Bee Run (Down the Cheat Cache - Part III...)

By the Cheat

6/2/07

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Waypoints

Update: 6/9/07

 

Hair of the Dog?

Prologue

It had been almost a year since we last went down to try the Down the Cheat Cache.  I had some time and decided to go down and try this one again.  So I rounded up the kids and we packed three day packs with lots of water, extra snacks, walkie-talkies, and of course the camera and other stuff.  With the top down and half-doors on, we aired down in the driveway, disconnected and hit the road.

When Ted and I went down to try this one the first time, we got crossed up thinking we could take a trail that lead along the side of the canyon and reach the cache without climbing straight up.  That didn't work well for us and we had quite an adventure.  By the time we got back to the Jeep, we had run out of time to search for the cache.

Next, we went down just for a family outing.  This trip was routine but reminded me how I have become accustomed to these types of trails.  Not everyone that came with us on that trip was as comfortable on the way in as I was.  Still, we had a nice time at the Cheat River and made it home just fine.

The road down is definitely not for beginner Jeepers. But with everything I have done to my Jeep, and with some of the equipment that I carry along, the risk is pretty low.   Still it is always possible to have a mechanical failure, to encounter unexpected terrain issues, or to get caught in bad weather.  I would not recommend this trail to beginners or those with stock vehicles.  And for anyone going down, I would recommend bringing recovery gear - Hi-Lift Jack, tow straps, and mounted tow pointsHeavy duty tires are strongly recommended because of the sharp rocks all the way down and several spots where sidewalls are exposed to rough surfaces.

Trail

In short, this is a great entry level trail for someone with some off-road experience and a vehicle that has been prepared for off-road driving as described above.  So I was looking forward to the modest challenges that this trail has to offer as well as the opportunity to find the geocache too.  Pretty soon we had driven out to the trail head.

At the Trail Head

Since I had already aired down and disconnected, we just stopped for a quick picture and then started down the trail.  Pretty soon we reached the little crossing.  I took a couple more pictures. 

One of several basic crossings

Ted at the Jeep

The crossing as can be seen from the pictures above is uncomplicated and navigable with a stock vehicle.  We continued down the trail.  Eventually we came to the spot where the hillside has slipped downhill to create a gully.  Crossing of this part of the trail would be risky without some experience and a properly equipped vehicle.  The photos below flatten the perspective and do not reveal the deep, off-camber nature of the area and should not be interpreted as an exaggeration on my part.  ATV riders we spoke to later in the day told us they avoid this section now.  That says a lot as ATV's often can handle terrain not possible with larger vehicles...

Ted at a large slip in the trail

It appears worse than last year, and a bypass has developed to go around it.  In reality the bypass is not much better than the main trail.  I stopped to take some more pictures and handed the camera off to Ted to make a movie of my crossing the slip.

Movie: MOV05703.MPG Navigating The Slip
Movie (7.3M)

I didn't find the traverse of the slip to be terribly difficult though you can see that I did have to compensate coming out of the gully by cutting the wheels to the left more than seems necessary to keep the Jeep up and away from the log on the right.  That was intuitive from my experience with this sort of terrain.  My intuition about driving was to run out later in the day as will be shown...  We stopped again and Tomi took a picture after we had made it across the slipped area.

Tom taking a break

Me and Ted after crossing the slip

The rest of the trip down the trail was pleasant and uneventful to the extent that the terrain was much as it was last year.  There were no obstacles that caused trouble.  Finally we reached the bottom of this 1.5 mile trail.  We drove down to the side of the Cheat River to take a quick break before heading off in search of the cache.

By the Cheat

By the Cheat

We got out and walked around looking for snakes and finding none.  I had trimmed a piece of fallen branch from the riverbank so we could get down and back up more easily.  Once we'd walked around some we went back to the Jeep and headed back up the bank.  That's when all reason failed me. 

