The center of the Milky WayForest Wander from Cross Lanes, USA
Photo: Forest Wander from Cross Lanes, USA, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Story editing: Nik Schulz

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 5

Midnight Buggies at Martini Tree

Later on that evening, after an wonderful, restoring swim in Buck Island Lake, a dinner of hot-links with sliced tomatoes and onions on hoagie rolls (with sweet mustard), and a beer or so, we decided to walk down the hill, towards the Big Sluice Box. A challenge that we would not be able to by-pass. It was twilight, so we took flashlights to explore what we would be forced to drive the next day.

Turning around, at this point, was out of the question. We did not have the appetite to return the way we had come—that wasn’t going to happen. That would also be admitting defeat and wasn’t going to happen either.

We had walked just past the second switchback, when we began to see lights flashing up through the tunnel of trees, way down the trail below us. Soon, we heard music and then we could hear voices. It sounded like a party, except that it was moving up the hill towards us rather quickly.

Curious, we decided to step back into the trees for cover and wait to see what it was, that was coming our way. It was dark by then, so we were well concealed. It wasn’t long before we realized that, coming up the rocky alley, at a pretty good pace, in the dark; was a crew of crawler buggies making short work of whatever challenges the Big Sluice could possibly offer them. As they approached, we could see that they had “crawl lights” underneath their frames and in their wheel wells, shining down on the rocks they were climbing over. They also had exoskeletons covering their well-abused sheet metal as well as 42″ tires. (We asked later, as tire size was increasingly becoming important to us.)

They had girls (young women, not children) riding in the back, standing on the truck beds and holding on to the rollbars and whooping it up, in a big way as they surfed over the toughest route the drivers could find. It was obvious that they were having fun and weren’t worried in the slightest about rolling over. It was pretty amazing to see what these vehicles and their pilots were capable of driving, with little advance notice, not being able to see the trail beyond their lights.

At that point, realizing that there might be something fun to learn here, we turned on our flashlights and revealed our presence. They stopped and we chatted for a while. They had nice Blue Heeler dogs and very interesting vehicles. They were from the Tahoe area and had been building these crawlers up for several years. This was what they did for kicks. Would we like a tequila shot? Well sure! Why not?

The rest of the evening is a bit blurry now, but I do remember that it was a lot of fun, a nice diversion, that took our minds off of the possibility of failure ahead. If we had walked down much further and had seen the narrow tree and rock squeezes, and the boulder tumbles that lay in our path, we probably would not have slept very well that night.

This was our climb up Buck Island “Cascade.”

A fun view on the way into “crawler corner”

Being on the Rubicon is always an adventure. On every visit, it has provided some sort of an extra-curricular diversion .

I was there for the first time 26 years ago with my friend Dayn. We had decided to do a weekend mountain bike trip in late September; when the weather is usually a bit temperamental in the High Sierras. We rode down into Rubicon Springs (which was more primitive then than it is now) and quickly made camp. The temperature was dropping quickly and the sky looked angry. The first thing we did was to gather lots of wood and get a nice roaring fire going. At that point, we were the only people there annd it began to snow.

Near twilight, a group of jeepers showed up, and with them, a bit of excitement. First, they heaped up a bunch of firewood and threw about a gallon of gas on it and proceeded to light it off. They all had to scramble back about 20 feet to avoid the initial inferno. As the gas burnt off, they slowly crept back towards the fire, until the snow finally put it out.

We were warm and our fire was ripping along pretty well – so we invited them over. They brought beers with them and began to tell us about a guy who had driven his full-size “OJ” Ford Bronco onto the trail and was in a really bad way, somewhere behind them. They didn’t know how far back. It was quite a sight, but he refused to be helped.

About 45 minutes later, here comes the Bronco guy and he was in a panic. By now the snow was accumulating. We surveyed what used to be a nicely fixed-up white and red truck, but now had damage, everywhere we looked. Every body panel was damaged. Aluminum trim was sticking out randomly like branches on a dead tree. You could tell he had forced his truck through some very narrow places; It was an awful sight. We felt badly for him, but he would not be consoled, or delayed. No matter how much people tried to convince him to make camp, he would not stop and headed off into the night and up Cadillac Hill.

There was quite a bit of commotion for a couple of hours as people headed off into the night to answer his distress calls on the CB. But when the next day dawned, clear and warmer, we rode and pushed our way, back up the Cadillac and he was nowhere to be seen.

After driving the current version of the trail, I have a lot of admiration for that guy. Foolhardy or not, I could not imagine doing the Rubicon Trail in a full-size Bronco and being successful in any way. Especially through the sections that were to come the next day.

One of tomorrow’s challenges.


Photo: Caleb Knight

Next, Part 6 -> The Big Sluice

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

Expedition Portal: Rookies on the Rubicon