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Trail Testing The Ram Power Wagon At The 50th Annual Sierra Trek

Posted in Events on November 7, 2017
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Photographers: Deanna Scanlon

We’re suckers for a good trail ride, and the Tahoe National Forrest has some of the best to be had. That’s why for the past 50 years, the California Four Wheel Drive Association has been holding their annual Sierra Trek run in the hills near Truckee, California.

Normally a Jeep-heavy run with the occasional Toyota variant thrown in, the Sierra Trek is not for the faint of heart. Some of the runs take a hard-core rockcrawler to navigate. But the organizers at California Four Wheel Drive Association claimed that there was a good run happening that trucks could navigate easily. It’s called “Outer Limits” they said, and that a stock four-wheel vehicle or truck could make it easily. We thought dirt roads or two-track with hill climbs, and since we were literally in the Rockies, we of course expected some rocks. We immediately knew what truck we wanted to take to see how it would do in tight environments like the mountains.

We had covered the ’17 Ram Power Wagon reveal that happened in the desert near Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas. It was perfect territory for the truck to be tested in, and the P-Wagon impressed us. We declared then that the Ram was probably the best stock chase vehicle you could buy, especially if you race or ride in the Southwest U.S. and Mexico. It can tow your toy hauler (it comes with an integrated trailer brake system) to the desert and then pull you back if something goes sideways (or upside down).

With the Ram Power Wagon doing stuff like this at the reveal, we figured a nice tool in the woods would be a piece of cake.

We also felt that it would make a good overland adventure truck. Powered with a 6.4L Hemi that produces 410 hp along with 429 lb-ft of torque, there’s plenty of engine to easily push the crew cab to necessary I-5 speeds. Performance, along with ergonomics, was the first part of this evaluation. The office is a long way from the mountains surrounding Truckee, California, and it would take a full eight hours of high-speed freeway driving to get there. We had got only minimal seat time during the reveal, but enough to be optimistic regarding comfort on long drives.

Thankfully our backsides were reasonably happy when we finally got to Truckee, as the seats are much more comfortable than our F-150, that’s for sure. Coming stock with quality Bilstein shocks and 33-inch (LT285/70R17) Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires, the Ram handled the high speeds well as it went straight with little effort or input needed, and the ride itself was good. Road noise was minimal — better than our F-150 by a good margin.

Other systems, such as the air conditioning and sound, worked fine the entire way, too. The dash is well-laid-out and there’s a center-mounted LCD screen, which displays everything from the GPS and stereo to a view from the backup camera; it’s easy-ish to figure out. It also has satellite radio, which was a nice thing to have on the long, straight trip. Both the seats and the steering wheel are heated too. Overall, we think the P-Wagon is a truck that you can drive long distances without your back killing you and has the creature comforts to make the trip pleasant. So far, so good.

Thanks to the Ram “Articulink” front suspension system, the Power Wagon can do this. It incorporates high-movement joints and the sway bar disconnecting system, thus allowing for additional flexibility and axle articulation. Turns out we wouldn’t quite need it, but it was nice to know the Power Wagon could handle it.

We made it to the Sierra Trek site and set up camp. The covered bed area had plenty of room to take what we would need for the weekend and then some. For long overland journeys, a rack with a tent, or a trailer (with a tent) will be needed, but the bed is large enough for most weekend drives. There are also storage areas built into the bedsides for tools and such. Since they have drains, they can even be used as ice chests. Very nice and very handy as is the electrical connection found near the tailgate. One thing we want to mention is that the cab has a 100-converter plug, as well as a couple of USB ports, so you can plug in appliances as needed. We love that.

After speaking to the CFWDA guys about the trail run we were going to be doing, they again assured us that it was no big deal. They then casually asked, “So, it’s got lockers, right?” Actually, it does have lockers front and rear, we replied, instantly wondering why they asked that question if the run was “easy.”

