Known as the Devil's Trail in the 4x4 world, the mighty Rubicon was once again packed this summer with off-road enthusiasts who had come to participate in the granddaddy of all four-wheel-drive events, the annual Jeepers Jamboree.
The jamborees were started in 1953 as a Rotary Club effort to help boost the local economy in Georgetown, California. It was such a success that it has been held on the last weekend of July every year. Forty-eight years and counting.
It all starts with a get-together in downtown Georgetown on Wednesday afternoon. The Jeeps are parked in rows down the main street of Georgetown, and the remaining room is taken by vendors and manufacturers showing off the latest wares. This year the crowd hovered around the flexed-out Wrangler that Rubicon Express had on display next to its booth. Everyone from Warn Winches to Sun Performance was here to cater to the legions of off-road enthusiasts.As usual, dinner that night was plentiful and great. And there was time to relax and talk to old friends about past runs. No matter where you were, there was always good music and festivities in the background.
Because there are so many participants, the registrants are divided into several small groups to prevent slowdowns on the main trail. The first group left Georgetown on Thursday morning, and the final group departed on Friday morning. Traveling east out of Georgetown, you cover approximately 45 miles of pavement and dirt roads. The route crosses the Stumpy Meadows Dam and continues past the old cattleman's stop, Uncle Tom's Cabin. From there, you come to the trailhead of the Rubicon at Loon Lake, and then the 'wheeling begins.
This year we decided to head out with the morning group on Friday. After arriving at at Loon Lake, we met up with our group, which consisted of Jay Barnett from 4 Wheel Parts Performance Center's corporate office, Tony Kasabasich from Rock Equipment, and Mike Karmazin from Extreme Off Road Gear, just to name a few. This is what we would call the ultimate repair team for this trail. And after going through the first series of rocks and granite slabs, it turned out we were right. At the top of the slabs, we stopped to help repair a rig that was having problems with a locking hub. Even though Mike Karmazin was driving a modified Toyota truck, he had some spare Jeep parts onboard and was able to save the day. This first repair only took a few minutes, and we were back on the trail in no time at all.
From there, the trail went on into the trees and dirt, then on down to the Ellis Creek crossing. Here, a Jeep owned by Cinnibon John (owner of the Cinnibon stores in Portland, Oregon) developed some major rearend trouble, so we pulled over to check it out. This is where the ultimate repair group went to work. Tony from Rock Equipment and Mike from Extreme Off Road Gear started tearing down the rearend to determine the problem. After the carrier was removed, it was determined that the carrier itself was broken. We radioed the crew at the top of Walker Hill, and they relayed the information to the trail parts crew. The parts crew had to send the helicopter to see if they had the part in the truck at the trailhead. While they were checking, Jay mentioned that he had a new welder with him. So after a little talking, they decided to start a trail repair, while waiting to see if parts were available. Tony and Mike tore the carrier down, cleaned up the broken area, and then Tony started welding it all back together. Next, they ground the weld spots down smooth to allow installation of the ring gear. Just about the time they were ready to install the gear, the parts crew showed up by helicopter with the replacement carrier. They decided to install the replacement unit and keep the repaired unit as a spare. This whole process took a few hours, but we were still back on the trail with plenty of day-light remaining to get to Buck Island.
One of the nice things about the Jamboree is that they have spotters to assist with the tough spots if you're not sure where to go or which line to take. With this group and their experience, though, we buzzed right on through and into the Buck Island repair station with time to spare before dinner.
We set up camp for the night, and then Mike unloaded some spare parts that he had hauled up. This enabled them to finish repairing all the participants' rigs for the next leg of the trip into Rubicon Springs. After a great dinner and some fantastic trail stories around the campfire, we all turned in.
Here is where the story takes a little twist and a big trail mistake. Saturday morning, we all got ready to hit the trail, with several of us planning to return to Buck Island later that night. The reason for this was to avoid the slow 'wheeling up Cadillac Hill on Sunday morning. Our group planned to return to Buck Island and travel out backward, thus avoiding the traffic jam. At that point, since we were traveling with Mike in his Toyota truck, we decided to save time and trouble by leaving our camp set up at Buck Island.
The trip into Rubicon Springs went smoothly until we got to the 90-degree turn in Big Sluice. We made it through OK, but a couple of the rigs had a hard time in the turn, due to Mother Nature and the previous winter's erosion. In particular, Cinnibon John was 'wheeling his CJ off the rocks, and just as he started dropping the front end down into the turn, something happened that caused him to accelerate, then brake. This action and reaction caused his front to drop off the rocks, then stop dead with the rear trying to pass up the front by going over the top. After hanging almost straight up and down for what probably felt like an eternity, the rear finally decided to drop back to where it belonged.
We arrived at the main camp at Rubicon Springs in the early morning and proceeded to check out what was happening. From one end of the camp to the other, there were activities in progress; from horseshoes and live music on a baby grand piano to major repairs at the repair station. After checking the camp out, it was time to head to the swimming hole to clean up and remove some trail dust.
Just up the trail from the main camp is a wide pool in the Rubicon River. This is the best spot to be during the heat of the summer day, and it is the traditional spot to play on the rope swing, swim, and just relax. The evening was filled with great music, dancing, and more great trail stories. It was also where we learned an important lesson.
After the evening started settling down, we decided to find another rig to make a traveling team and head back up the Big Sluice to Buck Island and our camp. Although, because of the trail conditions, the remaining part of our group had decided to travel out through Cadillac Hill, not Buck Island, in the morning to miss the traffic. At this point, we decided that it was not a safe plan to travel the trail back to Buck Island alone, so we needed to figure out how to stay warm at the main camp when our equipment was at Buck Island.
But thanks to Tony from Rock Equipment, who had an extra blanket, and Mark Duncan from J&W Jeep Recycling, who loaned us the flag he uses for his Scrambler bikini top, we spent a warm night in the main camp. After years of traveling this trail, we should have known that whatever you do, be sure to keep all of your camping equipment with you. You never know what might happen.
Even with our improvised sleeping gear, by 4 a.m., it was getting cold. So we decided to hit the trail and miss the possible trail jams on the way up Cadillac. We loaded up and were on the trail a half-hour later. Since we were not the first ones out of the main camp, we ended up stopping on the trail, just past the tight turn on Cadillac to help the Jamboree crew winch a broken rig to the side for repairs. By 7:30 a.m., we were back on the road, airing up.
Everyone should do the Jeepers Jamboree at least once. It is a great feeling when you get to the end of the trail, knowing that you have tested your driving skills and equipment against one of the toughest of all 4x4 trails and won.
We want to send a special thanks to Cinnibon John from Portland, Oregon. The repair crew loved the Cinnibons you sent. Any time you need help out on the trail, just give us a call.
For More InformationIf you would like to run the Rubicon Trail with Jeepers Jamboree or participate in one of their other great trail rides, contact them at P.O. Box 1660, Georgetown, CA 95634, (530) 333-4771, www.jeepersjamboree.com.