THREE GENERATIONS of Smiths, left to right, Patti Smith, mark Smith and Sadie Smith. Democrat photo by Rebecca Murphy


60th Jamboree: Adventure worth experiencing

By From page A1 | August 08, 2012

Despite a horrific accident July 28 that ultimately claimed the leg of a young woman and more than 75 percent of her skin to burns, the 60th anniversary of the Jeepers Jamboree was an adventure worth experiencing. The accident itself was responded to by sheriff’s deputies from main camp; rock rollers of the Jamboree; numerous trained firefighters, who were participants and volunteers; and the Jamboree committee themselves.

The three injured parties were immediately cared for and gingerly transported — two were physically carried or taken by Jeep trailer to Observation Point on the north side of Rubicon Springs where they were picked up by a Cal Star helicopter and one was picked up by Care Flight out of Reno in main camp. Everyone involved worked vigorously to help get the injured out and keep the remaining participants calm and focused. Many compliments go to the Jamboree committee members and their assistants in their immediate action.

In speaking with former-Jamboree committee president, Danny Mainwaring, in the 60 years that the Jamboree has existed, there have been only three major accidents -—two on Cadillac Hill (this being No. 2) and one in main camp where a foreign journalist walked into the back rotor of the helicopter. A pretty good track record for a sport which most definitely could be considered dangerous — like rock climbing or backcountry skiing.

Drivers young and old have “tread lightly” since the 1800s along the historical Rubicon Trail, a county road that mingles approximately 20 miles between U.S. Forest Service land and private property from Loon Lake in the southwest to Homewood in the northeast. Originally a Washoe Indian trade route to the Maidu living on the Divide, the route also was used by the Washoe fleeing from a Paiute invasion in the Carson Valley. While many found refuge around Markleeville and along the Rubicon Trail, others continued through to the Divide where the Maidu had set up a refugee camp on Traverse Creek.

Patience are learned on the Rubicon

Although having traversed the Rubicon Trail during the Jamboree for more than 15 years, this year’s major lesson was that no matter how one’s rig is built, knowing one’s vehicle and its limitations, along with off-road driving experience, are of the utmost importance. Only one small power steering issue befuddled our team going in. Bruce and Claudia of provided the necessary expertise to get us back on the trail for our late arrival Thursday evening around 9 p.m. Others breaking down in front of us or those just having trouble with certain areas of the trail contributed to an overdue ETA.

Met at the entrance to Rubicon Springs by Danielle of Varozza 4×4 Outfitters in Diamond Springs, we were told that dinner was hot and we could find a place to camp after getting something to eat. There were still nearly 50 Jeeps behind us, some of which didn’t arrive in camp until after midnight.

Passengers Cody Smith and Chelsea Esposito were great sports — no whining, lots of help as Cody learned the ropes to “building a road” quickly, and plenty of good conversation. Chelsea is the daughter of Mountain Democrat and Gazette Publisher Richard Esposito.

The trail was very challenging this year, but with today’s technology most vehicles are very capable. Tires as large as 35-inches and up rolled over fairly large obstacles (of which there are many, boulders sometimes the size of a Smart car) without much hindrance, nearly leaving the driver and passengers to just “go along for the ride.”

A near stock CJ5 Renegade II with 31-inch tires keeps the knowing driver’s eyes on the road picking the best path possible for its comparable tiny size. This particular CJ5 had four people, their gear (sleeping bags, tents, pads and clothing), and some heavy liquid weight along with a few snacks that were totally extraneous.

Joys of the Jamboree

One of the joys of the Jamboree is the food provided for the participants. Three square meals each day included a hearty breakfast of eggs, hash browns, fruit and pancakes. On this trip, Jamboree rock rollers were awoken early one morning to cook omelets for the hungry campers, while others enjoyed a “modified” eggs Benedict. Lunch was a chicken sandwich or burger along with pasta salad and fruit; and dinner included some kind of meat or pasta (Saturday is always a steak dinner with a shrimp cocktail appetizer and the choice of red or white wine), salad and fruit.

