Sierra Nevada, Death Valley, RUBICON! - Oct 2008

The_Roadie

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Probably the most epic trip I'll ever do, because I won't have the guts to repeat it and there's really no need. I don't think IFS GMT360s are capable of doing the entire iconic Rubicon without a LOT of spotting and bridging ladder help. But my obsession for years was to do the eastern third of it, after labor day (so there would be fewer gawkers to see us if we broke), in and out the same day. Had to do it late in the season, after some snowfall and when the Lake Tahoe area was already below freezing at night. (Mid october).

Here's the report from 2008:

and my tablet's keyboard died, so I'm tapping this out by stylus. So not many words tonight but I'll get you a few pics. Not a lot of daylight for wheeling, and some snow came above 9000 feet, and the coldest night in tents was about 24 degrees. Almost lost the Envoy down a 4000 foot dropoff when an unstable sandy shelf road started to collapse and we had to winch and strap it sideways until the anchor boulder started to move! Three hours later, with Teebes doing almost all the heavy work at 11,000 feet, I was safe. I owe him big time. Thanks, buddy!!

But the big news today is Trailvoys have been REPRESENTED ON THE RUBICON!!!

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We got home last night around 10. Meant to drive home in the daylight on Saturday, but at the end of the last trail we wanted to do on Friday, we both thought of the work involved in setting up camp YET AGAIN and breaking it down in the morning, and we figured it was easier to just take 5 hours and drive straight home.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we did NOT do the entire Rubicon. Without a solid axle swap and 4.56 gears and 34-35" tires, that would not be a rational or sane goal for a trailvoy. We went in "backwards" from the traditional way of running it, from the Lake Tahoe side, and did the eastern third of the trail, about 8 miles worth, past Observation Point to partway down Cadillac Hill, for anybody who really knows the Rubicon. Even this section, considered by the hard core rock crawlers to be the "easy" part, tested us to the equipment limits, and both of us got stuck on one obstacle and had to use recovery equipment. More details later.

Hundreds of pics and hours of video to go through. Here's a few more to keep the hounds at bay for a while:

Climbing Silver Canyon from 4000-10,400 feet.

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Emergency brakes - do your stuff. :eek:

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4X4 indeed. :thumbsup:

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25 miles from pavement.

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Rock formations in Papoose Flat.

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75+ mile visibility. Looking down on Owens Valley 5000 feet below us.
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The_Roadie

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Some of Greg's pics:

Some more pics... These are a series from the Laurel Lake trail, tucked away near the ski town Mammoth Lakes:

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I took very few pics of the campsites because that was the most boring part of the trip, but here's one.

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This was after our first night in Death Valley as the cold front came through, and the wind was 30 MPH gusting to 45. Teebes tent is a lower, more of a backpacking style, while this was my smaller car camping style 3-season tent. After almost losing it like a tumbleweed, I lashed it in three places to the car, and had to remove the rain fly that was catching a lot of the wind. It got down to 44 that night, but with the ridiculous wind, we couldn't have a campfire. And the constant wind made the wind chill just awful.

I've got a 20 degree rated non-down bag that is really good to 30, and I use a summer-weight bag as a comforter over the top of that. I don't sleep on my back, so the mummy style bags are out. You have to sleep in a knit hat or a hoodie sweatshirt to keep your head and neck warm (below 30 degrees I use both) plus medium weight knit gloves to keep the fingers warm. Long underwear or pants are a given.

Other tricks - pitch the tent nearer the campfire, upwind if you know there will be some breeze, and keep it going all night if you can - even a low bed of coals can throw heat at the tent. Throw a silverized tarp over the entire tent to reflect some heat back in and cut down the normal ventilation. There are safe catalytic heaters you can use now to take the chill off in the morning so you can stand to get out of the bag and get dressed. As you get older, getting up in the middle of the night to take a leak is very unappealing :cry: :hissy: :worried: at 30 degrees but thank goodness for the new prescriptions like Flomax. :thumbsup: :hail: :wooot:

What do I pack? Way too much, as usual. That will be part of the stories as we post the daily reports.
 

