Dusy-Ershim trip report

Quick Summary :
  • What : Dusy-Ershim trail wheeling trip
  • When : 8/30/96 - 9/2/96 (Labor Day weekend)
  • Where : about 50 miles east of Madera, Calif.
  • Who : Mark - 89 Toyota longbed pickup
  • Who : Rick - 84 Toyota 4Runner

Rigs :

84 Toyota 4Runner : (Rick's)
22R motor
stock 5-speed, Marlin TC, 4.88 gears
33" BFG/MT, 3" lift
TRD posi in back

89 Toyota longbed pickup (Mark's) :
22RE motor,
stock 5-speed, Marlin TC, 4.88 gears
33" BFG/MT, 4" lift, 8000# winch,
TRD posi front and back
The trail is dusty rock-crawling at its best, 33-miles long , peaking at 10,000 feet altitude for SWB vehicles (narrow, tree-guarded 'S' turns); many lakes and creeks to pass, spectacular 270-degree vistas near north end of trail.

Our trip began in Sacramento, Friday at around 8 am. About 3 hours on highway 99 brought us to Madera, last chance for cheap (valley) gas. Turned onto highway 145 from there and drove another 1.5 hours to Shaver Lake, where we stopped to top up the tank and have lunch. We drove on to Courtright Reservoir, crossed the dam (great photo ops on both sides of the dam), and reached the gated trailhead around 2:20 pm. There, we aired down, locked hubs, and disconnected my sway bar. Mark had been here before, so he knew the trail and, by default, was our fearless leader. The altitude here was around 8000 feet.

Then we met a couple from Placerville in an awesome, red 'built-from-scratch' Willys flatfender (box frame, new tub, GMC V6, SM420, 35" tires, locked at both ends, Toyota springs and hangers, etc, etc) . Mark and I were in awe of this rig. Since Gerald and Lois were by themselves, we invited them to join us. Duzy is too tough of a trail to do on your own. They were grateful for the offer and brought up the rear of our little group. We waited for a little while longer, for a group of Land Cruisers I had contacted on the Internet, but they didn't show up by the time we left.

The first mile or so was easy, but definitely 4WD. Then, the trail seemingly ended at a smooth rock wall. I asked Mark where the trail went, and he said, with an evil grin, 'up that wall' (maybe 350 yards at 40 degrees or so). Knowing my crawl ratio was 90:1, and not seeing any signs of earlier catastrophies, gave me the courage to continue. Debbie got out to take pictures of start of the ascent, but insisted on hopping in about 1/3 of the way up, since she didn't think she had the stamina to walk all the way up the steep incline. I wasn't too crazy about stopping, but did so, carefully avoiding touching the brakes, clutch, or shift lever (just turning off the key). Approaching the top, it looked like Easter Island, with huge boulders that had yet to roll down the smooth incline, to drive around. That first obstacle really woke us up, and put smiles on our faces.

We drove for about 5 more miles, over numerous rough spots. The only mechanical problem was experienced by the Willys. Apparently, the fuel lines were mounted a bit too close to the exhaust manifold, causing vapor lock. Gerald had to stop once-in-a-while to cool down. We were still able to make good time, and stopped to camp for the night around 6 pm.

The next morning, Saturday, we broke camp and headed for the first real challenge, Thompson Hill. Its like Cadillac Hill on the Rubicon, only longer, dustier, and much more difficult. We had to get out to spot each other on at least 5 sections of this hill. The Willys seemed to have an easier time on it, with its much shorter wheelbase ( 85" ? ) compared to mine (103") and Mark's (112"), not to mention larger tires. Several times, Mark had to remind me to feather the parking brake to help the posi grab the rocks when one rear wheel lifted off the ground. Amazing how putting on the brakes helped me go forward.

A group of 4 rigs (Toyota, 2 Jeeps, Samarai ) caught up with us in the middle of this hill, but one of them broke down right behind us, and we never saw them again. Hope it wasn't too serious.

The trail never lets up. Even though there weren't many more 'fun' spots on the way to the Ershim Lake camp sites, it was difficult enough to force us to stay in granny gear, or second almost all the time. About 2 hours before the lake, we encountered one courageous dude in a nicely built early Bronco, sporting a 'handicap' license plate, with his wheel chair strapped to the spare tire, going the other way. He pulled off to let us by, and we chatted for a bit.

We were slowed down a little, by a CJ5 that was barely moving, pulling a small trailer. Apparently, his frame had split in two just in front of the rear spring hangers on both sides. The body must have been holding the Jeep together. He nursed his rig to Ershim Lake to camp. There, we saw other guys working on the rear end of a TLC, and another Jeep (burst transfer case) being towed down the steep, rocky incline leading to camp, with straps attached to both ends . The trail claimed many victims that day. We felt very fortunate and slept well that nite.

The next day, we broke camp early for the long drive out. We wanted to finish up that afternoon and be home in Sacramento by that nite. Where the trail reached just over 10,000 feet, it passed over a mountain crest with a magnificent view toward the east. A short hike up to the point opened up a breath-taking 270-degree panorama of the mountains and Thomas Edison lake in the far distance. One could see Mammoth Mountain, a row of mountains referred to as 'The Minarets', and plumes of smoke from a forest fire north of Yosemite. Great place for lunch and a panoramic camera.

The trail dropped down from there, through several more nasty spots that really tested our ability to pick the right line. We finally reached pavement above Huntington Lake at about 4pm. 33 miles in 3 days. What a trail ! What made it especially gratifying, is that none of us broke or got stuck, so we never had to use our straps, winches, or hi-lift jack. The weather was perfect. No wind, few clouds, and surprisingly warm for September at 10,000 feet.

Interestingly, when the trail went thru a creek or had to cross a meadow, the trail was surfaced cross-ways with smooth logs, to preserve the trail and prevent rutting. Kudos to the forest service and the club who maintains the trail ( I think its 'Four Wheel Drive Club of Fresno'). Surprisingly little trash on the trail, as we only picked up about a half-a-bag worth to dispose of back at Shaver Lake.

Fun, world-class trail for built 4x4's. If you decide to go, be sure to bring enough gas, bring a buddy, and 'Tread Lightly'.