Lemonade, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and cool purified water provided the liquids to replenish many parched people.

Musical entertainment was provided during the dinner hours by Papa Blues with Eric Hill on saxophone and harmonica, and Rick Hussong on acoustic steel guitar, both on vocals. The evening entertainment for three nights running was Whiskey Dawn, two members of which were heading out to Nashville on Tuesday to begin another musical endeavor in the heart of country music.

The Springs was cool, refreshing and full of people just loving to hang out for the weekend. Music filled the air from nearby “boom boxes” and the Rubicon River gurgled its way through the woods and along the granite slab as it flowed toward Hell Hole Reservoir.

More limitations and putting out fire

The nine-mile trail going into Rubicon Springs is long and dusty. Most of the time, with such a large group of 400-600 Jeeps, is taken up waiting for each vehicle to pass various difficult spots on the route. The most strenuous spots, in fact, are named for a variety of longtime organizers and supporters – Walker’s Rock, Arnold’s Rock, Chappie’s Rock, and V-rock and Morris Rock on Cadillac Hill going out the other side. And then there’s the trail itself with the Slab, Big Sluice Box and the mud hole, which became an obstacle primarily for those leaving on Sunday going out the way of arrival via Loon Lake. (When the Forest Service closed Cadillac Hill due to the small wildland fire started by the vehicle accident, a variety of larger vehicles capable of traversing the Big Sluice “backwards” managed to “escape” on the official last day of the four-day trip.)

The rest of the four-day participants were “forced” to stay an extra day while the small fire was tended to by a helicopter water drop and a Forest Service firefighting hand crew.

The firefighting crew, all young men and some on their first seasonal summer job, had a 1,000-foot hose and generator pumping water uphill to the vehicle crash site, where they were cooling down hot spots and felling smoldering snags overhanging the road. In talking with them, they said they had no idea there were so many people in the Springs.

While waiting in line for dinner Saturday evening, participants first became aware of a problem as they observed the sheriff’s patrol unit exit camp with lights flashing. The next thing that prompted the awareness of an issue was Jamboree volunteers grabbing shovels and running toward the west end of camp. Unbeknownst to the rest of the participants in main camp, one vehicle with three Jamboree participants had ventured off to Cadillac Hill and had become the focus of the emergency.

Cadillac Hill starts a 12-mile route out of Rubicon Springs to Homewood in Placer County. A few tough spots still remained after clearing the steep uphill climb. This year, a room in Truckee after a very long day provided the respite needed to continue home Tuesday.

60th anniversary guests

Guests flown in for the 60th anniversary Jeepers Jamboree included original Jamboree committee member and organizer Mark Smith and Danno Raffetto, who also helped get the event off the ground in the 1950s. Raffetto was quick to say that he did not make the first couple of Jamborees, but was there from 1955 on.

Smith posed for a photograph with two of his family members for a three-generation portrait of Jamboree participants and property owners of Rubicon Springs. With him are his daughter, Patti, and granddaughter, Sadie, who drove in her mother, Michelle, and stepfather, Art. Patti helps set up the Rotary Ice Cream Parlor, flying in a day earlier than the drivers who haul in equipment for the delicious delight unexpected in the outback.

Worthy additions

Two of the most appreciated additions to this year’s annual event were the sink in main camp where participants could use actual running water and soap to wash their hands, and the “air” at the end of the trail in Homewood where tires could be “aired up” for street legal purposes. Thanks to Lacey Stiles with Jeepers Jamboree for asking a couple of local young men to provide the air service.

Thanks also to the American Legion Post No. 119 and the Growlersburg VFW Post No. 9241 for providing food services. Breakfast and lunch were handed out at the beginning of the trail, with the much enjoyed chipped beef sandwich at Observation Point on the way out and served by Jamboree committee directors.

And, of course, much gratitude to the Jamboree committee and the participants of this historic trip that make it possible to traverse the backcountry in a sane and united group.

All-in-all it was a trip worth remembering.

Rebecca Murphy

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