Flatlanders 4×4 Fest 1998, Moderate Trail

We had about a dozen vehicles in our group, including three XJs, an early Bronco, a full-size pickup, a Land Rover, four YJs, and a CJ-7s. Billy headed up the group, and Woody Eslinger was the tail gunner.

It didn’t take long to rack up the first casualty of the day. Fellow Lincolnite Chuque Henry, in the ’95 Land Rover Defender 90, had just finished installing his new spring lift the night before, and less than a mile onto the dirt service road that leads to the ORV area, he discovered that the nut that held his front left shock to the rear mount had disappeared, leaving the shock to bang against the mount every time the wheel rose. Nobody else in the group (including other accessories on the D90) had a spare 10mm, fine-thread nut, so Chuque just decided to live with it. However, shortly after we got to the bottom of the ORV area, the D90’s engine also started overheating due to a faulty clutch fan. He decided to head back to town, hoping to find someone that could fix his problems and then catch up with us at the lunch break.

The ORV area had gotten a fair amount of rain the previous week, but had gotten enough sunshine and wind before the event to make the terrain muddy enough in parts to be interesting, but not so sloppy as to be impassable. Most of the trails were pretty dry, which helped immensely on the hill climbs. We first descended Falcetto Lane, a steep, narrow, rocky trail about 100 feet long. There are some minor ledges near the top, and loose rocks throughout. It didn’t give anyone any trouble, which is more than we can say for the trail’s namesake, Nick Falcetto, who had trouble here in September 1997 and February 1998.

We then drove through the low lands to Witch’s Hill, a short, steep, muddy incline with a sharp right turn at the top. No big deal as long as you give it plenty of throttle. We wound around, crossed the creek again at an easier spot, and then ascended a long, narrow hill with some good rock ledges at the top. The fullsize pickup in our group stalled on this hill and took about 15 minutes to get started again (bloody carbureted engines). Those at the top apparently didn’t think any of their vehicles could pull the pickup up & over the ledges, so those at the bottom waited until the truck got started again. The hard group was ascending the same hill just to our left, and Nick ran down to give us a status report. He rode shotgun with me up to the top, then spotted me over the ledges. Those of us with minimal clearance had to take just the right line to avoid banging the undercarriage too badly. While waiting at the top for others, the driver of another stock YJ (Shawn) asked me about disconnecting my sway bar, so I offered to show him how to remove his. We got one nut off before the group started moving again.

I don’t remember the rest of the route very clearly, but there were several other creek crossings with steep, muddy banks to ascend. At one point, after following a high trail near the southern boundary of the ORV area, we descended a narrow trail into the low lands. I stopped part way down to wait for the YJ behind me, who had stopped to wait for Woody, our tail gunner. By the time they pulled into view and we finished the descent, the rest of the group was nowhere in sight. To pickups (not with our group) reported that our group had taken two trails to the left — some on the easy, level path, and some on the harder ascent back up the hill. Not wanting to be bored, I headed up the hill, followed by our other two YJs. No sign of the rest of our group, even on the CB. Woody thought that we had taken the wrong path, and that we were headed for the spot where Doug Knox had his little mishap the week before. We opted to turn around and go back to the low land. After waiting a few minutes discussing what to do next, the rest of our group drove into sight. It turned out the pickups were right about the direction they had gone, but the path fortunately looped back to where we were.

Remember, one of the common rules of group four-wheeling is never lose site of the vehicle behind you. If they get stranded or stuck, the vehicle in front of them is most likely the one that will have to get them out.

We eventually headed up another hill that Nick Falcetto had to be winched & tugged up back in December 1997. After traversing a small gully, we got to the rock ledges on which we often stop to play. Since the conditions were good and I was feeling confident, I opted to go up one of the harder sections for the first time. Fortunately, the XJ in front of me kicked a large rock down just where I needed it to climb the ledge. No problem. While waiting for others to play, Shawn and I finished removing his sway bar, and Woody tried to repair his dysfunctional door latch. We headed back to the road via Falcetto Lane and were back to the park for lunch by 12:45.

Obi-Wan on Falcetto Lane

Just before leaving the parking area and hitting the dirt road back to civilization, I decided to take an alternate route up a hill over a small rock ledge. I guess the ground leveled out more above the ledge than I realized, because I soon found myself high-centered on my skid plate with neither axle having quite enough traction to unseat me. My wife and the guy behind me solved the problem by manually pushing me backward off the ledge, toppling one of the large rocks back with me.

Lunch was delicious, thanks to Mo Cox and the others that stayed behind that morning to cook. We met up with Chuque, who had found and installed a new bolt for his shock mount and we ready to rejoin us that afternoon. Our group lost a few vehicles and gained a few more as people decided to try different trails that afternoon. I enjoyed the morning run, and wanted to see how Chuque’s D90 (now with a secure shock mount) did that afternoon. My wife decided to stay behind to help clean up, which freed up my shotgun seat for Mo Cox.

D90 straddling ditch

After missing most of the morning wheeling, Chuque was feeling his oats. While waiting our turn to go down Falcetto Lane, several vehicles, led by Chuque, showed off their articulation on a mound of dirt. Chuque did the same thing at the bottom of Falcetto Lane in a small ditch that splits the trail.

I’m glad I had Mo with me. Several times I was glad to have his experience as a spotter. One spot had an abrupt drop off followed by a 15′ cliff, which forced you to make a hard left or right to get to the bottom. The right (harder) route is completely invisible from the driver’s seat, so I was flying blind while Mo guided me around the turn. Just after reaching the bottom, the pickup behind me said one of his tires was quite low, and asked if anyone had a compressor. We pulled off to the side so I could air him up with my York without blocking the trail for others. To get back on the trail below, Mo suggested we take one of several very steep (50-60 degree) inclines, each about 15-20 feet long. With the front wheels teetering on the edge, I still could see nothing but the valley floor several yards out from the descending trail. I left it in first gear, and nearly red-lined the engine trying to give the wheels enough spin to keep them from sliding. Going up would have nearly impossible, as my skid plate would have hung up on the lip of the plateau just as I reached the top.

YJ climbing

Not long after that, we crossed a creek where the banks were rather high (about a Jeep length or more). The far side was very muddy, and several vehicles had to make several attempts to get enough speed to make it up.

D90 flying

Chuque was apparently determined not to have that problem, and gunned his V-8 so much that his front wheels were 2-3′ in the air after exiting the far bank. He hit the brakes in mid air, and stopped just short of a tree on the far side amidst huge applause from the rest of the group. Most of us begged him to do it again, but he declined. Wimp. 😉

Unfortunately for Chuque, his overheating problem only got worse as the afternoon wore on and heated up.

D90 hoodless

We eventually decided to remove his hood for the remainder of the ride, which is amazingly easy to do on a D90. Just remove one cotter pin, lift the hood up out of the C-groove hinges, and lay it in the back seat. As Chuque said you could tell those things were designed for field maintenance. Since the wind was picking up, the engine ran much cooler from then on.

The rest of the trail went without incident, with most of the obstacles being about the same as they were coming from the other direction.

I personally had a blast on this run. The obstacles were challenging enough to keep my interest, but not so hard as to be stressful. This was a nice change from the runs I had made in Moab the month before, which were much more technical. Everybody else on our run seemed to agree that it was a day well spent.

Be sure to read about the rest of the 1st annual Flatlanders 4×4 Fest!

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