For 3 days I travelled with this FH4D off-road group out of Oakdale, CA. I was invited and collaborated with Mike Kirkpatrick, @mkcrawler, on this shoot.
At 4 am on August 21, 2020, I was up, packed, and ready to roll. From my location in Murphys, CA I met them at a gas station in Farmington, CA, roughly an hour west. It wasn’t the greatest weather as California is experiencing one heck of a busy fire season and the air was thick with a smokey haze and smell – still does now about 5 days later. Everyone met up here, made introductions, and prepped to head out. About half of the group was pulling their off-road rig (all Jeeps) and the other half were driving their rig there.
After stopping once for a break, we made it to the trailhead at Loon Lake a couple of hours later. There was a fairly large group there prepping to leave also. We had about 12 rigs or so in our group, a fairly large one. The Rubicon Trail is essential a one-lane boulder infested route, so when traffic is coming both ways, somehow, someway, someone has to get over to let the other pass. And driving at about 1mph makes for a slow pass with 12 rigs.
We were finally off on the trail. It took maybe 5 minutes and we were crawling. In that first 5 minutes, we also saw the trips first casualty. Someone, not from our group, was towing another vehicle out through the rocky terrain.
One by one, our group began the adventure of endless crawling, inhaling dust and sweating each bump and slam that their vehicles would remain intact. Sadly, the trip didn’t allow us to leave unscathed as we had a few breakdowns, a couple requiring the skilled welders of the group to jump into action.
Once you start the trail from Loon Lake, to enter at the dam and meander through some trees and over some granite rock. In all, the trail is quite a pretty location, some spots just beautiful. So maybe 10 minutes in you crest over this switchback dirt section of trail and instantly you see an incredible view. You are basically at the top of what I can only describe as a giant, forest size granite soup bowl. Granite everywhere, but not rocky, boulder crawling terrain, but a relatively smooth granite surface. In any other vehicle, as you drop down into this bowl, you’d be terrified your tires would just slip and you’d slide down to the bottom of the bowl to your doom. But these crawlers, they just slowly drop down into the bowl only to climb up the other side, following the markers that guide them in the direction of the trail.
At the top of the other side of the bowl is when our first issue occurred. One of our group members, a firefighter in a really cool silver Jeep was attempting to follow the trail up a step in the smooth granite surface and pop! All the bolts in one of his engine mounts sheered right off. My own thoughts were, “man, how’s he gonna fix this?” Little did I know, as I knew very little of this group, was that this group weren’t just off-road veterans, but very skilled mechanics, welders, and just plain awesomeness. It took minutes for them to decide what was needed, how to fix it, and how to get rolling again. Within an hour or so the bolts were replaced and we were rolling back up the granite bowl.
Everyone hopped back in their vehicles, starting the train of massive tires on the trail and 5 minutes later, snap… another break down. I don’t recall exactly the issue, but I believe something it was something with the suspension. The part simply snapped off. No issue… the hood of a group vehicle popped open to reveal a welding machine. They fired it up, welded the part back into place and away we went again. Luckily, that was to be the last issue for a while.
We spent the rest of that Friday crawling, climbing, laughing, and just having a great time. Because of the two breakdown issues, we didn’t make to our intended destination but instead found a great spot for us all to set up camp, get some food in us, share a few laughs and finally get to bed. The following day would be a day of exploring and playing on the trail.
Saturday morning, we were off again to play on the rocks! We’ll post a continuing blog post soon.