“Dad, I think something’s wrong with Jake’s wheels”
That came out of my daughters mouth while helping me spot for my friends FJ going up Rose Garden Hill in Moab. At first, I dismissed it as the inexperienced eyes of 15 year old… Then I looked more closely at what she was seeing from the front of the truck.
Jake was trying to get his 2014 FJ into position to help winch my 2010 4Runner off giant boulder that had left me high centered. (In hindsight, I should have had him spotting me on the way up, it might have saved us this whole situation! ) The road halfway up the hill had been a smattering of loose boulders and a few rock shelves. Rose Garden is rated a 4 on the trail map… Which is an aggressive number. The people I know that have been there thought I should have no problem tackling it with an end goal of getting to “Top of the world” for the iconic photo opportunity.
The route to Rose Garden Hill takes some serious time. We started travelling the Kokopelli Trail from Sand Flats about 9AM and went all the way around the south/east side of Moab to get to this point. It’s actually an amazing change of terrain and conditions in the short span of a few hours. Orange Desert to green mountainside in the span of an hour. At about 11 we ran across another group of pre-FJ Summit FJ’s on the trail… The other FJ crew was bottled behind a herd of cattle and we could see them turn around to avoid the traffic jam. With the exception of one truck later in the day… That group of trucks were last vehicles we saw for the rest of the day!
Jakes truck was in a ditch of big rocks. I noticed the camber looking a little off on the drivers front wheel while Jake was turning the steering wheel. The bottom side of the tire was pushing out and the top was really angled underneath the wheel well. I held up my hand and told Jake to stop… Something was wrong! My kid was right!
When we ducked down to take a look… It was pretty grim. The upper control arm was popped over the tire and grease was smeared everywhere. The lower control arm looked OK as did the axle and tie rod end. My mind started thinking about every option for recovery. One of my friends had a Jeep roll into a culvert near a cornfield a few months ago at the cost of nearly $4,000.00 for recovery. I was pretty sure neither of us wanted to get into that expense. Insurance companies probably would not fully help out either. It flashed through my head that we could get the kids out of here and come back later, but it was already 3:30 in the afternoon. It would take hours to come back.
“We have to fix this”… “We can do this”… That was my verbal declaration to Jake, the wives and the kids who tagged along with us.
First step… Lift this truck up and see what is left of the ball joint. The FJ factory jack is accordian style. It is pretty worthless in an uneven pavement situation. The 2010 4Runner had a bottle jack… Even fully extended it was not tall enough for the lift we were trying to get. We then stacked rocks and started cranking on the little guy. It took a few times before we found a rock/jack combination that seemed secure.
Once we were up, it was easy to see an intact ball joint separated from upper control arm. Somewhere in the caverns of my mind I started to recall a similar situation and repair.
“We can fix this”.
Again… Declaring to everyone that we were not screwed. This was affirmation for me and I hoped it would be a relief to the families as they patiently waited in the 100 degree temps. I had NO idea if I could in fact fix this… But I sure was going to try.
We grabbed every ratchet strap that wasn’t tied down and started to draw the ball joint closer to the socket. Using a combination of ratchet adjustments and Jake behind the wheel, we lined it up. At that point… It was ratchet strap fever… I locked down 4 straps on varying positions to pull down on the UCA. It would appear that we were in business!
All we had to do now get back down the hill. In reverse, down a class 4 trail, with a broken ball joint! Then, drive 2 hours or so to get back to our campsite on the Colorado river. We also still had the little issue of my 4Runner being stuck. The first test on the straps was backing up and pulling my truck free via Jakes winch. That worked… So far, so good.
Backing down, I spotted Jake and we tried to be as delicate as possible. When we finally got to the bottom, an overwhelming shot of adrenaline came over me. Seriously. My heart started racing and I got tensed up. I asked my wife how long we had been on the hill, expecting her to say 45 minutes… She said it had been 3 hours. I really do believe my mind and body went into some kind of “ass-kicking” mode when we were in trouble. Time and fatigue were not going to be issues until we solved this.
After we were down… I reevaluated the straps… I figured out that the front torsion bar was the best location to mount a strap. I had placed a large strap at the bottom of the shock to the UCA, but its movement was loosening the tension. I used two super strong straps on the front of the UCA down to the torsion bar. Those straps held tight for the rest of the trip. We backtracked a ways down Kokopelli and caught another trail toward Moab. I got out every 15 to 20 minutes and checked the straps… They were doing great! We got the FJ back to our campsite without any more incidents. It was 9PM by the time we got back… And we were dead tired! Showers? Nah! Beer? Hell yes!
After the wives and kids were in bed Jake and I talked about it over a cold one. We both agreed that it could have been far worse! All the doubts that we harbored about making that “save” today came out. Its one thing to be lucky, but we probably should not have been there in the first place. Lesson learned… Save the hardcore wheeling stuff for the local off road park… Not the family vacation!
The next day we headed to Grand Junction in hopes of a miracle to get this truck fully up and running for a trip down to Ouray and FJ Summit 10. But, that is another story in itself!