Pre-running the Lava Mountain trail for the Divide Ride - May 30th, 1998

We needed to do a pre-run of the Lava Mountain trail for the 1998 Divide Ride.. so Mike Kelly rounded up a few folks to go have a look-see.

Four of us rendeszvoused in Helena @ County Market at 9am. As usual, McDonald's was packed, the employees clueless, and it took 'em 20 minutes to get us some food.

In Helena, we had four rigs.

Mike Kelly was there (naturally) in his Early Bronco.. sporting a 351W, NP435, 9" & Dana 44 (Detroit and ARB respectively), 33" Buckshots, and an 8274.

I was there, in my '77 Scout II, 4" Softride lift, 31s, rear Tracklok, 196-4cyl, 3spd.

Nate had a '77 F250.. with.. a 400?, and open diffs.

Mike's young neighbor Ryan(?) pulled up in a late 70s Chevy pickup.. stock.

We drove south to Clancy, were we met 2 rigs from the Bozeman Mountaineers.

Eric was there in a lifted CJ7.. I didn't see if it was 33s or 35s BFG ATs, but he had a fresh (<600mile) Chevy 350 under the hood, backed by a TH350. He was running an ARB front, with a LS rear.

Bill and Ray showed up in Bill's '78 F250 sporting 35s, and Lockrights front and rear, along with a 12,000lbs Warn.

Back North again, and we turned off at Jefferson City and headed for the hills. We drove up and around the Pegasus Gold Mine and snaked our way through the hills.

We stopped and made our way through a couple of gates on the road.. then things got FUN! ;-)

There were some hill climbs up through some twisty rocky sections that challenged us all a bit.. it was during some of these rocky climbs I started noticing a rumble under-foot. Shortly after we broke clear of the rocks n' trees, I heard a louder rumble and grinding as my front driveshaft fell into the dirt!

Bill came up behind me with a spare U-joint as I broke out the toolkit and my Carharts and crawled underneath to change the 'joint. I placed the trnasfer case in Neutral and had the hubs unlocked so I could wiggle things around.

I think I spent a half-hour changing out that U-joint.. naturally the tranny crossmember was in the way, and the front output of the transfer case was right next to the exhaust.

After dropping off his wife Loretta and kids for some hiking, Mike came back to loan me a fine-thread 5/16" nut from a spare connecting rod.. since I was missing one from my U-joint U-bolt.

After finally getting everything back together, I jumped back inside, clicked back into 4-lo (you do that when you have a 4cyl), and off we went.. burning daylight.

More climbing up through rocky, twisty, tree-lined trails followed, with some open spots in between.

Mike and Eric stayed ahead of the group.. Nate crawled along slowly in front of me (some people.. they think everyone has a V8 and a creeper-gear! ;)).. it was fun watching that FS Ford pickup wiggle it's way through everything.. Nate only got "stuck" a few times thanks to his open diffs.. he had to back up and take another stab at it a few times. I followed right behind Nate. Bill took up the rear, following behind Ryan in his Chevy.

I think Ryan mentioned scuffing his truck on some trees at some point.. Bill had no problems, nor did Nate, Mike, Eric, or myself.

I think it was around 1:30 or so when we came to the foot of "Mike's Hill." It's a fairly tall hill-climb that, when walking, looks deceptively simple. But when you drive it, you quickly realize the hill is off-camber, and full of large, smooth, rocks.. with dirt n' mud mixed inbetween for good measure, and a tree right in the middle that's claimed dozens if not hundreds of tailgates when trucks can't make the last leg of the climb, and slide backwards.

I grabbed my camera, and Mike invited me into the Bronco for the first climb of the hill. Mike claimed "finesse" was the way to do it..

The right-side line is the preferred route, keeping the truck up on the grassy dirt on the side of the climb, and giving plenty of room for the truck to slide sideways before coming in contact with any trees.. but Mike couldn't hold the EBronco to the top side of the hill. After a few failed attempts at scratching our way up the right side (even with the ARB locked, though Mike never went below 35psi the entire day..), Mike tried an attempt or two at the left side.

He then looked up at everyone watching, grinned, and called out, "I told you all it took was finesse, right?" as he put the Bronco in 2nd gear, and let the 351 howl as all four tires started clawing and scratching towards the top with renewed vigor.. piece of cake. Mike just "jumped" up the last 20 or 30 feet to reach the top.

Eric then (after airing down to 7 or 8 psi) simply walked up the hill.. he "floated" with his CJ7, and made it look easy.

