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Be Tuned In! A Rubicon Trail Primer [Part I] Be Tuned In! A Rubicon Trail Primer [Part I]
We are pleased to present this special two-part series by ModernJeeper contributor Kurt Schneider who lives not far from the Rubicon Trail, and who... Be Tuned In! A Rubicon Trail Primer [Part I]

We are pleased to present this special two-part series by ModernJeeper contributor Kurt Schneider who lives not far from the Rubicon Trail, and who walks the walk, and talks the talk. Enjoy…

The Editors


INSIDER TIPS AND TRICKS FOR ENJOYING THE RUBICON TRAIL

So you want to run the Rubicon trail. It is the “Crown Jewel” of four wheel drive trails, the Mecca of off-road, with people traveling from all corners of the globe just to test themselves and their rigs on it. It is literally where recreational four-wheeling began, and you are thinking about trying it for the first time this summer aren’t you?

If that is the case, the seven points in this article will give you a very clear idea of what you would be getting into and what you will need to run the Rubicon, including the answer to the most common question: “Will my Jeep be able to do the Rubicon?” Please take these points to heart, because the Rubicon should not be taken lightly.

1. It’s not for newbies.

There are many guidebooks and websites that rate the Rubicon as a very difficult, black diamond, 10 out of 10 kind of trail. That is not really the case. In terms of wheeling, I would rate the trail at about a 4 out of 10; but the key word here is PERSPECTIVE. To a legitimate, experienced wheeler, the trail is relatively easy. To someone new to rock crawling, the trail will seem impassable.

However, before you pack your gear and head up the hill thinking it will be a cakewalk, keep your ego in check here and be real honest with yourself. Just how experienced are you REALLY? Have you only put your rig into 4×4 a few times to bomb down a muddy road? What experience have you REALLY had in the rocks?

I have brought people who told me that they were accomplished wheelers to the trail, and at Gatekeeper, which is the very first obstacle, they about pooped their pants. “Wait….What? THAT is the trail? We have to drive over THAT?”

Before you attempt the trail, you must know and be able to put into practice the basic tenants of rock crawling. Things like “Go as slow as possible, and only as fast as necessary.” and “Put your tires on the rocks, not around them.” While you could do the trail with very little experience with a decent spotter, you will be risking body damage and not only will you have more frustration than fun, so will the other people with you or behind you on the trail.

This broken down Jeep was left stranded in the middle of the trail.

I highly suggest that you cut your teeth and get some experience on easier trails like Slick Rock or Deer Valley trail (also in California not far from the Rubicon) before you attempt the Rubicon. You could also build up some experience at a state SVRA like Prairie City or Hollister Hills if you live in California.

Even better, take one of the many 4×4 clinics that are offered by various clubs and companies. You really don’t want to be on this trail and way over your head.

With all of that said, here is the important part: what makes the Rubicon extremely difficult is its remoteness. You are in the middle of nowhere. There is no cell phone coverage. You can’t call 911. There are no emergency services readily available.

If you break, you need to be able to fix your own Jeep. Tow companies will not be able to extract your broken down vehicle. You are on your own. That fact is what makes the Rubicon not just difficult, but dangerous. I know first-hand. I have lost friends on the trail.

The remoteness factor is what brings the trail rating to a 10 out of 10 for difficulty. Wheeling parts of the trail in the winter? I know people that can and have, but despite wheeling my entire life, even I will not attempt it. Wheeling the Rubicon in the winter takes specialized knowledge, gear and a ton of experience.

 

2. Go with someone experienced that knows the trail

 

Sean Russel, experienced guide spotting a group of Jeeps from Belgium.

The first rule of wheeling: Never wheel alone. Especially on the Rubicon.

If you are a first-timer to the trail, or only have moderate wheeling experience, I highly suggest signing up for the Jeepers or Jeep Jamboree for your first attempt at the Rubicon (www.jeepersjamboree.com). I cannot recommend them enough.  Experienced Jeepers should also consider the ModernJeeper Adventure, Rubicon Trail.

The “Jambos” have spotters placed all over the trail to assist you, they provide you will all the food you need, and you will have not only a lot of support but an absolute blast. While at first it may seem pricey, it’s not. Those trips are worth every penny.

The Jeepers Jambo is a little bit more of a party scene than the Jeep Jambo, which in my opinion, seems a little more laid back. Find the trip that best fits you. The Jamborees are hands-down the best way to cut your teeth on the trail.

The only negative aspect of doing a jamboree, is that you are on the trail with hundreds of other people. The true allure of the trail is getting out into the middle of nowhere and having some solitude. If crowds are not your thing, you need to find an experienced guide or person to go wheeling with.

Ideally, you don’t just want someone who knows the trail, but also the rich history of the trail. There is almost a story behind every tree (and rock). Rubicon Trail Adventures, www.rubicontrailadventures.com,  is a guide company that I highly recommend if you want to hire someone to take you through the trail. It is run by an awesome couple who are really knowledgeable about the trail.

