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4x4 Mud Extreme - Swamp Stompers, 2000 Yooper Dooper Tour, and The Hell Hole Trail

Posted in Events on March 1, 2000 Comment (0)
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4x4 Mud Extreme - Swamp Stompers, 2000 Yooper Dooper Tour, and The Hell Hole Trail
Bill Maskill shows us how it’s done as he and the Killer B plow through a very nasty bog. Bill Maskill shows us how it’s done as he and the Killer B plow through a very nasty bog.
From a passenger’s point of view, hold on and hope for the best. From a passenger’s point of view, hold on and hope for the best.
Mud and Guts. Mud and Guts.
Al Smith knows his Ramcharger so well he can drive it with his eyes closed. Al Smith knows his Ramcharger so well he can drive it with his eyes closed.
John Murphy’s ’77 CJ-7 should be named the One-Eyed Monster. John Murphy’s ’77 CJ-7 should be named the One-Eyed Monster.
These rigs are lined up at the campsite in Limestone getting prepared for some fun in the mud. These rigs are lined up at the campsite in Limestone getting prepared for some fun in the mud.
This Jeep looks as if it could be on an expedition in the jungles of Borneo. This Jeep looks as if it could be on an expedition in the jungles of Borneo.
Jody Klute navigates his Bronco II through a seemingly impossible sea of black pudding. Jody Klute navigates his Bronco II through a seemingly impossible sea of black pudding.
A good winch is a necessity for running this type of trail. A good winch is a necessity for running this type of trail.
This black CJ took the bonzai approach, and it proved to work quite well. This black CJ took the bonzai approach, and it proved to work quite well.

The Swamp Stompers 4x4 Club of central Michigan is a far cry from being your typical four-wheel-drive club. While rockcrawling may be the craze for a select few, it’s not the case for this band of adventurous backwoods explorers. Their idea of hard-core ’wheeling is to head to the Upper Penninsula (referred to as the U.P. by the local Yoopers) and ride on the nastiest, muddiest, gooiest, and most deeply rutted logging roads this side of the Amazon. Bill Maskill, a Top Truck Challenge 1999 competitor, told us about this trail ride back in June, and we figured we’d better check it out.

The U.P. is not an easy place to get to. It’s connected to Wisconsin’s northeast corner and lies between Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan on the south. Bill said it was about a 10-hour drive north of his home in the Detroit area.

Nestled within the glacier-formed hills of the Hiawatha National Forest, this region has miles and miles of wilderness trails following old logging roads, which beckon four-wheel enthusiasts. Scenic forests of hardwoods and spruce and fir trees add character to the area’s boggy trails, and the additional attraction of isolated lakes, quiet streams, and awesome glacial formations make the ride spectacular.

Aside from all its scenic beauty, the lure of the U.P. can be deceiving. What starts out as a leisurely trail ride through the northwoods can turn into the complete opposite. A mellow two-track can quickly turn into a blackened, muddy, bottomless bog. However, that’s exactly why the Swamp Stompers, Mid-Michigan Four-Wheelers, and Troll Four-Wheelers visit with their 4x4s. At least 75 rigs from these clubs in Michigan and surrounding states came to follow the trails. A makeshift campground next to the Limestone Mini-Mall (actually a little country store and sole provider of supplies) became our home base.

Our first morning out, Bill guided nine trail-toughened 4x4s to a series of logging roads northwest of our camp. After driving a few miles on county blacktop, we turned off onto a trail that led us into the forest. Eventually, we came to a black, boggy section known as Laughing Whitefish. Bill knows this little bog well. Last year, while he was prerunning this area in his Killer B, the vehicle broke down and he had to walk 10 miles back to camp in the dark. “I ain’t walkin’ back today,” he said. Luckily for him, our group included a bad-to-the-bone ’85 Ramcharger with a new Mopar Magnum 360 crate motor, an ’87 Chevy truck with 1-ton axles, four Jeep CJ-5s, an ’85 Chevy Blazer, and a couple of CJ-7s, all equipped with lockers, winches, and plenty of extra parts.

Mike “Tippy” Branch, driving a ’75 CJ-5, was the first to take the plunge and stalled in four feet of water and mud. After winching to get out, Tippy’s engine caught on fire, causing everyone to scramble for an extinguisher. Handfuls of mud seemed to work well, and the motor survived the blaze.

One by one, rigs attacked the slimy gauntlet, burying tires and breaking parts along its entire length. Bill waited until everyone else finished then plowed through the deepest part of the bog. The goo covered his 44s completely, but the 700 horses under the hood kept them spinning ferociously. The fullsize Bow Tie was in its element and performing like a champ—well, almost. As Bill made the final pass, we heard the dreaded sound of metal snapping in two. The rear driveshaft let go, and the Killer B came to an instant halt. No big deal. Bill still had front-wheel drive. The front Dana 60 dug its way out and powered the Chevy back to camp.

The following morning, our crew was eager to get down and dirty all over again. We headed out to the trail known as the Hell Hole—100 yards long with an average depth of four feet of the nastiest-looking mud you’ve ever seen. Once a vehicle gets buried, it’s time to fire up the winch. These guys (and gals) thrive on this kind of ’wheelin’ and have returned four years in a row to see who will conquer the beast. One by one, they gave it their best shot. Out of nine rigs, five suffered major carnage, and none made it through. In spite of this, from what we could tell, they all had the time of their lives. It took us about 10 hours to get through that pit, and the sun was setting as we started for camp.

A huge pig roast and bonfire was in full swing by the time our convoy hobbled back into Limestone. The fire pit was surrounded with people telling war stories of the past couple of days, each more intense than the last. As the night wore on, laughter became louder, and most folks could be heard discussing a single topic: Yooper Dooper Fall Tour 2000. For more information, visit Bill Maskill’s Web site at www.swampstompers.com.

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