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.
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.
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, www.nitb.org.