This was the first Sierra Trek in which I participated. I registered for SWB run on Fri. My sun Lukas and I left Fremont around noon on Thu. We planned to arrive to the base camp, go through vehicle safety inspection (4-6pm), hang out there for a while and then go camping by the trailhead. The first thing which went not according to our plan was the same TJ engine problem I experienced during Summer Campout: after refueling in Auburn my Jeep was hesitant to start, worked uneven (like some cylinders did not work), and built up oil pressure very slowly. When “check engine” light came up I decided to do diagnostics in Auburn. First, we tried Jeep dealership but they were booked until Fri. I headed to local service station SpeeDee. They ran diagnostics and found out that cylinder 3 was misfiring. After checking online records they found the possible issue with #3 injector being overheated from exhaust manifold. Recommended repair was to install a heat shield and insulate that injector which was done. In the end, it took us about 3 hours including search for service, diagnostics, and repairs to get going again. We arrived to the main camp near Meadow Lake past 7pm and missed the safety inspection. We met Dave in the camp and then had quick meals before driving back to the trailhead for camping. I underestimated the time it takes to get from Meadow Lake to SWB trailhead. Dave said there is another way instead of going around to hwy 89 to I-80 but we did not want to take chances. We arrived to the trailhead past 9pm and set our camp in the nice place near the creek. We have not seen any other campers around with the exception of the staging officers.
Next morning we lined up behind other rigs at the staging area at 5:10am. Our Jeep was 6th in line. I knew from my past experience that running hard trails in a group of rigs did not leave much time for taking pictures, especially in tight and technical spots. We decided to install action camera (I bought it at Fry’s for $85) on the bar above the winch. We turned it on and off along the way and produced some movies (links below). There was a safety inspection on the spot, then some coffee and group meeting where trail leaders explained the rules, what to expect etc. We started at around 6:30am. The first obstacle where our group had to stop was a steep rock step with the creek and 10-15’ drop-off on the right. One of our group, Ross, slid off the ledge on the left and had his rear right tire hanging over the drop-off to the creek. It took some winching to get that Jeep back on the trail. The first two “casualties” happened on the Sunrise Hill: one Jeep overheated and boiled, another shredded one tire, and yet another Jeep running Fordyce Trail on their own had their front driveshaft broken. However, the first serious delay happened when the Toyota truck driven by one of the event leaders broke down on Winch Hill 1. The front driveshaft disconnected (slid off the sleeve that was too short for this extreme articulation). Winching up did not help because the truck was leaning too much to the right. It was decided to fix it right there on WH1. It took more that one hour and many drivers chose to go around to bypass WH1. However, we waited patiently and attempted WH1. We made it almost all the way up but lost traction just trying to crawl over the final ledge. After two more attempts did not succeed I had to winch myself up. That was the only time I needed winch help. We made all other winch hills and obstacles on a first try. There were many times of metal to rock grinding under our Jeep but quick inspections revealed no serious damage. We became bolder as we proceeded and were running ahead of our pack. At 4pm we conquered Winch Hill 5, the final obstacle on our trail! We did it!
My son had to be home on Saturday morning, so that we decided to leave that evening. Before the pavement we reconnected, aired up, put Jeep top and headed back to our campsite where I did more careful inspection underneath of our Jeep. Just dents and scratches to bumpers, skid plates, rocker guards, pumpkins, control arms etc. as is supposed to be. Nothing required repairs. I lit my well deserved cigar. After that we packed and were back home in Fremont by 10pm.
It was a long tiring wheeling requiring constant concentration and care, but it was such an adrenalin rush! And overwhelming sense of accomplishment and relief! We made it! Not unscathed but without a breakdown or even serious damage. This was our hardest trail ever. It was nice to see some many dedicated volunteers helping in every possible way on the trail: excellent spotting, advice on correct line and tactics and encouraging words. Overall, CA4WD did exceptionally professional work organizing so many volunteers and coordinating so many runs every day.
This is one event to remember! Here are some videos: WH 3&4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58PZDKXC6Ck
WH 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOS46q51CaI
WH 1&2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnZVWVioEVw