Niagra Rim and Eagle Peak - October 2016
[Originally posted 10/19/2017]
Summer is coming to a close in the Sierras, and fall has begun. We set out on a trip to the Niagra OHV area in Stanislaus National Forest, off of Highway 108. Vincent lead a group through this trail last year around the same time, and it rained the whole trip. Here, a year later, and the forecast hasn’t changed. Rain was predicted Friday, with a lull on Saturday, and then rain late in the afternoon Saturday lasting through Sunday. Snow was predicted at 7.5k feet, and a high wind warning had been issued in the area. Sounds like the perfect weather for an adventure. It was perfect trip for me because I had not been to that area previously, nor had I camped in adverse weather like that. I now know what I need and don’t need for that sort of weather, and thankfully the need list isn’t that big. On with the trip report…
V_man [Vincent] - 1990 Toyota 4Runner
jAndyMendo [Andy & Taco] - 2014 Toyota Tacoma TRDOR (Not to be confused with Hodor)
MTN4RNR [Max] - 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail
NatersXJ6 [Nate & Charlotte] - 2014 Jeep JKUR
GHOSTFJ [Cha] - 1997 Lexus LX450
Samiman [Nick] - 2001 Toyota Tundra
Vincent, Andy and I left the Bay Area Friday night, wanting to get up the hill before/if the road was going to close because of snow. Also, because our good weather window was for Saturday morning, so the earlier we started, the better off we’d be. This meant rolling into camp at around 12:30am, where Nate and Charlotte had already made it there and had packed in for the night. There was some stargazing, as the clouds were rushing by providing windows to the stars and full moon behind. We all had a beer for accomplishing the drive, and hit the sack.
Morning in camp was spectacular. Clear skies with the occasional passing cloud meant that we could enjoy some dry coffee and breakfast before going to meet with the others at the trailhead at 10am.
Shortly after meeting-up and airing down, we hit the Niagra Rim 4x4 Trail.
The first obstacle was a decent with a rocky surface, and to top it off, you couldn’t see anything over the hood. Spotters and a quick pre-run look were helpful here. Vincent, naturally, just went straight down, because 37’s.
Then came a challenging uphill “No way out hill”, with two options. Left took you to a tight squeeze between a boulder, and a tree that had enough scars to tell me it was something to watch out for. Right was the harder route with a solid rock shelf, and a few off camber boulders to mix things up.
Lets start with the left. I followed Vincent and Cha to the left, and watched them squeeze through the tight section; Vincent with large tires just rolled over the left most part of the boulder, Cha with less large but still large tires took a line closer to the tree and was able to push through once he locked his front diff. For me, I knew I would need to get up on the rock, but more importantly I would need to avoid the tree. So I went higher on the rock, and onto the slider. Once the rock had slid about half way down the slider on the bottom side I lost traction and momentum, but I expected this being on stock suspension, with wet conditions. Could I have gone lower on the rock? Yes. But hitting a tree wasn’t an option, and I had a perfectly good strap and a LX450 in front of me to scoot me over the hump. Being stock, these are some of the considerations that I need to take, and as I upgrade things, my capabilities will be upgraded as well. For today, I still made it; without a scratch. Nate with his JK made it through the squeeze without incident, but the tree found it’s way into the rear bed panel of Nick’s Tundra. Full size rigs make for a tight squeeze. But, with a bit of work, it’ll buff out.
Now, the right line. Andy took the right line because his Tacoma has been built to handle this type of a line, and he likes to smell rock on metal. Rock stacking got his front tires over the shelf, but dragging the rear weight proved to be too much, and because he was slowly sliding downhill attempting to hop over, we elected to winch over before we got into a sideways situation. A quick tug, and he was over the top and on his way. This would be a fun line later on in the 4Runner when I have equipped it properly.
We kept on heading through the trail. There were a few well placed boulders and some tight tree squeezes that brought us to the next challenge; wet tree roots, and a slippery downhill section called “hard-break hill”.
