Unimogs on the Rubicon Trail

July 1999

Author's Note: products and/or sites referred to or linked to are neither supported nor endorced by the author and are provided for completness only.
Pictures and text Copyright 1999 Bill Caid.

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The Trail

The Rubicon Trail is one of the most famous 4x4 trails in North America.  Volumes have been written about this trail.  In fact, there are even guides published to help you plan and conquer the trail.  See, among others, "4 Wheelers Guide to the Rubicon Trail" .  Some enterprising off-roaders have even made personal careers around the difficulty of the trail as guides, instructors in off road driving skills, videos, or manufacturers of equipment being claimed to be "Rubicon Tough".  See "Rubicon Trail Driving Seminar", "Rick Russel's Off Highway Adventure Video of the Rubicon", "Rubicon Express" and "Rubicon Cargo Trailer".

Related Links
For your viewing pleasure, I have listed some links that might be of interest.  The include shots of the "Rubicon experience" form other's points of view.

Jeep-L and the WC4WDC Rubicon Run  contains lots of good shots
Rubicon Information  Title says it all.
Off-Road.com's description of the trail.

Trail Location

The Rubicon trail traditionally starts at Georgetown.  However, the early portion of the trail is "just a dirt road" and offers no significant off road challenges.  So, in the interest of both time and patience, we elected to start the trail at Wentworth Springs and get right down to it.  The map below shows a high level view of the trail location.  The group from San Diego required a 2 day drive to get to the trail head, in the process traversing most of the length of the state of California and half the width of the Sierra Nevada range.

Trail Team and Equipment

The trail team was:

The Trip

Given the mystique that accompanies the Rubicon trail and the fact that I high centered by 1300L on the Devil's Post pile obstacle just out of Wentworth Springs, it was with no small amount of anxiety that I prepared for this trip.  The group planned a whole week on the trail.  Since we were to be camping out of my small model 411 Unimog, substantial thought was required to prune the equipment to fit the available space.  Even then, not all equipment fit and we had to rely on the kindness of strangers to carry the overflow load.  Luckily, Dr. Dan Johnson has sufficient room in his 404 to accommodate my needs.

The photos above show the "before" and "after" Dan's help.  There was just too much stuff!  Packing for a full week demands careful planning AND draconian cooler management to keep the food from spoiling.  Note the 150 qt. cooler in the left photo. Dan was kind enough to carry it for us.

The trip from US 50 to Ice House was very slow.  The grades are steep and the road is narrow.  We went directly to the trail and things started with a bang right out of Wentworth.  The trail turned into large granite slabs and boulder strewn passages.  We didn't actually start the trail action until 2:30PM so daylight would be a factor if we were not careful and stay focused on reaching Spider Lake, our planned camp for 3 days.

After negotiating these initial obstacles, we came to the first REAL obstacle - Devil's Post Pile.  For a short wheelbase vehicle (66") like the 411, the height of the obstacle represents a substantial fraction of the wheelbase resulting in over 45 degree angles and true fear on ascent.  In this case, a combination of a diff-lock that would not stay engaged and a co-pilot's unwillingness to stay in the vehicle for the obstacle resulted in the requirement to do some road building.  2 hands are required to steer, one hand to operate the diff-lock and one hand to engage the starter.  Clearly, next generation off roaders should come with 4 hands!


Despite very warm (80+ degrees F) temperatures, snow remained on the high country peaks.  Check out the view looking to the southeast from the trail.

Going was slow over the many obstacles.  Additionally, we encountered a substantial amount of other vehicles requiring pulling off to the side to allow the other jeeps to pass.

For the most part, the mogs did not have any difficulty negotiating the obstacles.  However, on one section, even Mike Bennett's trail proven Cruiser got high centered.

After substantial effort, and skillful trail driving we arrived at Spider Lake and set up camp.  Our camp site was on a dome of exfoliated granite and afforded great views of both Spider Lake and the surrounding area.

Other folks figured this out as well since we were sharing the trail with the Jeeper's Jamboree.  While not "crowded" in the urban sense, a little less population would have made me happier.  We stayed at this site for 3 days.

A panoramic view of the site was constructed using "QuickStitch" from Enroute Software.  This image processing application "warps" the images to mesh seamlessly.  This shot consisted of 6 1600x1280 images from my Nikon 950 stitched together then de-sampled to 640 pixels wide.

All in all, the trail exceeded my expectations for difficulty.  I have been to Moab and done all the 4+ trails.  I have done the "Hammer" trails in Johnson Valley OHV.  Those are truly tough.  But, the Rubicon is just as tough.  If you want to go, plan carefully, drive carefully and take appropriate spare parts and tools.  Most of all have fun.  PS - bring plenty of bug spray and sun block.

Many thanks to Kai Serrano, Mike Bennett and Dan Johnson for assisting me on this trip.  Mi casa es su casa.

Trip photos have been resolution-reduced from 1600x1280 to 640x480 for faster downloads.   24 photos total.  I have 200 full resolution shots, so if you want one, email me and I will send them to you.

Enjoy.  Send comments, queries and sympathies to bcaid "at" san "dot" .rr "dot" com

Quick-Click:  Click on table cell to go directly to image, photo descriptions are below table
Photo1 Photo2 Photo3 Photo4 Photo5 Photo6 Photo7 Photo8 Photo9 Photo10
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Photo21 Photo22 Photo23 Photo24 Photo25 Photo26 Photo27 Photo28 Photo29 Photo30
Photo31 Photo32 Photo33 Photo34 Photo35 Photo36 Photo37 Photo38 Photo39 Photo40
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Photo1  The first tough slab obstacle, outside of Wentworth Springs Campground.
Photo2  Dr. Dan Johnson's super clean 404 cargo bed.
Photo3  411 doing a ledge drop off.
Photo4  Mike Bennett's cruser is high centered.  Kathleen is getting it on video.
Photo5  The 411 with surrounding peaks, some with snow.
Photo6  "Thousand dollar hill" being negotiated by a Bronco, very steep.
Photo7  This is a bypass?  Bypass allows skirting the Little Sluice, but this is nearly as bad.
Photo8  The 411 on the Little Sluice Bypass.  Note size of boulders and ledges relative to tires.
Photo9  The infamous Little Sluice.  This is truly hard core.  Many vehicles were damaged here
Photo10 416 doublecab Cow Mog II on a steep dropoff in Slab City, past Little Sluice.
Photo11  The 3 Mogs at Slab City.
Photo12  First view of Buck Island Lake, Cruiser and trailer
Photo13  An abandoned Jeep in Slab City.  Note seats on ground.
Photo14  Cow Mog II passed by a Cherokee in Slab City.
Photo15  A flexible trailer hitch, Big Sluice.
Photo16  A big dropoff in the Big Sluice.
Photo17  "Creative Winch Tricks" - the Slide for Life at Rubicon Springs.
Photo18  A rollover on Cadillac Hill, no damage.
Photo19  Rubber side down Cow Mog to the rescue.
Photo20  Kathleen, my co-pilot.
Photo21  Top of Cadillac Hill - "Parking lot in the sky".
Photo22  "The trail makes the truck", Pirates of the Rubicon vehicle, see link on the page!!
Photo23  Traffic jam downstream of the Little Sluice.
Photo24  Beuatiful Spider Lake from out camp site.
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