Dusy-Ershim OHV Route 2003

By: Harry Wagner - September 2003


The view of Courtright Lake from Voyager Rock.

Northern California has the Rubicon and Southern California has Johnson Valley, but nestled in the central Sierra Nevada mountains are some of the best OHV trails in the State. Trails like Dusy-Ershim, Swamp Lake, Bald Mountain, and Coyote Lake offer better scenery than the Hammers and smaller crowds than the Rubicon.

In early September, the members of Gettin' Off 4WD Club escaped the heat of the Central Valley to run Dusy-Ershim OHV Route from the south to the north. The trail starts at 8,400 feet, and the first few miles are just rough enough to weed out the unprepared. The group camped at Voyager Rock at Courtright Lake on the first night, only three miles into the trail. Voyager Rock offers basic outhouses, picnic tables, and fire pits, as well as access to fishing on Courtright Lake. Weather was perfect the entire weekend, with clear skies and cool temperatures. Mosquitos can be a problem on Dusy-Ershim in the early summer when the trail is wetter, but by September the area was dry enough that bugs were not an issue.

Day One

The next morning signaled an early start and it was not long before the first real challenge was encountered. Chicken Rock is a large, imposing piece of granite that is pitched at a 50 degree angle. Nerves of steel and low gears are more important that ground clearance or horsepower on this high traction incline. The top of Chicken Rock offers spectacular views with Courtright Lake to the north and Maxson Dome to the south. John Muir and Dinkey Lakes Wilderness boundaries are divided by the Dusy OHV Route, 300 feet from the center line of the trail to each side.

From Chicken Rock the trail follows Courtright Lake for approximately two miles with Le Conte Divide looming in the background. From there the trail winds tightly through the lodgepole pines and crosses Dusy Creek several times over log bridges built and maintained by the 4WD Club of Fresno with the approval of the Forest Service. Though the trail is not overly challenging, it is quite narrow in spots and not recommended for full width axles or long wheelbase vehicles. The 122" wheelbase Toyota Xtra Cabs in our group had to back and fill in several spots in order to navigate through some of the tighter spots on the trail.

Art Jenkins ascending Chicken Rock.
Patrick Barroga on Thompson Hill.

After following the Dusy Creek for 5 miles, Thompson Hill is encountered. Unlike Chicken Rock, traction (or lack thereof) is a serious concern at Thomspon Hill. Loose rocks and large boulders litter the trail non-stop for half a mile along a serious grade. Lockers and a low crawl ratio are definitely beneficial on Thompson Hill. It would be a shame to come this far only to be denied, as was the case with a Blazer that we encountered on his way back to Courtright Lake. This was one of the only other vehicles we met on the trail all weekend.

The top of Thompson Hill marks the division between the San Joaquin and Kings river watersheds. This point also separates the Pineridge and Kings River Ranger districts. It was here that the Gettin' Off group set up camp for the night, near Thompson Lake. The altitude at this location is nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, and the trail remains above 9,000 feet elevation for the remaining 20 miles. That is right, Dusy-Ershim is 33 miles long in total, so leave your single seater competition buggy at home.

Day Two

Don West's stock IFS went everywhere he pointed it.
Don West fishing in Ershim Lake.

The second day on the trail the group travelled 11 miles to Ershim Lake. East Lake is 6 miles from Thompson Hill and makes an ideal spot to stop for lunch, with Dogtooth Peak in the background. The trail was not as difficult as the previous day, which was fortunate considering the distance that Gettin' Off chose to travel. Despite the easier terrain, the group still experienced a flat tire on a Jeep and a lost drain plug on a Toyota differential. The trail is just rough enough to keep vehicles from travelling at a high rate of speed. The exception is the "Sand Highway", which is smooth enough for travel in high range.

The group arrived to Ershim Lake early enough in the evening for one of the participants to confirm the presense of trout in the lake. Like Voyager Rock, Ershim Lake has fire pits and picnic tables. Campfire permits are required for all wood fires, charcoal fires, and gas stoves. The permits are available free of charge at the local Forest Service office. The facilities at Ershim Lake were built with OHV funds and are maintained by the Hill Hoppers Central Valley Four Wheelers.

Day Three

Paul Holeman coming down Divorce Rock.
The views from White Bark Vista are stunning.

The last morning marked the most challenging 11 miles of the entire trail. Divorce Rock is located approximately a mile north of Ershim Lake and tests the nerves of drivers with its steep, off camber descent.

Shortly after Divorce Rock, one of the Jeeps in the group had an electrical fire under its hood and melted the distributor cap and wires. With the all of the ice melted in the cooler and work looming the next day, this was an unwelcome occurrence. Ten more miles of trail were left to be covered and they were some of the roughest of all. In the end it took two days to tow the dead Jeep back to pavement and the price was high. By the time the extraction was complete the Jeep had suffered a broken spring, torn spring hanger, bad wheel bearing, bent tie rod, and the steering box was torn from the frame.

From Divorce Rock the trail is tight and twisty to Lakecamp Lake, where the route starts to climb for four miles until White Bark Vista is encountered. White Bark Vista offers no tree coverage and is often windy, but the views are spectacular in all directions. The granite in this area has undergone extensive glaciation, resulting in huge domes, cirques, and valleys. Don't get too distracted by the views though, some of the most technical terrain is awaiting at the very end of the trail. Huge rocks litter the path down to Kaiser Pass, the only thing left standing in the way from air up and heading home.

The end of the trail is arguably the most difficult section.

The Dusy-Ershim OHV Route typically opens in mid-July, depending on snowfall, and closes for the winter at the end of deer season. This trail is gated and controlled by the Forest Service to limit erosion and overuse. If you are looking for the latest extreme trail, head for Arizona. But if you want a scenic trail with breathtaking views and moderate challenges, head for the Central Sierra.

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