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35th annual Sierra Trek 2001

Side View
Trent Riddle | Writer
Posted December 1, 2001

High Mountain Fun
Plus, Who to Contact for This Year's Event

Step By Step

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  • Slipping off a boulder and getting high-centered on a rock are just part of the fun. Just make sure to bring along the Hi-Lift jack, an essential piece of trail gear.

  • Motorcycle sidecar racing has a special name for the guy who hangs from the sidecar, but at Sierra Trek they’re called volunteers. Sometimes all it takes is a little help from the crew manning the Winch Hill to make the climb.

  • Winch Hill 4 is the next-to-last obstacle on the long hard trip to camp. Sierra Trek is famous for its five winch hills, but the trail is tough even between these obstacles. Each year individual Cal-4-Wheel clubs adopt a hill and help get everyone through.

  • With Winch Hill 5 behind you, camp is just minutes away. Hot food and a warm shower are just a few of the rewards one finds there.

  • It’s not uncommon to see vehicles reaching skyward while climbing the Winch Hills at Trek. This little act is taking place on Winch Hill 3.

  • The Fordyce Creek Trail, Sierra Trek’s main trail, is a tough one. The day begins with large groups leaving the trailhead at staggered times. By the end of the day, the large groups have been whittled down to small ones that finally wander into camp in twos and threes.

  • Every make of vehicle can be seen at Sierra Trek. This Land Rover was just one of the many vehicle types to make the trip.

  • The top of Winch Hill 3 has a tight little granite slot that is part of the old wagon road. This notch is about as wide as a narrow-track Jeep CJ, so wider rigs sometimes find this spot a real challenge.

  • Sierra Trek is granite crawling at its best—and worst. Your view will depend on how skilled you are, and how lucky.

Every August, for the past 35 years, the crew from the North District of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC) has hosted its annual Sierra Trek run. Every August, families and friends gather at a base camp located at Meadow Lake, a serene spot approximately 40 miles northwest of Truckee, California, to meet, greet, eat and four-wheel. Sierra Trek has come a long way since it first was organized in 1966. In fact, CA4WD organizers say that the Sierra Trek has become their largest event of the year. With the magnificent vistas and peaceful surroundings of the area, it’s no wonder everyone wants to attend. But the beauty and tranquillity of the Sierras isn’t all that draws folks back year after year. People also come for the family entertainment, the comradeship of fellow enthusiasts, and of course, the chance to tackle the rugged Fordyce Creek trail.

The Fordyce Creek trail is considered one of the toughest in the Sierras due to several water crossings and the five Winch Hills encountered on the trip. While just 10.5 miles long, this trail can take a full day to conquer. Event veterans say that it’s some of the best granite crawling they’ve seen anywhere. In all but the driest years, the water level in Fordyce Creek is lowered by the local water district during the weekend of the Trek to make the water crossings less troublesome. There’s nothing that can be done to make the Winch Hills any less rugged, however.

On each of the five Winch Hills, drivers are given two chances to drive the obstacle. If they don’t make it unassisted after two tries, then it’s time to ride the end of a winch cable. Volunteers from CA4WDC affiliate clubs man each of the Winch Hills. The volunteers who man Winch Hills 1, 2, and 3 camp and work at their respective locations and are not part of the larger contingent at Meadow Lake until Saturday night. The lucky crews at Winch Hills 4 and 5 camp at Meadow Lake with the rest of the group.

The truly fanatical Trek participants take on the trail at night, on a run aptly named Star Trek. These event veterans run this rugged trip mostly by moonlight with the occasional use of headlights. For this trip all the volunteers are fast asleep, so the Star Trek group is on its own, and loving it.

The unique thing about Sierra Trek, compared to the nearby Rubicon Trail, is that Meadow Lake is accessible by motorhomes. This allows participants to have all the comforts of home waiting for them after a long, dusty day on the trail. For those who don’t arrive in a modern covered wagon, the Sierra Treasure Hunters club constructs and operates the Sierra Trek shower, a full-blown, six-stall, heated shower.

In addition to the short-wheelbase run on Fordyce Creek trail, there is also a long-wheelbase and SUV run on Saturday. This allows families to enjoy the area even if they didn’t bring a rig that is prepped and ready for the rugged trail. In camp, families also find that there are several activities for the kids. There are also manufacturers’ and vendors’ displays where participants can ogle neat new stuff.

This year an estimated 130 rigs took on the Fordyce Creek Trail on Saturday, the big day for the event. There were also 15 trucks on the scenic SUV run that day. About 1,500 people from across the country attended this year’s gathering. As expected, the first day, Thursday, was light on attendance and the dinner crew served just 588 dinners. By Friday, however, they were dishing out more than 1,000 meals, and more than 1,400 on Saturday. So just how do you run an event this size? You get 425 people to volunteer to work their backsides off for the glory of helping others. Our hats are off to these folks.

For information on the 36th annual Sierra Trek in 2002, contact the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs at (800) 4X4-FUNN,