The_Roadie

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Ready to go - oh, how clean the trailvoys are today.

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Leave home, drive through San Bernardino to 395 to Olancha, then route 190 to 136 to Keeler, around the edge of the dry Owens Lake bed.

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Click here for more detail:http://www.roadie.org/salinevalley2.jpg

We intended to go northwest by the Swansee route and go back towards route 395 for the night, but a cold front was in the process of passing, the high elevations had snow showers and high wind and cold forecast.

Just driving along.

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Not bad weather to the east.

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Snow showers over the Sierra Nevada to the west

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Uphill on the Cerro Gordo Mine road, Owens dry lake in the valley behind.

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The hill to climb.

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Mine equipment remains

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Joshua trees

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Remains of previous snow flurries

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But from a web site report of 3-4 days ago, leaving Cerro Gordo by way of the south pass to Death Valley’s Saline Valley Road wasn’t an option because it had been blocked by a falling boulder. Saline Valley was only open from the north, a hundred mile detour. Just then at the fork in the trail at Cerro Gordo, we met a Cherokee driver with an orange prison jumpsuit outfit. He had been thwarted on the Swansee side the night before by very high winds and blowing snow and a scared girlfriend. He was trying to get back to the Hot Springs area of Saline Road, to camp for the weekend and do the typical clothing-optional hot tubbing. From Hot Springs a day before, he had seen headlights coming down the south grade, so he assumed the boulder had been bypassed. So I changed our plans, went southeast toward Hunter mountain and the south pass into Saline Valley. Some sharp rock gave me a clean tread puncture near Lee Flat. Two quick plugs (always keep your tire plug kit where you can get at it quickly!) slowed it down to a 1 PSI per hour leak that I could get a proper patch on the next day at a tire store in Bishop.

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Down into Saline Valley

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The boulder blockage wasn’t on the Grapevine Canyon pass at all, but on the flat part of Saline Valley road, where the trail is pinched between the Inyo mountains and a salt march at the edge of a salt lake. There was room for narrow vehicles to get by, so the boulder blockage was not a problem.
My hope was that the early and unseasonably cold front was going to be warmer in Saline Valley than in the Owens Valley, where route 395 is. It was, but barely. We arrived at the Hot Springs area right at dusk with 20-30 MPH winds that made putting up the tents difficult. As a matter of fact, after Teebes went into his low-down and wind-shedding tent, my higher-sided dome started blowing away, pulling 6 out of 8 pegs out of the sand. I had neglected to carry the longer sand stakes from home. So I’m outside the tent as it tries to play tumbleweed and blow away, holding onto poles in 30- gusting to 40-45 MPH winds, unable to get Teebes’ attention over the wind. After ten minutes, it subsides enough for me to go to the car and grab some straps, and I lash the tent to the car in three places. I also have to remove the rain fly since it’s a major wind-catcher that applies unwanted upwards force. You can guess I haven’t tented much in high wind, since I’d normally just find a sheltered canyon to stay in if this was a normal Borrego trip.
So we bed down, figuring there is not much in the way of hot tub naked hippie cavorting going on at 45 degrees in such wind. The high wind continues all night, meaning no campfires, and no silence. The Owens Valley where we could have stayed gets down to about 35, so Saline Valley was the slightly better choice.
It’s much less windy in the morning, and the sun’s arrival about 8:30 warms it up to 50 or so quickly.

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The_Roadie

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Day 2 was just an easy driving day, up Steele Pass from the Saline Valley Hot Springs area. Some small areas of rocky driving, until the end, where there are three decent stairsteps to negotiate. Teebes has some great video of this section. Due to a map-reading error, I missed stopping at one of the oddest items in this section of Death Valley - the "Blue Marble Bath". Old maps mentioned a "marble bath", but there never was any geological feature nearby that people could identify as such. So some creative person dragged a claw-footed cast iron bathtub up there, installed it a few hundred feet off the trail, and it was filled with thousands of blue marbles to simulate bath water. I didn't stop to see it, so now I gotta go back with Mrs. Roadie (if I can convince her it's worth the trip) to see it. Sigh...

