West Coast Hammers Trip

Written by Steve Friend
Photos by Renie Friend

     Welp, we have done it again, the Hammers that is. These trails are awesome and Victor Valley 4x4 club gets all the credit for building them. I am not sure how or why they started them, but, with a lot of sweat and perseverance, they are some of the most technical trails that I have ever done. There are only a few that I know of that I have not done, and the Hammers always come to the top as the most challenging.

     This trip found 3 West Coast Wheelers, Paul Beckman, (PaulB for future ref), Dave Swanson, and myself heading out Friday night, Nov. 20th.  Along with us are two guests, Brad Kilby and family, and Paul Nasvik and his friend Seth. We camped at Means Dry Lake, near Johnson Valley, Ca.  Brad and Paul are from the JeepL internet list.

     Rigs: Paul B drives a Toyota Fourrunner, Dave a '78 CJ7, Brad a TJ, and myself, a Ferrari Red '79 CJ7.

     Paul and Seth, came down to the run from San Francisco to just ride, spot, observe, and have fun with us. Paul's rig is getting a new 44 front end and is not quite ready, and Seth's new TJ is not trail ready (at least not these trails) yet. Like he said, "It sure looks good on the street".

     As my wife and I were passing through Apple Valley, I remembered that my new two strap was still setting on my counter at home. The strap is always in the Jeep, but after doing the Panamint trip last month, I retired that strap, and never got around to putting the new on in the Jeep. I had the opportunity to pay about 150% more for a strap at a
Kragens than I would have had to pay at home, but I figured I might need one. Good thing I did to, 'cause Dave was the only one that had one when we got into camp. Oh, Seth had a brand new one that he loaned Brad for the trail the next day.

     New equipment for this trail. Well, Brad had a new trick steering setup that he had made, and I was running my new Warn FF, with a new new Detroit and Ring and Pinion. Boy, Panamint was expensive. Oh, and new set of Swampers. (I love those tires).

     Saturday morning, we found that we were the only rigs in the valley.  Kewl. We hit the trail head at about 9:30. Seth was riding with Renie and me, and Paul was riding with Dave.

     We had decided on doing Sledgehammer, 'cause as the plaque at the beginning of the trail says, "Sledgehammer, the Mother of all Trails".  They are right. I have been over this trail a bunch of times, but the rest had not. PaulB had been over it in his TLC, but never in the Runner. The weather was outstanding. Climbing from the mid 30's at night to about 80 during the day. The coats were coming off by 10:00am.  I always like to hear a new persons first opinion when they see this trail. Seth hissed, "You got to be kidding, we are going on that!".  God I love this sport.

     My wife is a walker. As soon as the trail gets interesting, she climbs out, grabs the cameras, heads out. I always wondered about that. So I asked her Saturday night. I have been over all of the trails I know of in New Mexico, Az, Nevada, Washington, and Calif. I have never rolled.  I have had a few close calls though. I have sustained very little body damage. I have broken a few parts, but..??? So she said "'cause, I like to walk". Well that was that and I figure an answer is an answer.  This group of very well setup rigs was making short work of Sledgehammer. I got into an interesting position after a gnarly climb over house size rocks, and had to do a 300 point turn to get myself back on the trail. The winch came out to help the front move, and within 20 or 30 minutes, I was moving again I was watching Brad in his TJ walk over these obstacles with ease. Dave and his passenger Paul were debating the trail line as they passed me by when I was standing on the side of the trail watching. I am not sure they even knew I was there.  It was sort of funny to hear them talk. "Well, I need to position my left tire here" "You sure. It might be better if the Right tire was there". Well, you get the idea. :) About that time, Dave decided to slip off a neat little 4' rock and start to roll. I grabbed his tow bar in the front and actually righted him. Man, I am strong. Ha. Dave was a little excited but continued on until he could change his shorts. By noon, we were at the Mail Box (a little over half way) and having lunch in the sun.

