George Washington National Forest

The most recent trip to Rawley Springs and Dunkle Hollow for CORE had resulted in a very late night getting home for many following the discovery that aluminum driveshafts may be great for highway cruising but they are no match for hard rock. So CORE decided to try it again with the goal of an early return and no carnage this time.

The Northern Virginia Jeepers (www.novajeepers.com), the Liberty Owners Special Team (L.O.S.T.) and the Virginia Jeep Girls (www.vajeepgirls.com) were along for the ride.

“Our equal opportunity ‘wheelers were going to get to do it all this trip. “

We met at the Wendy’s in Park Ridge Centre, in Stafford and at the Harrisonburg Sheetz station. By the time we all arrived at the Sheetz, the group included 19 vehicles and CORE members were in the minority.

Vehicles and their occupants were:

  • Keith Holman, 01 BlaZeR2 (CORE)
  • Chad and Dawn Perry, 97 TJ (CORE)
  • Jeremy Albrecht, 03 Liberty (CORE)
  • John Blackmore, 95 S-10 (with the recently installed 350 V8) (Guest)
  • Johnathan Apter, 03 TJ (Guest)
  • Rowe & Christian Crawford, 04 TJ (Guest)
  • Jon Jimentz, 84 CJ (Guest)
  • Patrick Dunn & Edward Johnson, 00 TJ (Guest)
  • Greg, Sandra, April, and Kenneth Jackson, 88 YJ (Guest)
  • Chris Keslink & Jeremy Wingler, 02 Libery (Guest)
  • Rahm Bunnag & Angela Yates, 03 Rubicon (Guest)
  • Damon, Keri, Joshua, Jalen, and Emily Eversole, 04 Rubicon (Guest)
  • Jill Collier, Dacotah, Chelsea, Richard Drechsel, 02 TJ (Guest)
  • Bonnie Mcilrath & Stacey Gray, 03 TJ (Guest)
  • Jeff Cole, 04 Rubicon (Guest)
  • Sharon Anderton, 04 Rubicon (Guest)
  • John Carter & Randy Dean, 00 TJ (Guest)

The original plan had been to run Second Mountain and Gauley Ridge to end up near Fulks Run. Since the group had grown to so many vehicles, Chad and Keith decided to break into 2 groups and find a trail that would allow us to approach from opposite ends and hopefully meet up in the middle (around Flagpole Knob) for lunch. Thus, we wound up at opposite ends of Dunkle Hollow.

One group consisted primarily of the Virginia Jeep Girls, friends of theirs, along with Keith, Jeremy and John B. We took the route that took us west on 33 to the reservoir entrance. While it had been called the “downhill side”, we also went uphill first but expected that the trickier spots on Stone Camp road would be predominantly attacked while traveling downhill.

Our first stop was just after pulling off pavement and down by the water. A scenic view and a nice place to get to match a couple of names to faces better. We also aired down a little, not entirely necessary for traction purposes but it does make the ride a little less harsh. If you’ve been this route, you know that there is a significant distance that accessible to mere cars and even the occasional minivan. That caused some concern for the first-timers that they had driven a considerable distance to ride a gravel road. But it did get better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

Inter-vehicle communication was not consistent. A series of hand signals helped relay road information and the banter took advantage of knowing that some could hear but not respond.

After you’ve started up the trail well past the reservoir, there is a clearing on the left where the stream passes nearby. This clearing has often been a stopping spot to let the dogs run or enjoy a cool spot in the shade for lunch next to the stream. Since last time I had been here, several large mud areas have cropped up and proved to be entertaining for a while. (See the pictures.)

We moved on up the trail with the occasional stop to look and once to allow the gremlins to work themselves out of John’s new engine install. Around 12 ish, we heard the other group of the CBs checking locations. It seemed they were near Meadow Knob and were confirming a Flagpole Knob meeting spot. We arrived at Flagpole but the other group had yet to arrive.

In the last 3 years, I have taken two other groups up to Flagpole to enjoy the dynamite view for miles and, quite truthfully, been disappointed both times as the fog and low-hanging clouds left the view very limited. Today was not a disappointment however. We saw clearly into West Virginia and tried to identify other points around us. We saw another (we think) dam and reservoir and a couple of other clear mountain tops (or knobs) while we waited. After just a little bit, we began working on lunch which, in addition to what had been packed individually, included Roy’s Big Burgers from Richmond’s greatest burger place (according to clips I later found on the Internet) courtesy of proprietor Sharon Anderton, one of the Virginia Jeep Girls.

After lunch, the others still hadn’t arrived so we found ways to amuse ourselves on the various open entrances to the knob and snapped a few more pictures in the process. After an hour, the other group finally arrived. In answer to the many questions, Jeremy did NOT actually strain his face muscles from grinning that widely.

We compared a few notes. It seems they hadn’t been quite as far as they thought when we had talked and the rock formation across from the stone camp provided a very entertaining diversion of more than just a couple of minutes. Our afternoon looked like it would be rocky while our morning had been muddy. Our equal opportunity ‘wheelers were going to get to do it all this trip. We decided to attempt to re-connect after getting back near 33 and see whether to combine the groups again or just call it a day.

The ride down from Flagpole and over to Meadow Knob got us all back into low gear to save some brakes on the loose rocks. Meadow Knob was passed with a couple of oohs and aahs as we moved on towards the Stone Camp Road

The rock across form the camp also provided some entertainment for our group. Of the six who went up and over, I believe we may actually have accomplished the task using 6 different lines, each playing to the strengths of the individual vehicles. The BlaZeR2, with limited articulation took an across the ridge approach, Will in the Kaiser with its longer wheelbase and open diffs took a somewhat more difficult line, also across the face. Sharon’s Rubicon came at it pretty much head on. Randy in the TJ took a slightly different across the top face route. John B. took the head on approach with a twist. We feared the engine gremlin was going to stop him but it restarted and he was through.

Next is the downhill section with the drop off. Easily doable in low range and low gear with the primary objective of taking it slowly. This is where comparative voice volumes became the focal point of discussion. We determined that perhaps we needed to re-distribute the CBs as not everyone actually needed one to communicate with the other vehicles within a certain range.

We stopped and looked at the abandoned minivan (which has been called in to the Forest Service more than once) and continued along our way. The rest of this route is largely scenic where the most significant challenges are passing oncoming vehicles or those parked carelessly along the way.

A couple of stream crossings, an interesting cabin in the woods, tourists who seem genuinely surprised to find anyone else out this way along with a soft muddy area or two were the highlights of this part of the trip.

Just before reaching pavement, there is a large steeply graded hill to the right. When I first traveled this road, it was the scene of a broken rear axle in a TJ that had been playing but the that hill has since been marked with a berm as off-limits.

As we worked our way back towards 33, Jeremy pointed out landmarks from the broken driveshaft recovery trip of previous weeks. There was no sign of the other group so we opted to head back into Harrisonburg and the relative comforts of the Sheetz station to see how they had been.

In addition to whatever other adventures of the day, Chad’s group had another round of driveshaft and rear axle troubles. Since CORE accepts and welcomes all types of 4×4 vehicles, we won’t make any mention of the manufacturer except to say that it was different than the one who had last had driveshaft problems on one of our trips. Similar to before, these driveshaft problems developed not because of excessive torque, but apparently because of attempting to climb over something without benefit of a spotter. A slight misplacement of a wheel led to slipping off the obstacle where the driveshaft took the load of the vehicle’s weight all at once. Needless to say, this was beyond the criteria included in the design specs and breakage resulted. The wounded vehicle was able to come out of the forest under its own power using only the front wheels to pull.

Rather than hold everyone up, this group split with intentions to meet and regroup at the pavement. Additional mechanical troubles were to have an effect on the progress when someone ran out of fuel. Luckily, a spare can was available but this spare can didn’t have a spout nor a funnel to actually facilitate the transfer of fuel from the can to the tank. Thank goodness for trail engineering. The same can which had been used to cover the driveshaft end of the transfer case was able to provide additional usefulness as a funnel! (Apparently no one got pictures of these events!)

By the end of the day, all had safely made it back. The damaged vehicle was towed home and all were safe.

At the risk of seeming “preachy”, some valuable lessons get a chance to be re-surfaced.

Communications: We have perhaps gotten a bit lax about the pre-meeting for drivers where we cover such things as where exactly we’re going and identify weak links (such as those who don’t have 2-way communications) in the group. Two way electronics has never been a requirement for our rides and still doesn’t need to be but we need to be aware if some are relying on face-to-face or hand signals only. Generally, they should be included within the group (not lead or tail vehicle) and ideally should be spread out within the group. We also need to remind the drivers that they should be keeping an eye on the vehicle behind them. If you can’t see him, you need to slow down or stop and alert others to the issue until you are certain where she is.

Vehicle condition and prep: Starting with a full tank is a great idea but so is being prepared for unexpectedly running out. An extra can of gas helped tremendously. A funnel would have also.

Tools, spare parts: One of the advantages of riding with a group is that you’ve got help with you. On this particular day, we split into groups headed different directions. If you are always relying on your buddy to provide your spares, tools, etc you may find yourself unexpectedly short.

Bottom line: It was another great day. We had a few hiccups but we learn as we go.

It sill holds true that a bad day four wheeling is better than a good day at work!

Happy Trails! And don’t forget to TreadLightly!

Trail reports written by Keith Holman. Pictures courtesy of Keith Holman.

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