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We ended up back in Big Pine at a county campground where we could have a campfire, but it remained blustery and cold and we were generally miserable.

A new effect we discovered (not mentioned in any camping guidebooks) is that vault toilets, in the presence of high winds in certain directions, suffer what I call "reversed airflow phenomenon" or R.A.P. When you lift the seat to use the facility, the structure acts as a air nozzle aimed UPWARDS at your sensitive parts. :eek: When the airflow is at 30 degrees or so, the pucker factor :hissy: is so intense that you often forget why you wanted to use the facility in the first place. :bonk: You certainly lose all ability to expedite the process. :o

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Eureka Dunes - 700 feet high!

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One reason we sometimes don't drive close in trail to each other.

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The_Roadie

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For a couple of reasons, some portions of this year's trails are repeats from last year's expedition to the same area. They're all new to Teebes, and I had to skip some interesting side trails last time. But Wheeler Ridge is an interesting and instructive story.

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For more detail, click here: http://www.roadie.org/wheelerridge2.jpg

My normal expedition partner PK was a college housemate and close friend coming up on 40 years now. He couldn't come this year, and it was an amazing coincidence that Teebes with a similar vehicle, could arrange vacation on short notice. But you can do more risky things with two vehicles, which is always why they say to wheel in a group. With just my vehicle, and PK riding shotgun, he was my voice of reason in case I was tempted to do a dumb thing. He knows the vehicle well, having helped me wrench on some of the suspension mods, and living out of it for two trips, and reminds me when I might be about to break something and have to hike out 20 miles.

Last year, on Wheeler Ridge, he used that veto power to stop just before what turned out to be a gorgeous overlook over Owens Valley. I had to admit he was right, with only one vehicle.

So this year with two of us in two vehicles, I thought we could safely go farther, and to a point I was right. The overlook was easily reachable, but did I stop there? Nooooooo. I went on ahead on a narrow shelf trail without checking it out on foot first. This one had FAR less traffic, and indeed, the two trail guides that even mention the Wheeler Ridge area both say - DON'T GO BEYOND THE OVERLOOK unless you're in an ATV or hiking. I had read and forgotten those paragraphs from last year, but I re-read them right after we got off the mountain that night.

The beginning of the Wheeler Ridge climb involves a brushy trail around the ridge counterclockwise, some rocky sections, but nothing extreme. Then there's a hill climb with multiple switchbacks and ledges, and with the previous weekend's snow showers, there was even 2-6" of snow on the shaded parts of the trail. Last year with Goodyear Wrangler Silent Armor AT tires, I got up with a lot of wheel spinning and auto locker engagement. This year with aired-down MTs, even on snow, Teebes and I had ZERO problems with no wheel spin, and only a few frame or rock slider bangs on the way up. On the way down, there were a lot more scrapes, but that's the nature of going DOWN hills and compressing the front suspension. Besides, we were exhausted and relieved on the way down, so we just didn't care to avoid every possible frame scrape.

So we get up the hard part, top off at 10,900 feet at a dry lake that's filled with snow melt every spring time, go around the lake to the overlook, then continue onto the sandy shelf. If I had walked the shelf first, the sponginess would have been obvious. What suckered me was that all the shelf roads we normally travel, in the forests or the rocks inthe desert or the Elliot Mine area, are all hard-baked, well-travelled, and very stable. This one was none of the above. When in the middle of the trail - no problem. But a boulder stuck out close to the upper edge, and I didn't kiss it as closely as I should have. I went about a foot away, and started to bog down. Instead of going a foot forward, I went 6" downhill as the sand started to give way on the downhill side. I stopped. Watching the tire, I tried another 6" forward, and went 3" downhill. OK. Stop. Breathe hard. Think. Teebes is 20 feet behind. Keep him there. No closer for a while. Can't go forward. Can't go back. What to do first? Get ready to jump/crawl/slither out the uphill passenger window if it starts to slide on its own. Teebes comes with one of his straps to wrap around the boulder. I look at the strap as a lifeline in case I need to jump out. I take the SPOT emergency beacon from its suction cup dash holder and put it in my pocket in case we have to call for help. Cell doesn't work here, even though there's good line of sight to the town of Bishop. Consider my poor judgement to get into this mess. Etc., etc.

