Trip Reports: Fordyce Creek Trail
Aug 03-05, 2002
Trip report by Robin Down...
We meet up at Mollie's in Scotts Valley for breakfast. It's my first chance
to meet Santa Cruz 4x4 Club group leader James Anthony and his wife Lori,
sons Josh and Adam and friends Jessica and Uriel. Also meeting up with
us is Steve and Joyce and their happy doggie Shana. We proceed to eat
a big breakfast and drink way too many cups of coffee before hitting the
We fill up the gas tanks in Truckee, just a few miles from the trailhead.
I am averaging about 10 miles to the gallon in the bronco, which is pretty
good considering we are driving at about 65 all the way up the mountain
(about 7,000 foot elev.). We eat some hot dogs and take a group photo
of the 5 rigs.
We spent some time actually finding the trailhead - seems that recent
paving has changed the way it looked. We get started and make our way
toward the first river crossing. It takes about 3 hours to get to the
river, including a long steep downhill section that looks like someone
just dumped a hundred tons of broken boulders in the middle of the mountain
and called it a 'road'. It's at the first river crossing that we all get
to see how well our door seals worked (those who have doors). Adam gets
stalled in the middle (no doors), as do I in my yellow bronco. Did I mention
door seals? Well I guess I don't have any… After being pulled out, I am
nick-named "Sponge Rob" as I attempt to bail out the water in the new
aquarium that has formed under the passenger seat... maybe I should just
throw some fish in there??
We make camp just past the river crossing and start dinner. You know what
wet sheepskin seat covers smell like? They smell like WET SHEEP!!! Adam
and Uriel hope they will be dry for tomorrow's ride...
Breakfast is done, rigs are packed and we start out on the trail. Confidence
is HIGH!!! Adam and Uriel's Sheepskin covers are still WET!! The rest
of the trip should be a breeze... (yeah right!)
We reach Winch Hill #1. There are some people ahead that are having some
difficulties so we take the bypass. It is fairly difficult without lockers
and requires a little pull over the top for the bronco. Actually several
spots so far have required a 'little pull' from Steve and Joyce for the
open-diff bronco, but it has been making good progress and is keeping
up with the group so far.
Winch Hill #2 - More hills, more rocks, more 'little pulls' for the bronco.
A couple of nice spots along the river which we stop at and eat lunch.
Sure is beautiful country. A stranded new F150 and an early bronco without
front wheels are seen along the trail and make an ominous warning about
what can happen if you're stuck out here alone... (I am guessing that
this unlucky driver probably broke one of his front axle shafts or u-joints).
Winch Hill #3 - By now it's apparent that without lockers and lots of
clearance, it is nearly impossible to make this trip without being pulled
at every major obstacle. The bronco tries valiantly to make it over, but
just doesn't have the low gears and the traction it needs to do it by
itself. Also - the front end is so bouncy that it literally bucks up and
down over the rocks, which has started to cause some damage to the rocker
panels and makes the stock 2 bbl carburator flood and starve intermittently.
Spirits are still high - but without Steve's help and frequent pulls the
little bronco would end up along the side of the trail like those other
poor souls we passed...
Winch Hill #4 - I think we have spent more time on this one hill than
we did driving to Truckee. First Adam needed a tow up, then Josh and Jessica
found themselves stuck in about the same place. Steve and Joyce managed
to get through with just a little trouble, and now I am stuck literally
between a rock and a hard place. I already sacrificed my passenger rocker
panel on the last hill with a football sized dent, and nearly ripped off
the rear fender moulding. Did I mention that the rear bumper is halfway
torn off? Yes - that was fun. Who would have known that the extra 2 inches
it sticks out to the side would be a rock-catcher??
Winch Hill #5 - I am sitting on the side of the trail alone and in the
dark. I take my video camera and point it at my face and record my thoughts.
It ends up looking like the scene from the Blair Witch Project!! The rest
of the group is up around the bend and out of sight, although I can hear
bits and pieces of conversation over the CB. After I got stuck on the
last hill around 7pm, it took us about 2 hours to get me up and out of
there, only to get stalled here, about a half mile from the end of the
trail. To make matters worse, there were two more groups behind us waiting
for me to get out of the way.
I have just scoped out a camping spot in case I have to stay here all
night, though the group has promised not to leave me behind. Everyone
has been so supportive of me and the bronco on this trip, but I feel really
bad for causing so much delay.
We have finally cleared the last hill, and are proceeding to Meadow Lake
to set up camp for the night. On the approach to the last hill I broke
the lip off my front passenger wheel and lost all the air from the tire.
Thanks to James and his QuickAir compressor we reset the bead on the tire
and pumped it up. During all this, One very cross old jeeper from the
group behind us came up to me and said, "What the hell are you doing up
here with open diffs?? - Don't you know you need a locker??"
Well, yes I do - thanks very much for that KEEN observation you old so-an-so...
sheesh he made me soo mad - but he was exactly right of course which made
it even more painful.
So we make camp and eat some dinner and polish of a bottle (or two) of
wine and head for bed. I am pretty sure I broke something up front but
it's too dark and I'm too tired to care right now so I'll just wait until
tomorrow to look at it.
In the morning light I take a walk around the bronco and assess the damage.
Rear bumper is nearly gone, front bumper is bent severely, both rocker
panels are dented, front wheel lip has a 3 inch section missing, left
front tire has a huge gash in the sidewall (was a new tire), and the front
tie rod and linkage is bent all to hell. It's making a strange clicking/grinding
noise up front and I don't find out until later down the road that I have
broken the front drivers side axle u-joint and mashed up the axle and
yoke assembly. Amazingly I can still drive in a straight line at highway
speed and though it pulls a bit to the side I am pretty sure I can limp
home with it. It's pretty much a white-knuckle ride all the way, which
is good because otherwise I would probably zone out and fall asleep. The
rest of the body is pretty good, except for some scrapes and scratches
which I was prepared for and a thick coating of dirt which covers every
inch inside and out.
We are out of the woods, back at HWY 80 and filling up for the long ride
home. It has been quite a trip. The only other rig that suffered any damage
that I know of was Josh and Jessica's Ford Ranger. He managed a few scrapes
and a dent to his passenger side while trying to pass through one of the
V-shaped rock formations on one of the winch hills we went through.
Finally home!! During the way, I thought about the past few days and what
repairs I will need to make. I have also learned some valuable lessons
on this trip, and I have a much greater appreciation for the technology
that allows a rig to make it through a trip like that without any damage
or problems. Yes, I definately need lockers. And I need lower gears, more
clearance, and better throttle control if I want to attempt this or a
similar trip in the future. And it looks like I need some new bumpers
- those chrome ones look great but they did more harm than good on this
kind of trip, catching all the outcroppings of rocks along the way!!
But, overall I am happy with what I was able to accomplish, and grateful
to everyone in the group that helped me get in and out again in (basically)
one piece. I have some serious reparis to make, so I won't be going on
another ride for a while, but sure I had a great time, met some great
people and got most of it on video so someday I can show my grand kids
why you NEVER, NEVER try to run Fordyce Creek Trail WITHOUT lockers!!!