Johnson Valley 1999

The Outer Limits Trail

"Winch. Winch. Winch." This is all Rooster suggested be written for the Johnson Valley trip report. To a great extent, this is true. However, let me tell you the story behind all the winching…

We had an on-time Friday departure from Winchell's after a beautiful 'sailor's delight' sunset. Big Top, Pappy, Nancy, Rooster, Jerry, Montego and Louise roared out of the parking lot on the usual high spirits, leaving Santa Fe, Paul, Oreo, Trail Princess and Lion, who had come to see us off. Pappy, initially leading us down the 405, soon became tail end because of some momentary directional challenge, exiting when he should have stayed on. Rooster took the lead and held it until he and Jerry veered off to head directly to JV, while the rest of us went to Joshua Tree. We stayed at Big Top's 'palace in the sands' (Thank You for your hospitality, Bob!) and joined a much larger RoughWheeler contingent at JV the next morning.

In addition to Rooster and Jerry, Bobo & Fidget, Iceman w/ Barbara and her two sons, Ten Ball and guests Leadfoot & Hazel (Ten Ball's parents driving a '44 stock Flatfender), Chris (Jeep), Randy (Jeep) and Steve (capable Toyota), were the folks we met on that dry lake bed.

The original intent was to find and do either Jack Hammer or Sledge Hammer. However, finding them proved to be the most difficult part. GPS's, topo maps and Internet printouts were consulted and, after a few starts and retracing of our tracks, we headed off for our adventure. While it turned out to be neither of the Hammers (it turned out to be The Outer Limits), it was still a challenge and the beginning of "Winch. Winch. Winch". Ten Ball and his folks were smart to find an adventure suitable for the stock vehicle they were driving. We blissfully headed into the canyon and up a series of waterfalls until it was too late to turn back.

Montego was the first to break something on his Jeep. Breakage for Montego is highly unusual, despite the enthusiasm with which he drives and the cosmetic alterations this occasionally creates. However, he bent a tie rod and did a trail repair job straightening that out and reinstalling it.

There were many waterfalls (I lost count), and there were several times the winch was pulled out to help people up these waterfalls. But the real story of the day (and night) came at the "Wall of Death". The trail looked like it ended at a wall of rock, but Bobo somehow managed to get himself all the way up it. So, what the heck, I suppose it was a trail. Iceman followed, although not quite as easily. Winch. Winch. Winch. Over an hour and a half later, Iceman finally summitted. Only seven more vehicles to go!

Big Top managed a self-winching technique, after he broke his rear locker nearly half way up the Wall. Rooster had a lot to crow about as he didn't need any "goddamn winching from no'body" and "couldn't understand why it was taking everyone so damn long". Both he and Randy (whose Jeep was consuming vast quantities of oil) made it up in under an hour each. Montego got little further than the base of the Wall and bent his tie rod again. This time it was worse than before, we were on an uneven rocky incline, and it was beginning to get dark as the repair work began. An ingenious repair job followed, in which he used his high lift jack handle as a cuff around the tie rod, once he straightened it. It was also noticed that the lower control rod had a 45 degree bend and a small crack in the top side of the bend. Not easy to do, but Montego had to tread lightly up the Wall to avoid stressing that crack any further.

Winch. Winch. Winch. Somehow, and sometime later well after dark, Montego crested the Wall. Rooster's winch finally broke and he used a tow strap to help Montego along the remaining series of waterfalls to the end of the trail, but not without one more mishap. Jerry was being the guide and communicator between Rooster, by now officially established as the "Tow-er", and Montego, the "Tow-ee". Unfortunately, Jerry found himself on the wrong side of the tow strap just as Rooster decided it was time to accelerate. Rooster gave it gas, making the tow strap taught, forcing Jerry down and against a rock wall ("I'm Down!, I'm Down!" yells Jerry), and Rooster comes to an abrupt hault … not because of Jerry's wailing, but because he got a flat tire. Once we got that fixed, we were on our way again. Jerry was okay too.

Behind us, Chris, with his newly installed nerf bars, lockers and lift, got full use of them. Cosmetic damage sustained, it would have been worse for him if he did not have these. He was followed by Steve (Toyota w/ ARBs front/rear, Marlin crawler, good lift & roll cage).

Nancy and Pappy, exhausted, hungry and somehow still awake after this all day wait, pulled up the rear of the column. Along the way, Pappy bent the transfer case skid plate.

Fortunately, the weather was warm but everyone was hungry and tired. There was plenty of opportunity for frustration to lead to bad humour, but everyone worked together to help all the vehicles through this difficult situation. Bobo had initially crested the wall at 3:15 in the afternoon. It was 10:15PM when all vehicles were finally out of the canyon and Iceman led us back to the campsite.

Despite how tired everyone was, our hunger got the best of us and we rallied around the growing campfire for dinner and warmth. Guest Steve, who had intended to join us just for the day and was not at all prepared with extra food, clothing, or sleeping bag, was given plenty of everything by others in the group, including tent space in Randy's tent.

Chris and Steve were early risers on Sunday and found the Hammers. In camp, Pappy spent a little time and energy pounding away w/ a mallet on his bent transfer case skid plate. Very un-Pappy like; more like some Montego-dude fixing a Montero. After breakfast, and when everything was packed up, Chris and Steve led Bobo & Fidget, Pappy & Nancy, Ten Ball, and Montego & Louise to the trail heads. Just to take a look. Just to see what we missed yesterday. Just to take a picture and know where it was so we could come back some other time.

Well, just poking your nose in couldn't cause too much trouble, could it? Look, it's only 100 yards and there's an emergency exit on the Jack Hammer Trail. We'll just do that short section.

Five hours later … The approach to the steep waterfall that both Bobo and Ten Ball managed, got Pappy into a lick of trouble and a lengthy repair job. He broke a u-joint and it took some time to get that fixed. He removed the left front wheel, axle, and everything to get at the broken part. And then, while trying to replace it, the new U joint spilled its bearings all over the rock. Aaaaauuuuggg! He carefully picked up every one and put it back inside and finally got it all back together. Winch. Winch. Winch. &endash; up the waterfall he went and out at the emergency exit. Steve walked up the fall w/ no trouble. Chris and Montego decided to sit this run out because of the wounds of the day before. Good thing, because it was near 4:30PM that we headed out across the Johnson Valley dry lake bed towards LA.

Being on the main road to home does not mean the end of a weekend or, more correctly, the end of vehicle repair jobs. With the threat of the lower control rod on Montego's Jeep breaking completely and the potential serious damage to the undercarriage of the front wheel breaking loose, as well as a terrible accident, he did yet another fix-it job. Montego bought two U bolts to affix a big flat Craftsman wrench as a splint to help strengthen the wounded shaft.

A tasty Mexican meal before we hit the road again and we all got home safely!

Winch. Winch. Winch.

By Louise & Montego