When I think about the Jeepers Jamboree marking its 59th birthday this July, it is hard to believe…almost mind-boggling. After all, how many businesses, let alone four-wheel-drive events, can stand the test of time of almost six decades? What is even more amazing is that some of the old-time Jeepers, who still drive the trail and can be seen each year hanging around main camp, were spry flat-fender-driving, 20something whippersnappers at the inaugural event! Heck, my mother was just a toddler at the time.
There are good reasons for this long-enjoyed success: striking scenery, great people, good food, and of course, the pleasure of traversing one of the world’s most infamous OHV routes, the Rubicon Trail.
The Jeepers’ crew has had more than a half-century to perfect their operation. Nothing is overlooked, no Jeeper left behind. We also find the Jamboree is a great way to cut your teeth on the Rubicon with the comfort of knowing someone will be nearby to help spot you through a tough section, toss a rock when needed, lend a strap when they are in a pickle, or even assist in spinning a wrench if they break down. For many newbies we meet, Jamboree is a crash course on the where, how, and when about the Rubicon, as well as the “what to bring” — which isn’t much. Other that making sure your rig is in proper shape, you’ve packed weather-suitable clothes, a cooler of your favorite beverages, and a few bucks to lay down at Amos’ Bar or the Ice Cream Parlor, a good attitude is all you need.
Twelve Hours on the Rubicon
The whoomp, whoomp, whoomp of a helicopter, echoing through thick stands of pine trees, greeted us as we picked up a couple of yummy breakfast burritos at the kiosk near Loon Lake. By the time we were handed our fried chicken lunches, the chopper had carved a low arc above our heads and set down on the LZ. My riding buddy Rich Currie looked over to me and commented, “I’ll bet the view is awesome from 30 feet above the treetops at 60 mph.”
The chopper whizzed passed the Gatekeeper — a boulder-ridden section that earned its namesake due to its difficulty and proximity to the trailhead — on its way to Rubicon Springs, this time tethered by a long cable and sling of gear. Though it would be there in about five minutes, we were creeping along at 3 mph and would not see the Springs until dusk.
Before us lay the Granite Bowl, a mixing-bowl-smooth depression left behind by millennia of shifting ice from the last ice age. Beyond the Bowl, a thin line of vehicles traversed the reaches of the other side. Rich took the wheel of my old Toyota Hilux and I headed out on foot with my camera to record the morning.
Arriving at Ellis Creek we were greeted by two members of the Rubicon Trail Foundation (RTF). If you are not familiar with the foundation, it is a 501c(3) non-profit organization created solely for the preservation of multi-purpose access to the Rubicon. It works with Friends of the Rubicon on projects and shares thousands of members. It also raises funds to allow for a full-time staff to hand out educational information and sanitation/hygiene goodies (wag bags). We picked up our swag, filled out an RTF survey, and headed for Walker Hill. If you’ve got an area in your neck of the woods that is in jeopardy, or you want to be proactive on keeping it open, the RTF program is a great model to look at.
We were told there were a hundred-plus rigs on the trail with us, but traffic was light for most of the trip into Buck Island Reservoir. The descent down the granite slabs before Buck is right out of the picture books…or magazines. Pines and fir trees pepper the granite, the blue waters of Buck Island and Rockbound Lake lay in the distance, and beyond, late snow packs dot the 12,000-foot peaks of Desolation Wilderness. Stripping down to my shorts and jumping off the spillway is a tradition for me. During mid-summer, though at 6,000 feet elevation, the water is perfect.
The logjam usually happens on the downhill section past the Big Sluice. Not sure why…it’s gravity feed all the way to the bridge that crosses the Rubicon River. Throughout the day, Jamboree Rock Rollers, famous for their green jumpsuits and intimate knowledge of the trail, had provided direction, tossed rocks, and even righted a rig that rolled over (twice). We pulled into Jamboree HQ at Rubicon Springs just before dusk and headed over to Amos’ Place to rehydrate.
When the Dust Settled
With the river 20 feet from our tent, a canoe for paddling, a million acres of national forest to hike in, and all the Jamboree camp activities nearby, just hanging out sounded pretty cool. I talked my way into a quick ride in the Jamboree chopper for, uh, journalistic purposes, of course. If you make it to the Jamboree and have never seen the area from the air, I highly advise reserving a few extra bucks for the flight. It is not long, but the memory will last a lifetime.
As the weekend drew to a close, we decided, rather than heading up Cadillac Hill with the masses, to turn around and do the trail backwards. There is no support, and the Big Sluice is kind of a bugger, but running in the opposite direction is like an entirely different trail.
Next year is the 60th annual Jamboree and will probably be a sold-out affair. We’ve heard rumors that participants from the 59th will get first crack at a spot on the 60th. So if you want to be part of the Jeepers Jamboree’s 60th birthday celebration, you might want to checkout target="_blank">www.jeepersjamboree.com for this July’s event. We’ll be there and hope to see you.