Trekkin’ in the Sierra | SierraSun.com

Trekkin’ in the Sierra

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Suzy Johnson/Provided to the SunThis Jeep provided lots of entertainment as the driver negotiated the Ball Pein challenge on the Bear Valley run during last year's Sierra Trek. Organizers expect about 1,500 participants for the 40th annual event next week.

For the 40th time in as many years, four-wheeling zealots and novice off-roaders will gather in the Truckee-Tahoe backcountry for the annual Sierra Trek from Aug. 10-13.

Hosted by the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs, this year’s all-volunteer event is expected to draw approximately 1,500 participants, up from the 1,000 who registered last summer, said Sierra Trek publicity chairman Jack Raudy, of Colfax.

“It’s quite the city up there,” Raudy said of the Meadow Lake base camp, located about 20 miles northwest of Truckee off of Highway 89. “It’s quite the spectacle.”

With that many men, women and children sharing the 600-acre private camp area, entertainment is a must. And the Sierra Trek does not lack in that department.

“We always try to add new camp activities,” said Raudy, the former executive director of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs and a current member of the Sierra Treasure Hunters four-wheel drive club. “We figure if you’re on the trail on Thursday, you’re going to be looking for something to do on Friday.”

Included in the entertainment are a Texas hold ’em tournament, live music, a kids fishing derby, a climbing wall, horseshoe tournaments, swimming, nature walks and other games for children.

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For Jim “Uncle Willy” Harris, who will be driving 900 miles from his Kanab, Utah, home to participate in his 25th Sierra Trek, the event is all about family fun and camaraderie.

“Sierra Trek is far more than driving over huge boulders on a difficult trail,” said Harris, who volunteers to lead one of the short-wheel-base treks and prepares early-morning coffee in the main camp. “It is a family thing and people participating in Sierra Trek have become my family.”

When not at camp, many of the participants representing between 50 and 60 four-wheel drive clubs from across California, as well as the entire West Coast, Raudy said, will be testing their rigs and driving skills on one or more of the Sierra Trek trails.

The most infamous and by far the most difficult of the three routes offered is the 12.3-mile Fordyce Creek Trail, which includes five winch hills ” for those requiring assistance ” three river crossings and many obstacles between Cisco Grove and Meadow Lake.

Each winch hill will be manned by approximately 10 to 15 volunteers and two to four vehicles, Raudy said. A rig entering a winch hill section with its headlights on signals that the driver does not need assistance. Even so, Raudy said, if a vehicle fails to negotiate the section in two attempts, it will be winched in order to keep traffic flowing.

While Raudy said there may be as many as 125 vehicles on the trail at a time, Fordyce is not for everyone. In fact, all vehicles must pass an inspection before being allowed on the trail.

“If they’re not trail worthy we turn them around,” Raudy said, noting the importance of “treading lightly” to protect the environment. “If there’s oil leaking we’re not going to let them go. They have to have a rig that’s special built and worthy.”

In addition to the Fordyce Creek Trail run on the opening day, participants will also have the option of tackling the trail on Friday and Saturday.

Even for the most skilled drivers, it’s never an easy task.

“You leave at 6 a.m., and people don’t get back until well after dark if they’re in the back (of the line). That tells you the trail is pretty arduous. The challenge of the trail is to get through all five winch hills,” Raudy said.

The last of these winch hills falls into the category of camp entertainment, as many campers post up nearby to gape while drivers attempt to crawl over the gnarly terrain.

“It’s kind of a spectacle because people can walk up to it,” Raudy said. “There gets to be 200 spectators cheering and jeering. If (drivers) are hung up, they’ll really razz ’em.”

For those not willing or able to conquer the Fordyce Creek Trail, Sierra Trek offers more doable alternatives.

On Thursday participants can take part in a historical SUV tour through the Donner Memorial and up the Blackwood Canyon Trail to Ellis Peak, where they will have a 360-degree view of Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness and many scenic lakes.

Saturday marks the Bear Valley Run, which is set up for long-wheel-base vehicles and SUV owners seeking a little more challenge, and another historical SUV trip that begins at Meadow Lake and takes guests through historical mining camps, portions of the Henness Pass Road and a stacked masonry dam.

On Friday evening guests will be treated to a special historical presentation on the past 40 years of the Sierra Trek event.