Saturday, a few friends and I set out for Santiago Peak. This was to be the inaugral run for my Tacoma and my friends new old Land Rover. Unfortunately, his Rover is still in the shop and he had to ride shot gun in another friends Suzuki.
We headed into Cleveland National Forest and were met by two lifited Jeep Rubicon Unlimiteds parked on the trail. It turns out that the gate was locked, probably in anticipation of the storm coming in Saturday night. We all wanted to reach the peak and decided to caravan to find another entrance. This is when I discoverd what "It's a Jeep Thing" means. It means making lots of u-turns until you can find your way. After a few more locked gates and a private road marked "No Trespassing." Our new found Jeep friends suggested some trails east of Lake Elsinore. Another couple of u-turns and we were on a trail.
It started as a mellow fire road with lots of random trash dumped about and the occasional shooter. And then we quickly camed to one of the steepest trails I've ever seen. The Jeeps hiked up and the mountain goat Suzuki's followed. I took a breath, shifted into 4Lo, turned on the A-Trac, and started climbing. And praying. The Taco climbed really well and at the top I was greeted with "Great job!", "Wasn't sure you'd make it," and "I would have been scared shitless doing that in my truck." Yay, Taco.
The Jeeps aired down and then we continued on across a ridge top and down the steep rutted backside. The trail meandered along the hillsides, through some rocks, across a couple of streams/puddles and we arrived at an old, closed mine shaft. Again, I was greeted with surprise and "I thought we'd lost you."
We decided to continue heading up the valley.
I didn't realize it at the time, but the trail led to another steep climb, this one rocky and off-camber. I watched the Jeeps climb and slip on the bowling ball sized rocks and cobble. Then the Suzukis, the fully locked Samurai with some slippage and the open Sidekick with lots of slippage. I was wondering whether I could turn around when I remembered David K's post on the Mission Santa Maria and his A-Trac gospel. I figured if he could do those trails stock, I should be able to climb this thing. I turned A-Trac back on and started climbing. Very little slippage going up, but did add a dent to the skid plate.
I don't really remember the remaining mile or so out to pavement; I was too high on adrenaline. But I do remember hearing more comments from the Jeep guys about making it the hill and keeping up with them in general.
Overall, great little run (maybe 90 minutes). Very impressed with the stock Taco. The A-Trac and Downhill Assist are great tools, too. And, we made believers out of a couple more Jeep guys.