Hangin’ with Sierra Trekkers
Like an amusement park is to children, the Sierra Trek is a place of bliss for grown-ups hankering to play with their toys in the great outdoors.
And while the four-wheel event has evolved greatly over its 40-year history, the principle remains the same.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” said Sacramento resident Tex Texeria, who at age 80 is the only person to have participated in every single Sierra Trek since its inception in 1966. “You meet some of the old gang you haven’t seen for years, and it’s fun to see all the rigs people put together.
“It’s gotten better all the time.”
Witnessing the annual four-wheel-drive event firsthand on Saturday, and tagging along with the dedicated people who make it a reality, I can now say I have a true appreciation for the Sierra Trek.
Underestimating how long it would take to reach the Sierra Trek base camp at Meadow Lake ” located northwest of Truckee off Highway 89 ” I arrived at the miniature makeshift city on the west end of the lake at 8:15 a.m., a bit frazzled by my half-hour tardiness.
Not to be left behind, I searched the grounds for Sierra Trek publicity chairman Jack Raudy. I first searched near a table of breakfast items surrounded by foraging four-wheelers. The man behind the table looked like a possible Jack.
“Are you Jack?” I asked the man, who appeared in charge of something as he stood behind the table.
“No, I’m Jim,” he said, asking if I was the reporter who was supposed to be accompanying him on his four-wheel trek.
I had discovered Jim Bramham of Sacramento, a Sierra Trek patron since 1982 and the chairman of Saturday’s historic SUV tour.
Bramham offered me some food and drink and said we’d be departing camp at 9 a.m. Smart, I thought, that Raudy said to be there at 7:30. Good thing he didn’t say 9.
So, with a cup of fresh coffee and peace of mind that I had tracked down my ride, I cruised through the lake-side base area.
Impressive, beefed up rigs were everywhere, as well as hundreds of camp sites with campers beginning to trickle out of tents, trailers and RVs. Some were already in their vehicles, setting off for another day of wheeling, and some were already on the trails. Others were waiting in line at the main table, where hot breakfast was being served.
Content with my tour, I returned to Bramham’s table to find Raudy and others assembling for our narrated SUV trek.
After reading through a roll call and determining that our convoy would consist of 13 rigs ” ironically, only three were SUVs and the rest Jeeps ” Bramham, Raudy and I boarded Bramham’s 1989 GMC Suburban and departed camp. A kind man, Raudy allowed me shotgun.
As our chain of vehicles arrived near the end of the Fordyce Creek Trail (the arduous short-wheel base trail ran on Thursday, Friday and Saturday), it was immediately apparent that Bramham was a walking, talking wealth of knowledge as he gave our group a lesson about the rich history of gold mining in the area.
When Bramham had finished answering everyone’s questions, we were off to travel the maze of trails in the Meadow Lake area.
Next stop was the Summit City cemetery, off Henness Pass Road. There, we learned the history of Summit City, which in 1866 had a population of around 5,000, Bramham said. The most prominent grave on the site was that of Henry W. Hartley, the founder of Summit City who stayed until the day he died at the age of 72.
“He died with the belief his town would some day live again,” words read on Hartley’s grave marker.
The group then headed down to Tollhouse Lake, site of a toll booth in the late 1800s. From there it was a climb up a series of trails, the last of which was incredibly steep ” rated by Bramham as a 3 in difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10 ” to a lookout point overlooking Meadow Lake, Fordyce Lake, Sierra Buttes, Mount Lassen, Castle Peak, Granite Chief Wilderness, Desolation Wilderness and more.
The 360-degree view was breathtaking. On our perch we were also served lunch by Bramham’s wife.
At that point, now mid day, our convoy returned to base camp for a break.
“I thought it was one of the best things I’ve been on,” Dennis Austin, of Donner Lake and Los Altos, said of the narrated tour. “Jim was fantastic. He really is an encyclopedia.”
With others in our crowd continuing with Bramham, Raudy and I split in order to gape at the serious wheeling that goes on at the mouth of Fordyce Creek Trail, known as winch hill 5.
Talk about quality entertainment.
The scene at winch hill 5 could entertain indefinitely, with beer-clutching Sierra Trek participants lining the sides of the boulder-strewn section, many razzing drivers as they attempt to crawl up and over the obstacles.
“That was the craziest thing I’ve seen,” Austin said of winch hill 5, which is easily accessible less than a mile from camp. “I’ve been to a few of these events, but nothing like this.”
With about 400 rigs traveling the Fordyce over the course of three days, said Sierra Trek chairman Dick Shannon, there was plenty of opportunity to get in on the gaping action.
No one was immune to the friendly heckling, and few crawled up the winch hill on first attempt.
“This (the Fordyce Creek Trail) is the real deal test here,” said Dan Cueves, 37, a former Truckee High Wolverine who drove a 1984 Toyota pickup he bought brand new. “If you can make it through here you’ve got a tough rig.”
So I entered a drawing before I left to win a decked out 2006 Jeep courtesy of Sierra Trek. Maybe after I win I’ll enter the annual Sierra Trek.