap road beside the Keith Springs Community Center. We saw some trailers parked there so our plan is to park ours there when we return.
The road starts out paved. But just before you get to a nice farm house, the road veers right and becomes unpaved. There is evidence of an old gate here. The trail starts out as a nice unpaved road with a few shallow mud holes. Janice drove her stock XJ while Jennifer navigated. I sat in the back.
The road followed the ridge for about three miles. Then as it started down the mountain, it stared to get a bit rockier. I got out a spotted Janice as she drove over some of the smaller rocks. As we neared the valley floor, the rocks got bigger and the hill got steeper. After walking a particularly tricky section, I decide that we should turn around. If we had had another Jeep with us or some recovery gear I might have tried it, but it looked too risky to try coming back up alone.
Janice was tired from the drive over and the bumpy ride in so I turned her Jeep around and headed back up the hill. We posed for a few pictures on the small stair case climbs. It definitely looks like a place we will have to return to with the off road Jeeps.
Back on the pavement, I had hoped to return to Cowan via the Turnpike road. We found what I think was the road, but it was marked private by a hunting club. So, we elected not to risk it and headed back to Cowan the way we came.
We stopped for a quick tour for the train Museum and to check out the old cars in the Texaco across the street. We then headed up the mountain to climb the overlook rock near Sewanee just at sunset. Since Jennifer had never seen the campus at University of the South, we made a small detour through the campus. She did not see much in the dark however; just enough to want to come back.
UPDATE: Return to Iron Gap
Dick Cepek Crusher Tires on Jenny’s XJ Jeep Cherokee
In order to get a bit more off road capabilities, Jenny decided to go up a couple of tires sizes. She ordered a set of Dick Cepek Crusher tires from Tire Rack after reading many reviews and considering factors such as shipping time and customer service. To read more about her decision making process see her blog post at: http://thejeeptalks.blogspot.com/2010/11/dick-cepek-crusher-tires.html
The Dick Cepek tires have a very interesting tread pattern in a dog bone shape. The side lugs are in the shape of a skull and cross bones. The tread has a huge void area that makes for good traction in mud and rocks and self cleans quickly. The lugs are also siped for improved wet traction on pavement.
The tires arrived quickly from Tire Rack and were delivered by my friendly UPS driver who was kind enough to off load the very heavy tires in front of the shop door.
Mounting them on the rims with my manual tire changer proved to be a challenge due to the heavy sidewall construction. It was difficult to compress the tire enough to get it to slide into the drop groove on the rim. In fact, we got only three mounted before the concrete anchors that held the machine to the floor failed. I had a local tire shop do the last one and I noticed even his fancy pneumatic tire machine had a little trouble pushing on the last part of the bead.
While I was mounting the tires, Jenny worked on opening up her fender wells to accommodate all that rubber. The stock flares were removed and the flange was folded under to make a smooth surface in case the tires did contact the body work.
In the front, the bump stops were also extended an inch and a half with spacers mounted to the bottoms of the coil spring perches. The tires looked great mounted on her black Cragar steel wheels.
On the road the tires are surprisingly quiet. The road feel is fantastic and they are very smooth running. The tires required very small weights to balance which surprised me considering the total amount of rubber on them.
On the trail, they showed their value right away. She first aired them down to 15 psi. They did a fantastic job of getting her up the very muddy class III and IV trails in Harlan, Ky. The sidewalls still looked very stiff over rocks however so on day two she dropped the pressure more to 11 psi. I was pretty sure that as stiff as the sidewalls were there was little danger of them popping off the rim.
In the infamous Lower Rock Garden the tires did a fantastic job of gripping the rocks. The skull shaped side lugs that I had thought were mostly for show gripped rocks like glue. At one point the only thing holding her to a rock was the side lug and as she drove forward the tire went up the rock instead of slipping off. And this was in wet snowy conditions.
She was very happy to make her first successful run through the Lower Rock Garden. The new tires worked great.
Also on one very muddy climb where the only trucks that had made it up ahead of her were running Swampers, she made a quick mud slinging run and made it all the way to the top in one pass. The deep bone shaped lugs dug in and cleared out just as they were needed to make it up the twisty climb. I think she embarrassed some of the guys running BFG’s in that she made it look easy to climb the hill.
As we were leaving on Sunday, she aired them back up to 30 psi for the trip home. Even at interstate speeds, the tires ran smooth and quiet. The Dick Cepek Crusher tires proved to be very tough and versatile. They handled everything she threw at them: rocks, mud gravel and pavement with equal ability. Hopefully the tread life will be as great as the traction and she can enjoy them for a long time to come.