Teebes stabilizes my rear end to his front, now we're convinced we're not going to have a two-car avalanche. I still can't move uphill even at a shallow angle under my own power, so the winch is the only tool that can help. So we arrange the winch to a strap wrapped around the boulder, and start winching sideways. This works well, and doesn't scrape my tire beads off the rims, for about 12-14". Then Teebes notices the BOULDER is shifting! What kind of 6' boulder can't be trusted to stay still?!?!?!?!

OK, so now if we winch against the boulder it might start to slide, taking the Envoy's front with it! Shoot. So next up is plan 2, using the PullPal. I had also worried enough about being stuck in mud or high centered on trails with no trees that I bought a PullPal winch anchor. It folds up, but it's basically works like a plow that dives into dirt, sand or mud to whatever level it needs to dig in and provide traction. In case you don't have a suitable winch point within range of your winch line plus any extension straps or cables you might have.

So Teebes takes the PullPal out 50-70 feet to the uphill side of the trail ahead, so I can get a shallow angle pull. But the trail is such crappy sandy spongy looselessness that over an HOUR of placing the PullPal and winching it fail to get it to a point of traction. Oh, and this is all at almost 11,000 feet, below 30 degrees, and did I mention the sun sets on this side of the mountain in about 45 minutes? As I mentioned before, Teebes is doing all the heavy lifting (being about half my age) and I can't thank him enough.

Changing tactics, he finds a better uphill location, and the winch finally bites in and I move forward! I'm still tied diagonally to his truck in the back for safety and to get a bit of uphill slide when I go forward. So every foot forward winching means he has to move his TB forward to match. But that works, and I finally get past the intruding rock to relative safety beyond.

Sneaking around the rock in reverse is yet another challenge, but I kiss it as closely as possible and Teebes spots me around it. Then we have to back off the now-shaded shelf to the safe overlook - a couple hundred yards of knowing you're on a spongy sandy shelf that could avalanche at any time from our weight. We get to the overlook. shiver with the cold, take a few dozen more pictures, get back into the sun at the dry lake, bang down the rocky ledges as the sun sets for real, and 90 minutes later we're back on pavement.

And we agree to drop a dime and spend the night in a hotel, get cleaned up and go have some BBQ and beer, and consider our good fortune as a reward for clean living.

Pics:

In the tire store, getting a proper internal patch put on the plugged puncture. This is the fine dust from some low points that collect silt after a rain.

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And this is the dust trail that ran out from the wheel as they rolled the tire to the back shop.

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View of the meatloaf pan-shaped Wheeler Ridge from the tire store

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From the road.

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From the top of Rock Creek Canyon.

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Alpine scenes

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Last day of deer season

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In the hard climb.

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Topo near the top

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10,933 feet.

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Dry lake on top

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White Mountains across the Owens Valley

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The overlook

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Escarpment caused by ancient earthquake.

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Pics continue....

- - - Updated - - -

Wheeler Ridge Extraction:

The unstable shelf

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The boulder

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Too far downhill to move either way

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Stabilized at the rear

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Starting to winch at the front

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Stopped because the boulder was moving

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Teebes setting the Pull Pal

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Closer look at the anchor

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Getting dark and colder, but front wheels are to safety now!

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Rear safe now, too

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Kissing the boulder on the way past

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Using the winch to extract the strap from a crack, and stuff removed from my vehicle that I should have learned to pack lighter

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In the approaching darkness

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Smacked the license on a log that needed to be pushed from the trail. Saved the bumper's powdercoating.