We paused as we approached the rooted section known as “P.H. Rock”, to walk the lines, and then head through one by one. Vincent went first, with some wheel spin, and pulled over the roots. His tall tires helped with the slippery roots, but also started to create some mud that would only get worse as each vehicle passed. Cha had to work a bit harder to get through but made it without much of a problem. I watched both to try to figure out my line. I came through as outside as I could, knowing that I couldn’t attack the roots head on because I lacked tire height and the clearance to do so. So I came at an angle. It took me a few times to find where the traction was, but with a little skinny pedal on the right line, I made it over without an issue. Nick was next in the Tundra. He was also able to navigate the roots with some V8 torque and finesse. Nate came through in the Jeep, but a tough line choice and the mud that had built up on the roots made for a winching situation to help him over the taller roots. With Nick’s Tundra as the anchor point, and a few spotters to keep an eye on sideways movement, Nate was over and out quickly. Andy has the heaviest rig in our group and with the slick mud and sideways camber, it showed. He worked through the roots with a good line and some throttle. But on the other side of the roots, there was an off-camber section over a rock. With the back end of the Tacoma being as heavy as it was, Andy elected to throw out a winch line, just in case he slipped sideways coming over the rock. Turns out that winch line wasn’t needed as he stayed planted the whole time. Better safe than sorry though.
Hard Break Hill was slick. It was a good mix of clay and volcanic sediment, and it was just the right amount of wet from the rains the day before. A rider on a dual sport warned us that it took him 2 runs to get up it, and that we should walk it first. There were a few rocks on the way down that we had to snake around, and a big boulder off to one side at the steepest point that we had to avoid sliding into. But we all were able to navigate down the trail with a bit of slipping and sliding. I elected to use CRAWL control, mostly because it’s there and I hadn’t had any good reason to use it until that point. I figured on a slippery steep descent, why not try it out. I will say that it worked very well, albeit I did brake myself as I started to slide, but I think that was more out of habit.. As soon as I remembered that I was taking over, I released the brake and let CRAWL do it’s thing the rest of the way.
We came to a rock wedge on the trail. I watched how Cha handled it, and the line he took. I had to modify my line to suit the 4Runner. I needed to let the slider do the work as it is the most protected section of the rig, so I swung wide, and let the weight of the 4Runner slide on the inside rock through the feature. These sliders are solid, and I had not had the chance to use them as much as I did on this trip. I am extremely happy that I spent the money to do sliders properly. Unfortunately, I led Nate on a line that put him in a bit of a bind. Spotter’s mistake on that one. With a strap and a gentle pull, he was free.
“Sidewall Suicide” involved a short, technical climb, and a narrow/steep/off camber/(insert trail description here) descent. I asked Vincent if I can make it through, and he said I better sit this one out. Soon I saw why. It’s great to wheel and spend time with people that you respect because they’ll honestly encourage you to press your boundaries, and they will equally as honestly tell you when you should save it for another trip. I have been fortunate and thankful to get to know a few guys pretty well, and I trust their judgement immensely. Because of them I have learned a ton, and I cannot wait to keep learning!
We decided that after the winching, wheeling and rock stacking, it was time for lunch. We headed to the Lion’s Butt for lunch. After a day of wheeling, and not earning a scratch of body damage, my hatch unfortunately met Andy’s Maxtraxx. Fun fact: Maxtraxx are tougher than Toyota sheet metal.
We hit double dome rock on the way back to Highway 108 where Cha and Nick aired up and hit the road back home, while Andy/Taco, Vincent, Nate/Charlotte and I hit the trail again this time back down Highway 108 to the Eagle Peak trailhead.
With weather approaching, we wanted to hit our campsite before dark, and before weather intensity ramped up. At this point we were getting rain at 6k feet, our goal was to get into the snow zone, above 7.5k feet. Camp was set for Eagle Peak, 9.1k feet up, West of the Niagra Rim Trail. After a quick jaunt on 108, we drove an improved dirt track, onto a 4x4 trail that would lead us to camp. It started in trees, opened into an earthly moonscape, and then back into the trees along a cliff to the campsite. We made it just as it started to “ice”; a cross between hail and snow to create a lovely mix. We got a campfire started immediately after some chainsawing to create some additional firewood. Andy had THE adverse weather set up with a combo awning and tarp. An awning is on the short list now, so thanks for that! We stuck it out for as long as we could. 40 mph gusts, thunder/lightning, “ice”, and falling trees. I moved the 4Runner to an open area, and we all started up a game of cards with some drinks to keep us warm before calling it a night.
In the morning, we were met with rain. Camp was packed quickly and we moved down the mountain before conditions worsened. We made it backed to a paved forest road, and opt’d for a small turn out to air up. Heading out of the forest, past the National Forest sign is always a sad feeling, but it reminds me that I’ll be back, and that I haven’t even scratched the surface for the trails, roads and campsites that are out there in the Sierras. To date, over 500 miles tracked off road this year. Many more to travel. Nate and Charlotte said their goodbye’s over the radio and set off south. Andy split off in Oakdale to weigh his beast at a CAT scale in Ripon. And Vincent and I made our way back to the Bay Area. It was a great trip with good friends.
More to come...