Golden Mountain Trail Ride
Labor Day 2011 Story and Photos by Nolen "Rock Midget" Grogan
Labor Day is always my favorite wheeling weekend. The weather is usually great and the long weekend makes it easier to head out a bit farther from home to check out some new wheeling spots. While most guys are setting up to hunt the opening weekend of dove season, I am usually loaded heavy looking for a big rock to climb. This year was no exception. I decided it was time to check out a new park I have been hearing lots of chatter about from my local Land Cruiser club members and my buddy Adam Woodlee of Wide Open Design. Golden Mountain Park is conveniently located just outside of Sparta in central Tennessee. Just south of Interstate 40 at the midway point from Knoxville to Nashville, it was one of the easiest parks to get to of all that I have ever visited.
Rolling into Golden Mountain, the countryside is dotted with turn-of-the-century barns, tobacco fields and wildlife. Once in the gates, it is amazing what the facilities are like. Opened years ago as a children's camp and park, there is an old restaurant, bumper-boat lake and go-cart track. Just across the parking lot is a huge set of cement bleachers perched over a retired dirt oval track.
I arrived early afternoon Friday and was greeted by Jayne and Anthony, the park managers, and they directed me to the top of the mountain where the RV Hookups were located. We shared the campground with a dozen other campers and a group of people that were preparing the pavilion for a wedding the next day. Studying the map provided at check-in, I was amazed at how many trails they had managed to squeeze into the 500 acre park.
The next morning I hooked up with my trail-riding buddies for the day, Tennessee "Bounty Hunters" Tim Cameron and Joe Matlock. Tim and Joe hit the ground smack-talking each other. The good-hearted banter was extremely entertaining and gave me a bit of a preview of how these two friends go about taking down some of the hardest trails and climbs in the Southeast. Word had filtered out through the grapevine that these two were "in the house" and people started arriving just to watch some big action. We started off with a group of 10 nicely built buggies ranging from Tim's shiny new "Showtime" buggy to some home-built rigs that had lines that flowed worse than a horse-drawn buggy. What they all had in common was big tires, big axles and big V8 motors.
I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with the way these guys all took down the first trail. I like big, technical trails and this first trail (#4) was just what the doctor ordered. Having never wheeled with Tim and Joe, I was expecting these guys to be total throttle jockeys. Of course, who wouldn't think this? Every You Tube video and picture I had ever seen looked more like Icelandic Hill Climbing than the rockcrawling I know and love. I figured rocks this big were really going to tie these guys up. I was wrong. The 5 rigs that worked the hardest section of the trail all made it through with a lot of slow, technical crawling.
After we fooled around a bit on some easier trails, we headed over to Hellivator to climb the extreme ledge. Word had it that some of the Coleworx guys had made some of the big climbs at the park so Tim and Joe were out to put these "Bounty" climbs in their bag. When we got to Hellivator, one of the locals directed Tim to an optional step-ledge that no-one has been able to take down in years. Here is where I began to realize that Tim Cameron is the real deal. This climb was 2 huge slabs with 5' undercut ledges stepping up to each. A straight-on attack was out of the question, so Tim tried to take it town with a light touch and a heavy use of rear steer.
We always look for a happy ending but that is not always the case. This climb went unconquered today, but I know Tim will have a plan for it next time. Hell, the way he goes through buggies, he may have a totally different setup next time.
Next we stepped over to Hellivator. Here Tim, Joe and Tim Bacon put on the first Tennessee "Hero" show of the day and this is what the gathering crowd was looking for! This rock is a good 40 degrees with an undercut to start and a 3' drop-off at the top. Some serious peeling out was had by all and it was fun to watch.
Once we let it get nice and hot, it was time to head over and try "Bounty Hill". According to the locals, the number of people that had made this climb was less than 10 and most were running sticky tires when they did it. None in our group was running stickies, but that did not scare them in the least. The first guy to roll up on the face was Tom Natchez. His was a very simple, well working buggy, but it lacked the horsepower to launch up the rock and get his front tires over. He took 4 good stabs at it and then bypassed.
Joe Matlock jumped up next and hammered his essentially off road "Bronco" buggy like it owed him money. Due to the step-up leading to the slab, he took a bit too much of a bounce and when the 44" TSLs grabbed, he snapped his locker in the rear Dana 70 axle. I have no doubt that if this had not happened, Joe would have been the first up. He is a superb driver and his buggy is simply bad ass.
Next up was Tim Cameron. Up until now, I had not gotten a true look at this 700hp LSX 454 in Tim's buggy. After feeling out the rock and the approach, Tim launched up the rock to the top as if it was not there. As luck would have it, he crested the climb with a beautiful one-shot but his foot slipped off the throttle and he slid all the way to the bottom. In the process, he bent his rim and lost all the air in his driver's rear 43" SX.
Next up was Tim Bacon in his bad ass climber. With a dual propane 496 ci big block, this thing is a monster when he smashes the throttle. Even with the super trick "Aetna" cut on the Boggers and all that horsepower, he just could not make this monster stick all the way up the climb. As low and as wide as this buggy is, I was completely taken off guard when he managed to flop it after his failed attempt. Tim Cameron summed it up nicely when he stopped rolling..."This is gonna' be a big'un." It was heavy, but Tim Bacon stayed strapped in and all of us that enjoyed the show got him back on all 4 tires with no damage.
Tim Cameron came back to put this climb in the bag. He spent about 3 minutes feeling out the climb and heating up the SX's. Finally, he found the sweet spot, lined up and put all 700 ponies to good use. "Showtime" literally launched up the rock like it was not even there. It was 100% impressive. Anyone that was there for the first attempt when his foot slipped off the gas would have called the first one "climbed" but that was not enough for Tim. He wanted this hill in his bag of "Bounty" climbs and he got it.
The trip to Golden Mountain was fantastic. I knocked out 2 birds with one stone on this trip. First, I finally got to see what all the hype about this park was all about. I would say that anyone with any sized 4x4 can have a great weekend wheeling at this park. I ran my Polaris RZR-4 all over the park on the hard, moderate and easy trails. Some things I had to bypass but most I was able to drive. Although most of the pictures are of extreme trails and obstacles, there are literally miles of trails for every level wheeler. Top the excellent trails off with the superb facilities and easy access to the park and you have one first-class weekend destination.
The second thing I got to do was to finally meet the famous (or infamous) Tim Cameron. Who is this guy? Why do his videos on You Tube have over 20 million hits? Well, he was not at all what I expected. Young, polite, funny, and humble. Yep, humble. He is a damn fine guy. He keeps to himself on the trail but is quick to jump in and help a fellow wheeler out. After he and I helped a kid get his leaf spring reseated, I heard the kid tell his buddy "Man, that was Tim Cameron...can you believe Tim Cameron helped me fix my Jeep?" Wherever we went on the trail, people followed at a respectable distance and shot photos and took video. I started to think of them as Tennessee Paparazzi!
Although I have never really had much interest in the southern, rock-bouncing driving style, I came away from Golden Mountain with a huge respect for the skill these guys have. Often I look at videos and think that they are just "driving by braille" or "pointing and shooting" but after watching Tim and Joe, I can honestly say that is far, far from the truth. These guys are the real deal and Tim Cameron is great for the sport. People literally drove up to Golden Mountain and spent the day wheeling from place-to-place to watch him put on a show. I know from now on, I will pay a bit more attention when Tim and his buddies are wheeling close by.
For more information on Tim's new buggy "Showtime" check out the feature article here on Pirate4x4 by RickyB: