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Sierra Nevada River Running at Fordyce Creek

River Crossing
Chris Collard | Writer
Posted June 1, 2011

The 44th annual Sierra Trek

As the senior four-wheeling magazine in the U.S., Four Wheeler has reported on Sierra Trek many times during the past four decades. After the event was canceled in 2007 due to massive Northern California fires, host club Cal 4Wheel moved Sierra Trek’s base camp from the verdant shores of Meadow Lake to the safety of a 1,000-Trails-type campground near . . . uh . . . a freeway. When we caught wind that they were bringing Trek back to its traditional home and adding a new run that had never been done beforethe River Runwe were in.

Since the late ’60s, the Fordyce Creek OHV route, once known as Summit City Road, was used for Trek’s short-wheelbase run. During California’s gold rush, it was the primary wagon road between the hard-rock mining camps of Cisco Grove, Carlisle, and Summit City. When the mines played out in the late 1800s, populations waned and the trail was abandoned. It was but a thin line on an old map when Ed Dunkley and other members of Cal 4Wheel decided to rediscover the historic route. It took three years of weekend Jeep trips to locate the track and clear dozens of downed trees and rockslides. In the summer of 1965, Ed and crew succeeded in making the first motorized vehicle traverse of Summit City road.

In 1966, Ed’s club, the Sacramento Jeepers, along with the Camellia City Broncos and Sierra Treasure Hunters, launched the inaugural Sierra Trek. It was a small one-day affair that consisted of about 50 vehicles and a bonfire near Meadow Lake. Little did they know that they had started what would become a summer tradition for thousands.

I caught up with Bret Preble, Friends of Fordyce president and trail boss for the River Run, Saturday morning after a home-cooked breakfast in main camp. In the two days prior, the Thursday and Friday groups, which departed camp at 0300 hours, had run Fordyce in the traditional form, ascending 2,000 feet from Indian Springs to Meadow Lake. The passage is considered to be one of the more challenging trails on the West Coastbut what if you ran it backwards?

That’s just what Bret had in mind as he nosed the wheels of his buggy down Winch Hill 5 with 50 vehicles in tow. The plan was to descend Winch Hills 5, 4, and 3, shoehorn our way through The Squeeze, and cross Fordyce Creek for mid-morning tea. Then we’d turn around and head back up the trail. Of the thousands of people who have run the trail with Sierra Trek, very few if any have done it backwards. Imagine yourself as one of those steel ball bearings in a pachinko machine. It’s all gravity feedand a completely different trail.

Aside from a few quarter panel-versus-granite paint exchanges, the trek down went pretty smoothly. But the likes of Winch Hill 3, a steep and narrow slot in the granite just wide enough for a standard-width Jeep, and the three-foot stairsteps of Winch Hill 4, require 100 percent of your attention. By 1100 hours, trail boss Preble had everyone across the river and turned around. The trip up is where it got interesting. In a steep section just past Winch Hill #3, the driver of a white vintage Toyota Hi-Lux (okay, it was me) missed his line, stayed on the skinny pedal, and scattered his ring and pinion.

It’s good to have friends, and it’s even better when they drive a tankor a rock-ready International Scout with Dana 60s and 40-inch tires. I’ve towed plenty of broken rigs over the years, but this was my first extended experience on the receiving end of the strap. Funny thing is, it was actually quite relaxing. I just sat back, nursed my rig along with the front end, and when forward progress ceased, Doug Faloni (my new best friend) yanked my sorry tail up the trail. Big kudos to Doug and his crew for their help.

I’d sourced a set of gears by the time we got back to camp (cell phones are great), but the Trek’s bonfire party, live band, and the Mountain Goats saloon looked and sounded better than three hours of wrenching. It was a good calla few bucks invested in raffle tickets netted me (okay, my wife actually won it) one of three Warn 9.5ti winches.

Overall, I was jazzed to see Sierra Trek back at Meadow Lake. Sure, the full-hookup campground was fine for the motorhome crowd. But for cheapo wheelers like me who like to feel pine needles under my sleeping bag, there is no replacement for the verdant setting and placid waters of Meadow Lake. The 45th Sierra Trek will continue the tradition at Meadow Lake this August, and the River Run is sure to fill up fast. If you are planning your summer, check with cal4wheel.com to secure your spot.

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