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On The Trail!with Wayne Surbrook


Sharon and I arrived at the Main Camping Site in the Nile Valley on Wednesday afternoon about 4:00 p.m. We were amazed at the number of people and rigs that were there. We spent the early evening getting our equipment setup for the rest of the week, carefully packing what we needed to keep the weight to a minimum. We had signed up for an over-nighter on the Rim-Rock Trails.

Thursday morning found us at the staging area ready to go at around 8:45 a.m. The Lake Tapp Turtles were hosting the run and had been working hard to make sure that everything went as planned. Lee was the trail boss for the next two days and had already left with his motor home and Jeep in tow for Minnie Meadows, where we would be camping that night. Lee, Gary, Doug, and others had worked till the wee hours of the morning the night before installing a new Dana 44 with Locker in Lee's rig as good ol Murphy had visited him and left him with a trashed rear-end!

There were around 14 rigs to start with. All Jeeps and Willys except for two Samurai's. BTW, there was not a piece of junk equipment in the lot! Everyone except a stock Willy's from Yakima was locked on both ends, lifted and loaded for bear! There were three especially beautiful Flat Fenders owned by Gary, Randy, and Nick that made one drool!

Randy's RigJust North of Narrowneck Gap Inside of Nick'sBottom of Chute #2 on Grey Creek Gary's High HoodTop of a steep nasty chute

Doug's beautiful yellow 52 was a pleasure to look at!Β  By 9:10 a.m., we rolled out of the Nile Valley headed for the trail head which was about 40 miles away. We started airing down by 10:15. After introductions all around, we headed up the first section of Short and Dirty. We were advised that if we could not make the first hill, there was no use going any further, because it just got worse after that! Two rigs did not make the grade, one was a Samurai driven by Ray Marler (Dewey's cousin) that lost the front locker and the t-case got jammed in between gears. Bad luck for him, they had just driven 1000 miles to make this run! The second rig was a CJ that had severe carb problems.

After regrouping on top of the first ridge, we continued to climb as Gary took the two rigs back out and said he would hook up with us later. We climbed and climbed and climbed, over big ol rocks and very steep hills. Just before we came to the junction of Chicken Shit trail, we hit a mud hole that required every rig to winch. Neil was leading the pack and promptly lost a bead after clearing the mud. He turned his rig around and using a snatch block, started pulled each rig behind him through the mud hole. After unhooking the cable, one was forced to continue to climb the steep hill as there was no room to park at this point. This made for some good exercise getting back up to your rig once you had come down to help the others! After about the fourth rig, Neil's winch started getting really hot! I hiked to the top of the hill and got my Samurai, bringing it down to help with the winching. My 8274 having done it's job,Β  I pulled up next to Neil to help him re-seat his tire using the 125 pounds of air in my tank.

That behind us, we got on our way to Blue Lake for lunch, as it was now about 2:00 and we were starved! Steve and Scott from Yakima, decided to cook up some homemade sausages and treated everyone to some. Really good job, guys!

Gary showed up about that time in his tricked out teal blue high hood flat fender Willy's, having come up Butcherknife from Minnie Meadows to make sure that we were o.k. From Blue Lake, we headed down a trail called Butcherknife. It was very hot (90 or so) and quite dusty. Minnie Meadows was looking really good! By the time we reached the Tieton River, we were so dry and dusty, we would have paid some BIG money for cold beer! Crossing the Tieton River looked quite easy in spite of the current. I was the last in line and watched everyone go across with no trouble. Well, a Samurai with no doors sits a little closer the to the ground that a Jeep or Willy's does, even with 33's. I eased into the water thinking that I would just crawl across and be cool. WRONG! The current was very swift and with a 2500 pound rig, it started pushing me down stream. MAYDAY! So much for crawling the water! Hammer down and away we went, water flying everywhere, including into the floor boards! I had to pull the drain plugs on both sides to get about 6 inches of water out when we made shore! πŸ™‚

Evening brought cooler temperatures and a wonderful meal served in style by the Lake Tapp Turtles! Poor Les, our fearless leader had been bitten by some kind of bug and was flat on his back with a fever. BUMMER! He had broken a left front shackle on his Jeep just before we made camp. After dinner, we fired up the welder and fixed it for him, hoping that he would be able to make the trip in the morning.

Morning came quickly after a brief thunderstorm and a wonderful pyrotechnic display! Again the Turtles out-did themselves and served up a wonderful breakfast! Lee was still under the weather, so decided to pass the baton to Gary Marshall, a.k.a. R.J. (Ratchet Jaw). Ray and MaryAnn Marler choose to ride instead of chancing breaking any more stuff on their Samurai.