I had thought I would park right here and we would walk the rest of the way to the cache.  But there was another couple hundred yards before the trail necked down to ATV-width so I decided to drive that far.  When I got back up on the river bank I saw the muddy stretch of trail.  Thinking I had driven through before, I put my front wheels in and started to easy ahead.  That was a mistake.

I had in fact never driven through this before.  Each time we'd come down I had gone around it using the well-worn bypass that has developed.  Though there is a rocky section where it rejoins the trail, it presents no problems for us.  I should have recalled this and repeated my earlier wisdom.  Instead, the back wheels dropped into the muddy stretch and we got stuck.

In the Mud Hole - Click to Enlarge the miseryIn the Mud Hole - Click to Enlarge

Feeling a bit too smug, I just put the Jeep in reverse and tried to back out.  How hard could it be?  I was one Jeep-length in and it should be easy right?  No.  There was some sort of shelf that we had dropped off and we were not backing up.  I tried a little harder to go forward, even to climb the bank of the hole.  That didn't work either.

Water was pouring in through the bottom of the door.  Within a minute the left side of the Jeep floor was flooded with dark brown muddy water.  We were going to have to use the winch to get out.  We got out and I retrieved the winch remote to start that process.  It was then that I realized that while I did have the winch remote, I had left the winch kit behind.  That meant I did not have my snatch block and tree saver.  I decided to use a tow strap for a tree saver and did have an extra d-shackle to attach the winch cable to the strap.

But the winch was not working!  The lever was movable but the gears would not engage and I could not pay out the line in free-spool or engaged mode.  In short, the winch was not going to be of any use.  My spirits sunk measurably as I contemplated my options.   What started out as a minor blip in the day was shaping up to be bigger problem.

Let's review:

  • traveling alone (no other vehicles)

  • no winch kit or tools (perhaps to fix winch...)

  • mechanical failure (winch)

  • mental failure (driver - that would be me)

Got the picture?  See Four-Wheeling For Dummies, Chapter 1...

On the positive side I reasoned that I had:

  • Hi-Lift Jack

  • Tow Straps

  • plenty of d-shackles

  • knowledge to use Hi-Lift as come-along

  • plenty of food and water (to fuel what would be a very strenuous effort, jacking the Jeep out an inch at a time...)

As I accepted the minor blessing that lie ahead of us, a group of ATV-drivers came on the scene.  I added that to the list of blessings we counted on our side.  I also felt some embarrassment for my situation and the useless device bolted to my front bumper.

I was pleased to accept help from the folks that arrived on the scene.  First  we tried pulling out the winch cable but discovered then that the gears would not engage so the winch would run but not spool cable (in or out).  I set that option aside for the rest of the day.  Next we tried towing the Jeep out backwards with a tow strap attached to first one, then two ATV's and me powering the Jeep.  That didn't work.  Then we tried it from the front.  That didn't work either.

At this point The cockpit was full of mud from the water that leaked in the door and from the front tires throwing mud and water when we tried to get out of the hole.  It was not pretty.  Everything we had brought with us and the seats and many overhead items were caked with dripping mud.  If it had not been for the bikini top and half-doors, it would have been even worse (though that is hard for me to imagine...).

The Mud Hole in the Jeep

So I got the Hi-Lift out and started jacking the front of the vehicle.  That was not making much difference.  All that resulted was that I ended up sinking down to my waist in the water and ruining my clothes and getting everything in my pockets soaked.  The pictures below were taken before I went "swimming", while I was still standing on the crown of the road...

Trying the Hi-Lift
Trying the Hi-Lift

Then we tried rocking the Jeep using the rack as a grip.  With only two guys rocking we didn't have any luck.  So took the Hi-Lift and rigged it to use as a come-along.  The problem now was that I didn't have my chain, winch bag, or tools.  So all I could do was use one strap as a tree saver, and another to attach to the Jeep, with a d-shackle on each end to attached the strap to the bumper tab and the jaw of the jack.  I started jacking.  The strap started stretching.  I expected this and anticipated it would stretch considerable before moving the Jeep or failing.  The jeep did move but it was in fractions of an inch.  This would be dangerous and at best a very slow process.

