The Upper Tellico OHV area, located in the Nantahala National Forest, is home to a group of challenging 4WD trails and was our destination for a weekend of 'wheeling toward the end of July. Here, a group of about 100 Toyota owners gathered for a customer appreciation event sponsored by All-Pro Off Road, a supplier of Toyota aftermarket equipment.
All-Pro owner Jon Bundrandt made a road trip from his home in Hemet, California, to get a taste of some Southeastern 'wheeling and meet up with some of his customers. Friday was to be a day of exploring and informal runs, and Saturday was the main run day for the event.
Earlier in the week, the weather forecast had called for rain showers, but Friday turned out to be a great day, with only some occasional clouds. We gathered a group of rigs and set out from our base at Crawford's Camp in Murphy, North Carolina. Steve Crawford offers primitive and RV sites at his campground and hooked us up with some local guides to show us what Tellico had to offer.
We followed the Trail 1 access road into the park and jumped onto Trail 5 and made a shallow water crossing. The trails are rated by difficulty level, with Trail 5 being of medium difficulty. Our group climbed some rock ledges and made another water crossing at Fain Ford on Trail 4, headed upward into the trees.
Moving slowly along, we ventured to Trail 8 and to an area called Slickrock. Essentially a long solid rock slab, this obstacle stretches for perhaps a hundred yards. Depending on conditions, wheel spin may be needed to scale the uphill obstacle.
We spent the last part of the afternoon walking across the rock garden below Lower 2 and then tackling Lower 2, with its deep dirt trenches and huge boulders that nearly block the middle portion of this trail climb. We had to use winches a few times and suffered some drivetrain carnage on a few rigs in this area.
Saturday turned out to be a pleasant day, with just a short 20-minute cloud burst before we left camp in the morning. After a quick drivers meeting, several groups were formed and we headed for the trails again. Those with fully built rigs went for the harder trails and those with milder Toyotas left for some of the flatter, but scenic, trails.
We again made our way through Trail 4 to get to Trail 11, a "most difficult" rated trail. Most of our group attempted and climbed Guardrail, a particularly nasty rock ledge that stands about 20 feet high. Bounce too much on this bumpy ascent and you may just end up on your lid. We avoided that fate, but there were a couple of close calls.
Stair Case and Helicopter Pad held our attention again with more uphill challenges. One Tacoma destroyed a front axle pinion, but we soon had everyone up and were on our way back into the forest.
We decided to head back toward the access roads downhill via School Bus Hill. We soon ran into a group coming uphill and having some problems. We waited for them to clear the trail and then made our way down a deep dirt sluice cut into the mountain and down a series of tricky steps, descending for what seemed a long while until we were back to the bottom and headed out of the park.
Back at camp, some of the drivers played on the rock pile built within the campground. All-Pro provided all those who registered a BBQ dinner, and a raffle followed. Everyone seemed to have a good time and swapped stories about the day's runs.
On a side note, we're pretty much used to going wheelin' when we run trails, but in this part of the country you'll hear enthusiasts call it ridin'. It was fun to hear the variation in terms and it was a great time hanging out with new acquaintances.
This was the second of three events to be held by All-Pro this year. The first was in Phoenix, and the third is set to occur in Johnson Valley in California. For more information, take a look at: www.allprooffroad.com.