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40th Annual Sierra Trek
Standing atop Lacy Peak at 8,200 feet in the middle of northern California's Tahoe National Forest, I could see what appeared to be a small village adjacent to Meadow Lake with enormous motor homes, camping trailers, tents and four-wheel drive vehicles...hundreds of rigs ranging from sport utility vehicles to lifted Jeeps to special-built vehicles that looked as if they belonged on the Moon.
No, this was not a mirage. What I looking at was the base camp for the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs' 40th annual Sierra Trek, a recent four-day event that drew more than 1,200 participants from throughout the western states and as many as 500 4X4 vehicles of every description.
"Sierra Trek has grown from a very modest beginning with a handful of four-wheelers and a few vehicles to what we are experiencing today," said Dick Shannon, Trek chairman during the past two years. "It all began with a dream of Ed Dunkley, Lew Siepert and a few other pioneers who wanted to find the old wagon trail from Cisco Grove to Meadow Lake."
This year's Sierra Trek offered something for everyone. Difficult and technical four-wheeling for the veterans on the challenging Fordyce Creek Trail, moderate challenges on the long-wheel based Bear Valley run, and scenic and historical trips for SUV owners on the Blackwood Canyon near Lake Tahoe and another trip around the Meadow Lake area.
I hitched a ride on the Thursday Fordyce Creek Trail ride with Rory "Rockalot" Huber, who was driving the trail for the first time and had recently completed a number of modifications on his '82 Toyota pickup to make it trail worthy. In addition to the spiffy paint job, he now has a 6-inch lift, 35" tires, 5:29 gears, ARB lockers, and dual transfer cases with 5:1 in the rear. Rory said his fellow Sierra Treasure Hunter club members had nicknamed him "slowpoke," but that didn't bother him as he reminded them that this wasn't a race, but a test of man and machine.
A few of us had driven around through Truckee to the Fordyce Creek staging area the night before the trip, had a light dinner and tried to get a little sleep. Seemed as if I finally dozed off when at about 4:30 a.m. Jim "Uncle Willy" Harris, our trail leader, rousted us out of our sleeping bags and said it was time for coffee, vehicle inspections and to get started on the trail.
Charles Wells, in his new book, Guide to Northern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails, says the Fordyce Creek Trail requires tight maneuvering over miles of large, steep and awkwardly positioned boulders. Mechanical or body damage is a frequent occurrence for all but the most aggressively modified vehicles. Wells explains that it is a premier hardcore trail.
It didn't take long for both of us to understand that Wells had hit the nail on the head. Our first really difficult spot was called Sunrise Hill. We couldn't help but remember two years ago, when one of our colleagues rolled over here and totaled his rig. We then made the first water crossing at about the four-mile marker and followed a scenic stretch along the area called the Pools ...a popular place for camping.
At the seven-mile marker we hit Winch Hill #1, the first of several winch hills where drivers are allowed two attempts to negotiate the large boulders and narrow passages. If they are unsuccessful getting through, the winch hill volunteers will assist by winching the vehicle through the tough area.
Marshall Gregory of Chico, a member of the Cal Sierra 4X4s, has been the volunteer leader at Winch Hill #1 for the past 27 years. Marshall and I had a chance to chat as the various rigs made their way through the tight passage. "This is an event we all look forward to," said Gregory. "There are 15 club members here and we don't get up to main camp for any of the activities. We thoroughly enjoy helping people on the trail and when our work is done for the day or night, we return to our own little encampment for great food and camaraderie."
Rory and I continued up the trail with no problems; however, on the CB radio we heard discussions of broken hubs, clutch issues, and flat tires. Nothing that couldn't be fixed by Carrol Bryant, another member of the Sierra Treasure Hunters, who was serving as "Tail Gunner" for the trip, and who is a first-class mechanic.
