Snow Running In The Northern Sierra
As the seasons change and Old Man Winter graces the mountains with liberal doses of fluffy white stuff, our thoughts drift towards winterizing our rigs, snow runs, and making sure our heaters work. Yes, even out here in sunny California we get snow. And the Sierra Nevada gets the lion's share. When we received an invitation to attend the Winter Fun Festival (WFF), a three-day extravaganza of snow-wheeling in the northern Sierra, we didn't need much of a reason, other than the words "snow" and "'wheeling" to load up the rig and head for the high country.
The Winter Fun Festival, which is now in its 28th year, has evolved into an annual winter destination event for hundreds of northern Californians. Based in the Gold Country town of Grass Valley, the area is rich in history of the '49ers and the Gold Rush. It also boasts some of the last of the hard-rock gold mines in the country, the Sixteen to One Mine in Alleghany. Winter Fun, which started back in 1982 as a small gathering of friends and two trail rides, now offers eleven trails ranging from mild to wild. The high country routes usually present headlight deep snow, and lockers, lifts, and over-sized tires are prerequisites. Mid-range runs skirt the snow pack's fringe, and the historic and SUV trips provide narrated tours of mines, graveyards, historic saloons, and the regions colorful past. Now, while the historic tour sounds...well...historic, we were looking for snow - lots of snow!
The air at 6 a.m. had a bite to it, and steam swirled from our coffee like that of a Norwegian hot spring in the dead of winter. After a home-cooked country breakfast of bacon, eggs, and biscuits and gravy, 200 rigs rolled out of the Grass Valley fairgrounds to their various staging areas. A few weeks earlier, the Old Man obliged us with a healthy dousing of snow, and our trail, Avalanche Express, had seen little traffic. With hubs locked and tire pressure below 10 psi for maximum floatation, we rolled off the pavement near Yuba Gap, elevation 5,500 feet.
Per WFF rules, all vehicles on Avalanche Express were required to have lockers, a lift, 35-inch tires, and a sleeping bag for each passenger. We've 'wheeled in lots of snow, and bringing extra food, water, fuel to start a fire, and sleeping bags makes good sense (yes, we've had to hunker down for the night a few times). The route would take us well above the snowline to the 6,500-foot level.
The snow depth increased with the elevation and when the existing tracks we were following disappeared, progress slowed and the rigs blazing trail began to get stuck. At this point we called in Cory Kaiser to the front of the line in his ultra-clean YJ. At 6 psi, his Goodyear MTR's churned right through the powdery abyss. In the back, the other rigs had a much easier time as long as they stayed in the existing track. If you didn't have good tires or got sideways and off track, there was a good chance you would be getting the hook from a buddy. The planned lunch spot was in an open play area near the top of Yuba Gap. Spectacular! Once the trail crew rounded up the stragglers, we spent the afternoon challenging machine against the elements and soaking up a winter sun while WFF kids had a toboggan contest using a snow shovel as a sled.