This was a long week trip, so I’ll split it up by days and encourage the other folks who were there to chip in more details. I’ll probably miss a whole bunch of details, but here is pretty much the week in summary:
Friday Jan 30:
John Allen, Mark Kohut & Josh Ebel, Lisa & myself hit the road towards Johnson Valley separately. John got an early start from Vallejo, Lisa and I left later in the morning (everything takes longer than expected to pack 5 dogs, an RV, two Jeeps, etc for a week trip) and met up with John in Tehachapi Friday evening for gas and food, and then continued on.
John ended up somewhere behind us by 30-45 mins as he went on a search for propane. Josh & Mark were picking up their RV in Victorville Saturday morning, so they stayed in Bakersfield?
After slogging thru a downpour from Barstow -> Lucerne Valley, Lisa and I finally arrived on the lakebed towards 10pm.
Our friends Clarke, Aaron and Derek had arrived a couple hours prior and marked out our camp. We kept in touch with Rene who was in communication with John, until we lost cell coverage. John got to Boone Rd maybe an hour+ after us, but failing to be able to raise us on the radio, he opted to camp on the side of the road Friday nite and then find the rest of us the next morning. Our camp was over by Gate 4 (west of Hammertown), so we had easy walking access to Hammertown (and the port-a-potties).
Somewhere along Tehachapi grade, Mark & Josh started experiencing a bit of ‘carpet overheating’ and had to deal with the first attempt at setting Mark’s JK on fire. Relocating the exhaust on his JK has proven problematic.
Saturday January 31:
Even with such a dry January, rain was pounding the desert Friday into early Saturday morning. We got a bunch of rain overnite, which was actually kinda nice, because it meant the dust level would be low/none for several days. We got ahold of John the next morning and navigated him into camp. After unloading and some quick final adjustments to his idle, he was ready to wheel for the week.
We spent most of Saturday unpacking and setting up camp, getting the Jeeps unloaded, etc. Josh & Mark showed up in the afternoon. John had a little tuning to do (after installing a new fuel injection system a few days earlier), but was then ready for a week of wheeling. There was already a decent # of people camped around Hammertown on Saturday as the King of the Motos race was scheduled for Sunday morning.
Our buddy Zack from Jason Scherer’s team swung by and grabbed food with us around the fire. Zack pulled his 5th wheel trailer down, and was expecting his Jeep to show up Monday with other friends coming down from the Bay Area. The weather started to clear off by the evening and I flew my quadcopter around a bit, getting some good video perspective of Hammertown and the camps outside it.
Sunday Feb 1:
Tom Kroll arrived sometime on Saturday and swung by late Sunday morning? to say hi and drop off his ham radio for programming. The King of the Motos race started around 8am and we reviewed the race course to figure out when we could get out to some of the trails and not interfere with the races.
Around 1pm, we (Art/Lisa, Clarke, Aaron, Derek, Mark/Josh, John) headed out for a warmup trail run - Lower & Upper Big Johnson, and Boulderdash. We didn’t see any of the motos on the way out to the trail. The trip was uneventful until halfway up Upper Big Johnson when I had my pitman arm break. Flashbacks of the Rubicon trip a couple years ago. But, I had all the tools and a spare, so maybe 15 mins later, we were moving again. In that time, a group formed behind us, including a racer who was pre-running. He waited a few minutes and then went off to run a different part of the course.
Everyone got thru the lower section with no more drama. After I got a little wedged up in the upper section for a bit, we ran everyone else on a different line – it had a steep pitch, so erring on the side of safety we pulled a winch line John and Lisa. The CJ might have needed it due to the shorter wheelbase, but Lisa said I ‘date winched’ her when she didn’t need it. My bad. By the time we crested the top of the Upper Big Johnson, John was scowling a bit. After we stopped, he announced that he had no brakes. So, a quick diagnosis and he clipped a brake line up front. Pop out the spares and he had it fixed up while the rest of us grabbed a bite to eat and drink.
We headed down and then hung a left onto Boulderdash. We picked our way down Boulderdash and stopped at the bottom to have another break and let the dogs run thru the sand. Lots of dog desert racing fun to be had. Got some good aerial footage of the group and the bottom of Boulderdash with the quadcopter.
We headed back towards Hammertown, splitting up with several folks heading off to Backdoor to watch some of the action happening over there.
Monday Feb 2:
After a leisurely morning and a visit to 4Wheel Parts in Hammertown to order parts (shocks for John, and another spare pitman arm for me), we headed out for Clawhammer, which is a good step up from the run on Sunday. Clawhammer is definitely more technical, mostly a continuous climb up the wash to the top with little break. No drama here, until we got to the waterfall section. There were a couple rigs in front of us, with one hung up on a large boulder at the bottom of the waterfall. We pulled off and walked up to see if we could help and if not, to watch them get unstuck. After maybe 20+ mins, they got themselves set and up over the waterfall, just in time to have a couple exo-skeleton Toyota buggies thrash their way down the falls and pass by.
Traffic cleared, we started up the trail again. Got everyone thru the waterfall but after a clean climb up, Mark got twisted up and high centered on the boulders at the top of the falls. A quick tug from Aaron and we were back on our way.
The rest of of the way up was uneventful, and then we crested the top to park and have lunch. John rolled up, with white mist/smoke pouring out of his front end. No fire, but another brake line issue. The front shock, now busted, clipped the line and spraying brake fluid around. Not a good couple days for John’s brakes.
