We gathered about a mile from the trail head to air down, swap stories, and see who had installed something new on their Jeep. It was a small group today, with two TJs and two YJs making up the gathering. Several of the other guys I have wheeled with were catching up on things around the house or had arranged to hit another trail. As 9:20 AM rolled around, we headed down the gravel road to the trail head.
There had been sporadic rain in the Phoenix area over the past few weeks. Some of Raw Deal is on exposed bedrock with small pools that collect the water run off. With the temps being only in the mid-60s for the past week, these pools were not evaporating off very quickly. So, we were able to get our tires wet and actually find an obstacle or two that actually had a little bit of mud (or was that just dirt mixed with wet sand) around it.
We dropped off the road into the wash that signals the start of the trail. Steve was leading the run in his YJ and I was in the #2 slot with my TJ. Larry was in his TJ too, and Dion and Paola were doing tail gunner duty in their YJ.
I paused on the trail just as Steve rounded a turn. My coffee cup was empty and I wanted to fill it before we got to the first obstacle. After messing with my thermos, the cup was filled and I slipped it into 4LO and headed off. What I missed was Steve taking an easy line around a rock ledge. (OK…so this was only my 2nd time on the trail and I didn’t remember all of the details). I edged my TJ up to the ledge and let the front tires ease down the rock. I knew right then I was going to hit the rear coming off the ledge. TJs have the curse of a low hanging gas tank. Hard as I tried, the passenger corner still landed pretty hard on the Tomken skid. Ouch!
After some boulders and stray rock shelves, we got to the first major obstacle, the “Great Divide” as Steve calls it. We took turns spotting each other through this obstacle. It takes a couple of times to learn the best spot for tire placement, and we had to stop once or twice and carefully back the driver up a few feet for a shot at better placement. A slipped tire while crawling over this wide and jagged rock crack and will give your sheet metal a really bad rash. The wet tires don’t help either, but the aggressive tread on the BFG MTs and the Goodyear MT/Rs held solid and kept everyone in place.
Next was the “air hole”. As the name implies, it provides those who try it an off-camber opportunity to test their low altitude air grabbing abilities. I had opted around this obstacle the last time but decided to try it this time. Steve got good air through hole and gave me an idea of the necessary line I needed. After a couple of shots at getting lined up just right, I was able to get what was to be the best air of the day. Everyone was a bit worried that my TJ was going over, but she held in there and we made a good showing.
After a few more rock out croppings and boulders, we came to another rock ledge. This one provides a variety of different lines, ranging from a 1′ bump to the impossible. Dion and I discussed a line that Steve said he was willing to try. It was an extremely off-camber crawl over the highest section of the ledge. He made it but not without first giving everyone there money’s worth for an impressive display of rock crawling.
Dion and Larry both took hard lines also and managed to get over with just a rocker panel or t-case skid making their presence known. Me….well, I opted for what looked like an easier one and almost got myself hi-centered.
Raw Deal Carnage
Speaking of hi-centered, Steve did mange to get himself stuck straddling a rock. The recent rains had changed the wash a bit and kept his front tires from getting the necessary traction to pull him over the rocks. I tried strapping him off from the front and only succeeded in digging 4 nice holes in the wash. Dion got into the action and was able to get Steve strapped off the rock pile backwards. Like they say, “Sometimes you get the rocks and sometimes they get you!”
With only two more major obstacles ahead of us, we gathered up the tow straps and headed off for Raw Deal’s version of the “Golden Crack”. Now the crack, like it’s tougher Moab cousin, is meant to be navigated at a more or less perpendicular fashion…give or take a bit based on the driver’s discretion. Steve, being rather adventuresome, decided to try running the obstacle along its length, which is pretty significant.
He was about the length of his YJ into it when we heard what sounded like a rifle shot. I clutched in the my TJ, killed the engine, and left it up on the bedrock while I headed down towards Steve. Sure enough, the passenger axle u-joint has exploded. Although he had a spare u-joint and axle stub, his current position did not allow for a trail repair. He decided to try moving ahead a bit and see if he could get into a better spot for the repair. BANG….the u-joint at the other end of the axle went and it took the ball joint with it.
Steve was in a bad way, to say the least. His driver’s side front tire was laying almost flat on the ground. His YJ was not looking good. After some discussion and inspection, the hi-lift was brought out and the remaining good front tire was lifted high into the air. Unless we could get a pile of rocks under it so it could more easily roll over the bedrock ledge, we weren’t getting the YJ out. Going forward was impossible and going back was almost that bad.
The jack held and we got a good load of rocks under the tire, enough anyway to give the YJ a fighting chance of being pulled backwards out of the obstacle. We grabbed a tow strap and hooked it to the rear of the YJ. With easy throttle on the tow Jeep, Steve assisted with 2WD and reverse gear. It was not pretty, but the YJ came out dragging the front axle tube in the wash like a poorly designed plow share.
Steve called a close friend (you got to have close friends when you do these things to your Jeep) who could provide assistance in the form of a flat bed trailer. About an hour or so later, Jimmy showed up with the trailer. With help from Dion, he was able to piece back a chunk of the ball joint and actually got the YJs hub to stay in place long enough for Steve to get out of the wash. Luckily, the section that leads up to the Golden Crack has an “opt out” trail and Steve was able to get the YJ up it in just 2WD. From there, Jimmy got the YJ loaded onto the trailer and headed back towards Phoenix.
Through all of this, Steve was pretty much smiling (especially once he saw that the YJ was coming home that day). He has a D44 front axle that has been waiting to replace the D30 and it looks like now is as good a time as any to do just that. We’ll see if the D60 that Steve has been making rumblings about will end up going in at the same time.
For now, Steve and Jimmy will be spending some time on the YJ. When it is done, you can bet we’ll be back on Raw Deal and Steve will drive his rig down the Golden Crack (or take out another axle trying!). Once again, Raw Deal has lived up to its name. This time, Steve got the raw deal. Next time….who knows who it will be?