Bill walked back down to give his lock'd '78 F250 a try.. in the meanwhile, Nate, Ryan, and myself took the bypass route.. Nate and Ryan, because they were open diffs, and didn't even want to try.. me, because my 4cyl wasn't geared low enough to even make it up 100' without running out of Umph.

I reached the top in time to take some pictures of Bill climbing. It would've been easy, but his 400 didn't want to stay running (float in the carb needed tweaked), so it took him a few tries to keep the motor running and the truck climbing.

Notice the tree to the right of Bill's pickup.. this is the tailgate eater.. nearly every open diff'd truck will eventually slide backwards down the hill, and right into this tree. You've been warned!

We motored on farther up into the hills.. more rocky twisty turns.. the full size pickups had to back-up once or twice to negotiate the tight turns.

It was about this time that I decided to weave to the other side of the trail, and squeeze my Scout through a couple trees.. I thought it'd be fun, and it was.. but the trees didn't like that.

We came to a log in the middle of the road. I tried to finesse my way over it by going one wheel at a time diagonally.. and succeeded in getting just the front tires over.. backed off it and hit it harder.. not a problem. It was also around this time that I got "high-centered" when my rear differential got stuck on a rock.. the rear didn't have quite enough grip to get me going.. and front was about useless (shoulda been my first hint), but a quick push from Ryan, Bill, and Ray had me going again.

It was a little past where I ducked between two trees that I started getting "lazy" in my driving.. and was greeted to a loud WHAM as my passenger mirror was slammed against the door.. and that's not all. We paused farther up the road to re-group and munch on some of our lunch.. I got out to see the damage and mentioned that I had "found a tree".. sure enough, there was a nice new dent in the passenger door that ended at the door jamb.. where a nice chunk of tree was lodged! Oops..

After inhaling a few sandwiches, we were back on our way snaking through the woods. We eventually started to come down out of the trees n' such, but had to traverse a very rocky downhill section. I bounced my way down, then walked back up to spot Ryan in his stock Chevy. No damage to anyone, we continued on.

Around this point, we came to a hill-side where I had been on my first Frontier 4x4 trail ride. It was here that Mike first got his Bronco buried in the mud and needed a tug. It's on film, don't worry. Mike had the EBronco mired down in the mud.. with the two driver's side wheels up in the air, and the passenger side wheels buried, but finding no purchase. Mike made a joke of checking his wheel bearings 'n such. Eric hooked up the strap, and tugged Mike backwards out of his hole, and we continued on. This was the same spot that Eric rammed a fallen tree with his CJ-7 (while getting into position to get Mike out) and managed to flip his front shackle backwards. We hooked a strap around his shackle and the tree, and he drove backwards and popped the shackle back.

This is the downhill view

Here Mike (on the right) checks his wheel bearings, while Eric takes a closer look. On the left, you'll see Mike's wife, Loretta grinning and watching.. and, if you look at the front corner of the driver's front fender, you'll see where Loretta bumped a tree on May 2nd while dragging my heavy Scout through too-deep snow.

Lucky for us, the snow was nearly all melted.. that will make things easier for us when we have the Divide Ride participants along in a week n' a half.

We ended up snaking back down and dropped off out of the rocks and around to Occidental Plateau.. where we'd been wheeling on May 2nd. We turned off a different road and, after going over and around a few easy rolling rises, we found.. MUD.

Naturally, Mike was the first to test the marshy section of the trail.. and promptly had the Bronco buried to the top of the tires again. Eric yanked him out, and then Mike took another run at it, on a different approach, and made his way through.

Eric then hooked up the Jeep for a tow and...

Eric floated over the mud, and made short work of it.

Nate went next, and used his V8 grunt to pull through.. though he had to take a couple tries while he was in the mud.

Bill went through.. I think in front of me.. and naturally, a big Ford with lockers just walked right through the stuff.

I was fifth.. I took off in 2nd gear, 4-lo to try to get some speed and wheel-spin going.. bad move. I crashed down the hill that was in front of the mud hole, and smacked down hard (I later realized I broke a rear shock mount bolt on that landing) and then motored towards the mud, getting the 196 up in revs and letting it breathe.. I then hit the goo, and made it just over halfway or so when I lost power and momentum. I slipped back into 1st gear, and started rocking.. it was about this time everyone started calling out, "Hey Tom.. you're not in 4wd!".. well, the stick was in 4-lo, and poking my head under the Scout, I still had a front driveshaft.. Hmm.. must've broken something. Anyhow, I rocked it a few more times, and started pulsing the throttle. Pulsing because the slower the tires spun, the better my traction, but the 196 didn't have the guts to idle me out.. so I had to keep the revs up. Anyhow, I slowly wormed my way out of the mud, and over to a semi-hard surface to see what I'd broken.