After a break and flying the drone around a bit, we let a racer by and then watching as his chase truck tried to go down Clawhammer only to return a few minutes later deciding that he wasn’t up for the trail.
We headed back, splitting up again on the way, with a couple of us heading to Chocolate Thunder to watch folks do the climb with their buggies and a few race rigs. The others went towards Backdoor or back to camp.
Between the sunset and the full moon, the desert over the Hammers light up nicely on the way back to camp:
More friends from the Bay Area who were part of Jason Scherer’s team showed up Monday evening. Phil Smith, wife Bonnie and baby, Jon & Marissa, Alexandro & girlfriend (forgot her name). Glad we carved out a really large campsite.
Tuesday Feb 2:
Aaron, Clarke, Derek and Mark/Josh headed out right after breakfast for a run up Spooners Canyon. Technical on the order of Jackhammer plus a bit. John and I headed over to 4Wheel Parts late morning to pick up the parts we ordered. Unfortunately, the got the wrong shocks for John and he had to re-order them again, with another 24hr delay. We heard Clarke on the radio, coming back from Spooners – kind of a head scratcher since Spooners is supposed to be a long day trip. Turned out they got to the first waterfall and Mark clipped his transmission pan on a boulder, which cracked it open. He was able to use JB Weld and a rag to seal it up enough to get back to camp.
He got the pan off and cleaned up and headed over the Hammertown to get Ruff Stuff to weld the pan which they happily helped with. He tried to get it back on and tested, but it was leaking around the seal. Back off again and then the search for more RTV started.
You’d think with so many folks and vendors, they’d have RTV but alas not. None of us had enough left to do an entire transmission pan. Mark finally found a couple tubes at a electronics/radio vendor (Wednesday morning?) - weird, but true. Lesson learned – we all make sure to double-check our supply of this stuff for future trips.
Dave and Danny Jone’s showed up in the afternoon and swung by. We pulled together a few of us and headed out to find a trail to run quickly. Dave and I got our pic taken by the guys at RockIt West. We headed across the lakebed, but I totally failed to find the entrance to Tackhammer. We headed up past the dunes and went up Clawhammer until the sun was setting. Lisa didn’t want to run the rest of Claw in the dark, so we turned around just short of the waterfall and came back to camp.
After dinner, a bunch of us headed out for a night run to Lower/Upper Big Johnson and down Boulderdash again. Everyone went up except for Mark/Josh (Jeep out of action), John and Lisa. One of the new arrivals had a slightly modified Cherokee, which proved challenging to get up Lower Big Johnson.
Wednesday Feb 4
Started out Wednesday with a trip into Hammertown again late morning to get parts (and hopefully the correct ones this time) for John. Other folks headed over to watch the UTV race and the rest of the Ultra4 qualifying. I spent time helping program handheld ham radios for some of Jason Scherer’s race team. John lucked out and 4WP got him the right shocks this time. Mark got his transmission pan to seal up and was good to go again. The UTV folks were racing on Wednesday, so most of the access to the Hammers trails was blocked for the race. While in camp, we saw a plume of thick black smoke rising from over towards Tackhammer/Sledgehammer. Turned out to be a spectator who had a vehicle fire.
With the UTV race underway most of Wednesday, we headed out across 247 to a trail away from the lakebed – Rattlesnake Canyon and Mottino Wash.
The Rattlesnake Canyon area is mostly a soft sandy wash, but with some neat scenery and lots more vegetation than around the Hammers:
Mottino Wash comes off Rattlesnake Canyon about 4-5 miles up the Canyon and is a boulder filled climb, but less trafficked than the Hammers. We got about 1/3 of the way up and turned back as it was getting dark:
I finally got Lisa a bit of night wheeling – now she wants rock lights installed. Mission accomplished :-). John and Mark got to test out their rock lights a bit too.
Back to camp for dinner and then Mark & Josh headed out with Phil, Jon and others for a late nite run to Sledge and Jack Hammer. The rest of us slept :-). Mark did a great job, other than getting hung up at the top of Sledge Hammer for about an hour. They finally returned to camp around 4am and staggered into their RV and crashed. Apparently, leaving the door open and wondering why it was so cold over nite.
Thurs Feb 5:
Thursday was the first big race – the EMC or Every Man Challenge race. Essentially modified street rigs in different categories. They get to skip a couple of the obstacles that the unlimited Ultra4 racers have to do, but otherwise do the whole rest of the course. Most of the folks got up and wandered over to watch them start out and we had a casual day wandering around Hammertown and watching the Ultra4 guys get prepped for the big race on Friday.
Mid-afternoon Lisa and I went back to Rattlesnake Canyon to take a bunch of pictures of the scenery and desert plants, and let the dogs run around.
We all got back to camp in the early evening and had dinner around the campfire. I had to get back for a training class on Saturday, so Lisa and I spent the evening packing and getting stuff ready to go for Friday morning.
Friday Feb 6:
Big race day. We watched the start of the Ultra4 race. Quite spectacular as they roared out of Hammertown and up the hill. I flew the drone in the morning to get some video of the racers heading out, but couldn’t get too close to the action, as there were two choppers circling and filming for real. After that, we headed back to the Bay Area.
<other folks chime in here with pics and stories of what else happened Friday>
Saturday Feb 7:
Folks headed back home. Mark & Josh’s adventures with fire continued from what they reported, but I’ll let him tell that story