     Sledgehammer is actually two trails. The first part ends about at the Mail Box. Then a bit further, you can escape out of the trail up a sand hill to a trail that leads back to camp. Or you can continue on through an area that I dub as ball bearings. This area does not look as tough at the rest of trail, but almost always takes more time. The line to take is not often the most obvious. Just before the sand hill, is where we sustained out first break. PaulB twisted a drive shaft. That is his achilles heal. That darn drive shaft is about 5' long and hit everything. He carries a spare and we were rolling in after a short break. Well, after some interesting false start, I found the line up the next part to be to the left, straight up a rock face, and letting the rig slip around and over it. The next rigs followed the same line without incident. Then, as I was guiding Brad, telling him to turn right, he signaled me over and told me that he could not turn right.  Close examination of the trick tie rod end revealed that it had rotated, bending and capturing the steering rod end. After it was removed, and the tie rod repositioned and cinched down we were off.  3:30 found us at camp. Opening up the drinks and fixing hordevours.

     Well, that night was a night of lies, trip remembrance, and too much wine (for me and Paul) at least. It was cold and the fire was hot. It was kind of a roasting fire. You roasted your front while your back was freezing.

     Sunday morning, we were ready for Sunbonnet. Except, Dave's rig was on his trailer. He was heading for home. PaulB could not get is Runner running. Finally determined that his starter had gone south. I guess if it has to happen, it might as well be in camp. I think Julie Ann, is wife, was happy anyway. He did not have is trusty spare drive shaft 'cause it was on.

     Three folks from a Toyota Camp (moved in the night before) came over to run Sunbonnet with us, so we were off. Now, this trial head is hard to find. It is usually run in conjunction with Hell's Gate. I had been to the trail head last year and had fortunately keyed in a GPS coordinate.  We found it, but I bet Brad thought we we way lost. We drove right to
it. On the way the Toads broke and decided to fix their own and said they would meet us there if they could. I gave them the GPS info and that was the last we saw of them.

     The entrance to Sunbonnet is like the entrance to the Guardian Trail in NM. There is a interesting couple or three rocks that have to be maneuvered around. Renie got outa the rig, took off her sweat shirt, grabbed the camera and was off. I was talking to Brad and put the Jeep in granny and starting to let out the clutch when we heard this piercing "STOP". I looked up and Renie had a really ugly look on her face. I guess I had rolled onto her foot. Geez, if looks were .45's I would be full of holes. I quickly backed up and she started up the trail, pissed. Well, like a good hubby, I cowered and told her to let me look at the damage. It was a little scrapped but otherwise unhurt. That was the first time that I have heard her say that she was glad I had the Swampers. 'cause they only had about 9 lbs of air in them.

     I almost did not make it through the entrance. I scraped the hell outa my right rear flare. And had to try several interesting positions. Then one well placed rock and I was through. Brad took the same line without incident. 'course his wife stayed in his Jeep.  There are several almost sheer climbs on this trail. I was really enjoying myself. Then at one spot, Brad was climbing and we heard the infamous whoosh of air outa his right rear tire. Another BFG claimed by the Hammers. We changed it and found the end of the trail. When we crawled out, we found that we were at one of the main roads around the hill to camp and near the entrance to Hell's Gate. Within 30 minutes we were back at camp. Time, 1:00.

     Well, that is all folks. Another trip to the Hammers and another adventure. There are still three trials out there that I have not done, so we will be back.

     OH, BTW, on the way out to Means Dry lake, we had a black Jeep following us. He came across the CB and wanted to know if Steve Friend was in this group. Wow, I said yes and found out he was from Victor Valley 4x4 Club, and wanted to know if Fuzzy Face's map had go to me with the GPS coordinates. Ha, I told him yes and found that he was heading for Desert Splash at Parker Az. Small world.


This trail is way different than Sledgehammer. In a lot of ways, much more technical.