2016 Harlan, KY
March 4-5, 2016
Day 1: Thursday, March 3
The majority of the group left the NC Triangle area on Thursday morning, meeting at the Haw River exit on I-40. John and Ken were planning to meet us at our stop in Wytheville, and Lee would meet us on Friday morning up in Harlan. Everyone in the Thursday group was towing and no one had issues with the trip. Ronnie’s truck was being worked on and he was enjoying a new 2016 Ford F250. It was nice!
We arrived in Evarts, KY around 3:30pm. Everyone unpacked and we unloaded the rigs. If you haven’t been on this trip before, just picture a small rural town, nestled between the mountains of Kentucky, with a creek running through the middle. The house we rented was a trailer perched up on a cinderblock basement. It isn’t much to look at, but it had beds for everyone.
Around 5:30, we headed up to the trails… it was getting close to dark, so we decided to hit some of the closer trails:
Lower Rock Garden:
The more built rigs hit this short trail, which follows right beside the main trail. It provided a good place to spectate and get a flavor for the lack of traction we’d get over the rest of the weekend. The rocks were wet and slippery. The ground was slippery mud.
It was now dark, but everyone followed this trail up the creek. There was less mud, but still not much traction. There were a couple nice large rocks to climb and a slippery log near the end climb that challenged everyone. It was a good opportunity to test out the new LEDs on most everyone’s rigs and some rock lights.
Craig’s engine was missing and sputtering. When we got back, we pulled the plugs, while Ken went on a parts and beverage run. We had the plugs pulled by the time he got back and were ready to install them, eat some of Carl’s Chili and enjoy a campfire.
Day 2: Friday, March 4
Lee met us bright and early at the house and we headed out around 9:30 for the trails.
We made a wrong turn on this trail and ended up back at the office, but it gave us a good look at the ziplines. Might be fun to try in warmer weather!
We headed into this trail from the bottom and were soon met by an intimidating, steep climb up a loose, muddy trail. Half way up, the trail was eroded and left a 5 ft vertical bulge on one side of the two track. Craig waved Steve on and Steve couldn’t get enough momentum or traction to even get to the bulge (Later we realized that most people do this trail in the reverse direction). We turned around and headed back up the mountain on Trail 10.
This is a long rock crawl with 4 or 5 challenging bypass lines up the mountain on the right side. Carl and Lee decided to loop around to the top and witness the struggle up the rocks from the top of the trail.
The wet slippery rocks were almost insurmountable for the rigs with less than 40” tires. Craig and Ken put on a good show using everything in their bag of tricks, including winches to make progress.
We ate lunch up at the top, once everyone made it.
Trail 15 was fairly mild. It is a long red trail that mainly follows the ridgeline. The trees were covered in ice and made for some great scenery. A couple fun steep climbs and one nice slippery rock ledge that had a bypass.
Upper Rock Garden:
This is a rock garden up on top of the mountain. It follows right beside the main trail, so it allowed everyone to stick together. The trail features very large boulders and off camber turns. What makes it unique is the 2-4ft of mud on the ground at the base of the rocks. It was pretty cold up there.
Craig led the way, making it look easy. He made progress through 75% of the trail and was met by sinking mud that was coming in the foot wells. He made a quick exit and bypassed the deepest mud hole, only to get stuck again, requiring Steve to come in a pull him out with a strap. In doing so, Steve got a log wedged into the driver’s front tire and unseated the inner bead of the tire.
We winched Steve’s buggy up into a tree to lift the front tire off the ground. We tried a few techniques to get the tire back on, eventually succeeding with a ratchet strap and on board air from Ronnie’s rig.
Steve was able to finish the trail, completing the exit through the deepest mud hole.
Middle Rock Garden:
This is a big play area. Everyone had a blast. Craig made a valiant attempt, only to be shut down with a few more engine issues. Ken pushed hard to make it through the rocky climb, needing a winch to finish the last bit. Tony drove Steve’s buggy on the lower section and Steve jumped back in for the finish. Steve had to winch on an alternate line to the right of Ken. Very challenging climbs.
Ronnie followed Ken’s line using a combination of crawling and wheel spinning bumps where needed. The highlight of the trail was when Ronnie, forgot to put the Jeep back in drive and started to give his Jeep a bump in reverse… which could have been disastrous. It wasn’t and Ronnie got a new nickname: Ronnie ‘Reverse’ Rhodes. He eventually made it to the top of the trail, without the use of a winch. It was amazing to watch his jeep hook up.
No breakage, so we headed back and ate the meal Tony’s wife prepared. It was excellent. Steve, Craig, and Randal brought out the R/C cars and we all had a competition, ending in an Evil Kinevil, style show, jumping a car over the campfire.
Day 3: Saturday, March 5
This is perhaps the signature trail, the one everyone reads about. It is located on the far end of the off road park. We decided to hit it early since rain was predicted, and it would be a rough attempt in the rain. We reached the top and were getting organized, when someone noticed slack in Steve’s winch line. When we went to pull in the slack, we realized that the winch was no longer working. It was very cold up there on top of the mountain, so Carl made a small fire to keep everyone warm. Craig, Steve, and Carl stayed behind to pull the winch apart, while Ken headed into the Lion’s Den… literally.
