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Naches Trail Trip ReportSep 1, 2005By:Eric JohnsonToyota at Off-Road.comThe Naches Wagon Trail was first crossed by early Northwest settlers in covered wagons (these early off-road vehicles had one- or two-horsepower engines and lots of ground clearance) in 1853. Only a few wagon trains ever crossed this trail through the 4800-ft elevation of Naches Pass due to the rugged terrain and later discovery of easier routes across the Cascades. The original route was so difficult that at the cliffs on the western edge of the route, the settlers lowered their wagons via rawhide ropes.The first modern crossing by 4x4 vehicles occured a century later in 1953 when a group of enthusiasts in surplus flat-fender jeeps made a commemorative run on this famous route. It has been a favorite of Pacific Northwest wheelers ever since, and is used extensively by hikers, dirtbikers, ATVs, and snowmobilers.Our cast of characters for this adventure included myself in my '87 4Runner, Dan Smith in his nicely built 1990 4Runner , and Rich Schade in his 1997 Jeep Wrangler (TJ). Our small convoy met in Seattle to head down to the historical Naches. After a week of heavy rain, we were relieved with a forecast for sunny skies and warm temperatures.We used a wide spot in the road just before the western trailhead (we were going west-to-east, opposite the settlers' route) as a staging area. We stopped to ensure all our cargo was secured and our tires aired down. As we did this we were passed by two full size pickups, a Ford and a Chevy, whose occupants were already consuming beer faster than their V8s were consuming gasoline. I am against alcohol consumption while wheeling, for a couple of reasons. First, and most obvious, is that your reactions and judgment are impaired, and on twisty technical trails, you, like your vehicle, should be operating at 100%. Second, the image that a drunken 4x4 driver presents to other trail users is bad for all of us, and contributes to trail closures.GPS Coordinates (NAD27)West end staging area:N 47? 06.115'W 121? 27.956'East side trail end at FS19:N 47? 04.696'W 121? 14.771'We went up to the trailhead a few hundred yards away. The entrance of the trail is intimidating - it is a hillclimb straight up through the trees -- steep, muddy, and rutted. Rich had done this trail before so we let him lead. His TJ with tall buckshot mud tires climbed the trail with ease. My turn. I attempted to crawl slowly up the hill, but with my timid right foot, open differentials, and AT-style tires, I lost traction halfway up and had to back down. "I guess I'll have to engage the hubs!" I radioed on the CB back at the bottom, which got a laugh from the others. I actually had been engaged, but I had to save face. I took a couple more pounds out of the tires, hit the go pedal a little harder, and cruised up the hill. Dan followed. As usual, his Detroit rear, Trutrac front, and low 5.29 gears pushing 31-inch tires allowed him to crawl effortlessly up the incline.Twisting it upTwisting it up!At the top of the hill and for the next several miles of trail, we were treated with classic Northwest wheeling, which means tight clearances between trees, a variety of mud and rock below our tires, and some fun sections that get the axles twisted up. The multitude of bark scars on the trees were a constant reminder to drive carefully and watch your sky clearance as well as ground clearance.I noticed early on something was different about this trail vs. most other trails I frequent. The majority of the trails I'm used to are old unmaintained logging and mining roads, which generally were graded at one point in their history, and don't often get very steep for extended periods. The Naches was different, since it was never a road at all. Much of it was off-camber, sometimes as much as 25 degrees, with a large number of steep, narrow ascents and descents. I liked it, as it offered a new type of challenge.The rigs performed almost flawlessly. Dan got an opportunity to try out his new rear bumper, which is an Australian-built tire-carrying bumper with a receiver hitch. It is supposedly the only one of its kind for a 4Runner in the US. I was trying out a recently-installed receiver hitch that offered me a lot more clearance that my previous one. I don't recall dragging it once, whereas I used to drag the old one frequently. The only mechanical problem I ran into is that when extremely twisted up with the front left and right rear wheels stuffed in the wheel wells, I found my rear driveshaft or U-joint was making slight contact with my gas tank skid plate. The TJ had disconnected his swaybar and was really impressive for an almost-stock rig, but Rich is a skilled driver and I suspect that had something to do with it.Riding on the ridge topView from the ridge topWe worked our way out of the forest until the trail began to run at the very top of a ridge, offering a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Cascades, including Mt. Rainier. It then descended to where it ran along the edge of the first of a number of beautiful meadows. The trail eventually led back into a wooded area like the first, and we finally arrived at our lunch stop at Government Meadows.Inscription on cabinInscription on the cabinCabin at Government MeadowsCabin at Government Meadows, and Jimmy the hiker.Government Meadows is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Naches trail. The Pacific Crest Trail is a hiker's route that stretches from the US-Mexico border up the western mountain ranges to Canada. There is a modern log cabin here (labelled "Camp Mike Urich"), with a wood stove, used by travelers of both trails. There is also a decent outhouse nearby.Resting on the cabin's porch was a weary hiker named Jimmy who had spent the summer hiking his way from Mexico back to his home in Canada. Apparently hikers on this route mail to themselves supplies and food which they pick up at various post offices along the way. Jimmy was nursing an injured ankle, which he attributed to the poor condition of his shoes. He had new boots waiting for him at his next supply drop at Snoqualmie Pass, which was a two day hike from our present location.We walked the short distance from the cabin back to our trucks and ate lunch. The guys that reminded us of the cast from the movie Deliverance in the full-size rigs hailed us on CB at this point, and the conversation went like this:Deliverance guy: "How you guys doing on damage?"Us: "Nothing busted so far. How about you?"Deliverance guy: "The Chevy bent a tie rod, and I've gotten three..."Suddenly, we hear a V8 rev up, hear a crunch, see a tree shake in the distance, and hear some moaning. I'm not making this up.Deliverance guy: "... make that FOUR dents. Oh well, we'll drink it off at the cabin."We decide to finish up lunch and be ready to take off by the time these guys arrive. They eventually showed up after bouncing off a bunch of trees, using lots of throttle. They get out of their trucks, with a beer in hand, and two of the three had Ruger pistols strapped on in plain sight. I'm something of a firearms enthusiast myself and recognize they probably had the right to be carrying, but I think open carry outside of the home or gun range is tacky, and can cause alarm to other users of the trail (especially when the owner has been drinking). Concealed carry with a permit is legal and common in Washington, but open carry, if legal at all, isn't at all common. Tactically, theres no point in showing your cards to an opponent. But I digress. Anyways, these guys were like poster children for both trail closures AND gun control. In one fell swoop, these guys were giving a bad image to two of my favorite hobbies.
