Rubicon Trip Report (Aug. 28 - Sept. 1) - long | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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Rubicon Trip Report (Aug. 28 - Sept. 1) - long

Peter Weber

Well-Known Member
September 23, 1999
Reaction score
City, State
Simi Valley, CA
Year, Model & Trim Level
'99 Sport
Well guys, here it is:

Rubicon Trip Report

Location: Lake Tahoe area, California

Date: Aug.28 – Sept.1

Vehicle 1: 1992 Navajo, Tom (FAKRWEE) Rios, owner/driver
Peter Weber, spotter/photographer
Vehicle 2: 1992 Explorer XLT, Colin (Fenderguy) Ignacio, owner/driver
Winter Douglas, spotter/mechanic.

General information about the Rubicon trail:

The Rubicon crosses a section of the Sierra Nevada mountains, starting at Loon Lake and ending near Lake Tahoe at Miller Lake. Elevations run from a 6300-7100 feet.
It is classified as very aggressive mountain terrain for short wheelbase four wheel vehicles and rated a 10 on a scale of 1 - 10.
Some of you reading this report took part in the Moab outing this spring. I read somewhere that the difference between Moab and the Rubicon is the constant need for attention. In Moab, you typically drive fairly easy trail for the sections between each obstacle. At the Rubicon it is obvious that as long as you are moving you need to be totally aware of your tire and vehicle placement

The Rubicon's main milestones are (starting at Loon Lake): Loon Lake, “Walker'' Rock, Little Sluice, Spider Lake, Mud Lake, Old Sluice, Buck Island Lake, Big Sluice, Rubicon River Bridge, Rubicon Springs, Cadillac Hill, Observation Point, Miller Lake. About 14 miles of 4-wheeling!!! Some people say it’s 22 miles, but that’s from a different starting point and out to Lake Tahoe.

This trail is not recommended for vehicles with a wheelbase longer than 102 inches. That put Tom’s Navajo right at the limit, while Colin’s XLT is about 10 inches over and, sorry to say, the recommendation should be heeded. Both of Colin’s passenger doors can attest to that.

Monday, Aug.28: 8 hour drive to Placerville. We met Colin and Winter in Valencia at Wendy’s along I-5.The only thing left was to pick up a few cans of fluids at a local auto supply store and stop by at Warden’s 4Wheel shop. Tom wanted to get reacquainted with the guys that rescued him 2 years ago on a previous trip. You need to ask Tom about the details, I don’t want to repeat the story second hand.

Tuesday, Aug. 29: As we started out, the morning was gray and it stayed like that for the next 2 days. The turnoff to Loon Lake is approx. 20 miles east on Highway 50 (Icehouse Road). A fire permit is required for a any open flame. We got ours at the ranger station. Icehouse Road climbs up into the mountains for what seems forever. Along the first 10 miles of this road, you get a good education about the devastation by a forest fire. What was once beautiful forest, is now a barren wasteland due to a fire some years ago.

We arrived at Loon Lake about 10 A.M. and after crossing 2 dams, we reached a spot considered the staging area. Airing down to around 15 pounds or less, locking hubs and shifting into low and we proceeded with Tom and me in the lead. We soon entered a stretch of woods. The trail snakes between some tightly spaced trees and boulders forcing even short wheel base vehicles to make three-point turns. We made it through without adding any paint to the trees. Before coming out of the woods, you cross Ellis Creek.
The trail then winds its way across the Slabs for about a ½ mile. This is a wide open expanse of granite with no trail to follow. You just pick a set of dark rubber tire marks and hope you selected the right one. Technically, this section is not difficult, but it made me feel very small and insignificant.

