The Christmas Tree Hunt - December 2016

[Originally posted 12/21/2016]

Over the summer, I explored a portion of Plumas National Forest with an Expo group heading from Downieville to Quincy. On that trip, we came across a grove of perfect Christmas trees near our highest elevation at Duck Soup Pond. Andy and I decided that we would go back in the winter to harvest our own trees and make a trip of it.

Driver/Rig:

jAndyMendo [Andy & Taco] - Toyota Tacoma TRDOR

TacoLoco [Cy] - Toyota Tacoma

MTN4RNR [Max & Maeve]] - Toyota 4Runner Trail

Tsalani [Tsalani] - Jeep JKU (Briefly)

Andy and I hit the road early Saturday, planning on meeting Cy in Colfax around noon. This trip was planned a bit more loosely than usual to allow for changes due to weather and trail conditions. After a quick stop at my cabin in Grass Valley, we met Cy, fueled up and hit the road. Our first stop was the Plumas National Forest Ranger Station at Beckwourth. We needed to get our tree permits from the Forest Service before making camp at Lake Davis. First food, beer, sustenance. We stopped at a burger joint in Truckee to get a good meal in before camp.

I had been in contact with Tsalani leading up to Truckee, and we were planning on meeting him somewhere around Portola after our permit pickup. About 30 miles out, we made contact over the radio and planned on meeting at Lake Davis. We were Portola bound.

Permits in hand, fuel in tanks, we left Portola looking for anything but pavement. Lake Davis is not far from the Highway, but is a gateway to a lot of area to explore. We hit snow around 6,000’ as we turned off the paved road and onto the snow covered track that circles the lake. Quickly onto the trail, Andy decided to play bumper cars with the snow bank after a 2wd drift, ending up spinning a full 180º and facing me. He was quite relaxed about it, I think I would have needed a fresh pair of pants if it were me…

We found Tsalani and his wife parked next to a meadow on the road. Perfect spot to let the dogs out for a romp in the snow. I have been very grateful that Maeve has a huge passion for the snow. It’s the crazy look in her eye that she gets when she’s running and bounding that lets me know she is having a great time. Especially with Tsalani and Andy’s dogs there to play with.

Andy had camped at the lake in similar conditions the year before, so we made our way towards the lake to set up camp before it got too dark. As we drove, I spotted Smith Peak Lookout to our west. We didn’t have enough time that day, but I plan to explore there for an upcoming trip. Andy led us to a finger of land extending into the lake. We would make camp here for the night. Tsalani stayed with us for a while, flying his drone to capture the sunset. Him and his wife were staying in Tahoe that night, so before it got too dark, they headed back. They were good to meet, and I look forward to another trip with them.

I woke up around 6am, cold. However, despite the discomfort, I woke up at just the right time to catch the sunrise over the lake. Shortly afterwards, Maeve stirred and we were up making coffee (to Andy’s dismay).

After Taco finished singing the song of his people from his roof top perch, Andy and Cy got up to have some food and break camp. The plan was to circle the lake on our way out, and then hit the highway towards Sloat so we could break trail with a good amount of day left. We started the trail where our summer trip left off. Just on the mountain side of a one lane bridge leading into the forest. We aired down and started our ascent towards Duck Soup Pond.

The road brought the group through a burn area. The trees became scattered on the downhill side leading to the canyon below. Snow covered the road, and things began to get a bit slippery for the rigs. We took it slow, and made good time through this section. However, once out of the sparsely covered hillsides, we came into the forest, where the road was icier in sections, and off-camber situations were making us caution our movements. We walked the trail ahead and made a decision. Chains came out and were installed on the rear axles of the Tacomas as they were the most tail happy when off-camber. With some new found grip, we were making great time.

Here is where things got a bit sideways, and the photo-documenting lapsed. We approached a section where the off-camber angle and the snow was causing a lot of lateral sliding for the front end of Andy’s Tacoma. We had about an hour or so of daylight left, and we had to make a choice. We walked the trail ahead. The snow was still about 12” deep, but the trail was flat, so we installed all four chains on Andy’s Tacoma, and pushed on. Cy and I stood on the Taco’s sliders as we rode up the trail to scout a good area for a campsite. After a few turns, we found a good clearing to set up camp. We parked Andy’s truck, removed the chains, and went back to retrieve the other two rigs. Cy’s tires were in the worst shape of all of ours, and my 4Runner hadn’t been having problems all day, so we opt’d to throw the four chains we had onto Cy’s Tacoma to get him to camp. The 4Runner made quick work of the off camber section, as did Cy’s chained Taco. We didn’t make our intended camp, but we made due with what we had and ended up with a great spot on the road. A campsite that is only possible during the winter months. The fire was warm and we enjoyed the evening on the trail.

