Summer in the West is a time to be joyful. The snow’s melted, grass blankets alpine meadows, and birds are chirping. This sounds sappy, but it’s true — yet many people sit on their duffs and take it for granted. That is unless your weekend gig is pulling your rig out of the garage and heading for the high country.
If this fits you and your mates, then you should be heading to Meadow Lake during the second weekend of August. The event? It’s the 45th Annual Sierra Trek, and if you haven’t been there for a few years, it’s time to get back in the saddle. Last August, we hooked up with the California Association of 4WD Clubs (CA4WDC) near Truckee, California, for four days of the best summer fun the West has to offer.
In 1966, the inaugural year, the Sierra Trek was a simple two-day affair of a few dozen Jeeps, Scouts, and Land Cruisers, and a BBQ on Saturday night. Over the next four decades, they added a bar, live band, kid’s games, vendor displays, a 4x4 show, and eight additional runs. By the 1980s, Sierra Trek had become one of the West’s premier family ’wheeling events. The event was cancelled in 2007 due to massive wild fires and moved to a campground near Cisco Grove for the following two years. The trail rides were still great, but for thousands of Trek regulars, the blue waters and alpine grasses of the Meadow Lake basin had become an annual family vacation destination. The Cisco Grove venue just wasn’t the same, pressure was growing for Trek’s return to Meadow Lake, and 2010 was the year.
In 2008, the Fordyce Trail was inducted into the BFGoodrich Outstanding Trails Program. While the Sierra Trek also offers SUV, historic, and intermediate trail rides that get plenty of participation, the Short Wheel Base runs along Fordyce Creek get all the glory — and for good reason. This is one technical trail. Though the trail is only a dozen miles in length, it presents a non-stop barrage of boulder-strewn obstacles and tight squeezes through granite crevasses.
Case in point: Before you get to Sunrise Ridge — a narrow section with a sheer drop-off to your left and vertical precipice to your right — you’ll know just what I’m taking about. There are a total of five winch hills, which have a full-time staff of volunteers to assist participants.
The Buggy Invasion
In addition to the return to Meadow Lake, big changes for 2010 were liberal adjustments in vehicle restrictions. Basically, rock buggies, which were previously excluded due to their width, are now in the game. It’s not that they can’t make the trail — many of these guys have flat out mastered every line — but rather Trek always had track-width maximums and required a spare tire, and many buggies run 40-inch tires and don’t have room for spares.
Hey, I know how it is to be excluded. During my first Sierra Trek in 1984, I received many a sneer from old-school Jeepers. You see, it was the first Trek where they allowed those “rice-burning” Toyota pickups. (Until that point, the trails were apparently too difficult for us). The only reason they let them in was to carry all the trail lunches (the Jeeps didn’t have enough room). Of course, we Toyota guys were young, stayed up too late, and played our music too loud.
So, in my opinion, bringing the buggies into the fold is a good thing. The Fordyce 4-Wheelers pioneered buggies on the Sierra Trek by volunteering to staff Winch Hill No. 3. This year the Rock Zombies were on board, with palm trees, bikini girls, and leis, at Winch Hill No. 5.
The other big change to Trek was the elimination of the full SWB trail on Saturday and the introduction of the River Run. Instead of departing from Eagle Lakes, which is a one-way trek, the River Run departs from Meadow Lake, runs down the trail backwards to Fordyce Creek, then turns around and heads back to camp. Since most people, even Trek regulars, have never traversed the trail in the opposite direction, this run was a sold-out affair. With everyone back in camp at the Sierra Trek watering hole by mid afternoon, it received rave reviews.
Speaking of camp, a couple dozen vendors were onsite presenting the latest off-road gear, tires, and toys. BFGoodrich had its massive support trailer available for anyone with tire woes. Also, new were the half-dozen lakeside adult games, including canoe races, marshmallow golf, an RTI ramp contest, Texas Hold ’Em, and horseshoes. To top it off, the Rubicon Rockheads showed up with a 4x4 ice cream truck, the profits of which went to Cal4Wheel to help in the land-use fight. On the midway, at least 100 crumb crunchers and moms crowded around a monster kid’s raffle, while the dads were lining up for the big-boy raffle, which included winches, tires, and the like.
When the sun hit the western horizon, the massive Sierra Trek bonfire illuminated main camp, a rockin’ live band took to the stage, and the Mountain Goats Saloon kept everyone hydrated into the wee hours.
Having Trek back at Meadow Lake after a few years away was like coming home…and I’m guessing we’ll be back next year. The event, especially the River Run, will probably fill up quickly so don’t dilly-dally. For details on the 45th annual event, which occurs August 10-14 this year, go to www.cal4wheel.com.