By 8:00, we were on the main logging road headed for the trail head just east of Conrad Meadows. The plan was to head for Narrowneck Gap close to the top of Darlin' Mountain and then turn north, following the ridges until we hit Grey Creek trail, sometimes called Blue Slide. All went well as we climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed. Long steep hill climbs were the norm for the better part of an hour, until we reached an extra tough spot that ended up on a rock out-cropping, from which you could see forever!

A typical view from the Narrowneck Gap Trail Pam Hansen from Vancover, B.C.

Gary was the first to try the chute and made it about 2/3's of the way up. He got crossed up and the front end of his high hood started coming up way too far and way too fast! His 4.3 V6 was doing the job and the tires were biting good! His manhood not being threatened, he wisely shut it down, opting for a winch cable! After pulling himself to the top, he turned around and set himself up to help others up this nasty chute. Dan from Yakima came up next in his stock Willy's. He made it about 1/3 of the way, wishing like crazy that he had at least a Lincoln Locker in the rear! πŸ™‚ Bryce came next with his Jeep working good. He made a full run with no help! Lots of cheering and back slapping and Randy gives his beautiful flat fender (stainless kit and galvanized tub, really rare) the spurs, hoping to make the hill in one pull. Bummer, just too high geared and can't get the traction. He gets winched and then it's time for me. I had looked at the hill and after watching the flat fenders getting sideways at the same spot, I decided to try the other side of the trail. Now this side has a large bulge to go over, but at least it doesn't have a hole for my little short wheel-based Sammi to get over backwards on! I put Ol Blue in the low hole (70.3:1 crawl ratio) and headed up the incline. With 6 pounds of pressure in the Super Swamper Radials, I had lots of traction and she just kept clawing and climbing. Well, when the front end started up the bulge, the left front wheel came up to as the left side was over the hole that the others were getting sideways in. In the midst of lots of screaming and yelling, I simply kept creeping up the rock, not realizing that the left wheel was about 2.5 feet off of the ground and the right was touching every once in a while! (Ignorance is such bliss!) It felt solid to me so I just kept crawling. After about ten or fifteen feet, Ol Blue got her front end back on the rocks and crawled the rest of the way to the top. Later I was told that most thought I was going over backwards! Oh well, stupid is as stupid does! Then came Nick, Grumpy and Pam all driving it all the way, grinning from ear to ear! Then came Doug and Neil, bring up the donkey. With everyone on the top, and Bryce rolling in his PTO winch, we cranked them up and continued to climb and climb and climb until we reached Narrowneck Gap.

Jeff getting some helpTraversing Narrowneck Gap Dan's WillysPiece of Cake!

Now Narrowneck Gap is mostly physiological rather than actually difficult. Well. let's say it is now! Someone took a pick axe and knocked down the really bad spot! This is a rock out-cropping in the west shadow of the top of Darlin' Mountain, with exposure of about 200 feet down on one side (the road side) until you get to some trees. With that in mind, we put three BIG people on the up-hill side of each rig just to be safe and one by one, we drove around the outside of the exposed face. No problem. By this time, stomach's are starting to growl just a little and we make a group decision to have lunch at the old Blue Slide Lookout. About an hour later, passing Blue Lake, we climb the half mile or so to the top of the world, Blue Slide Lookout. This sits at about 6700 feet and has a view of several mountains. There was some cloud cover, but not enough to block our view of Mt. Hood. Making a panoramic sweep to the north, there was Mt. St. Helens, then Gilbert, next came Mt. Rainier, leaping out at us! Then one could see the Stewart Range rising majestically out of the clouds. Looking way to the north, barely visible to the naked eye was Mt Baker. reaching for the stars! What a view! Grumpy and Pam (from Vancover, B.C.) being used to beautiful vista's like this, kept "owing" and "aweing" about how beautiful it was! This made for a wonderful backdrop to a much awaited lunch!

View from the top of the old Blue Slide Lookout

Chow over and personal needs taken care of, we head down to Blue Lake to once again turn north. In about twenty minutes or so, we hook up with Grey Creek Trail, heading west towards the canyon that hosts the Tieton River and Minnie Meadows. From where we are, one cannot even see the bottom of the canyon! Having been told several times by our fearless leaders of the trail we are about to enter, our anticipators are cranked up in HIGH gear! A short distance down, and I mean down, the trail, we come to a sign on a tree that says something about, "Hey Stupid, don't go any further. Turn around while you still can!" etc etc etc. It was signed by People tired of pulling dummies out of the hole! Well, that added to the excitement and began to stir some miss-givings about doing the trail. Is my rig really capable of doing this? What in the world an I doing this for? I am paying money to risk life and limb! I must be really sick! type of things going through everyone's mind, except the leaders, we start DOWN the Grey Creek Trail, sometimes called Blue Slide!

