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Longwater and Metberry Gulch

aka: Sailing the Platte River

Contributed By: Michael Shimniok

ed note: Visit the following websites for some great pic's of the CFSJA's outing to Longwater and Metberry Gulch: link1, link2, and here is a pic of me charging the river =) -adam

This is getting to be something of a cliche for me. The Saturday before my long-awaited plans for a weekend of wheelin', campin', and fishin' were violently thrown into jeopardy by Troubled Child, my '86 Grand Wagoneer. Barely able to sustain an idle, I was presented with something of a challenge returning along a trail I was scouting for the following week's Big Trail Run. Back in town I spent the next few days desparately trying to diagnose and repair this odd problem, all the while facing the very real possibility that I wouldn't make this trip I had been looking forward to for so long... A typical pre-wheelin' week for me, in other words. With the truck finally repaired late in the week (it was the ignition module, of course) all that was left was for all of us to agree on a meeting place. Kind of like trying to design a programming language by committee. Ok, harder. But at least our plans turned out somewhat simpler than most Ada compilers... By the time I got there at 7:40am Saturday, I found two club rigs and Art in the parking lot. We entered the Village Inn, chowed down, jawboned up a storm, and met up with everyone else. Except Mark who had been bitten by the broken belt gremlin. James, Charlie, Hari, Rob, Adam, Paul (with his nicely set up LandCruiser-- basically a Japanese Wagoneer), Jeff, and I lined up our rigs at the store, took photos, bought essentials (brats, for example), and called Mark, planning to hook up later. We had a slow start, but with EIGHT trucks involved, if you get off early without a hitch, you're probably doomed to some kind of karmic trouble later! We topped off in Woodland Park and forced Hari to get an air cleaner :) and headed up 67 to Westcreek. We hit FS 360 (a good number) and after an air-down and "quick" disconnect stop and some more driving we were finally at the Metberry trail head with still no sign of Mark. I can tell you confidently that nothing is quite so beautiful as seeing an entire squadron of FSJs line up down the trail. It really was quite an impressive sight and I think we turned a head or two. The drive through Metberry was ideal! The scenery was lush and gorgeous from all the rain and the trail started out easy and progressively grew more difficult--a perfect introduction for those of us new to the off-road experience. Several miles into the trail I noticed the sky was growing dark. Some nasty storm clouds were glowering down on our convoy of Big Jeeps and when we stopped for a pee break the thunder began. Us being at the top of a hill in a thunderstorm, we rather quickly began the descent towards the famous obstacle known as Chicken Scratch Hill just as the rain started pelting us. Before we reached the Hill, we had endured marble-sized hail and an epic traffic jam of 4x4s. Delayed on the final descent I missed the show on the Hill; I set about trying to warm up my MRE on rather unforgiving surfaces. Next time I'll stick to the tortillas and sandwich meat. We finally got our chance at the Hill, a long, steep climb in loose, wet dirt, with significant moguls top to bottom. Nevertheless only two of our rigs didn't make the entire climb. The rest made it look downright EASY! Hari and Charlie who had really pounded the trails like pros so far that day had taken off by this point so they really missed out in the fun. Anyway I took the alternate route up which I guess was the easy way (sigh) and Rob in his stock 85 GW also took the bypass after getting stuck a couple times. But not before lifting a tire for us. Hopefully his wife has forgiven him for the unsuccessful attempt at a rollover. I am sure he could've conquered that hill, but no matter--he certainly vindicated himself by traversing some serious terrain later in the day! Anyway, I noticed both the guy in the Scout and his buddies who had been spectating at the top of the Hill didn't have a whole lot to say when we had all arrived at the top again... Finally on the way back up Metberry we hooked up with Mark in his '71 Wagoneer and Jason in his inspirational '78 Wag with a 4" spring and 2" body lift and 35" tires. Wow. He and James proved to us that trimming the rear fenders is a great solution for bigger tires. I know Toby's done the same thing and I can't wait to see his truck. I want to be next. :) Well, we all headed down Longwater Gulch, trail that leads to the famous "Teller County Carwash" otherwise known as the South Platte River. Some hardcore terrain, all downhill luckily, showed us just what our rigs could (and couldn't) do. Steep descents, major frame-twisters, and various climbs and rocks were the order of the day on this truck killing trail. We arrived at one tricky spot with a huge boulder on the right side and a twisty spot with a tree on the left. The only option I could see was to go thru the twisty spot and hope that a wheel didn't pitch up and tip you into the tree! But Mark with Larry spotting showed us the correct path. UP this enormous boulder, over the top, tilting to the point of looking precarious, and back down the other side. ALL our jaws were dragging in the dirt watching this team show us the way. We all got past it with some great spotting and not a little bit of thrill and kept going. Time flew and we were sitting at the banks of the Platte with a family who seemed maybe a little in shock at the sight of so many mean looking FSJs. There it was. The Platte River. Running high from all the rain we'd been having. Didn't look too deep. But that's why they always told us Arizonans never to cross washes with water in them--you can't judge depth until you wade out in it as Mark and Larry bravely did. It was clear we couldn't take the straight path across. Wait. Across? Yes, we actually were considering crossing this thing! I mean, heck, getting back UP the trail would prove one heck of a challenge. Probably impossible for trucks without winches or lockers. We'll never know though. Heh. Mark picked out a good spot to cross, about 10-20 feet downriver. The problem was, who was crazy enough to cross this thing first? We did a lot of looking at each other, shrugging, looking at our trucks, and looking back at the river, expressions of uncertainty painted on our faces... Paul started taping up the doors on his Land Cruiser and the rest of us 'wimps' began moving