After crossing the Slabs, and climbing several steps and ledges on the other side, the next major obstacle is Walker Hill. With a vertical granite wall on the left and a steep drop off to the right, driving up this grade requires your full attention.
The next attention getter is Soup Bowl. At some of the tougher spots, I had gotten out to spot and help Tom find a good line. Since I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, I had tripped a few times, landing on my keester, by walking backwards and tripping over beach ball size rocks. At Soup Bowl, Tom decided to do me favor and save my backside from potential injury by me staying in the truck. The problem here is a double ledge (similar to the Double Whammy in Moab), that you have to climb somewhat off camber angling to the right.
On our first try, the left front came up getting air causing Tom to back off. He gave it another shot with the same results. I don’t know how far up the left front came (Winter said something about a foot and a half), but I learned the real meaning of ‘pucker power’. Tom’s custom rear bumper sticks out quite far and stopped us from going over backwards. After backing off again and trying a straighter line we made it over the top.
Colin also needed a couple tries and his stock rear bumper received some more trail modifications.
Next was the Little Sluice. This is considered by many as the toughest section of the Rubicon Trail. The problem is a rock the size of a small car in the middle of the chute. The space available is not wide enough for a vehicle to get through. You have to put your left tires up into the rock wall and the right side over the rock. (When we stopped at Warden’s the afternoon before, the guys there told us that around the July 4th weekend it became real interesting when another rock of about the same size dropped into the sluice about 10 or 15 feet from the first one.)
Tom had taken a bypass on his previous trip and this time wanted to get his money’s worth out of his new suspension, transfer case and 35 inch tires by trying to go up the Little Sluice. So, we ignored the first bypass and started into the Sluice, Colin right behind us. After a short distance we were faced with a 3 foot ledge in front of us with a big rock sitting there, blocking the way and a second one directly behind it. Checking out and discussing various lines we thought that maybe, just maybe, we could make it across the first rock. But, then there was that second one. We finally admitted to ourselves that unless you’re a mountain goat (or have J**p), it’s just not going to work. No sense tearing up a Navajo and an Explorer, knowing perfectly well that we’re not going to make it anyway. We took the last bail out option by turning sharply to the right up a rock wall. I used Tom’s video camera taping him getting out of there (I used my good old Nikon for Colin). A short stretch across a rock slab, a side trail to the right and one more obstacle brought us to Spider Lake where we camped for the night. It started to drizzle and we pitched our tents in a hurry. It never really developed into anything serious, but stayed with us all night and into the next morning.

Wednesday, Aug. 30: I don’t like camping in the rain, but breaking camp in the wet is worse. We got rolling around 9 a.m.
We backtracked to the main trail, continuing towards Buck Island Lake. After a short distance, the trail splits. You can hug the mountain to the right at the tree line and go down “Old Sluice’ (I’ve seen it called ‘True Big Sluice’ and also ‘Main Sluice’) or go left across another slab of granite. This is where Tom broke his radius arm 2 years ago and being the sentimental type, he wanted to re-visit where he spent two days in solitude while his cousin Ralph (some of you might remember him from Moab) made his way back into Placerville to get a replacement part. I had walked the Old Sluice the evening before scouting the trail and by not it taking now, I was looking forward to a while of easy driving. All I can say is, I was glad that Tom wasn’t using a roof rack to carry gear and also warned Colin and Winter not put anything heavy on top. It’s about a ½ mile of 20+ degrees of off camber giving you a feeling of being on the verge of rolling at any time.
After this ‘character builder’ comes a section of woods with deep ruts left from earlier in the year when the trail was still wet. However, this late in the season it was dry. One more rocky section to cross where both trucks had the rear bumpers banged up again. Also, if my memory is correct, here is where Colin’s longer wheel base demanded it’s first tribute in the form of a minor dent in the front passenger door caused by a good sized boulder.
We reached the dam at Buck Island Lake at about noon. After a picture taking session on a little rocky peninsula, we had to tackle another steep rock wall. A few yards further on, Tom’s truck made an ungodly grinding sound. A check of the front end did not reveal any obvious problems. A few hundred yards later, Tom decided something was definitely wrong. Winter, being the mechanic, crawled under the truck and gave us the bad news. ‘Tom, your driver side radius arm is cracked just about all the way through right behind the upper eye’. This was the same one that was replaced two years ago.
We discussed our options, mostly centered around Colin and Winter going on to Rubicon Springs and hopefully finding a working phone (we couldn’t get a signal on the cell phones) to place an order for a new radius arm. Another option was to remove the arm and take it to the Springs. We were told that a group of 25 jeeps were also on the trail behind us. We hoped a welder would be available at the campground or a jeep would have an onboard one. By taking this approach, we could still place an order if a welder was not available.
By this time, Winter had dropped out of the conversation and kept looking under the truck. He then announced ‘I’m gonna fix this truck so you can drive it to Rubicon springs’. Yeah, right, with what and how. We had tools and various spare parts with us, but of course not a radius arm. Murphy’s law still applies even out on the Rubicon Trail.
Winter’s idea was to strap a nylon cargo tie from the spring mount (at the top of the front axle) to the radius arm rear mount. This was the most ingenious trail fix I have ever witnessed. Not that I have a whole lot of experience in this department. But this was brilliant, especially since it worked. To get a better idea of the finished product, check the pictures.
Approximately two hours after diagnosing the problem, we were on our way again. The first test for ‘the fix’ was a fairly steep and rocky section up the side of the mountain to get around Buck Island Lake. There is a trail along the edge in the water, which is used when the water is low. This was our first choice. I decided to scout it out. It looked pretty good. There is a nice ledge about 6-10 inches under water along the shore. By going ‘real’ slow, I thought we could keep the water out of the air intakes. Unfortunately, about 100 yards or so further on, there was this big mother of a rock sitting right in the middle of the trail. No way to straddle it, no room on the left (toward shore) and with the trail sloping into the lake, impossible to get by on the right without getting into at least three feet of water. We decided to take the high road and made it without problems.
Next was the Big Sluice. Right at the entrance is a 4 foot drop over the ‘Big Rock’. The strap held! Further down Tom’s steering seized. He dropped off a rock into a hole with the steering turned to the left. The back end was still on top of the ledge. After taking the weight off the front with the HiJack (making sure we worked only from the side) Tom was able to turn the wheel and get it the tires straightened out.
There was also a tight squeeze to the right around a large boulder. To keep the doors matching, Colin decided to put a dent into his right rear door panel. From here it was an easy run across the bridge to the campground at the Springs.
The first person we ran into was Art Richter, one of the owners. Telling him about our problem, he said he would send Merlin, the caretaker, to our campsite. He had good news. He has an onboard welder on his Jeep and the next morning a mechanic would be available around 9 a.m. to do the job after the Chrysler group left. The Jeeps came by our camp sometime after six.

