naches wagon trail collection

Naches Day 4 (Ain’t Had Enough Fun)

historical naches wagon trail signThe shortest distance between two points is a straight line… And yes for all you math majors in the crowd I know a line is straight by definition and a straight line is redundant but that is just how the saying goes.

Late last night around the fire we came up with the idea of a fancy sit down breakfast… Eggs, bacon, english muffins, patties of foil wrapped butter, jam in little single serving tubs, OJ in glasses, endless pots of hot coffee, real dishes,  silverware and waitresses who magically appear when your water glass is empty. Half a dozen rigs descended on Whistlin’ Jack lodge.  It wasn’t a pretty sight. Sure we’d washed off the top layer of dirt the night before, but this was still a pretty ragtag looking group.friends and fj cruiser on natches wagon trail

Over the sound of clinking glasses, knocking dishes and silverware, ten different conversations were going on at once. Couples telling the stories about how they met, their pet names for each other like “funny retard”, who was looking for a new job and what was planned for the rest of the summer.  Turns out this was the lodge where Curtis and Maryalice were married at not that long ago so we thought about honoring them with a moment of silence… not that we did… but we thought about it.

naches wagon trail government meadowEventually the conversation turned to the drive home… Some would be heading east, a few west and a couple south. For the Seattle bound crew the idea was pretty simple… Rather than head around the mountain on highway 410, lets go straight over taking the forest roads back to Greenwater.  Now all we had to do was pay the tab, head back to camp, pack up and go.

four fj cruisers naches wagon trail meadowHave you ever noticed how long goodbyes take when you are having a good time with great people. No one really wanted to go, but home was calling and sooner or later the realities of life would pull us all back in, leaving this weekend as only a fond memory in the minds of all. But we still had the drive over the mountain to look forward to and with four rigs we would make good time, see some beautiful views and stay off the blacktop a little longer.

fj cruiser 4x4 trail woody mysticalWe headed out cruising west through the woods kicking up dust and making good time as we turned onto Forest Road-1913.  And than a little trail sign caught our eye… The Naches Wagon Trail is one of the historic trails carved out of the hillside by the pioneers as they dragged their wagons over the mountains looking for a better life in the Pacific Northwest.   Abandon by the wagon train bosses when easier passes were found, today the historic trail is kept open as a 4×4 trail. Opened again to seasonal traffic the day before, this was a sign from the off-road adventure trail gods… so left it is.

black trd fj cruiser in swampy mudSitting in a rig with padded seats, independent suspension,12 inches of flex, 135 horses, loads of torque and you’re still digging your fingers into the steering wheel as you climb long steep hills of loose rock gives you only the slightest idea of what the early pioneers must have endured to drag their wagons up and down the trail. Although marked as an “Easy” section… the trail is definitely aimed at the motor cycles and narrower rigs as we squeezed by the scarred trees.  There were times we’d of thought it was a wide hiking trail if not for the signs.

silver fj cruiser tight 4x4 trailEven though the trail had just opened the day before, traffic was light with mostly the two wheeled guys working around us as we motored our way through the woods. Reaching the pass, the trail opens up to what can only be described as god’s country. Wide open lush green meadows that must have inspired the pioneers to push on to the valleys below in the land of milk and honey. We stopped to take it all in, pee.. again… and give the blood a chance to flow back into our white knuckles.

The maps say “More Difficult Steep Down Hill” ahead. What the maps don’t say is steep down hill with a giant gnarly stump sticking out of the hill side, its sole purpose to inflict damage on body panels that pass. The paint, wood scars and broken glass give testimonial to the stumps ability to inflict pain. Sensibility had been thrown out long ago, stories remained to be told, Hula Betty was dancing on the dash and there were still one or two tricks to teach these old dogs. Hey this is the historic Naches Wagon Trail and we ain’t had enough fun yet.  We drove on.voodoo blue fj cruisers flexing down 4x4 trail

At this point I need to bow and pay honor to Brian. I only thanked him a million times but it still feels insufficient. We looked at the stump sticking out, the dip in the trail that throws you into the stump, the up hill slide of loose dirt that throws you into the stump and small foot print size rock that may hold a tire and the fact that as best we could tell, gravity still worked… in the stumps favor. Think camel and eye of the needle… Putting our faith and mental well being in Brian’s hands we followed his spotting directions without question.

fj cruiser stump on naches wagon trailGet as close to the stump as you can… By close I mean fold your mirror in, push the driver’s side front tire sidewall into the stump, INCH your way forward. Listen for the pop as your front tire passes by the stump and regains its shape.   At the moment your tire clears the stump you will have just enough room to pass a wisp of paper between your door panel and the stump… HOWEVER, if you’re on the line, your passenger’s side front tire will drop ever so slightly.  Now turn into the stump… yes into the stump and hope your rig flexes ever so slightly away as you keep inching forward and pass your door and quarter panel by before you rub your rear tire against the stump and pop around… Thank you Brian, Thank you… thank you… thank you! Brian managed to work all the rigs pass unscathed… Even ours with it’s extra width front and rear.

