Everyone slowly woke to the familiar smell of coffee and the sound of hushed voices. Once caffeinated and packed up, we decided to cross the dam and take a look at the helicopter crash site.
Just days before we arrived, a chopper that was ferrying supplies for the Jamboree crashed on the shore of Buck Island Lake. Fortunately, everyone survived. It was still a very surreal scene, with bloody clothes visible and even the pilot’s headset resting in the cockpit window frame.
Once we returned to the campsite, we left Buck Island Lake, quickly encountering a fun series of ledges right out of the gate.
The Rubicon is not just an offroad trail, snaking through the Sierra wilderness of Northern California. It is also a river in Italy. More importantly, the saying “crossing the Rubicon” is a direct reference to when Caesar’s army crossed this treacherous river, knowing they could never go back. It is now a reference to a point of no return.
And, while there many points along the Rubicon trail that seem like a point of no return, the metaphor is larger than that. The Rubicon is more of a pilgrimage (pardon the oft cliche’d jeeping phrase) for people that are looking to challenge themselves and their Jeeps, spend quality time with great friends, and experience some of the most beautiful wilderness this country has to offer.
As far as the offroad community is concerned, spending time on the Rubicon Trail is a spiritual experience.
On our way to the Rubicon trail this past August, I was looking for a camping spot where we could break up the drive a bit, and also enjoy some camping.
After a bit of Googling, I found out about the Gold Lake OHV trail in Plumas National Forest, in California. I plotted the coordinates into my GPS, and our small group of rag tag Jeepers soon departed from Oregon.
The trail was easy to find, after a long climb into the mountains. After following the signs, we met the trail head. We all decided to air down (even though it is a short trail) however the number of people that were passing us combined with the fact the campground can fill up quickly led us to abandon the air down and get to the campground.
There was a lot of partying in them thar hills – and shouting, and driving around, and being all rednecky. So I woke up pretty grumpy.
Luckily, I was up before anyone else in the group. So, I wandered down to the lake and decided to get my morning started with a swim. I jumped into the lake with biodegradable soap and wash some of the trail off me. It was VERY chilly (probably about 8,000 feet) but worth it.
I wandered back to camp and started to prepare our breakfast at about 7:30.
My coffee routine has changed over the years. I used to lug a huge silver coffee pot when backcountry camping (which was stupid). Then, I moved to French Press on Jeep trips. But even that is a huge pain in the butt. You have a lot of grounds to deal with (both fresh and wet) as well as washing out the press and all that stuff.
So my new formula is Stumptown’s Cold Brew coffee (small glass bottles). I heat up some water, and add about half a bottle of coffee to half a cup of water. Stir in some soy creamer, and voila! Trail coffee that is easy and grounds free.
Back to the trail.
We broke camp and headed out around 10:00AM.
The first set of ledges right outside of camp proved to be an abrupt and startling challenge. Chad would use his winch again on these, as the placement of the ledges were right in the wrong spot. Running an open diff was much harder in spots like these.
We made our way slowly toward Big Sluice.
We arrived at a great spot for lunch, just past Rubicon Springs. This was a large granite area that butted up against a cliff, with large boulders piled up at the base. A the Rubicon River meandered through the site, and filled a good sized pond, complete with a rope swing. This would be an amazing spot to camp next year.
We sat here for a couple of hours, enjoying the water and some good lunch.
After departing Rubicon Springs, we now had to face the final obstacle – Cadillac Hill.
This is the end of the Rubicon, and you could say they saved the best for last. This is a very steep climb with harrowing drops on the right side. Four or five obstacles (mostly ridges) dotted the length of Cadillac.
This was the only spot where I sustained any damage. On one of the steep ridge climbs, a rock struck my brand new Bilstein steering stabilizer and I had to work to remove it.
On our way up Cadillac Hill, we had a visitor. A Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.
The rest of the trail ended pretty uneventfully. We aired back up around 5:30PM and left for town shortly thereafter.
Most people plan for years to come and drive the Rubicon Trail; we started planning this last Tuesday.
We start out in Grass Valley, California early. Having pulled into town at a deadly 2:00AM and trying desperatley to find a hotel (on Labor Day Weekend) we finally found a room at the haunted Holbrooke Hotel. I was not happy to spend $185 a night (plus they charged us $10 for the dog) but I was happy to get out of the Jeep and into some type of bed.
We dropped off our doors at a friend’s parents place at 9:30 and headed out for gas and to the trail.
After fueling up one last time, and perhaps my second cup of coffee, we were on the road for the final stretch.
There are few ways to describe the sensation of driving a naked Jeep (no doors, no roof) to people that have never done it. When you can smell the smokey pines, hear the birds and streams as you pass above, and feel the chilly morning air swirl around your face and hands, you are in a very happy place. Add in some great music, hot coffee, and great company and you have the recipe for a wonderful weekend.
Our goal was to arrive at the trailhead a little before lunch; we were not too far off. We pulled in at 12:30. The place was PACKED due to the annual fund raiser called “Cantina for the ‘Con.”
We slowly meandered through the rigs parked all over, and found a place to air down and make final preps.
We hit the beginning of the trail – a filter called the Gatekeeper – at around 1:30. The Gatekeeper is a small section of pretty large boulders, intended to act as a test. Basically if you or your Jeep cannot make it through this section, it’s best to call it a day and turn around.
After Gatekeeper we continued on the trail until 7:08PM when we finally made it to Buck Island Lake. Being Labor day and rather crowded, it took us some time and strategic thinking on where to find a spot to camp for the night.
We continued past the dam and found an awesome pull-out overlooking the lake.
After quickly setting up camp and having some dinner, it was an early night for us all. We climbed into tents and tried to get whatever sleep was possible with the shouting, fireworks, drunkenness, and other fun (I think I got about 2 hours of sleep).
There are a few hobbies in life that have an origin…that single focal point where it all began. And this is unfortunate, as there are just as few experiences like standing on the hallowed ground, in the same spot as countless others ahead of you.
Such is the Rubicon Trail.
I will spare you the litany of over dramatic phrases and metaphors I could drop in this post, and instead cut to the chase: This trail is the single “Pilgrimage” every Jeeper must make at least once in their lifetime.
I mean, it is so iconic that Jeep actually names the trim package for their most capable Wrangler after this legendary strip of dirt and granite.