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What you need to know before wheelin’ the ‘Con - Running The Rubicon

Posted in Features on September 17, 2014
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Photographers: Chrysler

You’ve probably heard and read about it for years, maybe even decades. It’s considered the granddaddy of all rockcrawling trails, and it’s on the bucket list of nearly every die-hard 4x4 enthusiast. In some circles, it’s been hyped up to be the most difficult 22-mile trail in the nation, while other people enjoy the Rubicon on a weekly basis and think of it more as a camping trip on an unimproved road.

A little-known fact is that the Rubicon Trail is actually a trail that has been in use since the late 1800s. In the 1920s, it was simply a gravel path that two-wheel-drive Studebaker wagons had no problem traversing. Today, even though it is an actual county road, the Rubicon Trail offers many challenging obstacles. Harsh winters and spring runoff alter the trail fairly significantly every year. Huge boulders split from expanding winter ice and fall into the trail, trees topple from wind and snow buildup, and dry, dusty valleys can turn into churning creeks. Only one thing is for certain: that the vehicles that travel over the Rubicon, and the trail itself, are constantly changing. We’ve been over the Rubicon trail many times and have managed to make it out alive in everything from a near bone-stock ’71 Jeep CJ-6 to an overly modified fullsize 4x4 on 40-inch tires. You don’t need a monster vehicle to make it over the Rubicon, but you do need to plan appropriately and outfit your 4x4 for the task at hand. There are two entry points to the trailhead. We generally prefer to start at Loon Lake. So for part one of this series, we’ll walk you through from the highway and cover some of the more notable areas up to the Little Sluice. In next month’s part two, we’ll take you from the Little Sluice, through Rubicon Springs, and into Lake Tahoe, as well as provide a few tips on how to build for the Rubicon. You can plug our coordinates into your favorite mapping service to see their locations. For trail conditions, restrictions, weather, and more information on the Rubicon Trail, go to rubicontrail.org.

Jeepers Jamboree
If you don’t have any friends to drag to the Rubicon trail, don’t despair. Every summer you can hop aboard the Jeepers Jamboree and meet plenty of like-minded people just like you. The Jeepers Jamboree is one of the largest events held on the Rubicon Trail. It takes place every July, and 2014 was the 62nd year of the event.

The Jeepers Jamboree crew can spot, pull, and prod you and your Jeep over the bad parts of the trail, help fix broken Jeeps, and more. All you have to do is register at jeepersjamboree.com. Registered wheelers will spend a total of three or four days on the trail. The first day is spent driving into Rubicon Springs. Two full days and three nights are spent at the springs, and on the final day, you finish out the trail to Lake Tahoe. Registered attendees have access to games, meals, a camp bar, live music and dancing among other things. There’s even a vender’s show back in Georgetown where you can ogle the latest in Jeep gadgetry.

For those looking for a less congested, quiet, full-family (10 years old and up) experience on the Rubicon, check out jeepjamboreeusa.com. The event still runs the same world-famous Rubicon trail with overnight stays at Rubicon springs; it’s just a mellower, less adult-only atmosphere.

Ice House Road
GPS Coordinates: 38.769457, -120.447371
Look for Ice House Road on the north side of US Highway 50. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking carefully. A couple hundred yards in, you’ll want to stay to the right and make the hairpin turn. The paved road meanders up the side of the mountain.

Ice House Resort
GPS Coordinates: 38.814286, -120.374983
This is the last stop on Icehouse Road for drinks, ice, snacks, and so on. If you don’t get it here, you ain’t getting it until you reach Tahoe or maybe Rubicon Springs. We have parked tow rigs and trailers here for a small fee. They are more protected from vandalism that you can read about below.

Trailer Parking
GPS Coordinates: 38.985626, -120.329628
This is the overflow parking area. We have parked our truck and trailer here and have had no problems, but it is in the middle of nowhere. If someone wants to mess with your vehicle, they pretty much have free reign to do what they want. The pavement ends shortly down the road.

Loon Lake Dam
GPS Coordinates: 39.002572, -120.310646
To get to the trailhead, you have to cross over the Loon Lake Dam. The gravel road is lined with really cool giant granite blocks. It’s a great photo spot for your group to collect. Be conscientious about jamming up the road for other users, as it’s narrow, but it’s usually not too busy unless it’s Friday or Sunday.

