Friday, March 24, 2017

Off-Road Adventures in Northern Utah- Five Mile Pass

Off-roading, 4-wheeling, wheeling, rock crawling, I don't care what you might call it, but Utah is a fantastic state to enjoy when it comes to it! This past weekend, Mrs. Awesome and I loaded into Heathen and headed with our off-road club, The Wasatch Outlaw Wheelers to Five Mile Pass near Camp Floyd State Park and Cedar Fort, Utah. It was our first run in our 2010 Wrangler JK Rubicon Unlimited, and I was eager to see how much different Heathen would wheel compared to our previous Jeep, "Mean Green", a 1999 Wrangler TJ SE. 

The club meets at a predetermined location and caravans to wherever we're off-roading. One of the best parts of being in a club is that we don't wheel alone. You should always go with at least another vehicle, just in case something goes wrong or you break down. It can make for a very long walk back to the main road in a lot of places in Utah. For this run we had around 14 rigs, predominantly Jeeps, but there was also a Hummer H3 and even a Chrysler Alpine!  Our club is an off-road club and not a Jeep club, so all are welcome. In fact the last time we'd gone to 5 mile with the club a few years earlier, one of the members brought his Subaru Justy... seriously- a Subaru Justy! We don't judge... unless you're driving a Hummer, then us Jeepers are going to rib you a little...

Driving to a run is always a lot of fun- full of anticipation and there's something great about rolling down the interstate with a dozen or more other off-road vehicles. Stopping at the Chevron in Saratoga Springs to "top up" fuel and get any last minute snacks and drinks before heading into Five Mile. Conversations are struck up with passers-by who watched us descend upon the gas station and convenience store, parking in neat rows four abreast and three deep, bumper to bumper. "I want to go with the Jeeps!" I overheard one of the employees of the station say as we were there. Before long we were back on the road and pulling into the trail head at Five Mile Pass.

"Airing down" is the first order of business at the trail head, so I hopped out and proceeded to drop each tire to around 15 psi. Dropping the tire pressure allows them to mushroom and flatten out on the bottom which gives each tire more surface area to grip rocks, and it also take the teeth rattling out of washboard roads! The first set of obstacles we encountered was the "Rock Garden" which in Utah is often a term used to describe a jumble of rocks which only an off-road capable vehicle would be able to traverse. Each driver could chose their line and Heathen crawled like a champ up and over each of the stones and ledges we encountered. 

After traversing the rock garden we continued deeper into Five Mile Pass through an area known as the "Ant Hills." It's a bit surreal climbing through them- the feeling of some lunar landscape as we passed through the old pile of tailings. 

The Ant Hills

View from the mines
We headed further up the trail to get a look at some covered mine shafts, at the bottom of one resides an old Jeep. The driver, unaware of the shaft entrance, drove into it in the dark and had to climb out and go for help. They have been covered with steel grating and it's a lot of fun and a little daunting to walk out across the rebar and glance down into the hole. Then it was on to an area called "Wayne's World." Our run didn't take us over that particular obstacle, the trail leader choosing instead to climb to the top of an adjacent hill so we could break for lunch. The climb is about 500', and a 30% grade or so with a ledge at the top to add to the challenge. Heathen and I sat about sixth or seventh back and waited our turn as we watched each vehicle attempt to get up and over on their first run at the hill. Most powered up to the ledge and lost momentum before getting up and over it, requiring them to back down a bit and try again, and sometimes again before getting over the top. Sitting at the bottom, I studied the line each rig took, and as it neared my turn, I switched on the front and rear e-lockers and eased forward biding my time. It appeared daunting from the bottom, I'm not going to lie, but I trusted my rig and i trusted the line I'd chosen. 

As I mentioned, this was the first time I'd wheeled Heathen, and the differences between our old rig, a '99 TJ SE named "Mean Green," were astronomical. It had a 2.4L four cylinder engine, and 33" tires on a 2.5" Rough Country suspension lift. Other than that, it was pretty much bone stock- Dana 30 front axle and a Dana 35 rear with a "lunchbox" locker. It was a great Jeep to learn on because as it was geared, it didn't have the torque to break anything. If an obstacle was too much, Mean Green just wouldn't budge- like an obstinate mule, and we'd have to go around or find a bypass. This hill climb in that short wheelbase would also have made for some white knuckle moments had it been the rig I was driving that day.

"Heathen", by contrast, is a warhorse. Sitting on a 3" Teraflex lift and 35" tires, he sit's nearly two feet off the ground. He's equipped with an electronic sway bar disconnect and electric front and rear locking differentials (lockers) and rock rails straight from the factory. The 3.8L six-cylinder engine has ample power to push highway speeds with ease and more than enough torque to rock crawl. Heathen also has an automatic transmission, which means my days of feathering the clutch all day are behind me!  

I knew I had the clearance to climb the shelf- the biggest challenge was to stay on the accelerator in order to keep momentum and climb onto the ledge and then continue on up over it. Heathen performed like a champ, and the lockers did exactly as they are designed to, maintaining torque to the driver side front wheel when the passenger side broke contact.

Five Mile Pass is a great day trip in the Salt Lake Valley that I highly recommend. There's miles of trails, a scrambling and rock crawling area known as "Little Moab" that's a blast and obstacles for every experience level. Head on out, take plenty of water and a bag lunch and share the photos and memories you make- and always remember, Tread Lightly!

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