This is an multi-part post written by Jeremy Knight about his 2013 adventure on the Rubicon as a first-timer.
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 3
The beer is done. The greetings are over. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Erik, my younger brother by seven years, but it’s time to drive trail. When I lived in the Bay Area, we used to do quite a bit together, mainly backpacking and fly fishing in the Sierras. Then in 1994, I moved my family to Bellingham, Washington for a job (lousy reason to move, but good place to live). Erik and I met at Mount Shasta a few times, until we finally succeeded in climbing it and then things kind of petered out. He has his family; I have mine; we had to “get on with it.”
In January of 2009, I bought a used FJ Trail Teams (out of nostalgia for an FJ-40 our father owned) from a really cool guy in Pittsburgh, PA. I took a Jet Blue red-eye out of Seattle (so that I could sleep on the plane and save on a hotel). After a few hours at the dealership, the paperwork was done. I headed west in the dead of winter with my new prize. That trip was an adventure in itself.
Later, Erik purchased his Jeep JK. “This was going to be our reconnect,” I told myself. Fast-forward to August and here we are: Rubicon Reconnect. Rookies on the Rubicon. Time to drive.
Erik, my brother. Owner of the Jeep JK Caleb, his son. Our staff photographer who took most of the awesome pictures for this post.
Josh, my oldest son. Our trail guide. He called trail like a pro and kept us from disaster, against our will.
I was glad to leave the mockers behind, people who expressed no faith in our success, we had to believe. We were going to spend two half-days and two full-days on the trail. Our objective today was to get near the Little Sluice, then camp. This would put us ahead of the morning crush and in a better frame of mind to push on to Buck Island Lake the next day.
The Gatekeeper was our first obstacle. By all accounts, it was very de-clawed from its former self. We still found it to be rather troubling. We paced and postulated, but in the end, we had to drive, daylight was burning, and it all came out fine.
After the Gatekeeper we enjoyed the vistas of Granite Bowl. What a beautiful place, kind of a western Moab, with granite slickrock. We met a family camping near the top, they had the best campsite on the trail. (Note to self.)
From there we encountered a series of difficult uphills that I believe are called Walker Hill. At first glance they foster self-doubt. If you watch your line though, you’ll get through with a boost in both adrenaline and confidence.
We nearly drove to the Little Sluice, but there were campers there, so we found a nice place nearby to set up and spend the night. After dinner and a couple of beers, we walked to the Sluice and confirmed that we were not going to run it. Little did we know, it wouldn’t be the toughest part of the trail we’d encounter—just be the toughest optional part…
August is a beautiful time in the Sierras. I woke early, made coffee, and walked some of the trail before the others got up. I was trying to embed in my mind what was next. That nagging sour-ache of dread was firmly attached to my gut now. I would have to learn to ignore it or risk missing out on the joy of the adventure and the beauty of the place. Otherwise I would end up focusing on the trail’s difficulties, not its opportunities. I knew that Erik was dealing with it too—he’d asked for an antacid the night before. Fortunately I had some, stashed in my backpack for use at work.
We had performed well through the Gatekeeper, cruised Granite Bowl, and had had no surprises going up Walker Hill. Our confidence was growing. But my rig was riding low, as the scrapes and bangs of the previous day confirmed. I decided to put some air back in my tires to get back some ground clearance. I was thankful that I had invested in a diff-skid before my Utah trip, and knew that the truck was well protected. With DoM sliders and 3/16″ Bud Built, steel skid plates from nose to tail, I was able to endure the noise, confident that I was not damaging my vehicle.
Walking through the Little Sluice (LS) and its surroundings, I could see that the trail was painted with “car blood.” It spoke of people getting stuck, with major problems, who now had to find their way home. That made my stomach grind worse. Secretly, I feared what would happen to me, a thousand miles from my home, if I caused my car to “bleed” like that.
Later that morning, we got underway. We’d made it over a shelf and through a nasty pinch rock that offered to modify our sheet metal. We didn’t let it. A narrow drop, and some rather tippy sections, were the last obstacles we traversed before the LS.
A fun YouTube vid doing the tripod
Then up on to the granite slabs, we did the bypass.
Once that section was finished, we parked at the bottom of the hill and walked back up to see if the LS was going to have any takers on this bright morning.
Most people followed in our tracks without taking a second look, but after an hour or so one group decided to go for it. They all made it through with no real issues, a few nagging steering complaints when they were done, but nothing major. We still decided to leave that problem for our next time around, though it was fun to watch.
We moved on. Our plan was to make it to Buck Island Lake and make camp for the night. The general plan was to make today (Friday) the long day, then cruise into Rubicon Springs for a leisurely Saturday. On Sunday we’d hit the trail early, with Cadillac Hill as our only objective, and get out.
We met a Trail Steward right above the Indian Trail/Old Sluice junction—he must have seen we were Indian Trail material. It wasn’t without its own nice set of off-camber challenges.
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 1, The Ground Rules
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 2, Loon Lake Trailhead
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 3, Little Sluice
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4, Buck Island Lake to Martini Tree
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 5, Midnight Buggies at Martini Tree
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 6, The Big Sluice
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 7, Cadillac Hill