The P-Wagon does indeed come with a locker up front, something we don’t believe any other stock pickup can boast. The antisway bars can be disabled with the push of a button too, making the Ram much more agile on tricky, off-camber terrain. The Power Wagon also has something Ram calls Hill Decent Control, which means that you point it down a hill, and it’ll take care of the braking for you. As we found out at the reveal, it’s spooky to not have your foot on the brake (or throttle for that matter) and slowly plonk down a rock-infested decent trusting the computer not to kill you. But it actually works. The Power Wagon even comes stock with a Warn winch, so we figured we were ready for anything.

We were there bright and early for the “Outer Limits” run and were really looking forward to the fun. Yes, we stood out from the crowd.

And we were. The Outer Limits trail was a blast and one that the Power Wagon handled easily, so the promoters were right as far as that went, but to us it was the perfect torture test to determine how the Ram could handle tighter terrain. We unlocked the antisway bars to give the big truck a little more agility while rolling through the rocks but we went as long as we could in 2WD to see how it did. It did fine on dirt roads, of course, but two-track was OK too as long as there weren’t any unduly steep hills. Once we did switch to 4WD-High, we simply plonked along over pretty much everything. Later in the run, there were some nasty rock climbs that required barely moving so we didn’t crush anything (we did anyway), but we never had to drop into 4-Low let alone lock the front end to get up and over anything. We can only assume that they work too.

Yeah, much to Ram’s chagrin we put a couple good dents into the rocker panels. We really tried not to, but as high your leg needs to stretch to climb into the Power Wagon, it needed a little more clearance to get over a couple of the rocks we encountered. As much as we’re OK the Goodyear 33’s for on the highway, going with tougher and taller 35-inch tires is a given. Thirty-sevens would be great, and this truck could pull them, but we’re not sure you could easily wedge them in. If we’d known what we’d encounter on Outer Limits, we really would have run the set of 35-inch General Grabbers we have laying around. The Power Wagon would also benefit from a set of heavy-duty rocker skids with steps to add protection basics and for help getting in the thing. We know that Ram was trying to get better road handling and a more fuel-efficient design, but the lower edge of the front bumper hangs down a lot. We put a good dent into it too on a rocky and steep 4-foot down-up section. And Ram? We really were going 1 mph when we did it. Probably slower when we dinged the rockers. Sorry, anyway.

Anyway, from what we hit on Outer Limits and what may be lurking on the Continental Divide, the stock bumper should be replaced with one that has a better attack angle. One with a skidplate and light tabs to go with that attack angle would be nicer still.

The first thing we did was to drop tire pressure to something we figured would help the Goodyear Wrangler tires get a better grip. It also dropped the ground clearance a few inches. Turns out we could have done without that.

We feel good about our previous declaration that the Power Wagon is a damn good truck and one that is uniquely qualified to, with just a few reasonably minor changes, to get up and over tough off-road terrain better than anything else in its class. And no, we personally don’t put the Power Wagon and Ford Raptor in the same class. The Raptor is made to go fast while the Power Wagon is made to go extreme camping. The designers of Ram may not have had that in mind when they built it, but it is made to overlanding.

We haven’t actually been on the Continental Divide trail, but were impressed enough with how the Power Wagon handled Outer Limits that we have to think that it can do the CD too. We actually consider Outer Limits a moderate (and really fun) trail, and we feel that the Ram barely broke a sweat on it. It literally comes with everything you could reasonably expect a serious overland truck to have mechanically, and it comes that way stock.

If we did the mods we’re thinking of to the Ram Power Wagon, hang some lights and electronics on it, get a rack with a pop-up tent and have plenty of food, water and fuel, we’d feel real good about being in New Mexico heading north to the top of the Rockies.