Thursday, Aug. 31: After another drizzly evening and night, the dawn brought a cloudless sky. Winter removed the radius arm to have it ready to be welded. By about 10.30 a.m., this job was completed and it was Winter’s turn to do the reinstall. By noon we were on the trail again.
Only one major obstacle left, Cadillac Hill. Tough, but it presented no major problems. The view from the Observation Point was fantastic. From here the trail got easier and easier. We passed Miller Lake and hit Highway 89 at Lake Tahoe, getting to our motel in South Lake Tahoe close to 4 p.m. Tom treated everybody to a steak dinner. Later, we hung out for a couple hours in a small bar that had pretty good entertainment. By this time, Colin had been carded for the 3rd time that evening.

Friday, Sept. 1: Drive back to southern California. We took Highway 395 along the eastern edge of the Sierra. From Bridgeport to Big Pine we ran into more rain with the mountains peaks getting snow. The next day I read that they had 4-8 inches of snow in the higher elevations, the earliest snow since 1988.

All in all, it was a great trip with some extra excitement thrown in. Despite the diversity in our ages with two of us being in our fifties (Tom and I) and two in their early twenties (Colin and Winter) we had a great team. I’ll go out with these guys again anytime and anywhere.

For pictures, go to: Dead Link Removed

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Great pictures. Good thing there was any snow, you wouldn't have been able to see any of the rigs. You guys got something against Explorers w/ a litle color? Just kidding. Glad you guys had fun.

Great report and photos Peter! I really enjoyed reading about your experience and I sure wish I could have joined you!

I'm looking forward to doing the Rubicon in the near future!

Great pics and write up Peter!

You still have time to meet me there Rick. ;) Three weeks to go. :)

Paul, all I can say is be careful out there, I don't want to hear about you becoming the next off-road rescue recipient. That trail would have to be brutal when covered in snow!

Rick, Paul
As I mentioned in the write-up, we had some light drizzle and were really worried that it might get heavier on Wednesday. Luckily it eased up and stopped during the day. I wouldn't want to be sliding around on those rocks once they get wet.
Paul, just be careful. Apparently cell phone connection is spotty. We never found the right spots. If you get into trouble and can communicate with somebody, the helicopter (see pictures) will and has been used for rescues. It's mostly used to ferry supplies and equipment. I talked to the pilot for a couple minutes just before he took off.
The group of jeeps that came in behind consisted of professional drivers hired by Chrysler to take a group of south-east asian dealers through the Rubicon.
They used the chopper to fly in food, drink and tents. Heck, they even had folding chairs like they were having a lawn party. To top it all off, there is an electric piano at the Springs (woke us up at 6:30 in the morning).
Just make sure you're not going by yourself.