Jeff with broken steeringGrey Creek Trail Pam HansenGrey Creek Trail Jeff at the Yield SignGrey Creek Trail

It just keeps getting steeper and steeper, down and down and down we go. One cannot use two wheel drive to lessen the steering difficulties because two wheel's won't hold you on the hill. Gary (our fearless leader) keys up and tells us about this rock we are about to go over, indicating not to hold the brakes on as the back end wants to come off the ground to the background of Mary Ann screaming and laughing at the same time! "Oh Boy, what did I get myself into this time!" runs through our minds as all the guys try to act cool so their wives don't freak out on them! πŸ™‚ I must say that Pam is driving her Jeep herself, all alone, and doing a tremendous job of it! Soon we come to the second "chute" as it is called. I thought what we were doing was steep. NOT ! The trail becomes so steep that you feet are on the firewall to help you stay in the seat! About half way down this hill (so steep that one could never back up if you made a mistake) someone with a wonderful sense of humor has hung a Highway Dept. "Yield" sign with a broken aluminum crutch hanging off of one side! Sharon has her eyes closed, praying up a storm and I start laughing so hard I almost loose control! The crutch was too much! πŸ™‚ Right behind me comes Dan and Corrine in the stock Willy's doing just fine, although she is looking a little stressed! Jeff from Oregon comes down next in his neat CJ and what is he doing? His wheels are turned sideways! He could roll that thing! Jeff, STOP! Your wheels are turned! Straighten out your wheels! "I can't", he yells on the radio. My steering is broke! This is a real "OH SHIT" deal! This hill is so steep (over 40 degrees) that it takes a long time for anyone to climb up from the bottom. None of us are Olympic stars, you see, (read fat and out of shape!). Gary, being the genius that he is, quickly accessed the situation and after having Bryce use his winch to secure the rig from falling off the hill, used Jeff's winch to pull the steering box back into the frame. This allowed Jeff to straighten the wheels out and continue down the "CLIFF" we were on!

With everyone down this chute, and Jeff's rig "jury rigged", we headed on down the mountain. After meandering through really tight trees and over logs, we found ourselves on yet another "chute" hanging on for dear life! Down we go again to find ourselves at the top of "Fast Eddies Hill". The last steep drop before the Tieton River. This trail is soo tight that my Samurai was having trouble getting between the trees. Pam did a wonderful job getting her YJ through there without tearing anything up! Even old Grumpy had to acknowledge that! πŸ™‚

About the time we hit the bottom of "Fast Eddie's Hill", we discover that Jeff has broken down again, this time tearing the other side of the steering box away from the frame. No way to steer makes it hard to drive! Some of us were already down and Gary decided to send us back to the main Nile camp and he would wait for the rest to get down. O.K, that sounded like a plan! About the time we start airing up, we hear thunder and see lighting. Not cool! We have all "summer-ized" our rigs, meaning no doors and only a Bikini top. By the time we reached the Nile Base Camp, Sharon and I had emptied our floor boards twice! Gary and the rest got back to camp around 8:00, not even wet! They had missed the rain by coming out later. Jeff had left his rig in the woods with the winch cable around a tree to prevent anyone from taking it.

Sat morning found us very tired but ready to do it again! We were signed up for Kaner Eastbound, but because we run it sooo much, decided to do the Divide/Tripod Flats trails instead. Looking back, that was a great idea! Halfway up the Divide trail, (rated only 2.5 on a scale of 10) I broke my newly designed traction bar. BUMMER............. Guess I should have made it stronger, but heck, it's only a Samurai! The rest of the day was fairly un-eventful except for our short stay at "Funny Rocks". This is an area on the east side of Manastash Ridge that looks like it should be in Utah. You break out of heavy woods and "wah Lah" Sandstone Rocks! Big sandstone rocks! COOL! There was about 125 rigs or so parked all over the place while a few crazy's tried to climb different parts of it! Man, I wanted to try it in the worst way, but not to happen, not with a broken traction bar!

Funny Rocks in Central Washington

There was some of the most beautiful rigs there, tricked out to the max. Big ol Yota L.C.'s with monster boggers on em just walking around the big rocks like they were out for a stroll! CJ5's looking really good, doing their thing. There was this one crack that was really nasty! It was probably about 6 or 8 feet deep and very wide. It was VERY steep with a big old bulge about half way up the right side. CJ5's were just wide enough to make it if they had a driver with enough guts and skill to take them there.

Tim Lund of Wild West Off-Road was there with his soft top Samurai. He was geared the same as me with 4.63's and 33's except he had monster 14.5 x 33 boggers! He climbed the crack non-stop, just crawling the thing to everyone's amazement! His new coil sprung front end was working like crazy! It was truly amazing.

Back to camp for a wonderful supper sponsored by Warn Industries consisting of steak and potatoes!

What a wonderful experience! I can guarantee you we will be back next year! CYA on the trail!

Copied with permission fromΒ  Gad-Zuks! of Washington

08/11/10 15:38


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