At the drivers meeting we got some looks and a few “You’re going to drive that?” looks from some drivers. Again the organizers said we’d have no problem, and although the bushes did get a little tight in spots they won’t scratch the paint, they said. We’re not used to soft bushes, but OK.
The run started off great, and we didn’t even need to put the Power Wagon in 4WD, let alone four-wheel low.
One nice thing the Ram does is to fold in the side mirrors at the push of a button. We didn’t think we’d need this function but were soon happy to have it when we got to the bush sections as the path was literally two feet narrower than the truck and sliding down the entirety of both sides of the truck as we drove. Thankfully, they didn’t scratch up the paint.
It was hot-ish and fairly dusty on the trail. While the Jeep folks were out in it, we were sitting in air-conditioned splendor and listening to oldies on satellite radio. Pretty sweet.
At the first stop we surveyed the P-Wagon but saw nothing that we were worried about. The Ram was handling the ride easy.
As the run progressed, and we went up in elevation, it got tighter and rockier.
Pretty soon it was time to put it into four-wheel drive, so we had better traction when plonking over the rocks. We started to wish we’d swapped out the 33-inch tires for something more substantial. The wheelwells will take 35s, and the Power Wagon really needed them further on up the trail.
The trail soon became very tight. There were two spots when travelling between trees that required some precision driving just to get through unscathed.
Toss in a few rock uphills and things got interesting, but the Power Wagon never faltered let alone couldn’t make it. Tight corners were taken three-point style though. The turning radius of the P-Wagon isn’t bad, but the thing is a big truck when time came to get around a tight corner. The backup camera came in handy a few times.
Once back off the trail and heading home, we aired back up to make the eight-hour, white-knuckle trip home on the 5. Even after being bounced for a few days, the ride was smooth and controlled.
There was nothing on the run that gave the Ram any trouble. A few rocker panel dents? Yes, along with a good one in the front bumper, too. But add some taller tires, rocker panel protection, and a different front bumper? Short of a trail that would require a 37-inch tire-equipped, hard-core Jeep, we don’t think there’s anything that Ram Power Wagon couldn’t do.

The 50th Annual Sierra Trek

Practice Makes Perfect

This year has seen a lot of big events celebrating the 50th anniversary — the Baja 1000 and the NORRA Rally come to mind. But for 50 long years, the Sierra Trek has taken place in the mountains near Truckee, California. Hosted by the California Four Wheel Drive Association, it’s a great weekend of serious off-road driving, friends, and food.

As the Fordyce run is rated a Cat 9, it’s been mainly Jeeps for years, but recently there’s been an outreach to other vehicles. The weekend started with an overnight SUV trip/historic tour of the back roads and trails, while on Saturday was the Outer Limits run that modified trucks could handle as well as a UTV/ATV run around the Meadow Lake area. There were runs for just about anyone to take, no matter what type of vehicle you had. We wish that the UTV and Outer Limits run wasn’t at the same time as we’d have really liked to take out our loaner Polaris “Rock Crawler” to drive it. Those who did had nothing but good things to say about it.

There was plenty to do, with many vendors there, but one of those things was eating. Serving both breakfasts and dinners over the weekend, the CFWDA army of members and volunteers put out some very good food, and sitting at the numerous picnic tables made making new friends easy. It was dusty out on the trails so the beer vendor was busy, but there were also hot showers available for those who were tenting it back in camp. The camping areas are great, and there was plenty of space for everyone. There were lots of clubs on hand for this event, and the parties went on late into the night.

At night, the main area saw a big bonfire, and there was even a stage ready for the live band who played. Long-time friends had the chance to get reacquainted and tip a few to old times, good trails, and a plan to attend next year’s run.

With 50 years of experience, the California Four Wheel Drive Association had the event running like a finely tuned watch.
From hard-core crawling to UTVs, there were runs for any type of vehicle.
The vendor’s row was actually a vendor’s circle, but there were still plenty of companies on hand with plenty of much needed trail stuff to be had.
Everyone wanted to look nice for the evening’s festivities.
A virtual army of club members and volunteers fed hundreds of attendees twice a day.
Once the sun went down, the party started.
The band was good and played loud.
“Hey, when I put this up to my ear, I can hear the ocean!”
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