Four-wheeling in the Sierra: From mild to wild | SierraSun.com

Four-wheeling in the Sierra: From mild to wild

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Courtesy photoA Jeep takes on the rugged Fordyce Trail in the Sierra Nevada.
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A blend of rookie off-road drivers and seasoned four-wheelin’ veterans will congregate in Truckee’s rugged backyard this weekend to test their rigs and skills at the 39th annual Sierra trek.

Hosted by the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs and touted as the “largest all-volunteer four-wheel drive event in the country,” the Sierra Trek is expected to draw close to 1,000 participants, up 10 percent from last year, said Jack Raudy, publicity chairman for the event.

“It’s not like we’re trying to make it bigger every year,” said Raudy, the former executive director of the California Association of Four Wheel Driving Clubs. “We couldn’t handle 2,000. So we’re very happy with the number that we’ve got.”

And with a gathering of that many people, many of whom are children, entertainment is high on the priority list. That’s why event organizers added to the base camp ” at Meadow Lake, about 20 miles northwest of Truckee ” a climbing wall, horseshoe tournaments, swimming, fishing, nature walks, games and live music Friday and Saturday nights. Also at base camp, where 30 to 40 vendors and a refrigerated truck supplying meals will post up, Raudy said, historian Warner Anderson will give his annual presentation Friday night.

In all, it takes about 500 volunteers to make the Sierra Trek run smoothly, Raudy said.

Raudy, a Colfax resident still driving a 1987 Toyota 4Runner, with 457,000 miles, said for personal reasons this will be the first Sierra Trek he has missed in a dozen years.

Part of what he’ll be missing is three short-wheel-base vehicle treks, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, on Fordyce Creek Trail, which Raudy calls a “challenging and arduous trail” comparable in difficulty to its better-known counterpart to the south, the Rubicon.

“What’s appealing to the veteran four-wheelers is, because of the severe winters, the trail never looks the same,” Raudy told the Sierra Sun last August. “Generally it’s the same path, but new boulders have fallen, and each year the trail looks different than it did the year before.”

A testament to Fordyce Creek’s challenging terrain is the five “winch hills” ” manned by volunteers willing to lend a helping winch ” that event organizers have found necessary in order for all 125 or so rigs to complete the 10.3-mile trail. For further proof of how technical the trail is, Raudy said he has never completed it in less than 10 hours, and it takes the vehicles in the back of the pack anywhere from 12 to 14 hours, or longer.

For participants with long-wheel-base vehicles or for those not down for the intensity of the Fordyce Creek Trail, the Sierra Trek also offers three historical and narrated sport utility vehicle tours.

“There’s two audiences we’re catering to,” Raudy said, referring to the vast contrast in options between the short- and long-wheel-base routes.

The first SUV tour, on Thursday, takes a group into the Blackwood Canyon near Lake Tahoe, with stops at Donner Memorial, Ellis Peak and the eastern portion of the Rubicon Trail.

“The guided tours are very, very popular,” Raudy said. “The association has found that a lot of SUV owners just want to get off the pavement and get out and explore in an organized fashion.”

No matter what the trail, that’s what Raudy recommends.

“We do not condone anyone going out four-wheeling by themselves,” he said. “We believe in the buddy system.”

The second “buddy system” SUV tour, the Bear Valley Run on Saturday, is designed for long-wheel-base rigs whose owners are seeking a bit of challenge.

The third tour begins at the Meadow Lake base camp and takes people through historic mining camps, portions of the Henness Pass Road and to the top of the Sierra Divide, where on clear days one has a view of Mount Lassen, Old Man Mountain, Castle Peak, Sierra Buttes and Signal Peak.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Raudy said.