I won't be going alone. A couple of members of the POR and maybe some others from their message board are going to be giving me the tour so I will be in good hands. Last year on the same weekend I went wheelin' in B.C. and it snowed on us and then on the drive home as well. I know what to expect in the early fall and will prepare accordingly. I have lived in mountainous areas for most of my life so I know how quickly the weather can change. You don't need to be afraid of it, just have to have a healthy respect.

you posted a picture from your Rubicon trip as a challenge to duplicate it. Can't seem to find it at the moment, but if I remember it looks like the dam at Buck Island Lake. You might have crossed over and taken your shot from the other side. How close am I?


Awesome write up Peter!

I must say it was really cool for both Winter and I to hang out with a couple of old farts. Peter and Tom you know I'm kidding. As a matter of fact, on the way home, Winter and I were talking about that. With the stories that each of us had to tell about anything we talked about, and all of the incredible off-roading, we had the best time ever on an off-roading trip! You weren't supposed to tell anyone about the body damage, i was going to hit it out as best i could and then paint it with an incredible matching spraypaint i found and say it was from a kid on a bike or something. Oh well, I'm sure Paul B. will enjoy seeing my car with some body damage now, since at Los Coyotes I told I wasn't going to get any while in the Rubicon.

The pictures are awesome and I can't wait until tomorrow so I can have a friend make a couple 28x22 posters of out of a couple of them at work.

Thanks for everything, especially the steak dinnerat 'The Steak House' and Winter and I would gladly hang out with a couple of ol' timers for a off-road / camping trip!

p.s. thanks to peter for the tab at the Irish Pub in Tahoe.

Couldn't ignore the door damage. Anybody looking at the pictures can notice that at the beginning of the trip the right side of your truck is as smooth as a baby's bottom and later on little dent shows up and then another.
Sorry, I had to tell the truth.
For a 'kid' you did a great job of driving. No crazy stuff and always under control. Repeat, great job.

Colin, I know I asked you this before, but where did you get the front fenders for your truck? I like the ol' boxy look and don't want to go w/ the 95+ front clip.

Great write up Peter. I had talked to Tom a week ago about the trip, and his little mishap with his truck. He had a great time as well as you guy's did also.

Colin, I told you at Los Coyotes, that you would get some body damage. I would just leave the damage alone. You are only going to get some more anyway. If anyone asks me about all my body damage, I just tell them of all the off-road trips that I have done and which trip did what damage.
Anyways glad to see you all made it back in one piece.

Paul B.
Modified 1991 4x4 XLT 4-door

Hi Guys, I just got back from one of my trips and read the report. Peter great story and great pics. I think you captured the spirit of the trip.

There is one secondary story I'd like to add about the radius arm breakage which is more on the human side of my companions. When my radius arm broke my heart sank and I thought here we go again. I knew it would take a couple of days to drive out, order the radius arm and return. When I broke down the first time a couple of years ago the reaction of my trail buddies (j#%p) was well I gotta go I have to be back home by tomorrow good luck. If it hadn't been for good ole Ralph, my cousin who did stay a couple of extra days I would of been in a world of hurt. But on this trip the reaction of Peter, Colin and Winter was, hey don't sweat it if we have to stay a couple of extra days no problemo. For this unselfish concern I can't thank them enough. The measure of a man is not who he is but the sum of his actions, and these guys are giants in my book.

There is also another story behind one of the pictures. If you look closely at Peter's pictures you'll notice in one of them Winter crammed into the storage area in colin's truck looking back, titled Winter spotting Tom.

It so happens Winter had knee surgery three days before the trip. He had just started a new job and as part of the negotiation to take the week off he offered to do the surgery the same week so he wouldn't have to take any time off when he got back. Part of the wieght in Colin's truck was the amount of ice they took along so they could ice Winter's knee every night. I swear they had what amounted to a small iceberg in that truck. One advantage was they didn't have to turn on thier AC. After Winter finished tying the radius arm he told me I had to maintain a straight line on the trail and turn left as little as possible. If I turned the wheel too far to the left it would stretch the strap causing the radius arm to separate from the axle and this would cause steering problems. To the right I could go about 3/4 of the turning radius but only 1/3 to the right. This problem was further compounded by the fact that I couldn't use four wheel drive to avoid further strain on the front end. No easy feat, the trail from Buck Island lake to Rubicon Springs takes you thru the big sluice. Thanks to the Atlas transfer case this was not a problem. Once I disengaged the front axle and transfered all the power to the rear axle I literaly forgot I was in two wheel drive.