Whatever the case, find someone that knows the trail and has wheeled it multiple times to partner with. Although the Rubicon Trail Foundation and FOTR have done a great job of marking the trail with  signage, for someone totally new to the trail, sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where the trail is in certain spots or how to take on specific obstacles. Going with someone familiar with the trail can be a Godsend in multiple ways.

 

3. Know how to fix your junk

Nothing says “nerdy-cool” like a welding hood.

No matter how well prepared you are or how bullet-proof your vehicle is, you WILL eventually break down on the trail. Breakage is a common occurrence on the Rubicon because the rocks are not forgiving. It is even more common with beginning wheelers because many of them use the skinny pedal to get over an obstacle instead of skill and taking the proper line.

Like I wrote above, the Rubicon is very remote and you are on your own. If you cannot fix it yourself, there is no calling a tow truck. You really should have a decent amount of mechanical knowledge to run the trail, or at the very least, be wheeling with people who do.

Bottom line: if you do not know how to swap out a broken axle shaft on your vehicle, you really should not be on the trail by your lonesome.

4. Be prepared with the right gear

The kiosk at Loon Lake Dam

To repeat myself a third time, the Rubicon is remote. You are in the middle of nowhere. Has that sunk in yet? It’s not like you can just drive out the trail to the auto parts store, gas station or grocery store to pick up something you forgot.

Aside from the normal food and camping gear, you need to take a litany of items just in case. Spare parts, tools, spare tire, fire extinguisher, tow straps, Hi-Lift jack, HAM Radio, welder, work gloves, bug spray, trash bags, vehicle fluids, the kitchen sink, etc. The list goes on and on. So much so, that I could fab up an entire second article on just what to bring. What I just wrote here is NOT an end-all list.

I encourage you to do some research on your own. One excellent resource for this is the Rubicon Trail Foundation.

There are however, two important items that you MUST bring in order to keep the trail open: a spill kit to mop up any vehicle fluids that may leak from your vehicle and “wag bags” to pack out your poop. Yup. You read that right. You cannot just “poop in the woods” on the Rubicon.

One major argument the anti-access people have been using for years to close down the trail, is that we are supposedly ruining the water quality of the streams and lakes in the area due to leaked fluids and human waste. You would not believe how hard that battle was to keep the trail open. PLEASE do not give the anti’s any more ammo.

Pack everything out and clean up any spills. The Rubicon Trail Foundation has brought in and constructed a few bathrooms on the trail, but if you are not near those, you need a wag bag. Don’t ever leave “white flowers,” meaning toilet paper, on the trail. If the kiosk at the head of the trail at Loon Lake is manned when you start the trail, you may be able to pick these items up there before you head in.

One additional note here: it is very hard to pack everything you will need into a regular two-door Jeep. Even in my full size Jeep Wagoneer, my entire roof rack is stacked with stuff I need. If you have a smaller vehicle, you may want to consider buying something like a Rubicon rack that goes over your spare tire.

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Stay tuned for Part II.

More on being ready for the Rubicon Trail here.

ModernJeeper Adventures, the Rubicon Trail trip here (August 2019).

 

Kurt Schneider Land-use Advocate

Kurt Schneider has been involved in Off-Road Motorsports his entire life. Literally growing up in the back seat of his father's Wagoneer, Kurt's childhood was spent camping and four wheeling over nearly the entire country. For the past two decades, he has been very involved in many aspects of the off road industry as a land-use advocate, a writer, a race team promoter and manager, a racer, and educator. He is a founding member of the Kyburz Krawlerz 4x4 club, and has been relentless in fighting to keep public lands open to public. For Kurt, off roading is not a hobby; it is a lifestyle.

  • Harry Palmer

    April 27, 2019 #1 Author

    Well Kurt, if you intended to scare the c_ _ _ out of me, you have done an excellent job. The one thing you didn’t mention pertains to medical issues. I’m not a young person anymore but medical issues are a part of my life. You may wish to address this topic in another issue. I think you raise some very good points about what techniques are needed and the amount of support a person needs to have on a trip up the Rubicon. I thank you for the perspective. Some day I may try a trail a little less challenging than the Rubicon, but I am still learning to drive a 4×4 off road. I’ve been going off road for a good part of my life, but mostly in a 4×2 vehicle. Now I can afford a good 4×4, so I have a lot to learn. ( I sure wish I could have afforded a Jeep or 4×4 unit back when I lived in Colorado!)

    Reply

  • Louis Duhon

    May 1, 2019 #2 Author

    Another fine article! Really hoping to get out to the Rubicon someday and this article is one I’ll be saving! Also going to share with a few friends I know who are heading out there later this year. Thank you!

    Reply

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