Jeep XJ
Jeep Jamboree

25th Jeep Jamboree on the Rubicon Trail

It felt weird.

After hiking out to long-term parking at Denver International Monday night, it felt weird to be in a short Jeep again. Short is relative; I have a 2" Rubicon Express Budget Boost and 30" BFG All-Terrains on my Cherokee but had spent the weekend in a much larger Cherokee courtesy of Rubicon Outfitters.

For those of you unfamiliar with the contest, Rubicon Outfitters had a contest for two tickets to the 25th Jeep Jamboree on the Rubicon Trail, including use of a Jeep to drive on the trail. I won, and I loved the trip. It rained, and I still had fun. A friend picked me up in Sacramento, and we headed to Rancho Cordova, home of Rubicon Outfitters to check out the Jeep. The Cherokee I used is featured prominently in RE's advertising, just look for the well-equipped white '87 2-door XJ shown throughout their catalogs. .
Well-equipped is an understatement here, since this grocery-getter has a custom hi-steer Dana 44 up front with a Trutrac limited-slip while a Currie-built Dana 60 with a Detroit Locker is in back. Both axles are running 5.38 gears, and with the 4-cylinder engine (yes, it really is) it accelerates like...umm...well actually it doesn't. It will eventually get rolling nicely at 70mph, but a stiff headwind or small hill can easily kill that. Itís not built for speed though. This Jeep is built to perform on the rocks. A 5.5" Rubicon Extreme Duty lift with drop brackets clear the 33" ProComp XTerrains nicely...I told them I would pay for our entry fees if I could win that instead, but had to turn in the keys Monday morning anyway. Taz guarding Jim and Peggys very nice Idaho-based 1974 CJ-5
Taz guarding Jim and Peggy's Idaho-based '74 CJ-5

I ran into a few folks that asked me about the Jeep and when I told them that I "won it for the weekend" they realized they had entered as well but obviously didn't win. Sorry guys, but it was great meeting you. Others had heard of Rubicon Express, but not Rubicon Outfitters, so hopefully that will get them to look into the products available.

This was my first time on the Rubicon Trail so I didn't really know what to expect. I've seen it in dozens of off-road magazines but they don't do it justice until you're there. We were up at 5:30 in Folsom to hit Georgetown by 7am for our first stop, where we checked in with the Jamboree folks and grabbed an excellent breafast of pancakes and scrambled eggs at the VFW. All meals are included for duration of the Jamboree, and if this first meal was any indication, we were in for some good eats for the next three days. It had rained Thursday night so the dust was down, but the dirt was muddy in spots. Knowing the Murphy's Law of four-wheeling, most of those spots were where you needed the most traction of course. We learned this while airing down at the top near "Gatekeeper" - that's where I met Phil ___ from 4-Wheel Drive + Sport Utility Magazine. After chatting with him for a little while we decided it was time to get in line.

The capable grocery-getter.  Or as we called it, the 'Company Car'
In line to go through Gatekeeper
We hit the top of the trail at about 8:30am and chatted about Jeeps for a few minutes before deciding it was time to get in line to get through the first obstacle. You could call it slow going with three 20+ minute delays just to get to the head of a line of several hundred Jeeps all queued up trying to make it through the Gatekeeper. It turns out one of the delays was due to a Jeep with a broken axle, dead battery and no brakes. That's quite a combination to start out the day, so I figured I'd learn if the 'grocery getter' really was capable or not. It was. There are a few flex shots in the group below, but I think the Cherokee surprised a few people. A photographer from Photoworks was at the top of one hill, taking pictures of all the Wranglers and CJs posing on one rock as each passed by. As I pulled up she moved to the front, expecting I'd bypass the rock for my shot. She was wrong since my front tire lifted right up on the granite, easily posing just like the short-wheelbase group.

The trip was limited to 350 vehicles. I don't know if it was full, but there were definitely a few hundred Jeeps around. Almost all of them were various CJs or Wranglers representing almost all years and models produced, from a 1948 Willys to a 2003 Rubicon TJ with temporary tags. There were a handful of Cherokees and even a lifted and rock-rashed 2000 WJ Grand Cherokee in the group too.

As we neared the Springs in the late afternoon we noticed rain closing in. While it did a great job of keeping the heat and dust down, many of the rocks started getting slick at this point. Of course, rain is where Cherokees have a distinct advantage. While the Wrangler and CJ crowd busied themselves throwing tarps over their gear (and themselves), we rolled up the windows. Life is good sometimes. For the most part I had no problems with the rain and wet rocks, but there were a few times when the only traction came from one stubborn tire lug clinging to a corner. With the rain and trail crowding, it took almost 13 hours to make the trip into the Springs, arriving at about 8pm to set up a tent and grab a late meal.