Another group of ATV riders arrived on the scene.  One of the first group had gone back out while I was working and either retrieved these or had told them what was happening.  Several ATV's had winches but of course they are the much smaller ATV variety and even if they had the capacity, the ATV's are so light they'd drag themselves to the Jeep rather than drag the Jeep out.

One of this new group suggested rocking the Jeep.  It sounded like a better option than using the H-Lift for hours and with more hands, promised better success than last time.  So we disconnected the Hi-Lift and gave it a try.  And it worked!  At first I just traveled back and forth a few feet.  Then I got past an obstruction up front and climbed out of the hole I was in.  I drove to the end of the mud and solid ground and stopped there.  What a relief!  Check the socks on the foot in the picture below - those were white socks when we left home! Note how they have become color-coordinated with the mud on the Jeep.

Out of the Mud Hole
Out of the Mud Hole

I searched for an found the removable plugs in the floor and drained some of the water out while I composed myself.  Most of the ATV riders saddled up and moved on.  Two vehicles with three people stayed behind and watched us.  I grabbed all our stuff and threw it on the roof rack while I dug down to the floor on the passenger side.  I drained the floor though the back seat floor plugs are not easily removed so a lot of water remained in the vehicle for the ride home.

I put most everything back in the Jeep and we said Thank You to the folks who had stayed behind.  I took a couple pictures of them and they took a couple pictures of us.

Part of Our Recovery Team
Part of Our Recovery Team

 

Our Gang and the Mud Rover
Our Crew and the Mud Machine

 

We decided not to attempt the cache.  The kids just wanted to get home, I was tired from all the effort expended and I didn't want to tempt fate by waiting to let something in the Jeep fail before we reached home.  Fortunately the drive up to pavement went well, although the CD-player started reporting error codes and would not play the CD that had worked all day to that point.  It may have ingested something, and it would be no surprise if it did.

When we got to the near-end of the trail we came upon three young men walking towards pavement.  They flagged us down and asked whether or not they would be able to drive down the trail.  So I asked some questions about their vehicle and deduced it was a stock Cherokee.  I suggested they not attempt it primarily because of the slip in the trail and their likelihood of problems, if not there, then as a result of driving street tires on the sharp rock all the way down.  They jumped on my back bumper and hitched a ride back up the trail the last several hundred yards and backed their Cherokee out to pavement.

There, we encountered a family in a Liberty.  They had an inflatable boat on the roof and asked if they could make it down the trail...  Again, there were street tires, no recovery gear that I could see, the small children, etc.  I would have thought the appearance of my vehicle would have been enough but I explained the same things again and advised they not attempt it.  I don't know if they took my advice because we headed down the road.  I hope they listened...

Epilogue

When we got home, I took some more pictures of the mess I made for myself, very thankful to be standing in my own driveway with everything more or less in one piece.

I got home around 4:40PM and didn't come in the house until about 10:00PM.  That stretch of time was spent removing all the cargo from the Jeep, all the carpeting, seats (front and rear), subwoofer (which was about 1-inch above the high-water line...) and everything else including the permanent drains in the floor.  I washed several gallons of muddy water and several pounds of mud out of the passenger compartment.  Then I had to clean the driveway.

What color was it?

I emptied all the knapsacks and other bags of their contents (which were remarkably clean and dry inside) and spent time cleaning all the bags.  In short, every last thing we had was covered with mud and needed to be removed.

The next morning I did a surgical scrub of the Jeep interior and rented a carpet/upholstery cleaning device - basically a wet-vacuum with the capability to flush cleaner through the fabric and suck out the cleaner and dirt under heavy vacuum.  That took all day, between renting the device, working, then returning the device when it stopped working in exchange for another.

