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North Idaho Trail Club - Throwing Snow In Idaho

Skip Baker | Writer
Posted July 18, 2002

It's the Cure for Cabin Fever

From the Beginning
We were in northern Idaho with members and friends of the North Idaho Trail Blazers 4x4 Club, exploring some of their most noted trails. The Trail Blazers are an 8-year-old club based in Coeur d'Alene, and they're made up of about 15 member families. In addition to being active off-roaders with a full plate of club activities and trail rides, they're busy with numerous charities in the northern Idaho area, including firewood cutting, collecting food, and raising money for the local food bank. They're also renowned for their above-average off-roading ability, and they're often called upon to aid in search-and-rescue operations in remote areas.

A Word About Idaho
You're probably thinking potatoes, right? Well, there's a lot more to Idaho than spuds. The state didn't become a state until 1890, and it's still lightly populated. In many ways, it's just as wild as it was then. Northern Idaho is about 20 percent farmland, with the remainder covered in thick forest. The land is saturated with wildlife, and it's commonplace to see elk, moose, deer, and even cougars. The forest sits to the east of the Columbia Plateau (Washington) and to the west of the Bitterroot Mountains (Montana), and most of the forest in the northern half falls under the control of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF).

Cabin Fever Run
The first day of our two-day Idaho visit was set aside to tag along on the North Idaho Trail Blazers' annual Cabin Fever Run. This trail ride is open to club members and friends, and it features 'wheeling on snow-covered Forest Service roads located high in the beautiful Idaho mountains. The event is held in the dead of winter when the snow cover is at its best, and this year more than 30 vehicles made the trek to be a part of the run. We were greeted by more than 3 feet of snow, which was hardly a challenge for these experienced 'wheelers because they've mastered the art of deep snow travel. Based on what we saw, it seems to be centered around aggressive, 36-inch-or-larger tires (with a lot of width) and dual lockers. Unless the temperatures stay blisteringly cold, the mountain snow eventually hardens slightly due to the daily temperature cycles, which allows the trucks to creep on top of the snow, usually sinking 8 to 10 inches before it packs sufficiently to offer a firm base for traction. It's not unusual for these folks to routinely drive these roads on top of 5 or 6 feet of snow.

Hard-Core Heaven
Day two was a bit different because we were tagging along with select club members on a private run to one of the North Idaho Trail Blazers' most challenging trails. Our destination was code-named The Valley, and we were told it was gnarly. The trail leading in was a stunning experience in itself, filled with tremendous challenges, including deep snow, shallow creek crossings, and absolutely stunning scenery. (It was near this area that the movie Dante's Peak was filmed.) When we arrived at The Valley, we were dazzled that these folks would even attempt a challenge as brutal and technical as this. Picture, if you will, a brutal, rockcrawling-type trail, filled with hundreds of massive rocks, and cover it with more than 3 feet of snow. While we were mentally debating the chances of even one truck making it through the valley, the Trail Blazers were busy lowering their trucks into the abyss. In an amazing illustration of above-average driving and vehicle prep, they traveled the 2-mile obstacle both in and out in less than 5 hours.

Bottom Line
Our time with the North Idaho Trail Blazers showed us that they are not only a well-prepped and very experienced club, but that they are also very friendly and meticulously organized. (They really know how to cook a wonderful spaghetti, too.) For more information about the Cabin Fever Trail Run, contact: North Idaho Trail Blazers, Dept. 4WDSU, P.O. Box 2912, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83816,


View Photo Gallery
  • The snow depth varied throughout our two-day run, depending on our altitude. Sometimes we'd start a trail in only a foot of snow and rapidly climb into 3 or more feet of the white powder.

  • We're still trying to figure out how Chris Hibbs rolled his Jeep on a totally flat road.

  • Just getting to Sunday's Valley run proved to be an adventure. Going in, we had to descend snow-covered rocks that offered little, if any, traction.

  • Bill Madonna, president of the North Idaho Trail Blazers, had an interesting weekend. His '87 Samurai blew its new motor on the way to the trailhead on Saturday. So he pulled a fast NASCAR-style engine swap and managed to get another engine in the truck in time for Sunday's Valley run.

  • When Frank Roberto isn't selling Snap-On tools, he's often on the trail in his '84 CJ-7 (See page 48 for full details).

  • A warm spell had thawed the high mountain creeks that stood between us and the Valley run, leaving us to make several water crossings.

  • Randy and Jana Tipton attended the Cabin Fever Run in their heavily modified '86 CJ-7, and they attacked every obstacle with fervor. The Jeep features a TBI 350; an SM465 tranny; an NP205 T-case; a front Dana 44 with Warn axles and a Lock-right locker; a rear Dana 60 with Currie 35-spline axles and a Detroit Locker; 4.56 gears; a spring-over-axle conversion; and snow-spanking 38.5x14.50-inch Swampers.

  • Jon Yarbrough is actually riding on top of 3 feet of snow in this photo. The 35x12.50-inch Wild Country tires offered enough flotation to keep the '76 CJ-5 from sinking to the frame. For Sunday's Valley run, he swapped on a set of 35-inch Boggers for enhanced traction on the rocks.

  • The North Idaho Trail Blazers is a family-oriented club, and the Cabin Fever Run drew a number of families to the Idaho wilderness for the one-day event.

  • The Cabin Fever Trail Run drew more than 30 vehicles and scores of participants. Here they took time for a group photo after our high-country lunch break.