When the dust hits the windshield, there are few off-road venues that can boast a 50-year tenure. Back in the day (1966), the concept of an organized weekend event to a remote location on a hardcore trail was a relatively new prospect. Playing off the popularity of the Jeepers Jamboree on the Rubicon Trail, a few Northern California four-wheel-drive clubs decided to rescue a long-abandoned mining road along Fordyce Creek. It led to Meadow Lake and the ruins of Summit City, an 1860-era boom-and-bust mining camp located high in the Sierra Nevada. The event would be called Sierra Trek, and that first soirée hosted a few dozen Willys and CJs, a challenging 11-mile trail ride, and concluded with a Saturday night campout and barbeque.
During the past 50 years, Sierra Trek, which is sponsored by the California Four Wheel Drive Association, has expanded to a four-day extravaganza featuring trail options ranging from narrated historic tours of the Gold Country and UTV runs, to rocker-knocking, axle-twisting action. We showed up for the Thursday Fordyce run (35s and lockers required) and the historic trip on Saturday; both were worth the price of admission. When the sun went down, Summit City, which is resurrected as an alpine tent camp each August, came alive. A band powered up the amps, patrons kick up their heels on the dance floor, wranglers bellied up to a wooden bar at the Wild West Saloon, and a bonfire raged center stage. Overall, it was a rockin’ good time. Check out cal4wheel.com for information on Trek 2018.
Tall pines, firs, and cedars lined the trail as we descended Sunrise Ridge toward Fordyce Creek.
For much of the year, the Fordyce Trail is inaccessible due to high water levels on its three river crossings. During Trek week PG&E, who manages the reservoir upstream, reduces the flow to allow Trekkies to pass.
Josh Medley, a second-generation trail committee volunteer from the Sierra Treasure Hunters 4WD Club, pilots his 2006 Rubicon through a technical section.
While military surplus MBs and Willys flatfenders dominated the inaugural event, the four-door Wrangler Rubicon has become the preferred platform of Sierra Trek.
There are five separate runs on the Fordyce Trail, each of which have a rolling trail crew to guide participants through difficult sections. This obstacle, located just before Winch Hill 1, is known as “The Grotto” and requires the driver’s full attention.
Winch Hill 1, a long, steep sluice with a precipitous wedge at the top, is arguably one of the most difficult sections of the Fordyce Trail.
In addition to being a highly technical route, Fordyce offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the Sierras.
The Dixon 4Wheelers manage Winch Hill 4, and have a long-standing reputation for fun. This year they set up a Las Vegas-style casino replete with Elvis, a wedding chapel, and slot machines.
Winch Hill 4, a lockers-required gauntlet of ice-chest–sized boulders, will capture the attention of the diehard Jeeper.
Arriving at Winch Hill 5, which is staffed by the El Dorado Jeepherders, marks the end of a challenging day on the trail.
If you prefer milder trails, Sierra Trek also offers trips ranging from narrated historic tours of the Gold Country to UTV and SUV runs.
Jim Bramham, who hosts the historic trip, is an encyclopedia of knowledge on the area. After enlightening us about the Summit City cemetery, he led us to the 8,000-foot Lacey Peak summit for lunch.
Thursday Trail crewmember Jim Harris (aka Uncle Willy) put the finishing touches on a suspension repair.
The vendor midway in Base Camp featured manufacturers such as Marlin Crawler, West Coast Differentials, BFGoodrich, and Premier Power Welder.
Trek is created each year by an all-volunteer staff. On Saturday night, the Just 4 Fun four-wheel-drive club served up nearly 1,000 steak dinners to hungry Jeepers.
As tradition has it, the Sierra Trek raffle dished out more than $30,000 in swag to lucky ticket holders. This year’s drawing included Warn and Smittybilt winches, BFGoodrich tires, Bilstein shocks, Odyssey batteries, and a welder from Premier Power Welder, to name a few.
Summit City came alive after the sun went down. Each night, Tragically White (the lead singer has an apparent aversion to the sun) took the stage and rocked camp until the wee hours.
On the cornerstone of Summit City, the Wild West Saloon kept participants’ cups topped off with libations.
The Sierra Trek bonfire has become an annual gathering place for thousands of Jeepers from across the country and around the world.