The rock ledges to get up into Lions Den were challenging and required wheel spin and momentum. Once up the hill, you drop back down into the obstacles. On the driver’s left side is an 8-10 foot vertical drop off. You hug the right side and drop off a 4-5ft ledge. Now the real fun begins. Large, 8-12ft boulders litter a rock out croppings requiring the driver to wedge their rig in with precise tire placements. Each wedging maneuver puts the rig into a near roll-over situation.
Ken managed to wedge himself into a predicament, requiring the winch to get through the middle of the trail, but made the exit look easy.
Steve and Craig managed to rig the winch to work. No sense going in there without a winch. Thanks to Carl’s fire we were able to thaw out our hands. With a working winch, Steve crawled the entire obstacle with expert spotting from Randal. (THANKS AGAIN, Randal!!).
We all ate lunch with a nice warm fire beside us. Thanks again, Carl!!
I believe it was trail 25 anyway… we followed this trail back, to avoid riding the fire road all the way back. It had enough challenge to keep everyone satisfied. Nice steep climbs and mountain creeks running down the side of the mountain.
Heading back down near the entrance, the group entered Killin Time. This is a muddy, rocky climb that also parallels the main trail. Carl and Lee, bypassed their way to the top to watch the group pick their way up. At the end of the trail was a muddy rock ledge. V8 engines and 40s were needed to avoid winching, due to the lack of traction. Everyone made their way through though.
Lower Profanity and Upper Profanity:
Both of these trails shot straight up the mountain. Muddy, rocky climbs, requiring, some winching, wheel spin, momentum, and removal of soft tops in certain places. Ken and Craig had their Jeeps laid against the eroded trail walls, for a good section of these climbs. Next time we go, we agreed it would be great to link up Fish Fossil, Lower Rock Garden, Killin Time, Lower Profanity, Upper Profanity and more into one big long trail.
Craig’s rear end and engine were struggling and it started raining. Steve was miserable in the open buggy, so with everyone agreeing we had a full day, the main part of the group headed back to the house. The plan was to meet Carl and Lee back at the house around 5:30.
While on the Profanity trails, Carl and Lee headed back out near Lions Den and into trails 25 and 28. This is where the day took a turn.
While wheeling near the intersection of trail 25 and 28, Lee grabbed a little too much skinny pedal and sheared off the lower ball joint. This bent the upper ball joint, sheared off a brake caliper bolt, bent the other, shattered a u-joint, bent the ears on the inner axle shaft, and mangled the brake line.
The tire was wedged under Lee’s Jeep, but Carl managed to winch him to the side of the trail and headed back to get a recovery mission started. Carl called down to us and told us what broke and Ken called Greg Slade, the manager of 4WP in Raleigh to get help with part numbers, for Lee’s G2 Dana 44 front axle. Ken drove the 30 minutes into Harlan and picked up an upper ball joint, lower ball joint, brake line, and brake fluid. In the meantime, John and Steve were calling and texting Lee to keep him informed and assured that we would get him out of there that night.
2 hours after breaking, we had parts in hand and were headed back into the trails to get Lee. Ronnie and Steve in Ronnie’s TJ and Carl and Randal, in Carl’s Bronco. Carl’s bronco has more tools in it than most people’s garages. He had a u-joint/ball joint press in his rig! Carl had the idea of placing trail flags at the intersections leading into and out of the section where Lee was stuck. This was very helpful. After a 20-30 minute ride up the mountain, we found Lee.
We secured his Jeep in a spot where we could work on it easier, using the winch line as backup. A hi-lift and jack stand were used to get it up in the air. Carl got another fire going, just as it started raining again. It was pitch black and cold up there… Miserable conditions for a trail repair.
We rigged up a tarp to cover us and a tarp below us, but the rain was washing a muddy river over the tarp. We went with it, kneeling, sitting, and wrenching in the cold mud, occasionally tapping out to get warm by the fire.
The ball joints eventually came out, with the help of the press and a hi-lift handle. We secured the caliper in place using a new caliper bolt on the bottom and bailing wire on top (the old one was sheared off in the knuckle). Lee stuffed a rag into the axle housing and we re-bled the brake. Success…
We backed Ronnie and Carl down 200 yards of narrow, dark trail and got them turned around. We were able to get Lee back onto the main trail using 3-wheel drive and some strapping from Ronnie’s 5.9L TJ.
Arriving back at the house around 10:45pm, the guys greeted the recovery team with warm dinner and cold beers… a full day and fuller night.
This is how a 4×4 club should be… I think everyone went to bed with a sense of pride and satisfaction.
Day 4 – We all drove home… happy to sleep in our own beds.
Craig Scibetta – Jeep TJ
Steven Fischer – Buggy
Carl Barclay – Ford Bronco
Dusty Rhodes – Jeep TJ
Ken Carter – Jeep YJ
Lee Tompkins – Jeep TJ
Randal Holmes – Passenger
Tony Kriaris – Passenger
John Herr – Passenger