Bill and Ray came over to inspect my hubs with me.. thinking I'd broken one, when Bill asked, "Say.. did you ever lock your hubs back in after changing that U-joint?".. Umm.... Nope! I'd made it through the mud in 2wd, along with nearly every other obstacle the entire day!

It was then Ryan's turn to take his Chevy through the mud. I don't know if he was following my example (don't ever do that!) or if he figured he'd gun it on his own.. but he came down off that same rocky hill, and hit the ground running.. so much so, that he plowed into the mud hole.. and then got stuck, as we all heard a very disturbing "clicking" coming from his truck... Mechanic Mike quickly diagnosed it as a busted spider gear in the front differential. Ryan put it into 2wd, and tried some more. I got called into tow-duty.. and, now that I was in 4wd, it was easy to drag the Chevy out of the mud for a closer inspection.

Another "tank trap" awaited us farther ahead.. I was fifth again, but once I'd reached the other side, we discovered Ryan had lost traction in 2wd, and couldn't even move. So I drove back through the mud, put a strap on Ryan, and tugged him towards the mud. I thought he had enough traction to try it on his own. I couldn't pull out of the ruts I was in, so I ended up backing backwards through the mud.. only to find Ryan stuck again on the other side. So I turned the Scout around, and Mike climbed in, as I backed backwards through the mud hole *again*, only this time, I was facing away from Ryan, and towards the rest of the group. I backed up, and we put my strap on Ryan, and the little 4cyl Scout pulled itself through the mud hole, along with Ryan's Chevy.

The day was getting long.. and I think Ryan was rapidly having less and less fun as I ended up towing him a good ways, then Bill came back to take over.. a big V8, and lockers sure helped when towing a wounded Chevy over the rocks, mud, and through the trees. We came around a few turns, then down to a river/creek bed. The "bridge" was out, but we drove around and through the creek to the other side.. it was interesting getting the Chevy to turn 90-degrees while the Ford was going across the water already, but we managed.

After another break, we continued on, coming to another spot we'd been on the 2nd. We did find a snow drift there.. though not a large one, and everyone but Ryan crashed through the snow.. and then we continued on, making our way out of the mountains and heading back towards civilization.

Mike took a wrong turn on the way home! We ended up comeing out in Basin, but not after a good bit of exploring on new roads.. which included fording a larger creek. At first it looked kinda scary n' fun.. fording running water! And it looked to be moving fast.. but then I realized it was moving fast because there was an underwater "bridge" just below the surface.. no big deal at all, really.

We made it out to the Frontage road, and started heading back to Boulder for some Pizza. Ryan took off, having had enough fun for one day.. but Mike promised to give Ryan a spare set of spider's he had, and install 'em in his Chevy.. it's not much fun when you break stuff on your first ride.. and/or spend most of the day at the receiving end of the tow-strap. I felt kinda good though.. *I* got to be the strap-er, not the strap-ee for a good while. I tried to cheer Ryan up, and told him about my first day out, and how my Scout spent most of the day with Tyler or Don or Mike dragging it through the snow on it's ample belly.

We zipped down the frontage road on our way to Boulder.. that's when I noticed my Scout would slide a little around some of the dirt-road turns.

Then, as we crossed a road grating, Nate caught some air in front of me, and hit the brakes pretty hard.. I tried to do the same, only to find my Scout start sliding and wiggling in a strange new way.. I let off the brakes, and steered out of it, down and around the large pole that was dead-ahead, then turned back up onto the main section of the road (it "Y"ed around the pole) and kept things a bit slower the rest of the ride.

Some Pizza in Boulder, some about the day's events and what fun it would be in 1.5 weeks when the Divide Ride starts.. and then everyone headed home.

Naturally, Mike blew right past me on the climb just outside of Boulder, heading north.. my 4cyl was down in 2nd gear @ (what the speed-o said was) 45mph.. and Mike just rumbled on by... but once I reached the top, and hit some level ground on the other side, I let my Scout stretch it's legs a bit, and managed to pass Mike on the way home.. doing a comfortable 70mph (I think my speed-o, which read 80mph, is about 10mph off at highway speeds)

I got home, took a movie back to Hastings, and crashed.. what a great day of wheeling!

My '77 Scout II the day after...
-Tom Mandera, Helena MT
Frontier 4x4 Club, part of the Montana 4x4 Association