Saturday opened up with more rain, and although we did a quick recon out to Cadillac Hill, most of the Jeepers spent the day either at the bar, or napping between meals. A few guys with remote-control cars entertained the masses with their skills at doing donuts and jumping volunteers, but otherwise it was pretty slow. I've got to say the chow was great though. Saturday night brought an excellent steak dinner to celebrate the 25th Jeep Jamboree, followed by a hypnotist who kept us all rolling until the giveaways started. We had taken a few boxes of Rubicon Outfitters product so they could be given away. Additionally, there were other Jeep-related prizes including gift certificates, a winch, various lift items and a number of cargo racks. One lucky winner had his name chosen to win a 1997 TJ Wrangler with an RE 4.5" lift and 35" XTerrains along with other upgrades. He was two vehicles behind us on the way out Sunday and couldn't stop grinning. It turns out that although this was his fifth time at the Jamboree he was always a passenger and never owned a Jeep until that drawing.

Sunday morning dawned clear, so after drying out as much as we could the gear got stashed in the Cherokee and we hit the trail. We made it almost 1/2 mile before the first traffic jam. The next stop was about 100 yards past that, setting the tone for the day. Apparently there were a few breakdowns ahead of us, and the mud from the previous few days wasn't helping matters. In all, it took us almost three hours to make the short trip from Rubicon Springs to the base of Cadillac Hill. The XJ did a great job of putt-putting through all the obstacles even though the dirt had been churned into mud by all those who went through ahead of us. Once we made it to Observation Point, we could look over the entire valley floor and realize that it took two days to get from the far side to here.

At the Point there is usually a mid-day snack but apparently the BBQ meat went missing, so we ended up with water and Mrs. Fieldís cookies. While at the top we hooked up with a couple from Florida in their YJ and another couple in a sweet '74 CJ5 on the way out, since they knew the route. That is my only gripe about the trip, the assumption that everybody knows where they are headed and that they automatically know which (in)famous obstacle was just conquered. I didnít realize I was on Cadillac Hill until halfway up, and never pinpointed exactly where Big (or Little) Sluice was or whether we actually went through either of them.

Once in Lake Tahoe we were treated to yet another excellent meal at the Homewood Resort, exchanged emails (which I promptly lost...sorry) and head our separate ways, although all of our plans involved a hot shower. Overall this was an excellent trip, and I thank Rustin and Rubicon Outfitters not only for the opportunity to make this trip, but also for supplying the gear needed to make it.

I AM going again...somehow. Someday.

It ain't slickrock, but the granite offers plenty of traction when it's dry This was the view for most of the afternoon.  The brownish lump ahead is a CJ-7 with a tarp over the top and sides.  It actually hangs down on the drivers side, but hopefully he won't need to see directly to the left, only down. Brand-new 2003 Rubicon Wrangler.  It still had dealer plates and all the Mopar Acessories you could fit...and he still left red paintmarks all along the trail The line waiting to get to Gatekeeper at the beginning of the trail
The couple in this white YJ drove all the way from Florida for the Jeep Jamboree. We had a lengthy delay at the dam; you can see the rock under the XJ is still dry, but that's the only thing that is WJ Grand Cherokee (1999 or later) that was pretty capable.  They tried to leave Saturday and ended up breaking an axleshaft on Cadillac Hill, only to come back to camp in 3WD to learn there was no replacement The rocks got slicker the closer we got to camp.  This CJ7 wasn't as stuck as it looked, but they definitely had some air under the tire before getting pulled down as shown here
The license plate says it all.  Love 2 B Muddy, and they lived up to it The same Jeep after it had dried out a bit The only full-size SJ I saw all weekend.  He was a 'food hauler' for the Jamboree, and flipped his trailer on the way in Downtime on Saturday included watching a gas-powered remote control truck fly through the air.  It got bigger cheers when it crashed, of course
There was no trash service in Rubicon Springs.  Pack it in, pack it out.  The red bag on the bumper is our trashbag.  The tree I am 'driving through' was at least 200 years old Clearance isn't just an issue with getting the Jeep over rocks, sometimes it means making sure you can get UNDER obstacles as well

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created: August 5, 2003
Updated 10 May, 2004