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A New Way to Rubicon

Posted in Events on September 30, 2019
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The Rubicon Trail is one of those bucket-list Jeep trails. For those who are on their first crossing, it's a new adventure around every corner of the trail. For those on their umpteenth crossing, it still holds surprises. We fall somewhere in between, but every time we go, we are thrilled to be there.

Its terrain changes every year due to runoff from storms and snowmelt, and the trail can even change within a few weeks or days as a result of the constant churning of tires across its length. The Rubicon's steep climbs and descents, drop-offs, large rocks, very large rocks, rock-filled gullies, and tight turns with rocks and trees acting as immovable pylons all present themselves before your tires—for hours on end. The constant rowing of the steering wheel back and forth, mingled with moments of hard pressure on the brake pedal, gentle pressure on the gas, or controlled bursts of power when needed will make you feel like you spent the day working out. Then you'll have a good night's sleep, one of the best of your life, under a million stars.

Originally the trail began in Georgetown, and you can still start there, but the route has been paved all the way through Wentworth Springs to Loon Lake. To cut off all those extra road miles, most people now start at Loon Lake. It's no less than 17 miles from pavement at Loon Lake to pavement in Tahoma (Lake Tahoe), on what can only be described as an extreme off-road trail through the forest-covered and lake-dotted high-mountain landscape of California's Sierra Nevada. Seventeen miles may not seem like much, but in between is a never-ending sequence of some of the most challenging and enjoyable four-wheeling the world has to offer.

One of the first large expanses of open granite you reach along the Rubicon Trail is "the bowl." This is picture-perfect Sierra Nevada four-wheeling and a great place to get out the camera.

Regardless of where you start, the Rubicon Trail is an iconic passage with a history. The trail was known as the Rubicon/McKinney Road and was established in the 1800s as a stagecoach road to resort hotels located at Wentworth Springs and Rubicon Springs between Georgetown and Lake Tahoe. The hotels had long been gone and the trail was badly deteriorated by the time a small group of Georgetown businessmen decided it should be the route of the first Jeepers Jamboree across the Rubicon Trail in 1953.

There are a few ways to do the Rubicon. You can run it solo, which no one would recommend, as that's just asking for trouble. Or you can join one of the large organized runs such as the Jeepers Jamboree, if you're cool with sharing the trail and any campgrounds with 400 or more Jeeps and over a 1,000 people all on the same day. Then there's the way we like to do it it —with a reasonable number of friends. The 2019 Modern Jeeper Adventures Rubicon Trail event was just that, a small group limited to 12 Jeeps, plus about half as many guides and other support personnel (such as a couple of mechanics and a medic) and their Jeeps. Within a few minutes of meeting and checking out each other's rigs, we were all friends.

We spent the first night camped in and around the Loon Lake Chalet, a state-operated ski warming hut that can be reserved for large groups. It was an ideal jumping off point, and our day began with a catered banquet breakfast.

Our starting point was Modern Jeeper Adventures headquarters in Rancho Cordova, California, for final registration and tech inspection of all vehicles. Next was a brief visit to the nearby Prairie City SVRA so drivers could warm up their skills and make a final all-systems check on their vehicles. Then it was off to Loon Lake Chalet for our first night out. Although most camped in the surrounding parking area, the Chalet offered a kitchen, dining area, and sleeping quarters perched above the southern shoreline of Loon Lake. It also provided us a fresh start at the trailhead the next morning. After a hardy catered breakfast, we hit the trail and made our way to a private camp on Spider Lake by midafternoon; the day was highlighted by crossing the picturesque Granite Bowl and navigating the sometimes-troublesome Little Sluice. Another great breakfast and we were makin' miles, with a quick lunch stop and swim at Buck Island, a slow-motion roller coaster ride down Big Sluice, and then a bonfire and steak dinner that night in Rubicon Springs.

