On the Trail from Dusk to Dawn
Sometimes adventure randomly calls from out of nowhere. These calls are hard to ignore, especially if your daily driver is offroad ready. I received one of these calls after a Bushwacker sales manager mentioned that he used to take a trail from Henry Hagg Lake to the Tillamook State Forest OHV area.
Hungry for stick time, this sounded like an opportunity to sniff out a defunct trail and unplug for the weekend. I felt comfortable with the challenge since I was familiar with the area, and knew the ride wouldn’t be extreme. The route seemed straightforward, so I figured that if I left after work that I could be in the OHV area (aka Browns Camp) by nightfall.
So on a Friday afternoon I decided to go for it. All I needed was supplies and a navigator. Fortunately I had a volunteer to go with me – so after work we loaded up a 72hr “go-bag”, firewood, food/water, stove, atlas, tent, and sleeping bags. Oh, and a Ruger just in case.
The first road that we tried out of Hagg Lake was Scoggins Valley Rd, which seemed to be the most direct approach. But 10 minutes in we found that it was gated by the lumber company. Luckily we found a second road which had a sign that read: “open to public use weekends only”. This had to be the way to go.
It seemed promising – the path went from asphalt, to gravel, to dirt in a matter of minutes. But we quickly discovered that our 2012 Atlas didn’t account for logging roads. These unexpected trails forked in every direction, and didn’t match our Atlas, GPS, or OHV map. Soon enough the $4.99 dash mounted compass became our best guide.
Rigid light bars save the day, literally.
Night descended upon us which made me realize that our timetable was way off. We still had a couple hours of searching before we could setup camp. Fortunately the Rigid Industries 50″ and 10″ light bars lit the way beautifully. I never once had a problem navigating the terrain in the dark.
Eventually, we found ourselves on a crest with a gate blocking the trail. This had to be the entrance we needed, but a night fog descended down the hill which made it impossible to tell. It seemed as if our only option was to turn around and try somewhere else.
It was then that I noticed that we were down to half a tank, and still hadn’t found a way into Browns Camp. Our options narrowed: we could continue looking for an entrance, turn around and retrace our steps, or setup camp with hope that we could find our way in the morning.
Resolute, we pushed forward since we were right on the border. There were even times when our GPS placed us deep within Browns Camp. But the trails we had found either stopped or looped back out. Frustrated, and with a fog upon us – we decided it was best to setup camp .
I flipped off the Rigid Industries 50″ LED light bar once the fog hit, the reflection was to much with 19,000 raw lumens. But the 10″ E-Series light bar cut through no problem. The E-Series LED mix of flood and direct light helped us find a spur, which is where we stopped for the night.
We dug in with the help of the 10″ LED light bar. Fortunately, it consumes very little power and illuminates very well; which was exactly what we needed. Unfortunately, the ground was rocky, and there were loggers shooting in the distance. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep that well. It was around 5am when we woke to the sounds of chainsaws and felling trees. The lumberjacks were up early Saturday morning, and were close.
Although we woke to a beautiful sight there was no time for admiration. We had to find a way out of this Cascadian wonderland. In a hurry, and to the tune of 2-stroke chainsaws, we packed and continued on with less than a half tank of gas.
Still determined, we scouted ahead until the prospect of running out of gas became very real. We decided that it was time to head home by way of a southbound logging road. Unbeknownst to us it was Scoggins Valley Rd, which was the first route we tried to use the day before. This time we were on the other side of the gate.
Things began to look bleak at a quarter tank and no clear way out. Once again we began to backtrack our way. It was then that we ran into two men surveying the land. We pulled up, obviously lost, and asked if they knew how to get to Browns Camp. One of the men came up, looked at our map and laughed saying that it was all wrong… obviously.
Thankfully they had keys to the gates, and would escort us to the closet entrance. The two men led the way in the their Expedition, and took us to the gate on the crest that we had thought was the entrance to Browns Camp. At least our intuition was right, all we needed was the key. With a smile and a sign of gratitude, we went over the foggy crest and found ourselves at the bottom of Firebreak 5.
This was exactly where we intended to be – 12 hours ago. This would’ve been the perfect spot to setup camp, but the Jeep was low on fuel and had a transfercase that was acting up.
Grateful that we made it, but frustrated and tired – we decided that we had spent our luck and it was time to go home.
Our ride back was quiet. The hum of the Mickey Thompson tires and the occasional crack from the CB broke the silence, but it was pretty obvious that we were ready to call it a day at 8am. Which is exactly what we did.
There were a few things I learned from this trip, and although they seem obvious they were great reminders:
- Bushwacking is exciting, but bring extra gas and accurate maps (plan accordingly)
- A passenger that can spot and navigate is invaluable (bring help)
- Be ready to adapt (stay cool)
- Proper lighting at night is critical if you’re alone (go prepared)
Needless to say, it was a trip i’ll never forget.
Have you ever had a sticky situation on the trail? Tell us what happened to you below: