Another new year and another terrific start for CORE members to start with a great day with friends enjoying a rejuvenating day. Before we start this tale (which I hope falls into the category of good reading), I feel an obligation to call your attention to some relevant background.
One, although the call goes out far and wide for anyone to come along as long as they have a functioning four wheel drive vehicle, the attendees this year were all experienced recreational 4×4 drivers. Joining us this year were CORE members:
He rocked it forward, he rocked it backwards and it just wasn’t happening. We could officially judge him as stuck.
- Keith in Colorado
- Jeff M in the JK Unlimited with passengers Reggie and Reggie, Jr.
- Marissa in the Sliver JK with passengers Cathy and Susie
- Bob in blue Rubicon TJ
- Gary in the white Rubicon TJ
- Paul L in the silver Unlimited TJ
- Paul W in the Green S10
- Loc in the Yellow Rubicon TJ
- and guest, Miles in the blue Dakota
Two, this was known territory that had been traversed by this group may times. The water crossings particularly are hard-bottomed, well-marked, of known depth and authorized crossing points. Third, before attempting to walk or drive across frozen water, the depths of the underlying water were known. Fourth and most importantly we were traveling in a well-equipped and experienced group. Each CORE member’s vehicle had recovery equipment and was thus dispersed throughout. The recovery gear and the knowledge to use it was not on the “other side” when it was needed. With that in mind, our story begins.
Every year since we began, CORE has been on the trail on New Year’s Day as a way to set a pattern of wholesome fun with friends. These trips have not been without their surprises and challenges yet have all turned out well. We met at the Exxon in Urbana and the BP (now Gulf) at Exit 72. Everyone topped off tanks and picked up last minute supplies and we were off. We took the Tower Road off of Rt. 40 that led us through the Billmeyer Wildlife Management Area (http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Publiclands/western/billmeyer.asp). The roads were dry and smooth. The views were still terrific and the only interruptions were occasional groups of vehicles parked alongside the road indicating the presence of hunters. Next we took the turn onto the northern portion of Fifteen Mile Creek Road. Last year, it was snow-covered but also dry and smooth this round. We did ford the stream (twice) beside the one lane bridge, including finding the hole. There are both advantages and disadvantages to being the first in line. We then headed across I-68 past the forest headquarters towards the one way ORV loop road. There were only a couple of vehicles unloading ATV’s and motorcycles as we entered the loop. As we moved along we were passed by them. Later along the route we did meet the two motorcycles stopped by the side. One had broken a clutch handle and appeared to be preparing to walk it back to the truck. After checking that they did not need assistance, we moved on uneventfully. We stopped for lunch under the power line crossing just before Mertens Road.
After lunch (and the obligatory groupshot), we continued on. There were no vehicles at the Mertens Road crossing but we did meet a group of 4x4s (couple of Jeeps, Ranger, S10) coming the other way. We stopped to chat a few and discovered they were a new club out for their inaugual ride from Cumberland. They turned around and followed at a distance behind us up Stafford Road to the overlook. The overlook was clear enough to get some pictures and to see the Potomac and into West Virginia. We heard a train whistle but didn’t hang around long enough to see it. From there, we went down Mertens to Green Ridge Road with a stop to enjoy the view and share the history with our first-time-there guests at the Log Roll. Then on to Pack Horse and Maniford to cross Town Creek and head out. I’ve heard and read stories of folks who say “Let’s make this quick detour or do this one more quick thing” and then find themselves in a long drawn out adventure. It wasn’t quite that way but the quick creek crossing proved not to be so quick.
The first crossing was an easy drive across. The water level was down a bit as that side of the mountains has gotten wind but not so much rain or snow. The second crossing proved to be a bit more challenging. Again, let me repeat the caution against driving or walking on ice of unknown thickness over unknown depths. We had crossed here many times before and it was clear that the level was less than in the past. This crossing had ice all the way across the creek with the exception of a small area as you first dropped down a little larger than one vehicle and another similar-sized area as you came out on the other side. I went first with the truck’s front wheels climbing easily up onto the ice which was strong and thick enough to hold the weight. Getting the rear wheels up on the ice required a bit of a bump but was doable with just a bit of the ice breaking. I drove on across and pulled over onto the exposed rocks to await and photograph the others. Miles came next and his experience was similar with just a bit more breakage as the rear wheels came up. Marissa, Cathy and Susie were next. The front wheels of the JK came a little further across the stream before popping up on the ice followed by the rears. She also drove across and picked a spot to watch the others. Paul L was next and it didn’t go quite the same for him. He couldn’t get the front wheels up on the ice.
Afterwards, we debated why but came to no conclusion. Was it a difference in tires (not likely as they were similar to Miles’)? Was it because he followed a deeper water course than the others? Or was it just luck of the draw since the others had broken the ice before he got there? Or that undefinable shift that may only be a couple of inches in choice of line that makes one obstacle near-impossible for one that the one before or after just walks right through? We may never know but we do know that the front tires were not both coming up on the ice at the same time. The broken chunks of hard ice slid across each other and stacked themselves so that he was trying to climb an 18 inch wall of ice before he could get traction forward or back. He rocked it forward, he rocked it backwards and it just wasn’t happening. We could officially judge him as stuck. So how do you go about getting him out? You could attach to the front and pull him on through or you could attach to the rear and pull back whence he came. But in front there is cracked ice over very cold water and to the rear is mainly open icy water. The first part of his extrication came from carefully orchestrated teamwork between Paul and Gary. Gary drove out so that Paul, after climbing into the rear compartment could reach out and grab the winch line from the front of Gary’s Jeep and attach it. Oops, try again as the winch wasn’t set to spool out! So Gary backed onto the bank and got lined up to pull back towards the entering shore side. The ice at the bank, which had been easy to come down was now piled high with the broken ice chunks so a second pull by Jeff was set to get his vehicle back to the dry ground on the bank.
That successfully accomplished, the decision was made to let some of the larger and heavier vehicles through and clear a path. Jeff was next to come across. The lifted 4 door JK was heavy enough that front wheels went up but the rears stayed down as he broke a path across moving forward and then backing and then going forward again just like a stout icebreaker ship clearing a channel. Loc was through next pushing hard through the water and chunks with his usual highly-accelerated style and little problem. Paul W’s SFA S10 came next. It’s high and heavy and managed to break up more of the larger chunks with relative ease. It was time for another go for Paul L. With most of the larger pieces of ice out of the way or movable, he came through with virtually no problem now as well. Then came Gary followed by Bob and they were also relatively easy although Bob did take a small bit of damage to an aftermarket light and front plate. All told, no one got wet. One aftermarket light got broken, one aftermarket light lost a grill and a front plate got bent. The steering wheel on Jeff’s JK isn’t aligned straight anymore and there was lots of video and pictures to share. We gained an audience, a newer F150 on the “out” side of the creek and a Suburban on the “in” side. The ride on to and through the third crossing seems somewhat anti-climatic at this point so I’ll jsut share that we all crossed the shallow crossing uneventfully.
When we got back to Flintstone, Jeff remarked that something was amiss when he turned the wheel to the left at speed. After several attempts at troubleshooting, it was determined that it would be safe to drive home and let the techs look it over so that’s what we did, drove home. Several stopped for Pizza in Hancock and the Morenz’ family stopped to eat in Hagerstown and all got home safely after another adventure of safe and fun. (Just an additional note. Refer back to safety and environmental concerns in crossing streams and in crossing ice. Had our guest list included inexperienced drivers or any who felt uncomfortable in crossing the streams, we would have made alternate arrangements either bypassing the crossings altogether or splitting the group with some taking a bypass and others not and then all meeting back up on the other side. You don’t have to have a modified vehicle or years of experience off pavement to come along with us). I’m eagerly awaiting the next CORE-sponsored trail ride and hope you can come along!
Trail report written by Keith Holman. Pictures courtesy of Keith Holman, Loc Pham, and Paul Woscek.