our trucks out of his way so we could see if he could cross the gently moving river. It took awhile but he eventually got enough room to get his truck up to the bank. With all of us (including the family) cheering him on he set sail. Right out of the chute he pointed the bow of his 'Cruiser downstream, water almost immediately up to the top of his 33" tires. He turned and headed straight across under the expert navigational guidance of Mississippi Mark and Lighthouse Larry, both freezing their butts (and other things) off in the river. He was doing real good, making a decent bow wake, keeping a steady 5-7mph, and then >blorp< --truck nosedived and water came up to the hood! In an a second that seemed to pass slower than the Jurassic, we thought he was doomed! I have to admit that if he'd gotten stuck maybe the rest of us could've gotten off the hook! But no, he was still moving at a terrifying, glacially slow pace of maybe 3-4mph. You can only imagine how very slow 3mph feels when you're pushing water up to your hood in a lifted truck in the middle of a river crossing... Sure enough, he passed by our two river guides and up came the Toy's nose, something like a breeching whale, and he resumed a speedier pace and found himself on the opposite bank, his mere presence a gauntlet tossed at our FSJ feet. Some people who I guess don't know me as well as they think they do consider me pretty cautious, level-headed, reserved and maybe a little stiff. Well, that's all true. But I've discovered this maniacal streak that surfaces whenever I'm behind the wheel of TC on the trail. Here I am, this quiet, reserved type of guy that turns into some kind of freak thrill-seeker on the trail, tackling obstacles at the slightest hint of a dare... But damned if I was going to be the second person to cross this river!! What, do I look like I'm completely NUTS?! I mean, the obvious choice was the tallest rig in our troupe. Jason battened down the hatches and took a firm grasp of the helm and brought his amphibious vehicle to the bank. He made it across a-ok and made it look easier still. In other words, merely bordering on impossible. It's not like we could say "hey, if he can do it I can do it" -- his truck stands a good 4" taller than mine, for example... After a full five seconds of deliberation I say to James, "I'll do it if you do it." "I'll do it if you do it," he replies. I don't think he had any idea what he was getting himself into... "OK!!" "Oh no!" I boarded the S.S. Troubled Child, cut loose the hausers and set sail, all the while ignoring that little voice that was screaming "ARE YOU COMPLETELY INSANE?!?" Larry was frantically motioning to me to SLOW DOWN. Forget 3mph -- 7mph feels like sitting STILL when you're in the middle of the water 50 feet from the nearest shore! Well, I got it slowed down and TC was chugging along, exhaust blurping its way to the surface. Then I hit the nosedive which put me into water up to the hood and the truck came to a near stop--so it seemed. I inched my way all the while wide-eyed and white-knuckled. Before I knew what was happening the hood popped out of the water and people were telling me to put down the power. I was ACROSS! I MADE IT! Good truck. Nice truck. >pat< >pat< You're getting all new fluids this week as a reward! I parked and let some of the water drip out of the driver's side of the truck (the passenger side was bone dry being downstream...) and watched and photographed the others coming across. I think Mark was next, then Adam, then Jeff who got stuck only a couple dozen feet from us. Mark, Larry and I rushed to get the winch set up to pull him out and in the process I proved once and for all my GoreTex boots aren't waterproof anymore. In no time we had Jeff out and along came Rob in his stock rig. He got stuck in the same spot and we had just got the winch put away so we were yelling frantically to get it out before Rob or his truck were sunk, drowned, or otherwise subjected to an undignified experience. We were able to get him out but not before he got plenty of water inside. That classic cartoon scene of opening the door and a waterfall cascading out with fish and whatnot was recaptured thrice that day. Last to come across was James in his Cherokee and I guess we had dug up a big hole in that one spot because in spite of his newly installed 4" lift and 33" tires, he was stuck and his truck cut out. Once again we were fumbling to get the winch out in time, and James yelled "Hurry up, it's getting cold in here" ... up to his tranny hump in water before we could get him out I can only imagine it was a tad uncomfy! Well, we got him out too and all of us spent some time checking fluids and making sure our rigs weren't going to die untimely deaths on the ride home! Meanwhile, Mark and Larry tried to dry off. The trucks came out ok and every one of us including those who got stuck started up right off the bat. Somehow I didn't even get my distributor wet! Normally you want to check to be sure you didn't suck water, but since none of our air cleaners were wet we figured we were probably safe. Nevertheless I think we all better swap fluids and check axle seals this week. Mark, Larry, Rob his wife and I set out to find a camping spot and the others took off home. We found a superb campsite with plenty of space and greenery right near the river, and set up camp, Rob got a killer fire going and we shot the breeze and ate until after dark, turned in and woke up early (well, most of us did--I won't mention that Mark was still sacked out while Rob was hooking up his CB) had some breakfast, goofed around and then finally got headed home. Rob and his wife headed home to the kids. Mark, Larry, and I did a little plinking and then watched a fellow in a Chevy pickup try to get unstuck (he was at the opposite bank from us maybe 15' from the trail entrance into the water, pointed downstream for some reason). After he and his pal made several unsuccessful attempts to extricate the HMS Bow Tie we decided to get moving. On the way out we got several great long distance views of Chicken Scratch Hill. It looks even worse from a distance! Pretty soon we were on the highway searching for a gas station with air and then we were zipping down the freeway back home. So our replacement for the Medano Pass trip --which I must remind you all was cancelled because of excessively high water crossings-- was quite a success and a source of tremendous enjoyment for me and hopefully everyone else who went! I look forward to our next outing! 

Michael E. Shimniok

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