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Moab Jeep Adventure: Hell's Gate and a Hummer

Posted in Features on December 27, 2017
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Editor’s note: Jered is Four Wheeler’s new staff editor, Jeep owner, and weekend expedition enthusiast. In an unfortunate encounter with a drunk driver, his ’02 TJ was wrecked and he is now on a mission to prove the mettle of his stock ’17 two-door JK Wrangler. This is the story of his second weekend rip through Moab, Utah.

I was not in the Thanksgiving spirit for the right reasons. My family lives a couple thousand miles away, I despise turkey, and Los Angeles lacks the fiery fall foliage and brisk autumn winds necessary to get my Fall juices flowing. The Thanksgiving holiday was lit up bright on my radar nonetheless—because it granted me two extra days of weekend, which are essential to escape the seething traffic.

I needed a road trip, a wheeling trip actually—since I do have this Jeep and otherwise cannot justify driving something with such dismal fuel mileage. I might have lied about the distance to family, my grandparents live the snowbird life in Tucson, Arizona and invited me to a steak dinner (they understand my hatred of turkey). This was the starter fluid for a plan. Start with the eight-hour push to Tucson, then head north to Moab once the feast was over. If my math checks out, it looks like I’m driving exactly 2,000 miles before work on Monday.

Traffic on L.A.’s infamous 405 freeway made national news Wednesday night as I left the city, thankfully the millions of cars were coming into the city as I exited. Let’s fast forward through the hugging and food eating in Tucson, because the real fun started as I hit the two-lane highways after midnight, crossing from Arizona into Utah.

I checked the definition and I’m fairly certain I was overlanding, or at least living exclusively out of my vehicle for five days. I sold the Jeep’s back seat so I can stretch out a sleeping bag and sleep comfortably with the passenger seat folded forward. For anyone who has camped around Moab, one of the more spectacular views comes halfway up Sand Flats road, on the edge of a formation called Porcupine Rim, where one is afforded a view of Castle Valley below, painted red and orange in the glow of the sunrise. The drive here had taken an entire day so this was Saturday, and it was cold, refreshingly cold.

Speaking of cold, my first goal was to find snow—another thing I’m guaranteed to never see in L.A., right beside uncongested freeways or solitude. Thirty minutes of cruising the gravel roads into the La Sal mountains led me to the white stuff. I really wanted to see how the stock street tires held up in the snow, secretly hoping I’d get stuck somewhere and need my winch. No matter how many deep banks I plowed through and ditches I pointed the Jeep toward, I had a disappointing lack of winch use. I’ll go out in a blizzard next time.

Next up was more slickrock, the real reason anyone goes to Moab. The caveat of this trip was that I was not traveling solo, as I normally do. My friend and his white husky met me in town and demanded to be shown a good time, so Hell’s Revenge it was. To put his wheeling experience in perspective, he was dumbfounded when I stopped at the trailhead to unbolt the sway bars.

Traffic was heavy on the trail that day and we soon found ourselves waiting behind a built four-door JK and what appeared to be a decommissioned Humvee. We were at the base of the first real slickrock hillclimb on the trail and the hummer seemed to be taking a while repositioning for the climb, in fact, the driver had the rig pointed up the hill—backwards. He must have seen my look of bewilderment out my open window because he shouted “They call this Reverse Hill, son!” The hummer, which I deduced to be diesel-powered from its grumble, undoubtedly climbed the hill in reverse. As soon as I could think to myself “No way in Hell I’m doing that” the hummer pilot shouted, “Bet ya won’t try it!” Darn peer pressure, it’s just driving in a straight line anyways. I made a quick three-point turn and had the JK’s rear end pointed skyward, foot steady on the accelerator. Simple—just follow the trail of black tire marks and don’t make any unnecessary turns. These things never look as impressive when you’re sitting safely at the top, but it must have been intimidating enough for my passengers to feel the need to exit the vehicle.

Despite its name, Hell’s Revenge is mainly a leisurely petrified sand dune cruise, until you happen upon the fun obstacles. We found a small ledge that I knew would be no trouble for a built rig, but was sure to test my skidplates. Perfect place to show my passengers what it means to give it the “old Moab bump!” Skidplates and street tires were certainly abused in the process.

Hell’s Gate is one of Moab’s more sought-after attractions, featuring an axle-twisting climb up a steep sandstone V-notch. Many rigs have met their untimely demise rolling backwards down this climb after choosing the wrong line. Hell’s Gate is far more ominous to see in person, and even more so when you’ve been convinced to position yourself at its bottom. My friends in the Hummer, citing their extensive knowledge of the trail system, suggested I give it a try—with no lift, no lockers, and factory-size tires. Was I terrified? Rightfully so, but here I was. Again, the task is simple. Straddle the v-notch and keep the sticky side down.

Steep, my goodness this is steep. I was thankful for my spotter on the radio since all I could see out the windshield was sky. The words “keep coming” kept coming until my front left tire reached for the sky and the Jeep teetered back. “Whoah whoah stop.” Darn right I was stopped. I was halfway up that ditch and rocking backwards, about to become one of those “Epic Jeep rolls down Hell’s Gate” videos. “Back up.” Internally wondering how that would help, I trusted my spotter and crunched the transmission into reverse. After rocking a few more times, my tire made its way back to the rock. I could breathe again, well, not yet. “come forward, more passenger this time.” Steady on the gas, the tires chirped, the electronic-braking-control mimicked a limited-slip differential, and I made it up.

The friendly spotters at the top only then told me “We didn’t really think you’d make it, well done.” Great, but I suppose that’s a success for the stock JK. My reward? Most importantly, not rolling down Hell’s Gate, but also a chance to drive the Hummer, since I’d demonstrated my wheeling wherewithal. I never thought I’d get the chance to pilot one of these machines, but sure enough, there I was spooling up the diesel engine so the troop-carrying behemoth could grab enough traction on the sandstone. Maybe I’ll trade the Jeep someday. Another night spent camping in the Jeep’s trunk space and it was time to trek back to the city—a 12-hour parade of taillights. As I nestled the Jeep into its curbside parking space in dismal Los Angeles, I surveyed the damage. One flattened tailpipe, three bashed skidplates, and a rear fender that must have kissed the rock when the Jeep teetered on Hell’s Gate. Obviously nothing that stopped me from completing the 2,000 mile loop.

Decommissioned Hummer getting wheels in the air on Hell's Revenge.

Time to scrape together a couple hours of rest before work, and start planning the next excursion.

'93 Ford F-150 crusing some of Moab's smoother trails
Found this '93 Ford F-150 with the elusive I-6 engine playing in Moab

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