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2004 ARB Toyota 4Runner - Exploring the Owyhee Range

Posted in Ultimate Adventure on September 27, 2006
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Contributors: Scott Brady

With its sparse population and wide-open spaces, Idaho is an adventurer's paradise. From the rugged Sawtooth Mountain Range to the remote high-desert region along the Owyhee River, off-highway explorers have a nearly boundless playground. My trail run with the Northwest Cruisers of Idaho started south of Nampa along the northern watershed of the Silver City Range. The Owyhee Mountains and neighboring highlands were first explored by non-natives in 1818 under the Donald Mackenzie Expedition. The goal of this early exploration was to establish fur trading routes back to Boise and meet the demands for fur back in the eastern U.S. Interestingly enough, the name Owyhee is not native, but Hawaiian, for the three Hawaiian members of that first expedition.

The cold was biting at 7:45 a.m. while I waited for the rest of the group to arrive. I was parked along the Snake River at Walters Ferry, which nearly creates a wall between the expanses of Boise's growth and the remote deserts to the south. Within minutes, numerous and various Toyotas began rolling into the meeting point, and the usual chatter about tires, axles, and gearing filled the air. Brian Davis was the trip leader for the day and led the group east on Highway 78 toward the Owyhee Front Management Area (Rabbit Creek Trailhead) and the Lost Trail.

The trail begins with a lava rock embedded surface; I was glad I had aired down and thankful for the smooth-riding Old Man Emu suspension in the '04 ARB 4Runner I was driving. The trail is easy for the first 2.5 miles before turning to the west and up an unnamed intermittent stream. From there, the Lost Trail begins, and a series of optional challenges requires the driver's full attention. The first challenge was a crossed-axle notch that lifted the rear tire on the 4Runner. With the rear ARB locker engaged, I slowly proceeded over the outcropping to minimize suspension compression and slider contact on the rock. After the first obstacle, a tight, driver-side turn was required, lifting the front end over a 2-foot shelf. Good breakover angle reduced the chance of scraping.

The BFG All-Terrains on the 4Runner maintained traction, and the truck crested the top of the challenge with little drama. Several other vehicles attempted the challenge, including the lone Land Rover in attendance. The long travel of the coil-sprung Discovery allowed Ernie to pilot his '97 through the challenge with little wheelspin.

The trail continues northeast, traversing a series of washes created by the massive watershed of Black Mountain and the northern Silver City Range. Several of the stream bottoms were covered in ice, protected by the shadows of the high, rocky walls. The ice greatly increased the challenge of several obstacles, creating an issue for the open-differential vehicles. The traction control on the 4Runner was quite effective in these spots, reducing any understeer that would have been caused by locking the front axle.

The final challenge was a narrow canyon with a series of ledges and waterfalls. The first ledge had the added challenge of a cambered approach, pitching the side of the vehicle towards the rock wall. It was critical to proceed slowly and smoothly, limiting the chance of the vehicle sliding. A few smaller ledges positioned the vehicle at the base of a 10-foot-tall waterfall. To add difficulty to the challenge, a stream of frozen water stuck to the face, limiting the lines you could attempt. The long wheelbase and locking differentials on the 4Runner made the climb easy, and I crested the lip without spinning a tire. Several of the open-diff vehicles also tried the falls, which made for great entertainment but fortunately no broken parts. Exiting the final obstacle sent us through a narrow notch filled with boulders. The Land Cruiser suffered heavy damage to the factory steps due to a moment of aggressive driving. After exiting the Lost Trail, the route out was easy all the way to Reynolds Creek Road.

Southern Idaho provides a great opportunity for exploration and four-wheel-drive challenge, which were made even better by a great group of four-wheelers from the NW Cruisers. The ARB 4Runner exceeded my expectations and made for a very comfortable and capable trail vehicle. Look for more adventures in this overland-prepared Toyota in future issues of Off-Road magazine.

Trailhead and Hwy. 78: N43 16.841 W116 34.460
Bear right at Y-intersection: N43 16.457 W116 34.798
Bear right into wash: N43 15.058 W116 35.979
Turn right: N43 14.214 W116 36.996
Turn left into wash,
challenges begin:
N43 14.397 W116 37.148
Bear right: N43 15.442 W116 38.931
Turn left: N43 16.431 W116 39.732
Trail ends, turn right onto
Upper Reynolds Creek Road:
N43 16.750 W116 40.008
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