We took a peek at their trucks. "Nice rigs" we lied, but had no intention of offering them any criticism. The Ford had a U-joint held together by duct tape and bailing wire. I'm not making this up.We decided it was definitely time to leave. As I packed up my cooler, the deliverance guys asked if we had any beer. We didn't. When I got into my truck, Jimmy, with his pack all ready to go, asked for a lift. He was out of food and wanted to hitchhike to Snoqualmie pass to pick up his next bit of food and clothes. I told him I wasn't sure what route we'd be taking back, but I'd be happy to get him to a road at the end of our wheeling trip and he could hitchhike from there. In any event, I'm certain that (like us) he wanted to be nowhere near the deliverance guys, who were busy arguing amongst themselves the finer points of the perennial Ford vs. Chevy debate. That was the last we saw of them.Driving on a boardwalk Driving down the boardwalkThe actual summit of Naches Pass was a mile or so up the trail. There were a number of places along the trail where 4x4 clubs and the Forest Service had built elevated wooden boardwalks over environmentally sensitive areas. These boardwalks were designed for and wide enough for our trucks . It was a good example of how clever thinking and cooperation can allow true multiple-use of our natural resources without large environmental impact.Since we were heading primarily down at this point, we had to be a little more careful with gravity tugging at us. My automatic transmission, which is a nice benefit going uphill, is a liability going downhill, as I have far less engine braking than my trailmates who had 5-speeds. I was careful to keep the slushbox in 1st gear, and allowed my brakes time to cool after steep descents.Mud and treesDeep mud and tall treesMuch of the eastern half was similar to the western. Steep, muddy, twisted, and narrow. We had to pick our lines carefully. There was one steep hillclimb that was also off camber. I had no intention of backing down a steep off-camber hill, so gave it a little more juice than normal. I got up the hill fine, but in my attempts to hug the uphill side of the trail as close as possible, I hit a tree root which popped my front end in the air and gave me a huge adrenaline rush as I had visions of rolling the rig down the steep embankment. In retrospect I never was really in any danger of rolling, but this was definitely a white-knuckles experience. My new co-pilot Jimmy was a little startled as well.We worked our way down the rest of the trail to a valley where the terrain flattened out a bit. I think we were beyond the Naches Trail proper, but other trails picked up where Naches left off. There were several places where the trail would seemingly end at a graded gravel Forest Service Road, but there was always a trail continuing nearby either directly on the other side or up or down the road a few hundred yards.Eric plowing through the gumboBe one with the mud!Dan plowing through the gumboDan likes the mud!The rest of the trails went through forested valleys, punctuated by some great mud holes. I'm not normally a huge fan of mud, but since I was having such a great time, had lots of extraction gear, and I was traveling with competent companions, I decided to skip all the bypasses and head for the deep gooey stuff. We had a blast, especially on the holes that looked real shallow but turned out to be real deep. As if to remind us of the trail we had descended, even the bottoms of these pits were off-camber and made for some exciting wheeling.Finally, we made our way to the end of the trail at the paved FS19 road. Generally, people following this trail head home on nearby Highway 410 over Chinook pass. 410 was closed for construction, so we could either head south for White Pass, go back the way we came, or east to Yakima, up I-82 to Ellensburg, then west over I-90 and Snoqualmie pass to go home. While we all wanted to do the east-to-west Naches route, we didn't want to do it in the dark, so we chose the Yakima-Ellensburg route home. This was an advantage for our new companion Jimmy as well, since we'd be able to drop him off where his food and boots were waiting. We grabbed dinner in Yakima (where we bought Jimmy his first junk food in months), dropped off Jimmy (who promised us a post card) at Snoqualmie Pass, and headed home.Overall, the ride was a lot of fun. We saw some beautiful scenery, met some interesting people, and had some great wheeling. Never once did we have to break out any recovery gear. Every time our forward progress was impeded for some reason, we were all able to simply back up and try a different line. I look forward to running this trail many times in the future.
Yea its still open but its in WA
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