Words by Matt Martelli
As a person who lives and breaths off-road, I am pretty embarrassed to admit that last year was my first time on the Rubicon Trail. That being said, maybe it was for a reason. Perhaps I am old enough and have explored enough to realize the true value of what Mark A. Smith and a host of other people have saved for us. Cliche or not, it is a little piece of off-road heaven. Take my advice. Grab your family and friends and go explore this ruggedly beautiful trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Known as a Jeep trail, the vehicle doesn’t really matter, just get in it and go. You will thank me later.
I was invited Jeep Jamboree USA by Rusty Megois of Rusty’s Off-Road who had asked my content group Mad Media to begin producing a series of videos showing the best Jeep trails in the world sharing Rusty’s passion for Jeeping. Rusty is a real salt of earth type person who started making Jeep parts for himself and his friends because he couldn’t find quality parts at the time. The business grew over 30 years of building the best parts in off-road. To this day, Rusty will not sell a part he doesn’t believe in.
Jeep Jamboree USA is the premier Jeep event group in the world. As a promoter and an event producer, I am hard to impress but these guys did a fantastic job of putting everybody at ease by handling every detail from safety to food to sleeping accommodations. Everything thing was meticulously thought through and executed perfectly. One of the things I was most impressed with was the spotters assigned to each group who walked the entire trail helping everybody find the right line, basically teaching them how to rock crawl and pick lines.
A good day for me is covering about 160 miles, so the idea that doing a 12 mile trail didn’t seem too exciting. But I should know by now that preconceived ideas are usually just false filing folders for your mind to simplify and stuff things away until you actually experience them. This experience didn’t just fill the folder, it overflowed the whole damn filing cabinet! We started at the Loon Lake side and began the rough and technical descent into the Rubicon Springs. I again naively assumed it would take us a couple of hours at most to get to the springs.
One of the ironies of the the trips is that we were not in Jeeps while shooting Jeep Jamboree USA. We were in Polaris RZR’s. We had literally just got done doing 350 miles in Baja pre-running for our upcoming Legends Rally added skid plates from Factory UTV and loaded our three RZR’s on trailers. We had two 4-seat Polaris RZR XP 1000’s set up to carry our camera gear and camping equipment and one 4-seat Polaris RZR XP 1000 Turbo. All of them are set up with Cagewrx cages and tire carriers, Method Race Wheels, 32” Tensor Tires, PRP Seats, PCI Race Radios for communications, parker pumpers, and Assault accessories. Two things are critical before your tackle the Rubicon – 32” tires and a skid plate. We used them both frequently. The reaction from the Jeepers was most fun part. They kept looking at our loaded down RZR’s shaking their heads offering up comments like, “I don’t think your going to make it on those little things!” usually as we passed by them in the harder line trying to get ahead to get shots. Again, it doesn’t matter what you enjoy off-roading in just go get out into the never, never and enjoy.
The arrival at Loon Lake is nothing short of stunning. You are immediately surrounded by the beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains enveloped in their cool embrace. We got in line with our group of Jeeps we were focusing on. The descent into the springs from Loon Lake stated pretty easy with some flat rock as I thought to myself “What’s the big deal?” Well it wasn’t long before I found out.
Walker Hill was the first major obstacle and the trail immediately jammed up. The cool thing about all the trail jams is you gotta get out of your vehicle, talk to people, have a drink and bite to eat periodically. It was a relaxed atmosphere dotted with challenging obstacles. Intimidating at first sight, we slowly picked our way through Walker Hill with help of the spotters and kept moving. The trail switches back and forth between easy relaxing paths and challenging obstacles. It’s like being on a roller coaster ride with periodic stops at a spa. As you round the corner to Buck Island Lake you are rewarded again with a stunning view the lake and island that looks like a postcard.
Approaching Little Sluice is a little intimidating, I am not going to lie. I was wishing I had 39” inch tires or bigger on but after sliding across a few rocks on our skid plates we were up and over. I was focusing on being easy on the equipment since we had one more day of crawling to do. The final descent down Big Sluice is gnarly and technical climbing down big rocks weaving in between massive pines but the guides from Jeep Jamboree were there to coach you all the way.
7.6 miles in you finally arrive at the Rubicon Springs, an oasis in the mountains. The first thing you do is park your rig and jump in the refreshing springs. Dinner and drinks are served just before dark and if you come as a VIP your tent, cot, pillow and sleeping bag are already set up for you. After a few drinks, I fought the exhaustion of the day for a bit and finally gave in.
The second day is a free day where guests can spend the day as they please swimming, hiking, exploring the various trails in your vehicle or just simply relaxing in camp. I woke up and shot some sunrises photos and video and hiked around for a bit then went for swim and headed back to camp for breakfast. As a part of the Jeep Jamboree USA, all food was provided. Nobody was going to go hungry especially with Big Tom and his wife Carina in the kitchen. I quickly became friends with them both as they were very curious about our vehicles. The rest of the day we spent swimming and shooting some interviews with Rusty, Oscar from BFG, and Pierce Umlauf the man responsible for running the event and the Jeep Jamboree organization.
One of my other friends Tyler Ruby from Black Forest Gear was on the trip. Black Forest Gear makes soft tops, vehicle fridge/freezers, and cargo slides. Fridges are clutch on trips like this because by day two you are out of ice and ready for a cold one! Their cargo slides also allow for organization and easy access to all our gear in the back. Now I just need to talk them into making some similar products for UTV’s, Trucks, etc.
Heading out of the springs is a straight climb out towards Lake Tahoe. It starts out relatively mild but starts to get rough and narrow approaching Cadillac Hill. The hill is rocky and rough, we took our time. The climb flattens out to a stunning look out called Observation Point that looks back over the valley and Sierra Nevada mountains. The rest of the trail out is relatively mild with more stunning views as you pass by a series of small lakes. We ended our journey by loading the Polaris RZR’s on the trailers and went for a swim in the cool waters of Lake Tahoe. A perfect way to end an incredible journey.
Whether you participate in one of the events on trail or just run it on your own, get your friends and family together and go tackle the Rubicon Trail. You won’t be disappointed.