There is a certain euphoria that takes over after successfully negotiating an obstacle that appeared impassable. Sure the rest of the trail was filled with branches that added some pin striping to the rig. But nothing that wouldn’t buff out and hell… It adds character.   At least all the sheet metal was straight. We continued to move down the “Steep Hill” testing the rig’s flex and working through a couple more tight squeezes… But nothing like that stump… Finally we popped out onto Forest Road 70 where we had played only weeks before in the snow. We managed to complete the 25 mile run from camp in just under five hours with four rigs and not a single dent or ding… knock on wood. This deserved a celebration…  And we still ain’t had enough fun yet!

See other photos of our Naches Wagon Trail off-road adventure on Flickr.


fj cruisers 4wheeling

Naches Run Day 3 (FJ Cruiser Take Over)

fj cruisers and owners lined upYou drive enough off-road trails and you notice one thing…  There are a lot of Jeeps out there…   a lot.  CJs, YJ, JKs…  lots of cool rigs that folks modded up for the 4×4 trails. Let’s face it, a lot of the trails are open and available to all of us because of the Jeep guys and the work they have done to keep them available to the wheeling public.

So when you see a dozen Toyota FJ Cruisers on the trail, lined up like pretty maids all in a row, you get a second or even a third look from folks.  One Jeep guy we passed going the other way even gave me a high five (there is not much room on the trail to pass so yeah you can touch) as he exclaimed, “Cool…  looks like a Toyota commercial”.  Yup this was a FJ Cruiser take over…  and one hell of a good fj cruiser aardvark hill

A lot of folks from the club came out for this run with a wide range of skill levels.  In order to keep the groups manageable our tail master had arrange to split the group into two.  One group would explore the fire roads and easier trials while the other tackled more complex stuff.  We decided to go with the latter.silver fj cruiser aardvark hill

The complex stuff meant some heavily rutted areas, Aardvark Hill and some mud bogs that had the consistency of wet cement and smelled like a high school football teams rancid jock straps stuffed into a gym bag and left in the trunk on a hot summer day. Don’t ask how I know…  just take my word on it…  it stunk.

silver fj cruiser in mud pitAardvark Hill was the first challenge where the  crew thought it best to get out and walk the hill.  100 plus yards long on a steep incline, filled with roots and dug out ruts.  Most of it looked pretty straight forward but there was one area where you could see getting stuck was a real possibility and the only thing more ominous than getting stuck half way up was going to be in reverse and backing down.  If you choose that route it was make it or winch over…  just don’t go back.

silver fj cruiser bridge over mud pitThe nice part about going on this run was that Bernd was able to join.  You might remember Bernd and his son from our Rubicon off-road adventure.  Bernd is one of those guys who has a confidence on the trail that comes from years of wheeling, knowing his rig and knowing how to drive it.  Bernd looked at the hill, looked at the problem in the middle and decided if he came at it staying to the left and put is front bumper into left side of the hill, his momentum would carry his back-end up and over putting him on the line for the rest of the climb.  And sure enough watching him make it look easy inspired the rest to give it a try.  Bernd had paved the way, the rest of folks followed his line…  Like I said, it was nice that Bernd could join the run.

When it came to the mud you could go left, hug the edge and than pop up on to what was left of a bridge or you could face it straight on.  Either way you were going to stir up a swarm of angry mosquitoes.

We worked our way back up to funny rock where we met up with the other group and played on the rocks again.  We also worked over to moon rock to take a peak at some of the other rigs.  We sat on the sidelines at moon rock where it was more of a spectators sport leaving it to the truggies and rock crawler rigs.  You have to remember…  some guys build their junk to trash on the rock and driving over your buddy’s hood is just another day on the rocks.

man sitting in cold river waterThree days of off-road adventure trail dust, smokey fires, sweaty cloths, sleeping bags, bug spray and it was way too clear…  everyone was getting a little campy.  We STUNK like a dead skunk in the middle of the road (remember that song…  you got yer dead cat and you got yer dead dog.  On a moonlight night you got yer dead toad frog.  Got yer dead rabbit and yer dead raccoon.  The blood and the guts they’re gonna make you swoon! Ok back to the present).  Luckily the Crow Creek camp was named that for a reason…  cold running water, a little soap, yes biodegradable, and a quick dip…  Bright, clean and neat ready to dress for dinner and another night around the camp fire.

Need more pictures??!!  Check out off-road adventure on Flickr for more from day 3.

fj cruiser climbing rock face

Naches Run Day 2 (The Pre-Run)

fj cruisers on clif edgeMoon Rock…  Funny Rock… sounds more like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” than an off-road adventure destination.  But that was exactly where we were going to scout out off-road trails.