To say that I dislike mud would be an understatement.  I still have another two days work to get the Jeep restored to operation; need to send the winch out for service; and need to troubleshoot my stereo to see if that too will be getting service or replacement.

In spite of it all, we did have a good time.  I shall return!

 

 

6/9/07

Aftermath

More Mud Details

Small Pool

To give an idea of the impact that one minor lapse of attention can have, even after getting out of the mud hole and getting home safely, I have enumerated all the things that had to be done in order to restore the Jeep and contents to the condition before getting stuck.  This trip into the mud is far from our usual activity.  We never go looking for mud, avoid it at every turn, and would never think of making mud a destination. 

If this Jeep were completely stripped inside and out, and was properly built for mud, things would be much different.  But this Jeep is a daily driver and creature comforts are a big part of how it is laid out.  Here then is what lies ahead if you go topless into a mud hole.  A conservative estimate of time spent on the clean-up operation suggests I have spent nearly 40 hours so far, and have another 10 or 20 hours ahead to take care of a few follow-up items.  That's a pretty lousy fun-to-work ratio.  In terms of cost, it probably approaches $500 in parts and repairs, not taking into account all the labor and the warrantee service for the winch.  A pretty high ticket for one afternoon trip in the woods.

Overview

I spent all evening on 6/2/07 trying to get the Jeep clean.  The mud had gotten into most everything inside the Jeep because the windows were off and I was running the half doors.  When I tried to power out of the mud hole, the front right tire slung muddy water into the cab.  Here's a list of what the muddy water landed on:

  • CD Cases (2) with approximately 150 CD's inside

  • Camera case with Camera inside

  • Electronics Case with power inverter, and various wires

  • Knap sacks (3)

  • emergency blanket rolls (2)

  • coolers

  • gloves

  • seats

  • carpet

  • roll bar padding

  • tweeters

  • subwoofer

In short, this trip into the mud was quite a disaster.  I don't know why people seek it out.  It's so damaging.  Since it's a moot point I set aside my frustration and got to work cleaning up the mess.

Seats and Carpet

Slathered in Mud

I completely removed the seats and carpeting and washed the thick mud off with a garden hose.  I scoured them to get as much off as possible.  The next day I went to Lowe's and rented a Rug Doctor with upholstery attachment and used it to deep-clean the carpets and seats.  This took the better part of Sunday (6/3/07) and Monday evening.  I set them aside to dry for a couple days.

When I finished cleaning the seats and carpet, I spent some time cleaning out the seat frame and sliders to get all the mud out and then to lubricate all the moving parts with spray-in lithium grease.  Without a doubt, the seat mechanisms would rust and stop working if I didn't.  This took another couple hours as I was very thorough. 

Rack

The roof rack was a mess.  It got sprayed with thrown mud and water and repeated attempts to hose it off didn't work.  That meant hand-washing each rail with a brush or cloth to get the mud off.  I also had to clean off the storage containers and jack case.

Jack

The Hi-Lift jack saw some use.  Indeed, if we had been alone, it would have been the only thing left offering hope of self recovery.  Since it got wet and muddy, it needed to be cleaned and lubricated before being stored again so that next time we need it, it will be ready.

Body

While I had the seats and carpets out I inspected the floor for any signs of damage.  This meant first cleaning all the mud out of all the crevices.  I put plastic over the dash area and hosed out the Jeep interior.  I had removed the floor plugs on Saturday so the water drained out of the floor pretty well.  I noted one problem area with some surface rust from condensation on the passenger-side floor. 

Surface rust on Passenger footwell
 

To combat this I purchased a POR-15 kit and followed the instructions to first clean the metal and surrounding area, apply a metal prep to neutralize the rust, then finally to paint the floor with POR-15.  The write up with pictures is located here.

