Wine Country Rock Crawlers trek to "Hell Hole"
Our yearly weekend in July is spent at Ice House Resort. We take over the Group Campsite and enjoy the beautiful area for a few days.
I belong to the Novato Elks Lodge #2655 and am their Bartender. With that job comes the bonus to get to really know my fellow Elk. For a couple of years, several have inquired on my taking them up to see what they hear of my experiences doing the Rubicon. One particular guy has been asking me to include him on one of my adventures. So, this last trip was a perfect opportunity for me to bring Jim along for the ride.
A little about Jim:
- Jim Stein, Captain – US Army 335th Assault Helicopter Company (Cowboys) and 7th of 17th Air Calvary (Ruthless Riders) & served in the Vietnam War (1966-1974)
- Born in Lehi, Utah, Dec. 28, 1946.
- Before being drafted he had finished two years of college and had basic work experiences doing heavy construction while working with his father on water dam projects in CA.
- After basic training and Advanced Individual Training, he became a heavy equipment operator. Then it was on to Officer Candidate School, then flight school, advance and combat training. The high demand for helicopter pilots meant a lot to learn in a short amount of time. Completing flight school, he was assigned to Vietnam.
Most of the mission consisted of inserting troops into landing zones and then extracting them from pickup zones. He then received on-the-job (OJT) assault training. Intense to say the least!
Fast forward to June 19, 1972, Jim was shot down on his tenth mission and took a round to his right knee, resulting in the amputation of the lower half of his right leg.
Not ready to leave, he continued and graduated from the Army Career Course. He then decided to take a medical retirement.
He received Silver Stars, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, and two Bronze Stars, the Cross of Gallantry with Gold & Silver Star, and 94 Air medals as well as several other defense ribbons.
After retiring from the military, Jim learned to ski at Lake Tahoe and participated in programs with the US Ski Team, giving him the opportunity to ski with some of the top skiers in the country. Jim traveled the country skiing and playing golf. I think his skiing days are over but certainly not his golf games!
His quote: “I served my country. It gave me a feeling that I could do anything. There was nothing I was afraid to do.”
So, for this reason, he had no qualms in riding shotgun with me!
Friday, we decided to go do “Hell Hole.” Most of our group of nine had not run that trail. Conditions were absolutely beautiful. About 1½ hours to get to the beginning of the trail from Ice House, we start. The trail seemed mild in the beginning, which some spectacular views of the Reservoir. We were going along great until I did not expect to get stuck between a boulder and a tree! (That can ruin your whole day!) But my fellow Jeepers jumped into action immediately. Pulling me out to some level on the trail, the guys proceeded to diagnose my damage! The front axle had to be removed, the just re-built ball joint, and the universal joint on the passenger side. (I had a spare one of those.) Jim was just taking it all in stride. He decided to go for a walk and explore the waterfalls! He watched in awe as the guys did whatever it was to get me to be able to drive out. We were a good two-thirds of the way into the trail. It took almost three hours, but I got to drive it off the trail and into a spot, so we could continue down to the lake and finally have lunch. We hopped into other jeeps and proceeded down the rest of the way. It’s a very remote trail and we did not encounter others until we reached the bottom. There were a couple of guys who boated over to the spot where we ended up. What a great campground they had and such an easy way to get there! I wanted to “Boat Back” because I knew what it was going to take to get out.
We enjoyed our stop, our lunch, and some even took advantage of the water. But it was getting late and we had a long, long way to get back to the road. Taking it easy and running drag there was just one spot that everyone had a bit of a time getting up and around, Mosquito Hill (as we learned it was called, appropriately so!). They decided it was best for me to be winched up, and all was going fine, until the rear driver side tire hit a rock and popped the tire off the rim! Jim was just taking it all in! Doug who was helping me along here, told me to get my air out and the guys proceeded to fill the tire, after removing a rather large rock that was inside the tire now, and pulling the tire right back on the rim!!!!! WOW! Okay, I was once again moving towards the trail’s end.
After airing up, most were anxious to get back to their rigs, since it was getting to be eight-plus hours since we began this adventure. I decided to go ahead, since I would be going very slow and the two left behind me would certainly catch up. Yeah, well that didn’t happen as planned.
There was a fork in the road and going to the left seemed as though that was the way we had come in. But then it just didn’t look right, so I proceeded to turn around, back to the fork and try the right side! I was so hopeful that this would lead us out! Well as the sun was starting to set, it was time to turn around again and go back to the Y.
All along Jim was trying get a signal! There is NO SIGNAL up there! And of course, no radio signal either! This is now when I was wishing for a satellite radio! It’s now dark. And I’m just not sure of how I am going to get us out! There was a big group campground on the way to the Hell Hole trailhead. I spotted some lights deep into the forest. Surely there would be someone there that could HELP! Thank goodness, there were some guys from the bay area, having a party. They were all so helpful, and one in particular who figured he needed to have me follow him out and get me back on the right road. All along Jim was just taking this all in! I had plenty of water, food, blankets, and reserve gas, so that gave me some peace of mind. But truly wanted to get back to my group. As I followed out my guide about five miles down the road, I hear Doug on the radio, yelling my name! You can only imagine my response!
We were found!!! There were several members out there looking for us and I know they would not have stopped. Making it safely back to camp a little after midnight, and it being a 16-hour day in my jeep, that night’s sleep was heaven! And so, after being in Hell, heaven was a much better alternative.
Lesson learned, when in doubt, stay put!
The next day Jim was ready to go again. But this time unfortunately without me! He rode with Dave and the group took off to do Wentworth to Loon. Jim finally was doing the Rubicon and the kicker was that his dad was one of the engineers who built Loon Lake Dam. I so wish I would have been able to be there when he saw it, but thanks to my fellow members they were able to get him up there! They all came back after the day’s ride to a great barbecue dinner and Kyle made the best dessert and cooked it in our roaring fire.
My sincere gratitude to the members of Wine Country Rock Crawlers for their friendship and guidance and for making Jim so welcomed!
And he wants to go again!
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