story: Peter Matusov
photos: Mike Gorbunov and Peter Matusov
Back to Elephant Hill | slide show | pile of photos | On to Golden Spike
Upon inspection of the underside of my truck after Elephant Hill and discovering a few things out of perfect order, I went up to our room and picked up Charles Wells' book. Flipped over to page 129, to read this -
"It's rare not to have at least one or two vehicles with major breakdowns..."
Is it about my truck?
I re-read the article a couple more times and went to uneasy sleep.
Next morning, got my ass out of the bed early, and hit the streets for the hardware or auto parts store. Local Advance Auto was open at 7am, so I grabbed a couple of feet of chain. For some reason, sales clerk at the parts store wouldn't cut it in half for me, so I had to bum this service from TruValue next door.
At the motel's parking lot, I wrapped the chain around the broken transmission mount, attached it to a rather flimsy bracket, and bolted it up together.
Took a spin around the block, and congratulated myself for the vibration completely gone.
That left enough time to hit the shower, make amends with the waffle maker in the cafeteria, procure a few ugly sandwiches and a gallon of Gatorade in the City Market, and then shake hands with the rest of the folk. Mike noticed that Dan brought up a different Rubicon this time - sitting rather low. Richard's friends left the Dakota behind, and rode with him in the D2 with now-functioning low range shifter. Pritchett's so close to town that we aired down right in the supermarket's parking lot. Fifteen minutes later, it was time for the first "Oh damn..."
I guess that was supposed to be a "test" obstacle - that is, if you can't make through it, there's no point going any further. I disliked it enough to use a bypass, raising a couple of eyebrows. There would be no bypasses from now on...
One thing is remarkable about Wells' book is a detailed distance count. Like, "The canyon widens at 0.5 miles." That must work well for someone who has a calibrated speedo (accounting for the oversized tires) and locked diffs on both ends (so the wheelspin doesn't add up) - and, besides, cares about the terrain little enough to take the eye off the road and watch the odometer! The remarkable thing about Pritchett is that it never lets go - most of its 4.4 miles is spent walking from one obstacle to another and watching the others do the deeds.
Shortly after the entrance, two lady hikers passed us - it was certainly much faster on foot - and we'd see them again about a mile and a half later. By that time, they already had been to the end and were on their way back to town.
After the first dry creek crossing, it appeared that Frank's D90 lost its center diff lock. Nick choreographed a diff-lock-fixing ballet on the spot, making the '90 functional again in about half an hour.
One of the early obstacles was descending down a ledge, while transitioning from a full-lock right turn to a full-lock left turn. The first jolt of fun comes when your truck's right front tire jumps about a foot down the ledge. From there on, the front right keeps coming down, and left rear - up. When your front bumper hits the dirt (or it seems that way), you are to cut left as sharp as you can - otherwise you'll be driving through a 30-35-degree bank to starboard, without seeing anything that could keep you from banking even further. Nothing to worry about, though, there's no room even for one complete roll. Roger did get it pretty close, though, prompting some "tick" action from the observers. Sometimes, these nerf bars on RoverTym sliders are really neat...
Watching short wheelbase D90s come off that ledge was even more fascinating.
Soon, we came upon a climb where you have to walk your truck up the set of one-foot steps at an angle of about 30 degrees; the steps were covered with dust and gravel, making them rather slippery. Nick made a valiant effort and drove the 90 about two-thirds of the way up. From there on, he had to winch himself up. I followed him as far as I could, eventually sliding sideways to a point of ultimately testing the static rollover angle of my truck. That was a point where it feels like if you tilted your head the wrong way, it would be enough to pitch it over!
Nick winched me the rest of the way up; it was a winchfest for the rest of the group, as well.
And it wasn't even the Rocker Knocker yet!
... Which came in no time. Basically, the center line up the Rocker Knocker is a five-foot rock wall; you'd need about 80 degrees of approach angle even to set your tires on it. At the right, there's an "easier" line - meaning potentially passable in a short-wheelbase rig. A small pile of rocks at the bottom made it somewhat easier - but, nevertheless, it pitched a D90 close to 50 degrees up. Another strap-fest ensued - to pull the lesser vehicles up the Knocker.
According to Wells again, there's only six-tenths of a mile from the Rocker Knocker to the Rock Pile. The Pile is yet one of those things akin unloading a truck of concrete with a garden shovel - you can make more or less of it, but not all. Then, a winch will bail you out. If anything, you should avoid excessive wheelspin - for, in true Pritchett form, you don't have a chance to hit it straight up - and rather do it at an angle. And you don't want your truck to slide too much to the right - it'll certainly make winching more exciting.
