At the 41st Annual Sierra Trek
As forest fires lit up the night sky this past June, ravaging the high country of the northern Sierra Nevada, I was rousted and chased from my camp at America House, smoke nipping at my tailpipe.
In the midst of a record drought and a month-long streak of wildfires, not to mention the fact that the Tahoe National Forest closed all the 4x4 trails in 2007 due to fire danger, the future of the West's premier wheeling events was in jeopardy. The Sierra Trek, with a 40-year legacy of hard-rockin' four-wheeling and family fun, had been cancelled due to the aforementioned closures, and may have been approaching its final days. But in a last-ditch effort to secure an event site, organizers moved the event from its historical base camp at Meadow Lake, to a new venue near Cisco Grove. When we got word that the '08 Trek was a go, we turned the key and headed for the high country.
Sierra Trek, which is sponsored by the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC), has long been high on the list of events to attend. During its first 40 years it has grown, morphed, dodged volumes of new government red tape, and still managed to provide tens of thousands of people with an authentic high-country off-road experience. While the inaugural 1966 event boasted a single trail ride and a lakeside BBQ, today's event features a half-dozen trails ranging from historic tours of the gold country, to hard-core rockcrawling on the Fordyce Creek OHV route.
Offering some of the best wheeling in the west, Sierra Trek focuses on being a family event. In addition to four days of home-cooked meals, camp activities included a huge adult and kid's raffle, and the manufacturer's display area features the latest gear for the wheeling junkie. This year's Trek also changed the trail format to ensure that people got to wheel every day and were not out until the cows came in.
O'dark-thirty, Thursday morning: We joined trail leader Jim Harris (aka Uncle Willy) and his crew for an early departure to the Fordyce Creek Trail. More than 50 Toyotas, Broncos, and Jeeps lined up in the predawn hours for staging and tech inspection, and then we hit the trail for a 13-mile trek to Meadow Lake.
The Sierra Trek short-wheelbase trail (Fordyce), which is arguably more difficult than the Rubicon, is relentless in its quest to cause bodily harm to your vehicle. A total of five winch hills, three river crossings, and dozens of obstacles challenge even the most skilled drivers and their equipment.
The first mile is smooth cruising, but quickly gives way to granite boulders the size of a 35-inch M/T. When the rising sun hits you head-on at the first obstacle, you know you're at Sunrise Ridge-a precipitous drop-off to the left, sheer rock wall to the right, and a pucker-factor 8+ sidehill. Nice! Approaching the first of three river crossings, the gentle rumbling of the river echoed through the canyon, and tall pines and firs rustled in the cool morning breeze. The water at the first river crossing, which was as foot-numbing cold as the snow pack it descended from, was deep enough to bury a set of 35s.
The winch hills are difficult sections that are usually manned by volunteer crews. We say "usually" because when we arrived at Winch Hill No. 1 we were on our own. Drivers get three attempts. Fail the third time, and you get the hook (winch line). On our run, 11 out of our first 13 rigs got the hook. At that point, the trail crew opted to get everyone through on a bypass route, which was no cakewalk either. Four winch hills, two river crossings, and a few differential-dings later, we cleared the top of Winch Hill No. 5 and were treated to a lakeside BBQ near the crumbling remains of the 1860s mining camp of Summit City.
For Trek participants who hold a higher regard for their paint and sheetmetal, or who just want to chill out on trips in the gold country, Trek also hosts guided tours of the surrounding area. On Saturday, trail guide and narrator Rory Huber led a trek over the 6,500-foot Bear Valley trail, retracing some of the wagon tracks of the doomed Donner Party along the Little Truckee River.
When the sun went down, the Wild, Wild West Band took the stage and Trekkies tossed back coldies and had a good chinwag around the bonfire. Trek also sports a massive raffle where sponsors like BFGoodrich, Warn, Rubicon Express, Trail Gear, Advance Adapters, and 4Wheel Parts handed out killer stuff to winning ticket holders. Although we've attended the Sierra Trek in the past, we always enjoy the clean alpine air, 49'er history, great food, and meeting up with old friends. For information regarding next year's Sierra Trek, contact the CA4WDC at: 800/4X4-FUNN or on the web at www.cal4wheel.com.