Dam Parking
GPS Coordinates: 39.003193, -120.311421
This is the last remnant of civilization. A lot of people park tow rigs and trailers here behind the dam. It can get busy and packed on Fridays. Be warned, we’ve returned to trailer-sized dents in tow rig doors and had fuel siphoned from the gas tanks of tow rigs left there. Again, it’s in the middle of nowhere and some people are jerks.

This area has a billboard with notes and current regulations for the trail. Read and follow them. Whether or not you can have a campfire is dependent on the fire season. You will likely need a permit if campfires are allowed. Plan ahead, and do your research prior to hitting the trail. Always pack out everything you packed in, and pick up garbage if you see it along the trail.

Trailhead
GPS Coordinates: 39.003350, -120.312450
It’s very easy to get lost in the first 100 yards of the trail. It bends around to the right and heads in an easterly direction up and over the granite slab.

Gatekeeper
GPS Coordinates: 39.005427, -120.309890
This used to be a series of fairly significant obstacles. Several years ago, approval was given to alter them for erosion control. Today, you’ll find poured cement in some areas and boulders that have been blown out with dynamite. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still challenging, but nowhere near as difficult as it once was.

Tight Tree Section
GPS Coordinates: 39.006730, -120.307267
Just after passing the Gatekeeper, you’ll enter into a dusty (if it’s dry) wooded area. There are a few tightly-spaced treed sections. After hours of monotonous highway driving, it’s easy to get distracted and overly confident in the woods. Stay calm and take your time to avoid ripping your bumper ends and taillights off.

The Granite Bowl
GPS Coordinates: 39.008219, -120.307203
You’ll start heading down into the Granite Bowl. Watch out for a tricky twisty S-turn section about half-way down. There is a tall ledge that has tipped over the vehicles of careless drivers. It’s very deceptive at night. If you have never done the trail before, you may want to wait for daylight.

Up the Granite Bowl
GPS Coordinates: 39.011021, -120.308268
Once at the bottom of the Granite Bowl, you’ll head in a northeasterly direction back up and out. Part way up, you’ll run into a tricky section for short wheelbases, especially when loaded down with gear for the weekend. There are a few easier bypasses to the right of this tipsy climb.

Jumbled Rocky Area
GPS Coordinates: 39.013246, -120.307510
At the top of the Granite Bowl, you’ll be turning left into a jumbled rocky and dusty area. The trail meanders to the left, but ultimately, you want to keep staying on the trail that goes to the right, where you will meet up with what is called Wentworth Springs Road. It’s not much of a road anymore.

Granite Bridge
GPS Coordinates: 39.022818, -120.306832
The creek crossing usually isn’t very deep. More water will be flowing in early spring. By September it’s typically only a few inches deep. Just after the water crossing, there is a treed, rocky, dusty, and dugout section. Eventually you’ll get to the fastest part of the trail. It lasts about a 1⁄2 mile or so. You may even choose to put your 4x4 in high-range 2WD here.

Tight Tricky Spot
GPS Coordinates: 39.022055, -120.283805
Depending on erosion and how the rocks have been stacked, this area of the trail can be an easy obstacle or a pain in the butt. If it’s a mess, you’ll be glad you have sturdy rocker protection. There is no bypass, because the trail is on the side of a hill surrounded by vegetation.

Rocky Climb
GPS Coordinates: 39.022368, -120.290668
We’re sure it has an official name, as most obstacles on the Rubicon do. This rough, rocky climb can be a challenge. Some of the rocks move around on the face. Generally, the easier line is off to the right, but sometimes you have to sort of work your way back and forth to get to the top.

Soup Bowl
GPS Coordinates: 39.021646, -120.279966
This optional stair-step obstacle on the left of the main trail is known as Soup Bowl. It can be an extremely challenging climb for both short- and long-wheelbase 4x4s alike. Make sure all your goods are strapped down prior to giving it a go. If you plan to stop for the night near Little Sluice, you might as well go unload and setup camp. You can come back to the obstacle because it isn’t far.

Little Sluice
GPS Coordinates: 39.020384, -120.274946 This is the entrance to the famous Little Sluice. There are lots of great camping spots in this general area. Remember that vehicles are allowed to be parked a maximum of 25 feet from the center of the trail.

Little Sluice used to be a popular hangout spot for heavily modified 4x4s. It was one of the few parts of the Rubicon trail that an extremely capable 4x4 was needed. For the rest of us not interested in beating our chests, there was a bypass to the right with plenty of parking so you could stop and watch the antics. Today, the Little Sluice has been “paved” and is much easier than what it was in the recent past. From here you will continue east and start down the backside of the mountain.

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