Stereo

The jury was out on my head unit.  The symptoms were not good.  On the way out of the woods the stereo started reporting Error 11 codes.  The manual says this is because of either dirty or bad CD's or an electrical problem.  All the counter measures recommended did not work.  So it went in for service.  I didn't know if this was related or not.  The unit didn't get wet directly.  And the CD that was in the unit played the entire time we were on the trail up until it's failure on the way out.  It is possible that something found it's way in there, but I am not sure it was because of the mud hole.  Still, the timing is suspicious...

I removed the unit from the Jeep.  I sent it out for service.  The problem was that a piece of the one of the CD storage cases (a die-cut-out for the hole in the CD sleeve) found its way into the inside of the CD player!  Clearly, this was not a problem caused by the mud encounter.  While the unit was out of the dash, I installed an XM Radio.

CD Cases

I removed each and every CD stored in two cases (about 150 CD's, carefully wiped those that had anything on them (very few) and set the CD's aside in one of those CD-storage cases that blank CD's come in.  Then I cleaned each compartment of both cases.  This took a couple hours.  I will probably replace the CD storage case anyway because the zipper is failing, the binding of the storage slots is coming apart, and I don't think it's possible to get all the dirt out of them.  Fortunately most of my CD's are duplicates and the originals are stored at the house (so that they don't get spoiled...)  I have about 10 or 20 CD's that have to be made over again.  That's not too bad, especially since some of those were already bad before this little activity...  I ended up purchasing a new CD case that was more robust and holds more CD's and put all my CD's into it.

Emergency Brake

The emergency brake is seized.  I ordered a cable from Jeff to fix this.  I took his advice and ordered the Rubicon cable as he has found that the Teraflex cables are not as good.

Interior Panels

I spent several hours wiping the various interior panels down with a damp rag.  It was like the directions on the back of a shampoo bottle that very simply read: "Lather, Rinse, Repeat".  Every single spot had mud on it.  Some areas were worse than others but it all required care and attention.  A couple more hours of cleaning.

Dash and Other Electrical

I was very fortunate that all the dash and under dash components, as best I can tell from close inspection, escaped submersion or water/mud splash contact.  The high watermark on the driver's side was a diagonal from the bottom of the door opening to the bottom of the transmission hump.  The edge of the OBD-II connector just barely got wet and perhaps the cover of the courtesy light on the drivers side, but everything else was high and dry.  That was a relief in light of all the other carnage.

Camera

Another possible casualty was my digital camera.  I handed it out to Ted as soon as I saw that things were getting messy and it appears to work properly, but a single white line running across the preview screen appeared the next day after this trip.  I don't know if it is a coincidence or not, but this mud sure is shaping up like a WV Bermuda Triangle for me.

Engine Compartment

During the time we were in the mud hole, the cooling fan was just barely touching the water and making some noise because of it.  But it did not bend and did not make contact with the radiator or anything else under the hood. 

Engine CompartmentEngine CompartmentEngine CompartmentEngine CompartmentEngine CompartmentEngine Compartment

It did a lot of splashing so I did carefully rinse the engine and ancillary components.  It will require another session with rags and wiping of individual components to get it really clean.  Fortunately the critical moving parts are all located on the other side of the engine and were well up out of harms way during the whole mess.

Chassis/Suspension

A great deal of mud made its way into the frame and reinforcing members of the body.  I spent several hours flushing each area several times and fishing out the debris that had gotten inside.  I wanted to make sure that no moisture traps remained to cause premature rusting of the frame or body.  This was tedious work.  Several times I thought I was done only to dislodge more junk that required flushing the compartment again.

Brakes

The disc brakes (front and rear) were relatively easy to clean but a surprising amount of mud and debris was rinsed out.  I will have to remove the wheels and tires to be sure that I have gotten it all.

Gas Tank Skid Plate

The gas tank skid plate has trapped a large amount of mud.  It has drain holes but they're plugged.  I shall have to remove it to get it clean.  I will take that opportunity to treat it to some POR-15.

Winch Plate

As part of removing the winch to be sent out for service, I removed the winch plate.  The underside powder coating had failed.

