In the January 2009 issue we introduced you to the new generation Nissan Pathfinder V-8. In a nutshell, our goal was to get a lift kit, tires, wheels and some off-road armor for it. What we discovered is Calmini's 5-inch lift kit, used on the Nissan Frontier, works equally well on the Pathfinder.
The Calmini dropped bracket suspension lift kit is constructed using laser technology so it bolts on, and there's really nothing much to fabricate with the exception of removing two metal tabs to allow for the dropped crossmember. You get almost 1 inch more ground clearance with this kit and ample wheel well space to mount larger diameter tires. The kit includes new replacement cast steering knuckles, front differential drop brackets to correct pinion angle, and easy to install one-piece MIG-welded sub-frames. To save your underpinnings from rocks, there's a heavy-duty center skid plate that bolts to the lower sub-frame. The kit also includes extended stainless steel brake lines.
Though it sounds like a lot of work to install all of these parts the good news is you'll experience factory-like ride quality once the kit is bolted on. The ride is mostly maintained by utilizing the factory-installed independent front and rear setup. The parts are powder coated a deep blue finish, and top-quality plated hardware provides corrosion resistance. Coil-overs for the Pathfinder are supposedly in the works, too.
Unique OffsetBecause of our earlier encounter with rocks and deep sand, we knew we wanted thicker sidewalls, larger sipes and a wider contact patch to give the Pathfinder more track. To get the correct tire, it meant downsizing to 17-inch wheels. It just so happened that Discount Tire had an LT285/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO. These off-road tires measure 32.8 inches in diameter and offer maximum aired-down traction. If you go to a 16-inch wheel you should be able to get 285/75R16 or 305/70R16 tires to work.
Our choices in wheels were limited because of the unique backspacing of the Pathfinder (6x4.5). After a day of calling around, we decided to give Walker Evans Racing a try and they suggested that we go with the 17-inch polished Street Lock wheel. These DOT-approved wheels are unique and plenty rugged. Street locks are available in sizes up to 20 inches with backspacing from 3.75 to 6 inches and with all standard lug-bolt patterns. In '08, Nissan went with bigger front calipers, so be sure whatever you buy clears the caliper first. After the wheels and tires were mounted, balanced and the factory air sensors re-installed, we drove to find the nearest trailhead.
Backcountry adventures in the golden state wouldn't be the same if it were not for the early pioneers, who traversed these mountain ranges. California's gold rush brought with it not only scores of weathered prospectors panning for riches, but also miles of freshly cut trails for their much needed supply wagons. Now, many of these former mining trails are located in approved OHV areas that are managed by the Forest Service or the BLM, and are accessible by anyone eager enough to challenge them. While Sutter's Mill was one of the most profitable gold rush sites in California (1848-1855), far to the south, Holcomb Valley in the San Bernardino National Forest had a mining boom of its own (1859), albeit, somewhat short-lived in comparison.
As the story goes, William F. Holcomb, an Iowa native, got his first sight of the remote valley where he'd later strike gold, while hunting bear for its meat. It was during one such hunting trip that Holcomb stumbled upon a stream bed shimmering with gold. By July of 1860, the valley was swarming with prospectors.
With the news of gold, came miles of crudely constructed mining roads, often right on top of early Indian or wildlife trails. Interestingly, it took wagons 29 days to travel from Los Angeles to Holcomb Valley to re-supply the miners. Today, you can pass through these same trails in a day. To take advantage of the open trails in the San Bernardino National Forest, we loaded up our 5.6L-equipped Nissan Pathfinder LE 4x4, and headed for Big Bear, a winter-retreat located at the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
While much of the gold mining operations in Holcomb Valley have long been abandoned, there is still some active mining happening in select areas and more importantly some amazing historical artifacts to see. If you're there just for the trails though, the San Bernardino Mountains is awash in them, although fire has closed several of the better-known vistas. Some trails are rated as difficult, requiring lockers and more, while others can be tackled in near stock SUVs. In Holcomb Valley, for instance, you can even drive your RV into the main overnight camping area off Trail 3N09 (Van Dusen Canyon Rd). The fire roads there are well maintained and very scenic. The Holcomb Valley area is also remote enough from distant civilization to catch a shooting star at night, and hiking and biking trails are everywhere.
Gold Fever TrailThe Gold Fever Trail is actually a wide fire road that required nothing more than a good set of tires. Fire roads are fine for the experience; we weren't in a hurry and there were more challenging trails to attempt later in the day. Traveling fire roads can be relaxing and a diversion enjoyed by the whole family. Not everyone likes to rock crawl and the worst that can happen is a tire puncture. So don't discount Gold Fever Trail, if not just for fun.
As we stopped by each of the designated historical markers, placed by the Forest Service to highlight the pioneers' significance there, we got a sense of how demanding mining life must have been, especially during the freezing cold winter months when snowfalls blanket the mountains. The area also has its share of wildlife, like deer, cougar, coyote and such. But in the 1800s, grizzly bears were the dominate predator and miners had to keep an eye open even around their campsites. There are 12 historical markers in all, and each has a different story to tell about the early miners who lived and worked there. Gold Fever Trail takes you back to the boom days of Belleville when Two Gun Bill's saloon and Hangman's tree existed. According to early records, the San Bernardino Mountains had its share of outlaws and claim jumpers, and justice was served up swiftly.
Jacoby Canyon TrailAfter our brief tour, we decided to continue to Jacoby Canyon Trail. This trail was rated as moderate, with a few narrow stretches and some rocky step obstacles. There was nothing too difficult, although you didn't want to get too comfortable behind the wheel. You can access the trailhead off Highway 18 or you can start at Trail 3N61, which for us made sense because we had explored the Doble Mine at the summit when we dropped onto the trailhead.
Jacoby Canyon is a short 2.9-mile drive, and you can probably cover it in about an hour. We hiked the boulder outcroppings so it took us twice the time to make it out to Highway 18. Only licensed vehicles were allowed on this old mining road, a restriction put in place to limit traffic congestion and to protect the environment.
The Pathfinder had minor trouble on this trail. We managed to get the A-arms wedged on a boulder and smacked the rear differential a few times too many, but overall it was fun to drive. The BFGoodrich T/A KOs worked as expected, crawling over most everything in our way.
The great outdoors is a big place to be, and when you're out of contact with friends and family on extended backcountry trips in harsh terrain, things can go wrong without anyone ever knowing about it. Obviously, bringing along a cell phone is a great idea, but most of us travel in areas much too remote for a cell signal. An ever better idea is the subscription-based satellite personal tracking device called SPOT, which allows the user to send an emergency 911 call from practically anywhere. You can just let people know you are doing fine by a push of the button, providing your coordinates in latitude and longitude along with the date and time of day of the message. SPOT lets users send and save their exact locations, too, allowing your friends or family to track your progress (in real time) using Google Maps from any place on earth.
We tested SPOT during our trip to the San Bernardino Mountains and added our email address so that we could see if it sent tracking messages from the trail. Within no time, we began to receive our SPOT generated messages. Using only one set of batteries, SPOT can send up to 1,900 "OK" messages. SPOT operates in altitudes as low as minus 300 feet to 21,300 feet, and in temperatures from -40 degrees to 185-degrees Fahrenheit. The initial cost of the SPOT unit is $99 for the basic service with the option of purchasing SPOT features like Track Progress or $100,000 in GEOS rescue coverage.