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Past the dry lake bed one last time.

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The_Roadie

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Next day - RUBICON! Here's some more from Greg:

Have been super lazy with the vids, sorry folks. But now that family has left, I can get down to business :smile: Until then, here are some more pics, this time, of the Rubicon:


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Entering the trail:
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That's fresh contact on that there those rocks :dielaugh:
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One of the lakes, on the way out:
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Happy faces all around. We just ran parts of the Rubicon! Worth by any means!
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Airing down for the return voyage - up hill!
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Pose:
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- - - Updated - - -

More from Greg:

Rubicon pics, continued:


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Preparing for the trail. No, the Exterra (my sister met up with us to take some pics/vid) didn't proceed on the trail and stayed parked.
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To note, we passed through many dry area's where water would typically be 1-2ft deep. I can't imagine how much 'fun' it would be while under water:undecided.
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Couple last pics from the Rubicon. Hopefully the vids will be ready soon - they have all the 'fun' sections documented :thumbsup::

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The_Roadie

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After the Wheeler Ridge "challenge", and I'm still indebted to Teebes for doing the heavy lifting at 11,000 ft. (have I mentioned that enough yet?), we just couldn't deal with setting up a cold camp. So we found a hound-friendly motel, cleaned up and let Bill's BBQ in Bishop feed us. Whew.

Next day was for scenic trails, not technical. One of the most scenic destinations out there, mentioned in almost every guide book, is Laurel Lake just south of the Mammoth Lakes resort. Doable with most high clearance stock SUVs with care, there's only one switchback at the end that required a 3 point turn.

Gorgeous alpine lake - used to be remote enough and the access could be controlled that it was a state fish hatchery. Now they have a separate one closer to civilization, so Laurel Lake is now open to the public. Great traction on sharp flakes of what looks like shale, with enough snow in the shadows to keep us on our toes.

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Mammoth Lakes / Yosemite airport in the background

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Stopped for lunch at a perfect streamside camping area

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My Engel fridge coughs up sandwiches and sodas - Teebes drags out a collection of cheese, crackers, and snacks.

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Hope they're repaired the trail after that avalanche up ahead looks like it was taken out. Yep.

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The "easy" forest road trail to Inyo Craters

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Buncha mud on this one.

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A volcanic crater that was one reason for this trail. Glad they weren't charging admission to this, since it really wasn't that amazing a sight, after what we'd already seen.

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A very odd transitory phenomenon. I was driving along, and saw two trails of snow, each one headed by a large pinecone. The sun would only hit this road near sunset, and it was perfectly lined up with the road when that happened. It was a few days after the snowfall, but these pinecones cast shadows that had been keeping these trails of snow in existence, while the rest of the trail had been driven over or melted by the sun. Funny the things you notice while driving along at 10-15 MPH.

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They take their snow fences seriously here.
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The_Roadie

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If you've been a member here back to when I first got obsessed with offroading the Envoy, I've mentioned the Rubicon Trail quite a few times. One inspiration for my build-up was the project Trail Lexus (GX 470, in the Toyota Land Cruiser line) built by 4 Wheeler Magazine, and successfully taken through the 22 mile trail.

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But they had some expert spotters and local guides. I've never seen the entire length of the trail, but from extensive research, I concluded that 32-33" tires would be sufficient only if I also had more armor on the underbody - gas tank, transfer case, shock mounts.

So I had reset my expectations to go there, engaging a local guide I've already corresponded with, in 2009, after some more mods including armor and a custom rear bumper to improve the departure angle. But when Teebes said he could get free from work to join me this year, I tried to find a way we could run a PART of the trail. The eastern 1/3, coming in from the Lake Tahoe side to Observation Point ending at Cadillac Hill, were reportedly runnable in a stock H3. As it was, parts of it were rutted out by recent water to the point it tested us exactly to our limits, where we each got stuck more than once, with one episode each requiring us to break out recovery equipment. (Or accept a strap assist.)