Sleeping under the stars means there are no shades or curtains to keep the sun from crashing in on you as soon as it crests the mountain tops.  First things first after shaking off the chill and relinquishing my grip on the idea of sleeping in, was digging through the meal sack for breakfast… doesn’t camp coffee always taste better?  I know Starbucks can build you a custom double tall, half caf, skinny, mocha, macchiato with just a hint of Madagascar cinnamon. But somehow water boiling on a camp stove that is pored into a crusty tin mug filled with two scoops of instant seems to taste that much better when its mixed with a stick from off the ground and sipped sitting on a rock.sliver fj cruiser black fj cruiser

The club planned on running trail six something or another, I’m terrible with numbers.  So today the plan was to explore the trail making sure it was passable and poke around some other trails to see where we could find some interesting obstacles to tackle.

The trails in the Naches area are tight and keep your attention.  But when they open up…  they really open up.  Wheeling the west side of the cast Cascades means mud, tree roots, and hills.  Wheeling the Naches area gives you plenty of deep rutted hills and exposed roots but it also gives you rock…  the kind of rock that you can test your flex as you crawl up to the top.  Funny rock was exactly that.  The wide open meadow filled with shale and wildflowers pointed the way to a fun rock climb.voodoo blue fj cruiser funny rock

There was even a shelf that has caused its share of carnage.  Although Brandon attempted the shelf, after several tries and a few tippy moments he decided this one might be better left unfinished.  After all tomorrow is another day…  and we would be back.

By the time we rolled back into camp the rest of the club had arrived.  Camp fires are where the bonds of friendship are forged.  This night there were folks from Coeur d’Alene, Seattle, Portland and a few places in between…  engaged couples, married couples, brothers, cops, software engineers, entrepreneurs and even an old guy or two on a weekend pass. Before long everyone was telling stories and explaining how in the world they got into wheeling.  If you ever wondered… No, no one goes into the dealership and says… “I’d like to spend $30k on a really nice rig, dump another $10k in mods and than put my it in harms way”.  Usually the stories that came out were more like “I wanted a 4×4 rig to go camping and fishing…  but I met up with the club and started doing more and more difficult stuff”.

voodoo blue toyota fj cruiser metal tech bumperBut no matter who they were or how they got here…  having everyone around the fire made the evening amazing.  Of course as usual, the crowd thinned out, the sky got darker, the stars shined brighter and the conversation deteriorated.  It wasn’t long before talk turned to man-mellows, man camp, and host of other topics that seem funnier 10 beers into the night.

In the glow of waning embers we said our final good nights and headed for the cot, knowing tomorrow we would have the chance to spend time on the trails with some of the nicest folks around and just maybe get a few more pictures to share and some video of who knows what.

Here are a few more pictures from today at off-road adventures on Flickr

camp site kelty shelter

Naches Run Day 1 (Grab The Good Camp Site)

whistlin jack lodgeWhen it is raining and grey in the northwest, hang out on the NWFJCC Facebook page is a great way to keep your spirits up.  Reading a post for a camping and wheeling trip planned for the Naches area caused my heart to leap. Of course then the waiting… May… June and a good chunk of July passed before the run was here.

The Naches area is on the east side of the Cascade Mountains where the sun shines, the trees are tall and the sky is clear blue. It is also in an area filled with 4×4 trails, camping sites and a redneck hot-spot or two. Getting there is almost as spectacular as the area itself. Hula Betty and I drove the route through Enumclaw, past Greenwater and around Mt. Raineer on highway 410.  Even the sunshine seemed a little warmer as we crested Chinook Pass leaving the snow and Mountain views in our rear view mirror.  Past Whistlin’ Jack and the next turn…  Little Naches River Road… then into camp.

By the time we rolled into camp a few members of the club had secured several nice sites for the group and before the dust could settle on our rig we were unpacking and  setting up our little shelter tucked into the trees on Crow Creek.  For me, these days, camping is not exactly roughing it. Kelty carport, lanterns, camp table, extra large cot and a layer of two inch thick foam to rest our bones, makes for a very cozy weekend Shangri-La.  Who ever said roughing it easy was a bad thing.

Since we had arrived a day before the “official” start of the run only a couple of us were sitting around the camp after dinner.  Of course it didn’t take long for someone to mention night run.  Night runs always make for a good time.  Dancing shadows, moon light and countless stars can turn even simple trails into an amazing off road adventure….  and we get to use our Baja Designs lights.  There is just something about turning night into day with our lights that screams “this is fun stuff”.

Although we were out for just an hour or so, the night run was the perfect start to what is shaping up to be an amazing off road adventure weekend.  Now if we can just fight off the excitement long enough to fall asleep under the open sky and wait for the rest of the club to roll in, in the morning.