Page updated: 04/01/2001 02:17 PM
A Night to Remember
By Clay Cissell
Thanks to NAGCA and Clay for the article!
Mount Rainer....the morning after
You may notice that I did not put trail run in the title of this report. I would classify this as an adventure or journey or an excursion, but not a trail run. I learned a lot about working together, eating pride and how to "MacGuiver" your way out of situations. I have a whole new view on wheeling that can not be put on paper or viewed through film to explain. It was one of those things that you had to be there and experience it to truly understand. I will do my best to share the night with you in this report.
It started about 2:00 when I arrived at Mark's house. Gary and Mark were working in the garage on Mark's rig. This was the first time I saw the brain child of Mark's drawings. I even got to help a bit, in a minor supportive role, as they worked on the suspension, steering and drivetrain mounts. Around 5:00 Deb brought my youngest daughter, Gina-Marie and her friend from next door, Geoffrey. That was about the same time that Hugh, Michael and Deanna showed up. Lori went into hospitality mode and fixed us dinner. This meal would give us the energy to get us through the night. Shortly before 7:00 Rob and Dan showed up with their respective rigs. At the last minute Michael decided to leave his WJ at Mark's house since he is still working with DC on some warranty issues. This turned out to be a very good decision on Michaels behalf. Advantage #17, a Grand Cherokee seats 5 passengers comfortably.
In Front of Mark's House
We left Mark's place shortly after 7:00 and our first stop was the Texaco off Highway 410 in Sumner. I elected not to fill up since we had 3/4 of a tank and we never use more than a half tank on a trail run. The first thing that I learned on this adventure is to always top off your tank. As we were leaving the gas station the first hint of the night exposed itself when Dan's rig didn't want to go. His CJ sputtered and spit as gasoline fumes filled the passenger compartment. The ole gal made its way to the highway as Dan adjusted his in-cab fuel injector controller. After a few stops to make adjustments to the fuel system we made it to the Evans Creek turn off. As we climbed in elevation the un-maintained roadway was soon covered with ice. We heard laughter on the CB as the convoy slowed to a stop. We could see Dan ahead with his rig facing west on a southbound road. He had hit a slick spot on the road and spun out. As we were waiting for him to get turned in the right direction my passengers advised me we were moving sideways. I still had my foot on the brake but the rear of the vehicle was heading towards the side of the road. Then the front started to slide towards the bank also. We stopped where the ice and snow met on the side of the road. After Dan had righted himself we slowly accelerated from our resting spot and continued towards the parking lot.
Dan Getting advise and Help from Mark & Gary
We arrived at the Evans Creek parking lot where we aired down our tires and prepared for the journey. With a typical bombardment of advice, Dan continued to dial out his fuel problems. We were ready to hit the trail with Gary in his TJ leading the way with Mark filling the role as trusty trail slave. Next was Hugh in his TJ with Deanna playing the role of co-pilot and spotter. Then there was Dan, who would be our center piece for this adventure who was flanked by his best friend, and wife, Julie. The Grand Pooh-Bah was next in line with Michael as his spotter and Gina-Marie and Geoffrey playing the role of backseat drivers. Following up in the tail gunner position was Rob in his Yota Land Cruiser with Gordon as his co-pilot.
Instead of going up the 311 trail, which starts at the parking lot, we elected to go down to the camping area and take a left up the 198 trail. After heading up the trail a short distance there is a fork in the road. It is one of those high road and low road situations. We took the high road and soon afterwards our memories were reminded that we were suppose to take the low road since this trail comes to a dead end. After getting the 5 rigs turned around we returned to the fork and took the correct path. Up to this point the trail resembled a logging road. This was soon going to change as this trail started to climb in elevation. The ruts got deeper and the trees got closer to the trail. The trail was transforming quickly into a challenge as the turns started to get tighter and the protruding roots started to scrape against the side of The Grand Pooh-Bah. As we maneuvered around a corner that banked into the tree roots on the downhill side we found ourselves high centered on a large root beneath us. We tried to make our way over the root without creasing the right side against the bank.
