Recently I was presented with the opportunity to ride along with the Toyota Land Cruiser Association’s 30th running of the Rubithon. The annual event provides members with the opportunity to participate in one or more of several runs to Rubicon Springs on one of the most esteemed and difficult trails in the Western Hemisphere. As the attendance builds over a period of days at Rubicon Springs a series of events and group meals take place in this unique locations before the mass departure on a Sunday morning up Cadillac Hill. The event is offered as one of the most challenging in the U.S. that will test your nerve, skills, and vehicle; the risk for body damage and breakage are high – so be well prepared.
As a participant this year I would be joining the Wagon Run, designed specifically for the FJ Cruisers, as a 2-day run into Rubicon Springs starting at Loon Lake and stopping the first night at Buck Island Lake. The trail committee for the wagon run was led by Steve Pryor and supported by his two sons Justin & Johnny as well as his wife Andrea. A 4-wheeling family with deep land cruiser roots. Steve’s FJ60, heavily modified, complete with replacement Turbo Diesel engine.
I was riding along with Danny Coll in his 1982 FJ60. We set up at the loon lake north shore RV campground late the night before, then moved to the run staging area early the next morning.
There were 20 rigs in the wagon run. Wheelers from California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina. We found ourselves with the trail leader in the 1st group of 8. Rollout was scheduled for 8am and we departed on time. Our goal for day-1 was to make camp at Buck Island Lake, 5 miles in.
Although departing on time was great, the convoy was winching its first high-centered right within the 1st ¼ mile of trail. It sure seemed like it was going to become a long day. Not too far after we made our way onto the granite bowl for the first of the slab ascents.
For the next few hours, we moved slowly but consistently as a group, staking rocks and spotting each other through each of the challenges. Although there was an incredible amount of skill and capable rigs within the group, a good bit of the time was spent standing around waiting so we could keep the spatial cohesion of the team.
All of the rigs ran flawlessly with one caveat. The youngest drivers, a fellow named Porter, who’s loaned buggy experience a serious overheating issue. The team helped him to disassemble the hood and engine housing allowing he and his dad, Peter (rolling in his own FJ60) to catch up to the group before the slab decents later in the day.
The day, incidentally: 80 degrees, light breeze, dry, not a cloud in sight. What we New England kids like to call “perfect”. It was a bit dusty as expected, but overall magnificent weather for the run. Warm at night ~45 degrees and calm winds.
The 1st group arrived at Buck Island Lake around 430 in the afternoon, all dusty smiles. The first few minutes in camp played out in this order: tent, change of clothes, open beers, lake. The hours that followed as the rest of the wagon run arrived were filled with libation, high fives, excessive sharing of grilled eats, and endless ramblings about the day. Evening stretched deep into the night. Lots of fun getting to know everyone.
Note to whoever brought the peach moonshine, Thank you. It was amazing.
At first light we started cooking the greasiest of greasy breakfast at the same time we broke camp and conducted morning inspection of the 60. Roll out at 0800 sharp. Weather still clear but significantly warmer.
The first trail challenge was a little hairier than expected. The first two 60’s through crux picked up a little scar on the rear quarter-panels. As we moved into the bypass, everything slowed down. Not so much because of the difficulty, but the loose-dry soil and cobbles forced us to restack rocks for each of the rigs.
The 1st 15 rigs through took at least 90 minutes.
In the interim, Dan discovered that we’d broken one of the knuckle studs on the passenger side. His demeanor shifted from grins to concern.
So far into our second day, the team cohesion and camaraderie build so far was paying dividends. Lots of cooperation between the rigs as the tail turned a few tight corners into Big Sluice and down the lines of varying difficulty to the bottom, cross the bridge, and into Rubicon Springs.
Dan and I had a plan from here. We couldn’t stay with the group and needed to leave that day. Dan needed to attend his kids’ graduation that night, and I was leading a group of 40 on another outing the next day. Our plan was to repair the knuckle stud, eat some chow, dip in the river to cool off and then be on our way – no problems, plenty of time.
That was until we’d jacked up the 60 and pulled the wheel off to discover that we’d broken a 2nd knuckle stud in Big Sluice. Now we were on a mission to find spare parts in camp or a welding solution. Otherwise, we had a very long walk back to the staging area in Tahoma, where we’d left another vehicle.
There is an amazingly strong culture among the TLCA community. A wealth of knowledge and willingness to share it, as well as a group that is extremely prepared to head into the backcountry. Within minutes of the knuckle situation becoming known, there was a team breaking down the steering, finding tools, and locating spare parts.
Time check: 12:10pm
Rubicon springs is another jewel of the Sierra. The river fractures into a number of different rivulets and pools over the granite formations throughout the camp. Some create smooth rock slides, others into large, deep pools, while others into narrow secluded watercourses. The setup of the springs is owned by 20 families who have grown the springs to 400 acres. Their primary goal is to preserve, maintain, and protect the property and make it accessible to the public. Its isolation and limited accessibility (Rubicon trail or helicopter) create an ideal remote location scenario.
With the steering disassembled and the sheared ends of the studs painstakingly removed from the knuckle, as well as replacement studs and spacers located and donated from various stashes around camp we could begin the reassembly.
Time check: 1:35 pm
Half of the team reassembled the knuckle, the other half checked the rest of the steering, bolt tightness, and suspension. The 60 was back together shortly.
As Danny was shaking hands and getting addresses to ship replacement parts to, I was handing out the rest of the cold beer from the fridge as a thank you.
Tool clean up, eat, a quick dip in the river to cool off, bug out. Just at the moment when the last of the wagon run was arriving and it looked like the party was really going to get started.
Time check: 2:25 pm
An easy roll out of the springs. Continuing east to Tahoma we didn’t expect to encounter a lot of traffic heading in from that direction. Dan and I were on our own now. The going was fairly easy, and we passed a number of inbound rigs, until we reached the steepest section of Cadillac Hill. With the weight and build of the 60, combined with the ‘polished’ nature of the boulders on that section of trail, I found myself hiking the pitch with tree strap and shackles up the slope. We set for winching several times and added another sizable dent.
By the time we’d turned the corner to the overlook we were both exhausted. With the most challenging of the obstacles behind us, I enjoyed the opportunity to ride for a while without responsibility other than good conversation.
Moving east over the crest, the terrain, landmarks, and moon-dust of the basin became the all too familiar features of home. The sweat and dust that covered most surfaces of the 60, and ourselves: well-earned and enjoyed. Finally, pavement and the staging area.
Time check: 5:20 pm
Gear transfer between cars. Last look over the 60 to verify its roadworthiness. A high five. Off to our next respective missions.
We’d managed to shear off another knuckle stud.
Check out all of our pics from the run here: Rubithon’s 30th
Explore the links below for more information about the annual Rubithon and the Rubicon Trail:
Toyota Land Cruiser Association
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