Crossing the Rubicon can be serious fun

Serious fun for serious aficionados of 4-wheelers

August 26, 2013 

2R30RUBICON

Chad Pike of Redding carefully avoids a tree stump as he inches his way along the Rubicon Trail in the 61st annual Jeepers Jamboree on Friday.

RANDY PENCH — rpench@sacbee.com

Sometimes I get invited to enjoy the outdoors with other people who know more about a particular activity or place than I do.

I always enjoy this because there are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors that it is impossible for one person to be good at all of them, even if it's a full-time job.

Two weeks ago I joined local four-wheel drive enthusiasts Mark Walker and Josh Wilson on a Jeep trip over Eldorado National Forest's Rubicon Trail.

The Rubicon is the best-known, really tough four-wheel drive trail in the world. Making a successful trip requires having an off-road vehicle in good condition, traveling with other vehicles, carrying plenty of tools and spare parts and knowing how to use them.

Though we encountered a Jeep with a destroyed rear differential ring gear near the end of the trail, our only repairs were a broken track bar bolt on Mark's Jeep and tightening up the steering on Josh's after constant impact caused the tires to "toe out."

Mark and Josh have extensively rebuilt and modified their 1980s Jeeps themselves and the kind of expertise this creates is exactly what is needed on the trail. When repairs were necessary, they diagnosed and fixed the problems without difficulty.

Most drivers start the trail at Loon Lake, due west of Lake Tahoe. The route begins in a wonderland of bare granite before tackling nearly every other kind of terrain in its 18-mile route to Tahoma on the west side of Lake Tahoe.

The views along the way are impressive and it's equally exciting to see the trail's many obstacles handled by the 4WD vehicles (mostly Jeeps, but also quite a few others) and their drivers. Obstacles include huge granite boulders, slabs and rockfields, narrow and V-shaped rock gaps barely wide enough for vehicles, trees, steep inclines, and sharp turns. The most challenging include a combination of several of these elements. Some of the most challenging that require rock crawling through boulder fields (Little Sluice Box, True Big Sluice) can be bypassed on slightly less challenging routes.

An Indian trail, a pack trail, and eventually a wagon/stagecoach road, the Rubicon gradually lost popularity as a route to Lake Tahoe and wasn't maintained.

After World War II, the sell-off of surplus Jeeps gave rise to the popularity of offroading. The Rubicon was revived and quickly achieved a reputation as one of the most scenic and challenging trails in the state. Though only 18 miles, it generally takes two days to drive and many people slow it down to enjoy the scenery — especially Buck Island Lake and the Rubicon River.

Rubicon Springs is one of the most popular places to camp on the route. It's a privately owned camping area along the Rubicon River. Sites are primitive, but it's a deal for prime river access at only $15 a night. Day use is $10 per vehicle.

The trail can be very busy, especially on weekends when events like the Jeepers Jamboree bring out lots of four-wheel drivers. During our Thursday-Friday trip we saw about 40 vehicles until the end, where we ran into another 20 to 25 that were part of a group of disabled adults and children going to Rubicon Springs with Disabled Sports USA.

The popularity of the trail nearly led to its downfall. As more people use the trail, just too much human waste accumulated and too much damage was done by drivers who ventured far off the trail. Responsible trail users solved the problem by forming the Rubicon Trail Foundation to police the trail, clean up the waste, make some rules and then make sure they were followed. The foundation also provides some limited maintenance on the roadbed when necessary, and fights any efforts to close the trail. Their website (www.RubiconTrailFoundation.org) has lots of useful resources.

There's generally a friendly spirit among trail-users with assistance given to anyone who has a problem along the way. As we started our journey, another driver who had just finished driving from Tahoe to Loon Lake asked if he could join our group for the return journey. It was helpful to make our first journey on the trail with someone who had firsthand experience and it turned out being a case of "the more the merrier" at the campfire that night.

The Rubicon can be a great adventure, but not one to be undertaken lightly. It requires serious equipment and serious experience.

I never thought I'd experience it until I was invited on this trip.

For those who want to, but lack the equipment and experience, there is a Georgetown-based company that provides Jeeps and guides, while allowing you to drive the trail: www.rubiconsafaris.com/ (530) 320-4625.

Adam Blauert is a correspondent to the Sun-Star. He's an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking, and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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