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Somewhere in the middle of the night, a storm front moved in. We awoke to a light rain which was quickly followed by hail, sleet, and snow at various times. We were lucky in that it was not coming down hard.....we were unlucky in that we were at 9600+ feet and still had to climb to more than 10,100 feet by the end of the trail. The picture above was taken about 30 minutes after we broke camp and hit the trail. Ground temperature had not yet hit freezing although compared to the previous day's weather, it was working pretty hard on getting there. It wasn't long before the temps were in the 40 degree range.
The precipitation, in what ever form it happened to be arriving in, was on again, off again, most of the morning. We were about 22 miles from the end of the trail when we started day #2. A quick discussion on the radio was had and it was decided to push through to trail's end, hopefully making it out by nightfall. Luckily, the trail never really turned into a mud pit.....and that we were grateful for. Both Robert and I were quite pleased with the performance of our MT/Rs. While it was nothing like crawling on dry rocks, they did much better in the wet climate than I was expecting.
Just as we were nearing Ershim lake, about 3:00 in the afternoon, the weather let up for a couple of minutes and we hopped out to stretch our lakes a take a couple of pics. The picture above is the Ershim Lake camping area and had been the spot where we were to spend our 2nd night on the trail. Robert and Lee had both brought their fishing gear in hopes of finding a few trout. Needless to say, it was never unpacked.
Robert took this picture through the windshield. Lee is just entering the off-camber part of an obstacle known as Divorce Rock. It is a large slab of granite that you kind of straddle and at the last moment, make a hard right turn into the off-camber down hill side for the exit. I imagine that one's spouse, riding in the passenger seat, would get pretty freaked out while waiting for the roll over to happen. No one rolled but with the rock wet and mud on the tires, the pucker factor was certainly a notch or two higher than normal, especially with no one spotting.
Up to this point, we had been averaging a bit over 2 MPH on the trail, which is faster than what we had originally planned on. Plenty of rocks and oh so many tight squeezes between the trees made for almost no out of vehicle sight seeing as we were trying to power drive the last 11 miles before the dark settled in at 7:00 PM.
We got one more break in the weather, enough to snap another picture of Robert coming up behind me on this little sandy stretch of trail that cut through a high meadow at nearly 10,000 feet. Given the weather and our progress, we could have used a lot more of this and a lot less of the twisty-turny trail we were seeing.
As the sun was setting, we hit the last section of trail that was guaranteed to be the most difficult of the trip. And sure enough, it was. I can best describe it as a area that looked to have been cratered by mortar rounds or maybe large land mines. It would have been a challenge in the daylight but picking one's way through it in the dark with wet everywhere made it twice as bad. Lee did a great job of leading us through this section of the trail....it was anything but marked, with tire tracks going a multitude of directions to get over the rocks and ledges. Fortunately, it was on a down hill grade which put gravity on our side.
We hit asphalt about 7:30ish in the evening on day #2. What we had planned on being a 3 or 4 day trip was compressed into one normal day and a hellish day of power driving to finish ahead of the weather.....and finish just ahead of the weather is what we did. With rain coming down a lot heavier than desired, we aired up our tires and headed down the mountain. We were not five minutes down the road when the clouds tore open and dumped a wall of rain so thick that I completely lost site of Robert's tail light's that were no more than 30 yards in front of me. We dodged the bullet on that one big time!
The plan was to hold up in a cabin, near Shaver Lake, that Ed had access to. Once there, we found that some other folks were using it for the week and so our plans changed again. Robert and I opted to drive the hour down the mountain and grab a motel room in Fresno. Lee and Ed decided to head back home but that changed once they got to the tow rig and trailer. They spent a wet and cold night there and then headed back up to Courtright Reservoir the next morning to run another trail. I guess they were not very surprised when they found 8" of fresh snow at the dam.....the same spot that just 48 hours previous had us all in shirt sleeves while airing down our rigs.
To say that the Sierra-Nevada Mountains can change your plans in a heart beat could be putting it mildly....and if you plan on making the trip, you need to be prepared for such a thing. The weather forecast, which we had checked the morning of day #1, while still in Fresno, had no mention of the pending weather front. And even if it did, I doubt we would have changed our plans. I had enough food for a week, without rationing, and sufficient drinking water for more than that. We had a total of 15 gallons of extra gasoline that we never used during the trip. In fact, I just touched the 1/4 mark on the gas gauge about the time we got back to Fresno, late on day #2. Robert's automatic used a bit more than my manual tranny but only by a couple of gallons. We could have gassed up at Shaver Lake had we needed to do so after exiting the trail. We all had rain gear, warm clothes, heavy duty sleeping bags, etc. I know there was enough Coleman fuel and propane to heat/cook a week's worth of meals.
Several friends asked if I was disappointed with the results of the trip. Absolutely NOT! Spending time with Robert, regardless of conditions, is something I look forward to every time we get a chance to wheel together. I do regret only having one evening around the camp fire with Lee and Ed. I look forward to getting another chance to share a trail with them. Who knows, maybe it will be the Dusy-Ershim again.....or another just as fun.
If you get a chance to tackle the Dusy-Ershim, do it! The scenery is beautiful and the trail is great. Many thanks to the Fresno 4x4 folks who help maintain the trail. You've done a great job and your efforts did not go unnoticed. A big thanks to Lee and Ed for leading the trail and helping with all those pre-trip details. And last but by no means least, a big thanks to Robert for putting up with me for the week. It means a lot to me to have a place to hang your hat while you are away from home.
Good trails and remember to TREADLightly!
Update: I rounded up the gasoline receipts. All in all, not too bad. I drove about 1580 miles and used about 107 gallons of gas.....that gave me about 14.7 MPG. Not bad when you consider that includes freeway, city, and trail mileage....and the Jeep was heavily loaded during 90% of those miles. The altitude ranged from below sea level (near Palm Springs, CA) to just short of 10,200 feet in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. For a TJ on 35" tires and 8" of lift, I can live with those numbers.
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