One other thing I've learned after Pritchett - not only it's not worth to buy a small winch (a Warn 8000 is small for a Rover), the winch also needs to be very fast spooling the line in without the load. That doesn't leave many entries in the winch market... An XD 9500 should probably be okay.
Another pleasant surprise - I could practically use the TruTracs as full lockers. Later on, it was cool to watch the Disco on the video ride with two wheels up in the air - and barely turning. I've always known that it takes to left-foot the brakes HARD at the same time as modulating the throttle; a side benefit lies in a pleasant lurch forward when you slightly release the brakes.
I've also been watching Richard fighting the electronic traction control in his D2. Without any other traction aid, it makes driving outright difficult - especially considering the fact that using brakes will disable ETC, and one doesn't have the precise control afforded by the two-foot driving. Kudos to Richard for making a fine job of piloting his truck, without losing his cool and driving it off the cliff!
The last significant obstacle of the trail - Yellow Hill - was a long and incredibly steep climb, mostly flat and even, except for the last few feet where one has to bump over a couple of ledges. Nobody had any issues, and we soo were on our relaxed 14-mile rumble towards Highway 191.
In a few uneven spots along the road, I discovered that the familiar vibration returned with a vengeance. When we stopped once, I popped the hood, and found both engine mounts broken, and the engine sitting in its bay cocked a bit sideways.... I nursed the truck back to town; Dan offered me to use his shop to do whatever I could to get the truck ready for the next day. It was a grand offer indeed - the use of the shop and the tools by a two-day acquaintance!
Once back in town, I borrowed a single spare engine mount from Nick, and headed up to Dan's shop.
When the Disco was hoisted up, a quick inspection showed that all four mounts - engine and transmission - were gone. And I only had one spare. The only thing that was actually keeping the engine and transmission close to their original quarters was that foot-long shot of chain. That flimsy bracket it was attached to was beginning to buckle.
Does that count as one major breakdown? Or stuff that needn't be fixed on the trail doesn't count?
Left to our own devices, Mike and I went on jacking up the engine and transmission, and re-engineering the mounts. I've used a good one on the right side for the engine, and removed three others, cut off the studs, drilled through the rubber donuts and steel washers, and bolted the things back together using grade 8 3/8" bolts with double nuts. Finished the job around 1 am, cleaned up and put away the tools, swept the floor, wiped my hands, closed the shop, and headed out to Denny's.
Night menu at Denny's sucks, even compared to its usual haute cuisine...
We've got about five hours to sleep before Golden Spike...
P.S. Just had a thought that, should I make a video about Pritchett, I'd pick Merle Travis' rendition of "Sixteen Tons" as a theme song... It just never lets go.
P.P.S. Oh yeah, somewhere close to the end of the trail, Frank told me they've had no problems driving through all the obstacles on this trail a year ago. Damn...
Back to Elephant Hill | slide show | pile of photos | On to Golden Spike
|Nearly overhead view of the trailhead, extracted from Google Earth. Joe takes on an "optional" obstacle. A rare luxury of stepping down the ledge not at an angle! Can you tell who is actually taking part in sorting out the CDL problem in Frank's D90? If that doesn't look ugly, check this video, or scroll down... ... and see what happens if you swing around too wide, or... have a short wheelbase! I'm already being winched up - and it isn't even close to Rocker Knocker! Winching from this angle must be fun. Notice the air gap under the left rear tire! Larry makes the most of this hill before breaking out the winch cable. Richard's uphill battle - with terrain as much as with traction control. Sorry guys, the only thing I can do is take pictures from my seat... That should give you an idea about the easy line on the 'Knocker (on the background), and crazy one (I'm six feet even). If the look of Nick's D90 suggests that it's steep, I don't know what would. This is where my forward progress ceased, and a strap was unfurled. Most often, longer wheelbase's your friend in Moab - but not always. Okay, now what? The infamous Rock Pile owns its name to the small collection of pebbles under the Range Rover's transfer case (can hardly be seen). ... but Joe makes a good use of it. Larry is winching himself up the Pile. Richard gets a bit tippy near the top of the Rock Pile. This place is simple enough not to earn its own name. Richard blasting his way up Yellow Hill.|