The actual Hangman obstacle starts with a 100-yard, loose climb up a 50% grade on the very edge of a mountain dropoff - do NOT look down here! Then, a left turn directly up a 75% grade makes you pucker like you've never done before... which is where you get out the cable. Being loose rock and dirt, you cannot crawl up it, and if your winch brake lets go, it's off the edge and straight down.... uhhh, safety strap?, yes please!!!! The trick here is you cannot 'drive under' your winch cable, or you WILL do a vertical wheelie.... even the LWB buggy did.
From there, the trail traverses down the side of the mountain, down to the infamous 'Squirrel Cave' dropoff. Which is nothing more than an 8' vertical drop into a small bowl... the very bane of short-wheelbase vehicles. Select hi-range, 2nd gear, ease over the edge and... NAIL IT! Even with the power of the rotary, and two extra passengers in the back, I still carried a front wheelstand a good 10 feet!
At the end of Hangman, there is an optional obstacle that is basically an "L" shaped, 6+ foot deep crevice between two rocks that you must straddle... if you can even get up on the rocks in the first place. Jason tried a dozen lines with his buggy and still couldn't get the right side (38") tire to pop up over a ledge. Knowing I'd never get my 33s over the same ledge, I ran my winch cable up to a tree on the left side, thru a snatch block and back to the cage. This allowed me to lift the entire right side of the truck off the ground and climb up on the left hand side rock. It was working perfectly, but in the excitement of clearing the ledge on the right, I spooled the winch in instead of letting it out... and dropped the Zook into the crevice on the left side HARD. It took three winches a half-hour to get the Zook out of the crevice, it was wedged in there so tight.
Noone else even bothered to attempt it after seeing my little stunt.
Owing to its reputation for munching drivetrain parts, we saved the trail known as 'Hal Johns' for the final day. Basically, this trail is a several-mile-long drainage bed between two mountains, and features rocks, rocks, and more rocks... some the size of cars, and larger. Yummy! Often there is only one line through a spot, so if a vehicle breaks, you've got to fix it before the rest of the group can proceed. It was here that the MT/Rs really showed their mettle... even only aired down to 12psi, the grip on rock is almost unreal.
Hal Johns is arranged in stages numbered 1 through 6, with a 'get-off' point between each of the them. Starting with Stage 1, the trail gets progressively worse to Stage 4, where you have to winch yourself up a 15 foot vertical ledge... eeek!
We were in a group of 10 or so trucks lined up behind the Trail Leader, Scott Wrigglesworth, in his outrageous Ranger pickup. It took almost no time for Scott and I to lose sight of the rest of the group, at about which time a t-case rubber let go. Waiting on the rest of the group to catch up gave me the few minutes needed to swap it out. By the end of Stage 1, several of the trucks were having severe problems negotiating the terrain, so a few of them got off at the entrance to Stage 2. A TJ pretzeled an already-damaged tie rod, a Toyota truck blew a birfield, two trucks lost tire beads, and a CJ snapped a rear axleshaft.... all in the 'easy' part!
Not far into the second Stage, we caught up to a group that had gone before us. They had a Jeep with a fried in-tank fuel pump that they couldn't reach because the Jeep was wedged in such a way they couldn't drop the tank. Scott came to the rescue volunteering his on-board air and a die grinder with a cutoff wheel... that's right: they had to cut the floor out of the back the get the pump out! However, halfway through hacking into the Jeep, the AC pump in Scott's truck locked up, so sensing that our group was getting a little impatient, Scott asked me to lead what was left of both groups the rest of the way while he helped effect repairs.
By the end of Stage 2, most of the rest of the group bailed out due to damage, while the Toyota snapped another birfield and was starting to take heavy body damage, he hung in there. Mazuki was tackling everything with aplomb, thanks in part to Wild Turkey's spotting job, and thanks to the fact that she was holding together in spite of the pounding. The original 20 or so trucks had now thinned down to us, the Toyota, and three really pretty Jeeps that took FOREVER to negotiate the easiest of obstacles! Eeek! Don't scratch the paint!
50 Yards into Stage 3, the Toyota breaks a front axleshaft, so we decide his day is over and winch him up out of the ravine onto the access road where a small crowd has gathered to watch. After tiring of waiting for the (now two) pretty Jeeps to negotiate a simple obstacle, their 'leader' tells us to go on ahead, that they know the way home... No problem! (He might have been miffed when I told him there way NO WAY he was going to make it thru Stage 3 without body damage, let alone Stage 4!) Tim hops in and we finish Stages 3 and 4 in less than 40 minutes by ourselves, winching only once. The rest of our group meets us up on the access road and we high-tail it back to camp for the dinner and awards. I think the Jeeps were still on the same obstacle.
After a delicious steak dinner that night, the raffle got going, and true to form, I won exactly... nothing!
But the raffle prizes were pretty awesome, and even included a Warn 9000lb winch. DTC only gives out 2 trophies: Best Engineered Jeep, and Best Engineered Non-Jeep. After seeing several really trick one-off buggies, I figured that I had no hope winning the Non-Jeep award. Imagine my surprise when I hear Awards Emcee Scott say, "...now who in the he** puts a Mazda motor in a Samurai? I don't know WHY, but it just flat works!" WOOOHOOO goes Timmy, in his best redneck fashion! I now have a trophy only slightly smaller than the Zook... good thing we brought a van.
I will say this much, the DTC trail leaders and gunners were absolute aces: Shane, Brian, Jason, George, and Scott did a great job of making sure everyone in the group got the help and the spots they needed. Everything from holding someone's camera to hooking up safety straps on Hangman was handled by guys who really enjoyed what they were doing. The balance of the event was equally well-organized, and the Black Hills 4 Wheelers put together an event you won't want to miss.
Lessons learnt at DTC:
1. When they say tech inspection, they mean it... they enforce their trail rating system and you better have all the required equipment in fully operational condition because they will check.
2. On the way home from the trail, fill up the gas tank! Otherwise you will have to stop on the way to the trailhead and cause a dozen other people to grumble while you tank up.
3. Your rig better be able to go down the road at 60mph in realtive control, as some of the trailheads are 30+ miles from the campground. (Otherwise, grumbling.... see #2)
4. We brought water and towels each day to clean up the dust from following trucks for miles on dirt roads.
5. On the 5+ trails, you better bring parts and tools you need to fix anything that could immobilize your rig, as there is no way you can be towed out of some parts of the trail.
6. Arrive the day before the event starts, as trail runs start leaving the campground at 7:30AM sharp. (Greatly increase your chances of doing by avoiding old Ford Vans.....)
7. Get supplies in Rapid City, as the nearest grocery store is 15 miles away. The camp store has all the basics covered. (Ice, pop, juice, chips, etc.)
8. Get your jetting setup for high altitude.
9. Without cloud cover, it gets friggin' cold at night, even if it's 75F during the day.
10. <Best Arnie voice> I'll be back!