After several futile attempts we decided it was time to pull some cable. $$ toll fee . Rob and Gordon assisted us as we pulled The Grand Pooh Bah free from the grasp of the mighty tree root. After a few more turns we found ourselves in a new predicament. We were faced with high banks on both sides of the trail. The trail itself was banked heavily to one side and what was mud during the day had become an icy gotcha by night. The temperature had dropped to 27° and we were about to experience what happens when slick mud is mixed with ice. As we approached the first turn gravity took over and we slid into the bank.
I could hear the crunching of metal against the unforgiving dirt and roots that were frozen in place. Geoffrey covered his head with a blanket and Gina-Marie clinched her teeth as we tried to maneuver forwards and backward to escape the icy clutches of the bank. No mater which line I tried to take the same result occurred. We would slide back into the bank. After several more approaches we finally maneuvered ourselves to the upper side of the trail and as it appeared that we would make it around the corner the rear end lost its grip on the trail and slid back into the roots where we heard the crunching of plastic.
It took a bit of help from everyone to get The Grand Pooh-bah off the bank
With a broken tail light we again decided it was time to pull some cable. With the assistance of Rob and Gordon we again freed ourselves from the grasp of the trail. Little did we know that the next turn would be similar in approach. The main difference was that the trail banked to the drivers side with the icy roots and mud staring me in the face. By this time I must admit that I was not having any fun. The Grand Pooh-Bah was starting to look like an aluminum can after a nervous weight lifter had worked it over. Every time I tried to make the corner I would slide into the bank and the roots would try to remove the drivers mirror. As my frustration built the rest of the group came back to watch as we attempted to escape the icy pinball trap. With some authoritative commands from Gary, who had taken over the spotter position, we were able to muscle our way out of the situation with the mirror still attached. By this time my pride had diminished and the memories of conquering this trail on a previous run were of little comfort.
Escaping the icy banks Hugh & Gary catch a ride
With The Grand Pooh-Bah beaten and battered we continued up the trail with additional passengers riding on the rear bumper. We ended this portion of the evening at the end of the 197 trail. This is where we took a short break as we decided what to do next. After all it was only midnight and we still had time to do one more quick trail run. We decided to return to the parking lot and go up the 311 trail. It was one of those trails that was challenging enough to keep us awake and short enough to get us home at a decent hour. Well the first half of the trail was a walk in the park. We cruised up without any cable being pulled and we stopped at the first vista and admired the view of Mount Rainer under the stars and moonlight. This reminded us why we were out here, to be closer to the beauty that God created. The view we were admiring was not one that you could experience from the arm chair in your living room or reach in the family sedan. This was a moment for a wheeler to relish and log in the memory banks. Michael and Deanna decided to change passenger positions and Michael continued with Hugh and Deanna became a passenger in The Grand Pooh-Bah.
As we started up the 311A trail we were led by Rob then Gary with The Grand Pooh-Bah in close pursuit followed by Dan and then Hugh was the tail gunner. The second leg started out with no problem even though we were now in deeper snow and the temperature was starting to feel even cooler with a slight breeze in the air. We approached the first minor obstacle where there were two ways to maneuver the short steep hill. Mark directed us to the left where we maneuvered around several alders to re-enter the main trail. Dan went straight up and stopped behind Gary. Hugh drove up the hill with his momentum caring him to the top effortlessly. We continued down the trail with a fair amount of spacing due to the slick conditions we were experiencing.