Winch Plate Corrosion

Topside of Winch Plate
Front of Winch Plate

Driving Light Bracket

Bumper area with winch plate removed

I scraped the scale and rust off and followed the same steps to prep and paint it with POR-15 as the other areas.  It came out so well I will probably follow the recommendations for refinishing the entire winch plate using POR-15 products and topcoats that do not suffer UV-graying.

Winch

The winch problems became apparent when I tried to recover the Jeep from the mud hole.  As such they were not caused by the mud, but the failed winch certainly complicated the recovery.  When I got it removed from the Jeep, I had to free the cable that had pulled tight through a layer of cable.  Since I had already taken off the housing cover to see if I could free the spool, I first had to reassemble the ring gear and planetary gears, etc.  In order to do that I had to immerse them all in parts cleaner to get the old grease out, then put some assembly lube on them so that when I put them back together they didn't form one big seized mess.  This took several hours as I used a toothbrush to clean each individual part in the parts cleaning solution before putting new lube on them.

Once reassembled, I reattached the winch to the winch plate backwards, and the winch assembly to the front bumper.  Then I positioned the Jeep with the cable run to a large tree.  I carefully backed up just enough to put tension on the cable and then an inch or three more to pull the pinched cable free.  Then I removed the winch plate from the Jeep, and the winch from the winch plate.  Then I was able to unspool the cable, one wrap at a time until all 125 feet of cable had been removed.  This was so I could ship the winch to Warn for repair.  By removing the cable I would save some money on shipping - 125 feet of cable is quite heavy!

Top

The full soft top had been carefully folded and stored on the rear deck of the Jeep.  Still, it did not escape the mud that was thrown during the recovery operation.  There were some heavy deposits of mud that I had to wash off which meant partially disassembling the top, after removing it from the Jeep.  After I finished cleaning the top I reinstalled it on the Jeep.  With pretty much everything inside cleaned up, it would no longer prevent easy access to the interior.

Add-a-Trunk

Post-Trauma Mud Zone

The trunk panel was removed in order to remove the carpeting and to do the best job cleaning.  In doing so I discovered a couple of the well nuts had deteriorated enough that they would not go back together, so I replaced them

Cargo

Anyone who has read this site well will know that I travel with a considerable amount of gear.  This part of the clean-up was perhaps the most tedious.  This mud hole managed to seep into every item I carried onboard.  I had to hand-clean or wash the following items:

  • knap sacks (3)

  • emergency blanket rolls and covers (2)

  • foul weather coat

  • spare wool hats (2)

  • baseball caps (3)

  • picnic blanket

  • hand warmers

  • Oasis Deflators (leather case, deflators, tire pressure gauge)

  • on-door storage pouches (2)

  • sunscreen and bug sprays

  • jumper cables and canvas tool wrap

  • factory jack, extension and lug wrench

  • personal first aid kit

  • spare gas

  • spare steering fluid

  • emergency john

  • fuse and bulb supply

  • mini-mag lites

  • compass

  • CD wallet

  • Garage remotes (2)

  • GPSr brackets and wiring

  • CB

  • air equipment (chucks etc)

 

Summary

We spent less than an hour stuck in the mud, but the clean-up has taken several full days to complete.  I spent four Saturday and Sundays working the various areas.  I think if one were to add up the labor, an insurance company might well consider the Jeep totaled, even though mechanically it's just fine.  But the labor to get it cleaned up was staggering.

The damage that could no be fixed by cleaning includes the following:

  • Stereo Head Unit

  • Digital Camera

  • Tweeter

  • Emergency Brake Cable

I am hoping that is the extent of the damage...


Update 6/23/07

I'm finally starting to feel like I have caught up with all the issues created by this trip.  The clean up is done.  I still need to swap out the emergency brake cable, but the interior is back to "normal".

Cleaned up and installed Front Seats

Cleaned and installed Rear Seat

Cleaned Rear floor carpet and seat

Compare this image below to what it looked like right after the mud hole...

Cleaned-up front seating area

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