Which takes us back to the picture. The only person capable of keeping an eye out on the front end to make sure it wasn't getting out of whack was Winter. And there was no way he could walk the trail. It's just as hard to walk it as to drive it. So he decided to lay in the back of Colin's truck with a two way radio and keep me informed as to the front end signaling me when it was time to tighten the strap. That would of been easy with an empty truck. But on my suggestion Colin had taken the spare tire off the top and stuck it in the cargo area, add to this two ice chest, camping equipment, a portable table, tools, spare parts and of all things a collapsible sun shade. Winter was literaly wedged in laying on his bad leg. But being the tropper that he is he never complained even though at best he must of been uncomfortable and at worst in pain. Colin's driving skills also had a lot to do with it. He had no spotter yet was able to pick the best lines and keep the rig as steady as the lexus commercial.

Everything went well until we came upon a big rock I had to go down, on the top left side of the rock there was a smaller rock forcing me to take a side line then go straight down and turn left to avoid another rock on the right side. As I came down I plowed into the soft sand at the base of the rock and my steering wheel froze. I couldn't turn the wheel at all. After about 15 minutes trying to go back and forth it was dawning on us I was stuck. In comes Peter and saves the day. He was the one who suggested we use the hi-lift. And it worked, 5 minutes later and after Colin had tighten the strap we were once more on our way. All in all it was the best trip I've ever been on.

And in the words of the immortal Eduard R.Murrow, "and now you know the rest of the story"
God bless you three and let's Start planning NEXT YEARS TRIP.

Glad to hear everyone had a terrific trip! It's the problems that make off-roading more interesting..

Peter - it's close. We was on the other side of the dam, near the dam's sluice. Impressive lake in the middle of no where, eh?

TomR - Have both radius arms replaced. Get the double-layered ones. Makes a world of difference!

Collin - Come On! body damage is what makes people want to talk to you! :) Besides, the first dent is the hardest.. It gets easier when you have, say 5, maybe 6 dents..

T.Davis I'm doing one better. In a couple of weeks as soon as I can get an appointment I'm installing another Currie 9 in. straight axle in the front with spring leaf suspension and revolver shackles. I've never broken the back so this should be bullet proof in the front. I'm also swapping the gears to 5:10s and maybe 38x16.5 in. tires. When I go back next year it's winner take all. Now it's personal.

I originally went to Glassworks Unlimited here in Huntington Beach for the fenders. Tim, who I had bought many pairs off of for other trucks. A couple Toyotas adn a ranger. He didn't have any for the explorer body lines so, we were going to try to cut and re-glass some ranger glass to make it work and not worry about body lines. We finally came to the comclusion that it wasn't going to work. He got a hold of Perry's Fab 'N Fiber who is a member of the site, and got them from him. From what I know they were the only pair Anyone has made for the '91 - '94 body style. I've seen a few '91 - '94 body style around with glass fenders but all like Justin's or Ricks they have the knewer body style clip on. I also like the boxier <~~(a word?) look. So, you might want to give them a call or check their website linked to this one on the main page to see if they mass produce them or if I just got lucky with mine.

Paul B.-
I'm probably going to leave it and label it right on my truck, so I won't even have to explain it. Everywhere I go everyone asks,"what hit you? That's a wierd looking dent!"
I tell them a rock and they think I'm joking. Anyway, that's making me think twice about the fiberglass o the rear like Justin from Perry's has. Winter and I were able to clear the 35's good enough.

Winter and I really appreciate the write up. We like to think we act mature enough around our elders. It's all from hanging out with my dad and all of his off-roading buddies on all of the trips we've taken over the years.

Well, I can't wait to go anywhere soon, so if anyone wants to go to Truck Haven anytime or Big Bear area, let me know, I'm ready.

that looks like a fun trip. i would never take my explorer on it. but if i ever buy a beater jeep, i'd love to try it.

Could you guys that have run the 'con list what mods you had when you ran it, so the rest of us can know what it takes? I would love to someday run Rubicon. Thanks for the write up.

Mudd, thats a really nice looking truck you have. why would you want to smash it up on th rubicon? maybe if you had a sport with the shorter wheelbase, but not an EB.

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It's not all that nice. It's got a few dents in it already, a couple more wouldn't hurt ;) and besides, it just looks like a greeat place to wheel.