Thursday, September 1, 2011

Trail Report: Whipsaw

As much as I love 4x4ing, I just don’t get to go out and enjoy it enough. My biggest hurdle is not having a 4x4 to begin with, my second is finding the time to actually go out and buy something worth modifying for the trail, let alone being able to actually get out to play.

A good friend of mine, let’s call him Ingo, has been doing absolutely astonishing things with four wheel driven vehicles for the better part of two decades now, and despite maxing out the capabilities of his ridiculously agile Suzuki Samari, he still enjoys introducing new people to the sport. This past August long weekend, he and his girlfriend Cara put together a trip to open up the Whipsaw Trail, located near Princeton, BC.

Opening up a trail in August, you are likely asking yourself? Well yes, the BC interior received a heavy amount of snow this past winter, and up until two weeks before the trip, even the Rover Landers, a club who look after the trail, were unable to cross it. Regardless, it’s a rather easy trail with a few challenging sections that people in stock 4x4’s can tackle with minimal risk of damage. So, I figured it would be a great chance to take out a stock 4x4 and have some fun without the investment of a small fortune.

My choice in rig for this trip would be the 2011 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition. The 4Runner has been a staple in the 4x4 world during its 27-years of existence. However, later version of the vehicle have looked a little more, “form before function,” so this trip would be a great way to see if the old 4Runner still has what it takes. Joining me in the stock truck camp would be three fellow ex. Military boys in a new Toyota Tacoma and another pair in a stock Jeep Wrangler YJ. Showing us the way would be a trio of highly modified Suzuki Samari’s and a well used Toyota Truck.

Out little expedition took off from the Whipsaw trailhead located on highway #3, just east of the Copper Mountain mine. Here we aired down, got to know each other then pushed up onto the well manicured logging road that makes up the first 18-kilometres. On our first stop, it was obvious that the mosquitoes would become an issue as the melting snow made for lots of stagnant ponds for them to breed, and lots of muddy washouts for us to get stuck in.

For the most part the road to the Wells Lake camp site was quite tame. The mud was kept to the flat area’s traversing the nearly Alpine like meadows that cover the highlands, while the steep narrow grades that climb up into the forests were left dry and rocky. So far no real challenge for any of us stock drivers other than requiring 4WD-low and some careful wheel placement for some slippery and narrow climbs. However I was beginning to notice a couple advantages between the different vehicles. The only modification to the Tacoma was some decent all terrain tires that were making a huge difference in the mud, where I was slipping off high points, bringing the bodywork close to unforgivable trees and rocks. However, the Wrangler and I had shorter wheelbases, which meant that we were not rubbing over obstacles as much. None of us had any kind of lift, but the added length of the Tacoma meant he was dragging his trailer hitch in the ground quite often. As for the Suzuki’s, they were bombing along without a care in the world. Well at least until one decided to break a weak transmission mount, that required a short pit stop in yet another beautiful meadow.

Our biggest challenge came on the dark side of the mountain, where deep snow stopped the Jeep in its tracks, requiring some creative driving by the Toyota Truck to get around and pull him out. Quite tame for the first day, but when you are driving your daily driver, or in my case, someone else’s vehicle, that works just fine.

After five hours on the trail, we came to Wells Lake, yet another spectacular location, and set up camp on the lake. With with some time before dinner we broke out the fishing poles and pulled out a trout for every cast, easily catching enough food to fill the whole group for the night. However, the attack of the mosquitoes was relentless until the night got cold enough to drive them away.

Up decently early, we packed up camp in eagerness for a more challenging day ahead. On this day, we would see rocky washed out terrain, mud soaked fields, deep water crossings and challenging slopes. Not crazy challenges in the 4x4 world but they would test the limits of our stock trucks tolerances.

Our day started with a muddy decent down through a forest with deep ruts. It made for a great testing ground to test the 4Runners Multi Terrain Control system, which eased my down through the obstacles with little to fear. However, I was finding that while the system is impressively competent in navigating adverse terrain, it kind of took the fun out of testing my own skills. I almost felt like I was cheating myself, like a fat man sneaking a chocolate bar, despite being on a diet. However it didn’t take long for things to get technical on the climb on the other side of the valley.

Here the road was washed out in a very narrow part of the terrain and any slip up would have the truck either high centered on jagged rocks, or flipped over on its side on equally unattractive rockery. With Cara calling my tracks, I slowly crawled the big 4Runner up through the kilometers of obstacles with no sickening sounds of metal on rock, however, just behind, the military boys were not as fortunate as the body length of the Tacoma bit back at them again, although only a slight impact on the bumper.

Inching out way to the top of peak after peak, we finally came to a rock face overlooking an alpine lake. Here, the Suzuki’s and Toyota got to finally test their limits. The last hour and a half was deeply challenging and stressful for us in the stock vehicles, but was child’s play for the modified trucks. So here they played testing the geometric limits of their highly tweaked suspension systems on a rock wall too steep to even climb.

As we moved on, we now were encountering heavy, deep mud and water crossings. The modified trucks were tossing themselves in like dogs at the lake, but it took those of us with stock tires a little more momentum and precisions to make it across some of the deep thick barriers. Fording some water crossings took a little bit of luck, as I needed to keep my momentum up to ride the wave across, hoping that there wasn’t a big bad rock lurking underneath ready to rip up a driveshaft or suspension arm.

It was one muddy obstacle after another rocky climb, which seemed to follow each other for hour on end. Medium challenges that made the day hugely rewarding for those of us playing in standard trucks. All three vehicles cleared the trail with no real issues, all proving their worth. With zero investment, we were having the time of our lives, however, with rather new vehicles; the costs were high if we screwed up. My tires let me down at the end of the day, dropping the 4Runner on a large rock, ripping off one of the rather irritating running boards. Likewise the skid plates were also starting to get a workout as well.

However, our biggest challenge would come at the end of the second day. The road leading down the last peak was ridiculously muddy and had pot holes larger than the little Suzuki’s. As Ingo proved, sometimes the more modifications you have to your truck only help you to get stuck deeper in the scenery. Somehow he managed to slip sideways into the hole, ending up on his tailgate trying to get out. After careful navigation through the worst of challenges we made our way to the Lodestone lake campsite, where a massive fire was built to ward off the mossies, followed by the  celebration of success and the telling of war stories from our epic trip across the fantastic Whipsaw Tral.


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