Gatherings

How to Jump in the Deep End at your First Jeep® Jamboree

After pulling his Jeep® Wrangler’s transfer case into 4-low for the first trail of Jeep® Jamboree USA’s 27th annual Big Bear Jeep® Jamboree in Big Bear Lake, California, Randall “RD” Davis, the lead trail guide, set the pace as 20 more Jeep® SUVs found their way into some of So Cal’s most gorgeous trails. Since 1993, the Big Bear Jeep® Jamboree has been one of the Jamboree’s best kept secrets. With trails dating back to Southern California’s gold rush history, the San Bernardino Mountains provide the perfect terrain for Jeep® Brand’s family of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Trails like Jon Bull, Holcomb Creek, and Gold Mountain make for an epic weekend of exploring gold mines and rock trails.

The Jeep® Jamborees are weekend adventures that start on Thursday as Jeep® 4X4 owners gather at the registration venue. Drivers are then split into color-coded groups based on trail difficulty and how each owner’s vehicle is equipped.

At the Big Bear Jeep® Jamboree, the first-timers’ class, for factory-fresh Jeep® 4X4s, was represented by the Orange and White Groups. You can get away with street tires in this group, but the trails are still technical with surprisingly twisted obstacles that’ll flex the muscles of any Jeep®4X4. Next is Modified, the Green and Yellow Groups, tackling trails with significantly larger obstacles, where a lift, locking axles, and larger tires become something of a prerequisite, along with some body protection at the bumpers and along the rockers for the inevitable clash with terrain. Now, if you’re one of those owners who’s got every bit of kit (or bravery) to tackle Big Bear’s gnarliest trails, Super-Modified (the Blue and Red Groups) is the option for you. Experienced drivers with trail rigs get a treat on those trails, and it’s the best way to see a Jeep® SUV tackling its natural element while on the Jamboree. The teams’ classes are spread throughout the San Bernardino National Forrest, running one trail on Friday and trading routes on Saturday with the other team in the same class.

jeep vehicles gathering in a town
a sign directing jeep vehicles where to go

On the first day, 100 Jeep® SUVs were sorted into six groups based on both the drivers’ experience and their vehicle’s modifications. For many, this is a chance to catch up with a 4×4 family that they only see once a year while others are just dipping their toes into their first off-road adventure. Although the morning starts with coffee and donuts at registration, the buzzing of the crowd suggests that there is no real need for caffeine and sugar. Curious minds crowd around each other’s rides, comparing modifications or learning new tricks. Big Bear Jeep® Jamboree coordinator Randy Stockberger leads a quick safety meeting each morning and then guides lead drivers to a spot just outside of each trailhead to air-down and make final preparations for the dirt.

two men working on a jeep vehicle
engine of a jeep vehicle
checking the tire pressure of a jeep vehicle

Airing down tires is recommended for any off-road adventure. Not only does it help improve the ride on rough roads it increases your tires contact patch and improves grip on loose surfaces.

a jeep vehicle tire slightly deflated

Once aired down, off-road tires become super flexible, which allows them to grip rocks and loose surfaces.

The Red Group quickly started testing their skid plates — steel plates that protect critical drivetrain components from things like rocks and stumps — on Holcomb Creek, after RD expertly tip-toed through the obstacle with little trouble in his modestly-modified, but uber-capable Jeep® Wrangler JK Unlimited.

Always drive within your ability and experience level and consistent with conditions

Rebel Offroad’s Bond Gilmer spots Kennie Cunningham and his bare-bones Jeep® Wrangler Sport. Not even open differentials – which free-spin whichever tire is unloaded or slipping — could stop this base-trim Jeep® Wrangler from tackling the Red Group’s tough trails with just a 2-inch lift and 35-inch tires.

Always drive within your ability and experience level and consistent with conditions

Each team has three guides spread among the pack, a lead, mid-gunner, and tail-gunner. They not only navigate the group through Big Bear’s web of trails, but they act as spotters as the trails get twistier. The key to off-roading is finding the line, or the easiest way for your vehicle to traverse odd terrain. It’s kind of like when you’re hiking and judging which rocks you can step-on and which ones will make you slip and fall. If you climb up-and-over the right stuff, even some of the meanest obstacles are surmounted with ease. Other times, of course, the trail catches you in a trap — and the spotters are there to teach you the best way to flex, crawl, and unstick yourself.

jeep vehicle
jeep vehicle

The guides look for obstacles and teach participants how to navigate them with several things in mind. Many Jeep® 4X4 owners have locking differentials — a traction device that locks the left-and-right wheels together so that they rotate together and transmit torque equally to each wheel so that if one spins, the other continues to receive power. But using them effectively is a bit of an art. Locked-up, they allow all four wheels to work in unison to crawl out of situations, but lockers bind up in sharp corners and widen the turning radius, so guides preach using them sparingly when rock crawling or slogging through muddy terrain. While you’re learning how to exploit all of your Jeep® SUV’s capabilities, the guides also look out for your mechanical well-being. It takes experience to know when to hammer it and when to back off and try again, and the guides bring decades of wheeling wisdom together to get everyone through.

Between obstacles, the CB radio is hot with stories and local factoids about Big Bear, a place with a deep history in the American frontier. Deep in the heart of the gold rush and Native American lands, the region has a rich, but hard-knock history. Some stories are serious, others are a riot of laughs, and all have a folksy campfire tone.

Each day of wheeling ends the way it begins, at the registration lodge, for dinner and final tall-tale trading. Tables are covered in the group colors and teams shout “Viva Green!” and “Righteous Red!” across the hall, hyping each other up throughout the night.

Jeep® Jamborees are essentially wheelcations, vacations on four wheels. A few things make them bucket list experiences for any Jeep® 4X4 enthusiast. First, they’re on outstanding trails that are well-chosen for a healthy challenge at any skill level. Second, the trail guides, most of who started as participants and spectators, are natural teachers who are quick to learn the quirks of each driver and their machine; they’ll let you figure it out while keeping an eye out for the best line with the safest path. And finally, everyone out there is down to earth and willing to lend a hand. While there were no accidents, there was occasional trail damage that required extra hands, and everyone jumped into these situations with tools and expertise to help a fellow participant.

With dozens of Jamborees every year, there are so many opportunities to come out and wheel with us!


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