I had been telling Rory all about the Squeeze at Winch Hill #3 where even short-wheel base vehicles like his have only about one inch of clearance space on each side as the rig passes through the squeeze rocks. About the time Rory said "no problem," we were ambushed by a rowdy bunch looking like something dragged out of the Old West. It was chaos from all sides as the battle kicked into full gear. No, of course, it wasn't a real battle. They were Winch Hill #3 volunteers from the Four Dice 4-Wheel Drive Club and they were having a terrific time acting out their roles, while still helping us with safe passage.
We continued on up the trail where we spotted near the trail a large boiler and giant steel pelton wheel used by the early gold miners. Then we passed through Winch Hill #4 and we finally reached Winch Hill #5, the end of the trail, some 10 hours after leaving the staging area. Wow! It really did take us 10 hours to go 12.3 miles. Clearly, this was not a race by any stretch of the imagination.
Sierra Trek Main Camp Activities
As chairman Dick Shannon points out to everyone, "Sierra Trek is not just four-wheeling. This is truly a family event, and we offer something for the entire family."
This year, main camp was buzzing with kids involved with activities such as the always-popular climbing wall, dunking tank, craft projects, ATV safety classes and classes on Treading Lightly. For the adults not on the trail, main camp afforded a Texas Hold'em poker tournament, vehicle tests to ascertain how far a vehicle can lean without toppling over, and an extraordinary trade show with vendors featuring new vehicles, four-wheel drive parts, wearing apparel, soothing massages, and off-road tires.
Perhaps the most popular stop in main camp was the hot showers provided by the Sierra Treasure Hunters four-wheel drive club. I think everyone agreed that for $3, this might well have been the best buy in the forest. Matt Hoey, president of the club, recently purchased new shower equipment and donated it to Sierra Trek officials, where patrons now have instant hot water and can stay in as long as they choose.
Friday and Saturday nights featured a live band and dancing, while many simply chose to keep warm by standing near the bonfire.
Historical Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Trips
Not all Sierra Trek participants are into crawling over big boulders and risking body damage to their rigs. For several years now, Trek officials have been offering historical trips for neophytes and veterans alike who are interested in backcountry touring and learning more about early mining operations and significant sites near Meadow Lake and Lake Tahoe.
I hitched a ride with Jim Bramham, who was the trail boss and narrator for an interesting trip around the Meadow Lake region. Jim explained to the group that the Meadow Lake region was the former site of a town called Summit City, which boasted around 4,000 people during the gold rush heydays.
During the winter months, he explained, only a few hardy miners remained at Summit City as snow depths reached as high as 20 feet. "During the winter months the miners would dig tunnels from one house to another and other tunnels to the local store and saloon," Bramham said.
Other stops on the trip included Tollhouse Lake, the Summit City cemetery, Lacy Peak and an opportunity to visit the Meadow Lake dam.
In addition to the Meadow Lake tour, other historical trips were offered to Blackwood Canyon near Lake Tahoe and the Bear Valley.
I ran into Tex Texiera, 80, who is the president of the Capital City Mountain Goat 4X4 Club and is known to be the only four-wheeler who has attended all 40 of the annual Sierra Trek events. "I keep coming back because it gives me an opportunity to meet many of my old friends and make new friends along the way," Texiera said. "Trek has gotten better every year with more activities and it is a lot of fun to check out all of the modified rigs to see what they are doing different than I did 40 years ago."
My trail partner, Rory Huber, may have been on his first Sierra Trek, but I think he plans to make it to Meadow Lake for the next 39 years. "This was my first Trek and I will not let anything stand in my way of making it next year and years after," he said. "The trail was great, the food was awesome, the friendship can't be beaten and I was really impressed with all of the volunteers."
How to Get Involved with Next Year's Sierra Trek
For more information on joining the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs or attending the 41st annual Sierra Trek in 2007, contact Bonnie Steele at
--For questions or comments on this article or related issues, contact Jack Raudy at: 530-305 9742 or