Our last day on the trail was spent climbing out of the gorge via Cadillac Hill, which was as nasty as ever, but before hitting the pavement, Modern Jeeper Adventures had one more surprise under their hat. After getting to the top, our caravan bumped along for a while before turning up to a "secret spot," where one last catered lunch awaited us. From there the spectacular view looking down into the deep valley revealed our three-night Jeep adventure in the landscape below, stretching from Loon Lake to Spider Lake to Rubicon Springs hidden deep in the forest. If this sounds like the way you'd like to do the Rubicon Trail or you are interested in any of their other events, contact Modern Jeeper Adventures at modernjeeper.com.

The Loon Lake Dam is the beginning of most Rubicon adventures. After spending the night camped at the Loon Lake Chalet, we crossed the dam in the early morning hours and hit the trail.
Robert Connerley easily navigated the trail in his 2017 Recon JK. A built Dynatrac ProRock 44 full-float 8-lug front and Recon 44 full-float 8-lug rear axles spin 37-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers.
These iconic signs can be found along the Rubicon Trail. They make great selfie spots, if you're into that sort of thing. We would rather have more Jeeps in the picture.
If you're wondering why some of us are tugging on this strap to keep the nose of the 1966 CJ-5 and its heavily loaded 1942 Gemco military trailer off the rock while it was having trouble getting up this hill, it's because that Jeep and trailer was our chuckwagon.
Long in wheelbase and suspension, Phil Fergus' 2006 Jeep LJ Rubicon was set up with a 6-inch MetalCloak suspension with 6Pak shocks, 5.13 gears in Rubicon axles, and 37-inch Goodyear MT/R tires to help handle the terrain.
Our first night on the trail was spent at Spider Lake. Modern Jeeper Adventures secured exclusive permission for our group to camp on private property along the lakeshore. A bracing cold swim was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Here's why we made sure the chuckwagon crew got safely into camp every afternoon. The evening's main course at Spider Lake was build-it-yourself nachos that were charcoal-roasted from below and flame-toasted from above.
The second day on the Rubicon trail began with the long drop to Buck Island Lake, with a catered BBQ lunch waiting for us there.
One of the more interesting, and certainly the newest vehicle on the trip, was the 2020 Jeep Gladiator driven by Jeremy Rowan. With not much more than a 3.5 MetalCloak suspension lift and 37-inch tires, Jeremy got through with a few dents and scrapes, and a radiator that decided to be finicky on the last day.
Another pleasant surprise was this rockcrawling overlander owned by Jim and Deb Kriegshauser. Completely set up for long-term remote camping, the 2012 JKU has a custom Goose Gear built-in fridge and kitchen, and the Ursa Minor pop-up camper completely replaced the stock hardtop and weighs only 150 pounds more.
Christian Sturtz, owner of Freedom 4x4 in Wickenburg, Arizona, drove his 1998 Jeep TJ on the 2019 Modern Jeeper Adventures Rubicon Trail event. It runs the four-banger, auto trans, 2-inch Currie suspension with Fox shocks, built HP Dana 30 front with 4.88 Auburn Ected locker, and a Currie RockJock 60 rear with a 4.88 Eaton ELocker and disc brakes.
Jeremy and Kristi Anderson's Hypergreen 2017 Jeep JKU Rubicon did just fine with its 3 1/2-inch suspension lift and 35-inch Cooper Discoverer STT Pros. Jeremy remarked that the experienced crew of spotters and the unhurried atmosphere made all the difference in helping them to successfully enjoy their first Rubicon Trail crossing.
Rubicon Springs was our final night's stop, and we reached it in plenty of time to fully enjoy the cool waters and shady pine forest of "the springs." An all-you-can-eat steak dinner and gathering around the bonfire for some storytelling capped off the evening. The next day we would make the climb up Cadillac Hill and head home.
Our last catered lunch stop of the trip offered a spectacular view back down into the landscape, stretching from Loon Lake to Spider Lake to Rubicon Springs hidden deep in the forest below, through which we had traveled during our three-night Rubicon Trail adventure.
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