As we came to where the grade started to increase up the mountain we increased our distance between vehicles. I could see Dan's tail lights up the trail between the trees. Then I noticed that they were getting closer and closer yet I was not moving. I heard a frantic message over the radio " We're sliding back down get out of the way" I popped The Grand Pooh-Bah into reverse and started heading back down the trail with Hugh doing the same thing. Dan's rig came to a stop in the trail and he tried to go up again with no progress. He backed up in an attempt to find some traction and would go a few feet and his tires would spin. He continued doing this as Hugh and I continued to back down the trail to give him room. After traveling down the trail nearly a quarter mile in reverse Dan reached the conclusion that the only way he was going to make progress was to pull some cable. We pulled all the cable out of the drum and hooked up to a tree with a tree saver. Dan winched himself up the trail to the tree. Mean while as we were trying to get Dan up the trail Rob continued up the trail to scout it out. At this point we hooked Dan's rig up with a tow strap around a tree to hold him in place as we pulled the cable again. The trail was slicked over with a solid layer of ice and if we hadn't hooked him up with the tow strap his rig would have just slid back down the trail. As I pulled the cable out of the drum to the end I was approaching Gary's rig. I hollered to Gary to back his rig down the trail so that we could use it as an anchor point. After no reply from Gary I quickly scanned the area for a trap or some other devious device that Gary and Mark might have set up for me to walk into. That's another story within it's self. I hollered again and this time I could see that they were in the rig. I guess when you get older you have to take cat naps every chance you get. ;) After Gary got his rig turned around we hooked Dan's Cable up to Gary and gave Dan the all clear. As we were waiting for Dan to winch himself to us we heard him yelling up to us that his battery was dead.
Dan & Julie on the trail with one head light
As Gary was getting ready to head down to Dan to jump his battery we got a report from Rob that the trail was going to be too difficult unless you had lockers front and rear. With the steep incline and icy conditions we decided that it was time to accept defeat and head back down the mountain. Since Hugh was in the back he turned around and headed down first. He decided to head toward the camping area to confirm that the gate was still closed for the winter. We backed down to the location where Hugh had backed off the trail to turn around. Our tires wouldn't turn off of the trail due to the ice. After several attempts we decided to use a tree saver and pull ourselves into the turn around spot. After maneuvering ourselves around we headed back down the trail. After going only a few 100 feet through two large ice puddles and a small hill, we got another message that Dan was in trouble. Apparently he decided to turn around in the trail where it was much narrower. He paid the price with a severely bent drag link. I parked The Grand Pooh-Bah and left the engine running with Deanna keeping the kids company. I walked back to where Gary, Mark and Dan were checking the bent drag link on Dan's disabled CJ. With flashlights and some basic had tools Gary got the drag link removed. Mark and I tried to bend the drag link back by wedging it in Dans front bumper. While we were slowly working it back to it original position it all of a sudden became easy to move. The drag link broke right at the bend. With frustration and the pain of an earlier fall in the ice, showing on Dan's face we were all feeling a bit discouraged at that point. It was after 4:00 AM and we were getting tired of this mountain to say the least.
Hugh and Michael were at the vista point trying to reach our spouses to let them know that we were okay. After several attempts at different location they finally found a spot where the cell service provided a signal. Mark decided that we needed a fire to keep warm and it would help provide some needed light to continue the trail repair. We got word to Rob to head back down the mountain and retrieve Gary's car trailer and a drag link that Mark had in his garage.
With a drag link precariously close to breaking into two pieces Gary came up with an idea. If we could cut a piece of a high lift jack handle off and slip it over the broken drag link we could then use a ratchet strap to keep it together. I walked back to the Grand Pooh-Bah and located my tiny tim saw and the Costco trail mix. When I returned the fire was providing adequate light for us to get started on the drag link repair. I carefully cut the hollow 1" diameter jack handle with Gary keeping it steady. If you aren't familiar with a tiny tim saw, it is has a very small blade with tiny little teeth. If you manhandle it the blade will break. After cutting the handle to the proper length we broke the drag link into two pieces and shoved them into the ends of the handle. We then reinstalled the drag link on the CJ and connected a ratchet strap from the pitman arm to the knuckle at the other end. After cinching up the strap the ends of the strap were wrapped around the drag link to keep them out of the way. Mark then wrapped this with electrical tape to keep the ratchet from moving around.