To avoid being mocked by the hard-core folks who do the trail in full-blown rock crawlers, especially since coming in from the east is going "backwards" to the traditional direction, I always figured it would be better to run it mid-week, after Labor Day, but before the winter storms came in hard. 10/15 was perfect! A Wednesday, after some snow, but with a few days for it to melt. We saw two built Jeeps only, and even if one of us broke down I didn't figure we'd embarass the trailvoy model line too much.

It's a long drive from Laurel Lake to the Tahoe area, where we met up with Teebes' sister who was going to ride shotgun and be the camera person. So we only really had five hours on the trail. We might have gone farther down Cadillac Hill to Rubicon Springs if we had a full day, but maybe next year. Just driving on this historic and iconic trail 1/3 of the way was enough to (mostly) satisfy my obsession and check this item off my "bucket list."

Teebes mostly has better pics, but we both have videos to work on, especially of the recoveries. He got off the rock that snagged him with his HiLift and some rock stacking. I got snagged on the exact same rock even after seeing him get caught, so I had to use my winch to get off it, just to try a different tactic. We could have used my bridging ladders to climb the rock and avoid getting caught, but where would be the fun in that?

The first half of this 8 mile section wasn't so bad, except for some mud holes that had been deeper the previous weekend. The second section started with a downhill rocky run that, as always for downhill beginnings, makes you take stock and see if we could be confident about getting back UP it later. Some of these sections had difficult lines to choose, but for the most part we were able to drive them without getting out to spot. So how hard could they really have been?

We got to Observation Point, a section of granite slabs where the trail isn't so obviously marked, and parked partway down Cadillac Hill. Late in the day wasn't the time to begin that obstacle, so I just hiked down to check it out for next year. Turned around, took plenty of pics, and got back to pretty Miller Lake in time for some setting sun pics.

After another quick decision about setting up tents when we know it's going to be freezing, we took advantage of the off-season cheap motels and got a couple of rooms and had some Chinese food. The Rubicon had been touched by Trailvoys! Except for the pin out of one of my shackles, that vibrated out and was lost - we left no parts or fluids behind, and no carnage! Tread lightly!!

Videos later.

Yes, I know there's no "Rubicon" edition Envoy - it's a goal, achieved. Not a mere wannabe sticker. :nono:

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My daughter had given me this sweatshirt for last Christmas, so I just had to drag it out for the occasion.

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The rock that snagged us both.

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Typical differential-threatening rock.

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The_Roadie

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SIlver Canyon is a steep 15 mile climb from Bishop to White Mountain, home of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Oldest living things on the earth. Smaller and lving in a much harsher environment than the Sequoias or Redwoods, bristlecone pines have a much smaller habitat as well.

The visitor's center was destroyed by a fire in early September, but I saw it then.

What drew me back here with Teebes was that 80% of the way to the top, there was a fork to the north that looked like a more difficult path. Not what I was willing to do last year solo, but perfect for a two-vehicle group.

It was indeed difficult. Steeper because of fewer switchbacks. Duster and looser due to much less traffic to compress the trail. From 9000-11000 feet the engine is developing much less power, so it ended up being a full throttle climb for much of the distance, even if we were only developing 3-4 MPH.

Video compilation:
[video=youtube;9omXplzIkL4]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9omXplzIkL4[/video]

Starting in South Lake Tahoe after the Rubicon run. Being clear, it certainly WAS cold, but we were in an off-season Best Western.

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Pretty obvious where the canyon is, and the exposed shelf it's built partially on near the top

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Parts of it are certainly steep. I'm kidding - that's just a rockslide, not the trail. The trail looks like that, but with better defined tire tracks.

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Looking back towards Bishop. Wheeler Ridge from 3 days before is in the background.

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If you remember my 2007 trip, I took a picture of me solo in this exact spot.

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Not much traffic takes the fork to the left.

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4X4 indeed.

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15 miles through Silver Canyon to Bishop. About 60 on pavement.

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