Lori Carey Photography

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Infamous John Bull Trail

Rockrash tackling some boulders on the John Bull trail in the Big Bear mountains

FunN4Lo had been inviting me up to Big Bear to run the Most Difficult rated John Bull trail since I first met him last October. John Bull has a solid reputation as the toughest and most challenging trail in the Big Bear mountains, so the intimidation factor was high and I kept putting him off. To be honest, I hadn't ever really been interested in hard core technical rockcrawling; I got the jeep so I could venture out into the wilds for my photography and only wanted to be able to handle moderate trails. And FunN4Lo and his usual companion on the trail, RockRash, are young, adventurous and fearless...
But after wheeling together in Last Chance Canyon and being comfortable with FunN4Lo's excellent spotting in some situations I had never faced before (such as the ledge climb), I caved in and agreed to give it a shot. Actually, it was FunN4Lo's phone call after that trip telling me, "Lori, you're ready for John Bull." Bill always gripes about not wanting to risk body damage (to the jeep, hehe), but I saw the look on his face when I let him take the wheel over some of the obstacles in Last Chance Canyon and I knew he was getting hooked.

So FunN4Lo put together a weekend trip for us, joined by Rockrash with j-sack riding shotgun. Rockrash insisted that I drive behind him because he was determined to tackle some obstacles that were bigger than his 33's should be able to handle and he fully planned to get stuck. By staying behind him I could winch him down the rocks rather than up. As we turned onto the trail and I saw the sign with the triple black diamonds, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Well I've got to admit that John Bull turned out to be my favorite trail so far. I may hate steep climbs and descents, but I like rocks and John Bull is practically one long rock garden. You definitely need high clearance and big tires for this trail (FunN4Lo and Rockrash have 33s, but 35s allowed us to handle some bigger obstacles without high centering), but although lockers are highly recommended none of us have them (and one of us has open difs) and we didn't have any problems. Lockers are no replacement for good driving skills.

When we came to some big boulders in the center of the trail, Rockrash told us that he was determined to beat them one day but that he always high centers on them with his 33s. Bill didn't waste any time kicking me out of the driver's seat to give it a try! Now I want to point out that if I had tried going over those rocks, high centered and did any damage to the undercarriage, I never would have heard the end of it. But you should've seen the glint in his eyes when he said "I'll try it!" and shoved me aside. He made it over easily with just a little scrape on the rear bumper as he came off the rocks.

Bill on the John Bull trail

I did manage to wrest control of the jeep back a few minutes later and I was having a great time midway into the trail when Bill started commenting about how I always get to have all of the fun and do all of the cool stuff. Well, I can't take photos when I'm behind the wheel and even though I was having fun I could tell how badly he wanted to be behind the wheel, so we switched off again. I was happy because I got to photograph the jeeps on some really cool obstacles and because he's the one who scraped up my rails on a rock squeezing through a narrow off camber spot, not me. FunN4Lo was ahead of the group so he could check out the trail and then spot us through the obstacles, so almost all of my shots were of Rockrash and Bill driving my jeep. I wish Bill would learn to use my camera so I could get ONE photo of me behind the wheel.

Here's Bill with one tire up in the air (such a showoff):
Bill getting some air on John Bull

Rockrash negotiating a rocky climb:
Rockrash on a rocky climb on John Bull

j-sack watching (or not?) Bill in a rocky section:
Negotiating the John Bull trail

FunN4Lo on John Bull

It wasn't easy, but I did manage to get control of my jeep back, although I think Bill was sulking about it. I guess it's tough having a tomboy wife and we're either going to have to become a 2 jeep family or learn to play nice together! It would be a lot cheaper to learn to play nice together, and I don't think I could handle the work involved in maintaining two modded jeeps.

So we survived on first time on John Bull without getting stuck and only minor damage; a few scrapes and gouges on the bumper and rails, and one of us blew the steering stablizer. The steering stabilizer needed to be upgraded and relocated anyway, so no biggie.

Three jeep wranglers stopped after the difficult section of John Bull

While we were airing up we found a couple of these rambunctious Western Fence Lizards. I think it's mating season because the two of them were having a great time chasing each other over the rocks, but the one took time out to pose for me.

Western Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis

After a relaxing lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, Rockrash and j-sack returned home while Bill and I spent the night with FunN4Lo so we could do more exploring on Sunday and check out some of the Yellow Post campsites for future trail runs.

Jeep JKs on Skyline Drive in Big Bear

It was a beautiful crisp day and FunN4Lo took us on a great tour of some beautifully scenic fire roads leading to the campsites. We even found a little water crossing to play in.

FunN4Lo making a splash on a trail in Big Bear

Lots more photos from our trip in the gallery on my website here.

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