While the Rubicon Trail gets its fair share of press as the namesake of Jeep’s most capable vehicle, and plays home to events such as Jeep Jamboree, there is another jewel tucked away in the crown of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Fordyce Creek Trail is the home of Cal4Wheel’s annual Sierra Trek event, and features just as many granite boulders, pine trees, and alpine lakes as its more famous neighbor.
Held on an old wagon road that leads to the gold rush town of Summit City, California, Sierra Trek celebrated its golden anniversary this year. That 12-mile wagon road is filled with boulders, water crossings, and five winch hills that are staffed by Cal4Wheel club members. They provide assistance, spotting, and the occasional tug from a winch to keep the group moving through the trail. While we had 60 vehicles on our run, the group was broken up into ten smaller groups and paired with a volunteer to make the run more manageable when someone broke or got stuck, as they inevitably did through the course of the day.
If Fordyce looks overwhelming to you or your vehicle, don’t feel left out. Sierra Trek also features guided historic tours of the region led by Jim Bramham, who is a living encyclopedia of California gold rush history. Recognizing the popularity of side-by-sides, Cal4Wheel has even added a UTV trip to Sierra Trek this year. Plus the car show, live music, raffle, RC course, walking tours of the Summit City cemetery, kids’ games, and vendors found at Meadow Lake ensure that Sierra Trek has something for everyone, whether this is their first time or 50th time.
The trip starts with coffee and pastries at the crack of dawn. Chris Collard was our trail leader for the Thursday run; he ensured that all the participants knew who the trail committee members were. This is a long, hard trail. Getting to Summit City before dark is a major accomplishment.
The trail starts innocently enough with granite slabs and wide, sweeping views. While 11 miles long, the bulk of the challenges are located within the last third of the Fordyce Creek Trail.
Joe Chavez, Forest Trails Program Coordinator for the Tahoe National Forest, piloted this JK that was purchased with California Green Sticker program funds. The US Forest Service uses these vehicles to monitor Fordyce and other trails in the area.
Those who signed up for Sierra Trek where easily identified by their laminated participant cards. Members of the hunting community are encouraged to report poachers. Somehow this has not translated to the off-road community, where some people feel it is acceptable to come to an organized event without paying.
Since his Bronco was down for repairs, John Mears brought his daughter’s JK to Sierra Trek. Mears’ company, Lost River Expeditions, sponsored the Thursday run and provided each registered participant with a commemorative mug.
Tom Allgaier was one of the many people to volunteer his talents to Cal4Wheel. Tom works in the medical field and was our first responder for the Thursday run on Fordyce Creek. Fortunately his services were not needed, but having help in the remote backcountry was greatly appreciated.
Chris Collard is best known as a globetrotting expedition photographer, but Fordyce is in his backyard and each year Chris volunteers at Sierra Trek with his club the Sierra Treasure Hunters. His Toyota pickup runs a Jp Eater dual transfer case system and 33-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires.
Dusty Erickson had been on Fordyce before, but this was his first time at Sierra Trek. He made some new friends and had a great time on the trail in his TJ. Dusty has added a Currie Dana 44 front axle and RockJock Dana 60 rear axle for added strength and his Jeep worked perfectly.
As the sun rises at the beginning of the trail you are greeted by Old Man Mountain. Can you see him? He is lying on his back and his nose is in the center of the photo.
As trail leader, Chris Collard inspected each vehicle in his group for leaks prior to crossing the creek. Despite having one of the older vehicles on the run, Doug Barr’s 1984 CJ-7 was in impeccable condition.
There are three water crossings on Fordyce Creek Trail. After wet winters like the last one they can be impassible, but Cal4Wheel has an arrangement with PG&E to shut the dam on Fordyce Lake during their event.
Things start to get serious at Winch Hill 1, which is seven miles into the trail. Luckily there is a bypass for those who do not want to go up the steep, narrow notch at the top of the hill.
This was a new one for us. Norman Finnecy got stuck on the top of Winch Hill 1, resulting in a bent Hi-Lift. The jack had to be removed before he was able to drive his TJ Rubicon up to the top of the obstacle.
Beecher Smith and his friends from Colorado turned Sierra Trek into a summer vacation. Their wives went to San Francisco while the guys went rockcrawling, and then they all met up for a few days in Napa after Trek ended.
Aaron Lechner was nice enough to drive our Toyota while we shot photos on the trail. The Marlin Crawler dual transfer cases provide a 230:1 crawl ratio that allow the 38-inch Maxxis Creepy Crawlers to inch forward without spinning or slipping off the line.
Winch Hill 2 was manned this year by the NorCal Crawlers. It is arguably the easiest of the winch hills, but that is all relative. Winch Hill 2 is approximately two thirds of the way through the trail in terms of distance, but the bulk of the challenge lies beyond this point.
Dave Constancio is a longtime Toyota fan. His Jeep even has a TRD emblem on the winch! He brought his sprung-over YJ to Sierra Trek since he was running the trail by himself and it has a lot less sheetmetal than his Toyota.
Fordyce Creek Trail was originally a mining road, and mining equipment from the Carlisle and Excelsior Mines are still present along the trail.
Ramsey Wood’s International Scout II idled up everything thanks to the Cummins 4BT engine. Locked 1-ton axles transfer the torque to 41.5-inch Pit Bull Rocker tires mounted on HUMVEE wheels.
Once arriving at Meadow Lake the trail might be done, but the party is just starting. A huge raffle, live band, dance floor, and bar are all constructed for Sierra Trek. There are even hot showers to wash off the dust!
Different clubs volunteer for various aspects of the event, from trail crews to organizing games for kids. On Thursday night, the Grim Creepers 4x4 Club prepared and served dinner for Sierra Trek participants.
Typically on wheeling trips you sit around the campfire with friends at the end of the day. Sierra Trek is no different; except the fire is a lot bigger and you share it with a lot more friends.
This year Sierra Trek coincided with the Perseid meteor shower. While Meadow Lake was a great location to watch the night sky due to the lack of light pollution, we were unable to capture the meteor shower with our camera.
Sierra Trek holds a special place in my heart for a myriad of reasons. In addition to being one of Cal4Wheel’s biggest fundraisers of the year (money that is used to maintain access, perform trail maintenance, and educate the public) this is an event that I attended throughout my youth. The club my family was part of volunteered to man Winch Hill 2 each year. I literally grew up on Fordyce. Not surprisingly, my first published piece in a 4WD magazine was about Sierra Trek for our sister publication FourWheeler (March 2004).