 

In the morning we woke up to a chilly start. Andy introduced Cy and I to hand warmers in the sleeping bag. The combination of those warm wonders and an adjustment of my sleeping bag allowed me to enjoy a very warm night’s sleep. The plan for the morning was to take Cy’s truck back down to a safe area, remove the chains, and then press onward to Duck Soup Pond with Andy's Tacoma and my 4Runner. Andy would wear the chains to act as the snow plow when things got too deep for the 4Runner. I led us up for about a mile before my lack of lift reared its head and brought me to a halt. I pulled back, allowed Andy to pass and watched him leave a fresh track for me to follow. All was going well, and then the sound you never want to hear… SNAP! Andy’s truck came to a halt. All of us immediately thought that a CV had gone. We soon realized that what had snapped was localized somewhere in the rear end. We backed Andy down the incline he was on, with a constant clunk every full tire rotation. We knew that our hunt for a tree at Duck Soup Pond was over, and we needed to head to town, quickly. 5 miles per hour was about the maximum speed for the injured Tacoma, so the going was slow, but steady. I took a quick opportunity to cut a tree close to the road, not far up the road from where we camped the night before.

With tree in tow, we met back up with Cy’s Tacoma down the trail and swapped two of the chains to his truck from Andy’s. We staggered them, one on the front one on the back to give the most traction for heading down the hill. The trail down was uneventful. We went as fast as the busted rear differential would let us. Fast forward a few hours of stop and go trail driving, and we made it off the snow and back onto pavement.

On our last trip through Plumas, we stayed a night at Poker Flat where we shared the camp area with a couple of locals to the Quincy area. We shared some trail and fishing hole knowledge and upon leaving camp exchanged some information. Lucky for us, Luke and James were mechanics, and Luke owned a truck repair shop in Quincy, 14 miles from Sloat. I made a quick phone call that went something like this and after him remembering Andy, Taco and I, we made arrangements to meet him at his shop to check out Andy’s rear end. The 14 miles into town were slow and painful to hear, as the Tacoma’s mystery break sounded like it would implode the back end of the truck, but thankfully we made it into town, and to Luke’s From the Ground Up Truck Repair. After reintroducing ourselves, we had Andy’s truck on the lift to tear it apart. We ordered pizza and beer to share in the garage, in part to thank Luke for the extra effort in getting things going that night. His buddy James even made it by the shop after seeing us come through town with our hazard lights on. Andy’s truck is pretty easy to spot from a distance.

Andy was able to find a room at a lodge across the street, and Luke dug into the rear end. Wheels off, brakes undone, axles out. We unbolted the third member to see the carnage. The ring gear was missing about 4 teeth, and there was a metallic paste on the bottom of the differential housing. This had been something coming for a while, and the chains in the snow were the straw that broke the camel’s back. For being a bad situation, it went well. We made it out of the woods, into town, and into a garage with a good mechanic.

Seeing that it wouldn’t be a quick fix, Cy and I wished Andy the best of luck with the repair, and headed for home. Andy needed a new third member, which was a repair that would take a few days. He opt’d to stay in town to wait for the truck, and to enjoy his Quincy vacation. His truck has since been repaired, and he broke it in the Death Valley way the following weekend. No rest for the wicked. That night, Cy and I had a long pull to get home. He was heading to the foothills south of Placerville, and I was heading to the Bay Area. It was a late night heading home, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. It was an eventful trip, but informative as well. It gave me new insight to what can go wrong, and how to handle the situation once things get sideways. Regardless, it was a great trip and I look forward to the 2017 hunt.

Side Note:

I spent some time during this trip establishing communications with several repeaters in the Graeagle/Quincy area. I am starting to document where I can hit certain repeaters on different areas, so I can have an accurate log when I go on trips for when I will be in and out of comms. On this trip, I tuned into the Quincy 2m repeater located just north of town. I would check in with a couple of local HAM’s every hour or so on our way into the mountains, getting feedback from them on my sound clarity. I was amazed to have clear communication with the town all the way back to our camp the second night on 23N10. This communication became more crucial when we had our mechanical failure, as I let the HAM’s in town know where we were, what had happened and our possible ETA to town. I felt very reassured knowing that I had the ability to reach out to others outside our group in case there was an issue and we needed any sort of assistance. Communications is one of the most important tools that any adventurer can invest in. If you haven’t yet; study, take the test and HAM up. You never know when you might need it.

More to come…

Max SheehanComment