We consumed some trail mix and Gary warmed his cold wet feet before we extinguished the fire in the snow covered trail. It was time to test out our trail repair. We loaded up and started back down the trail. Slipping and sliding we finally made it to the vista point where we had admired the mountain view earlier that night. Since the gate was locked at the camping area we were going to have to continue down the 311 trail towards the parking lot. Just before we reached the second portion of the trail that would lead us to victory Dan called on the radio that he lost his steering again. We stopped and I walked back to check the problem. The ratchet strap had broken and we were back at square one. Thankfully Hugh was back with us and he had a heavier duty ratchet strap. Mark and I used some of the old strap and the new heavier duty one to put Dan's rig back in working order.
The Grand Pooh-Bah was now in the lead position as we worked our way down the 311 trail. With one eye on the trail and another scanning the mirror for Dan's headlights we progressed slowly as the sun began to show a glimpse of light on the horizon. It was a welcomed sight when we could see the Evans Creek parking lot in our headlights. We continued down the road to try and intercept Rob before he brought the trailer too far up the ice covered road. After we reached dry pavement we heard Rob on the radio. He did not have the trailer because he couldn't find Gary's keys but he did have hot coffee, hot cocoa and a drag link. After we got turned around to head back to the rest of the group we stopped to take a few pictures of Mount Rainer as the sun was providing the back light. When we arrived to where the group had finally reacquainted we were dealt another obstacle to overcome. The drag link ends were too large in diameter to fit on Dan's rig.
Gary Airing up a flat Mark Lets some light out of Gary's Tire??
After airing up Gary and Mark headed to Mark's house with the trail made drag link in hand. Rob and Gordon followed shortly behind to head for home. The Grand Pooh Bah aired up and after we warmed our bellies with hot coffee and cocoa we reflected on the nights events. You could see the toll that the stress and lack of sleep on everyones face. The mountain tried to keep us but with our determination and bonding together we fought back from its grasp and escaped with stories to tell and memories to cherish. It was now approaching 8:00 and I was suppose to be at church to set up the sound system and prepare the presentation for the morning service.
We loaded into The Grand Pooh-Bah and left Hugh and Deanna with Dan and Julie as Mark and Gary welded up the drag link at Mark's house. We saw Mark and Gary heading back to Dan on the 410 Hwy as we headed to Mark's to pick up Michaels WJ. After dropping Michael off we high tailed it home and I ended up only being 45 minutes late to church. When I arrived I found that my good friend and brother Dan McQuiston, who does the sound on Saturday nights, had come in to fill in for me. With Dan at the controls I was free to go home and hit the sack. The adventure or journey or excursion or what ever you want to call this experience was finally over.
It was nice being home yet I am glad I went through it. I learned a lot about wheeling in a club that has people who truly care about one another. I am proud to be associated with the Timber Tamers and want to thank each and every individual that shared a night to be remembered with The Grand Pooh-Bah.
See ya on the trail,
After sleeping until 5:00 PM I got up and had dinner. Watched a bit of TV before calling it a night around 10:30 PM. At 10:50 PM the phone rang and Mary Ann was at the other end looking for her husband Jay. It turns out that Jay, Brad and Greg decided to go up to Elbe Hills for a quickie trail run. They were still not home and Mary Ann was worried. I assured her they were probably having some mechanical difficulties and would be home soon but if they weren't home by morning she could call me at 5:00 AM and I would go look for them. I went back to sleep and got up on Monday morning to get ready for work. At 5:15 AM Mary Ann was on the phone and she still hadn't heard from the group. Was this familiar territory or what? She had called search and rescue and they couldn't do anything until day break. I called Mark and he wouldn't answer his phone, darn caller ID. Then I called Gary and woke him up for advice, thanks Gary. After conferring with the experts I decided to change from my work clothes to my trail clothes. Deb fixed a pot of coffee and just before I headed out the door for Elbe Hills .... <see Part II below to see what Jay was busy doing>
A special Thank You to Deanna & Michael for providing the photo's. Night runs don't provide a lot of opportunity to take pictures.
A Night to Remember
By Jay Haines
I would like to thank Clay and Jay for a great write-up! Thanks Clay for offering it up for display at JA...
Please take the time to visit the North American Grand Cherokee Association, a great web site for ZJ/WJ owners! -> NAGCA