Cliff Hanger
CM2004 - Cliff Hanger

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Cliff Hanger

It must have been fate. Jason and I were confirmed for the Moab Rim trail on Saturday, the third day of "Official" Cruise Moab trail runs. Neither of us had run that trail and we were both excited, if not apprehensive, about the off-camber climbs and 1000 foot drop-offs.

We got up early, fixed our lunches and checked our rigs. As we headed out of the Slickrock Campground I asked Jason, what CB channel are we using today and where are we meeting? Jason checked the schedule and said, "We're on Channel 8, meeting at Swaney Park". Good enough for me and off we went to the line up.

We quickly found Swaney Park soon other cruisers started showing up. We chatted with Jeremiah Profitt, the trail leader, and met the other participants. This was the third day of trail runs and everyone was acting pretty casual. We didn't think too much about the fact that we were driving the only 80 Series Cruisers (and neither did the others) or that most of the rigs sported at least 38-inch tires. By now, we were used to seeing the Profitt Cruiser crew's 2.5 ton Rockwell axles and 44s. Nor was there any comfort to be found in the Texan or the Cascade Cruisers crowd, all these guys seem to be running BIG rigs with BIG tires. Finally, I saw a familiar sprung under FJ40 with smaller tires but quickly realized it was Phil Pasaiak, a professional rock crawler who competes in the CalRocks rock crawling championships. Despite this extremely capable line-up of cruisers and drivers, Jason and I were confident our "almost stock" 80s were up to the challenge.

After a short drive from downtown Moab we were at the trail head. It wasn't like the description I had read about in Charles Wells' book but the obstacles started quick and hard leaving little time to think about it. Right off the bat we were dropping off a series of steep rock ledges and heading into a creek. I was near the front of the line and came to a abrupt stop when I reached the creek. I couldn't see the trail ahead due to the thick vegetation and trees. I could only heard the unmistakable sounds of metal on rock and the sweet chirps of locked tires burning rubber. Unfortunately, I was stopped IN the creek, with Jason right on my tail, so I chose to wait patiently rather than jump out into the water so I could see what all the commotion was about.

It turned out to be the first of several big ledges. Soon it was my turn and with no fear I gave it an aggressive try. No joy on the first attempt but with a rock tossed under my tire I went right up the second time. It wouldn't be the last time my 33-inch MTRs needed a boost on the large ledges this trail dished up.

By now, we were only a few hundred yards into the trail and it was already as tough as any 4+ trail I'd seen in Moab.

After the big ledge, the trail climbed quickly from the creek and soon we were at another interesting obstacle. It required climbing up onto a large boulder leading to some ledges and a hard off-camber turn. As luck would have it, there was a mud puddle midway through to slick up your tires. It wasn't as bad as it looked and both the 80 Series walked right up. The "hardcore" guys took much more difficult lines and put on quite a show. This included a gentle "flop" by a yellow mini and an impressive climb up a 5 foot vertical ledge by an orange tiger stripped buggy. Phil put on quite a show by putting his cruiser very close to a body panel eating overhang.

I guess it was somewhere around this point I realized we were not on the Moab Rim trail. My good friend Jason had mistakenly directed us to the Cliff Hanger line-up early that morning. It certainly didn't bother me as Cliff Hanger was on my list of "must do" trails.

One of the unique things about Cliff Hanger is it's a popular mountain biking trail. We encountered dozens of mountain bikers as we worked our way toward the top of this out and back trail. That's right, eventually we would turn around and face every obstacle in the reverse direction.

I really enjoyed the expressions and comments I received from the mountain bikers. This trail was gnarly and coming upon a stockish 80 Series Land Cruiser after passing all the extreme rock buggies in our group had to be quite a surprise for these "civilians". I had fun responding to their shock by either shrugging it off as no big deal or playing an oblivious "Mr Magoo" out for a scenic drive. Several of them could not believe their eyes and would hang around to see the action at the most difficult spots. I couldn't really blame them as I was pretty impressed myself. The 80 Series cruisers ROCK!

One of the most gnarly spots on Cliff Hanger has to be the namesake obstacle. When we reached the narrow shelf road and looked at the huge step Jeremiah reminded us that whoever went down would have to drive back up. This was a very intimidating piece of trail and several people decided to take an early lunch. I chose to continue on to visit the observation point at the end of th trail. Not that the view from the shelf road wasn't impressive.

As usual going down was fairly easy - as long as you kept your eyes from looking toward the abyss immediately outside your driver's door. Once down, we quickly made it to the lookout for lunch. The way back seemed even quicker and soon I was staring at the huge step on the narrow shelf. It was at least a 1000 feet to the valley floor. I found it much more nerve racking to be walking around outside rather than in the drivers seat. Now that's confidence in your rig!

The climb up the step went well. I tested my sliders and rear control arm mounts as I tried the infamous "Moab Bump" in an attempt to get the rear tires up the ledge. Once again, it took a couple of well placed rocks to get my puny 33's started up the near vertical face. Still, I'm proud to say I didn't need a strap although I was much more comfortable knowing Charles Kim and his big FJ40 were positioned in front of me should the need arise.

Once the adrenaline rush of the shelf road had passed we continued down the hill toward the trailhead. We still had to face the same difficult spots we passed on the way up.

Cliff Hanger is a great trail with awesome scenery and plenty of technical obstacles. I was definitely surprised by the difficulty of the obstacles.

Contact: Jim Brantley