Trail 51, or Panther Rock, might possibly be the best overall trail at Windrock Park. If I had to choose one trail for a group with varying skill levels, 51 would be it. The trail offers great views, some technical options, a few mudholes, and one of the most interesting photo opportunities in the park. All of the more difficult obstacles on 51 have bypasses available making it a great trail for everyone, unless it's raining and wet, then mayhem gets kicked up a notch.
51 is located about halfway up the park, not far from Trail 11. To get there from camp, you can either take the long haul through the park on G1 or take pavement close to the trailhead. These options make it easy to tie 51 in with a run on G1 to 11, or even Trail 30 to 11 for a fun day. Another great option if you want to explore the top of the park is to take pavement to 51 and then run up to the Radar Base and Caryville Flats. 51 is a relatively short trail but can take a while depending on the options you choose.
51 can be run North-South or South-North. I always run South-North because it's uphill and offers more challenges. Either way you decide to go you will likely run into some traffic on the trail. Because of 51's location inside the park, it's not too bad, just be mindful and aware.
After turning onto the trail the very first "obstacle" you will encounter is an ominous looking mudhole. It's just wide enough for our trucks and about 30 feet long. Depending on the weather, it may have one foot of water in it or three feet of water. The first time I went through it I was sweating bullets! There is a bypass but the pit has a solid bottom and doesn't really cause any drama. I always recommend going through the pit. 😎
Once you're out of the pit, the trail winds up the side of the mountain and you'll encounter a few off-camber areas, a washout or two with some rocks, and some rutted-out uphill climbs. None of this is particularly difficult and there are several lines to choose from. If it's wet, it can be a little slippery but it's nothing that careful driving can't overcome.
Moving on up the trail, you will run into my favorite obstacle: a long mudhole with a very steep entrance and exit, plus a big hump in the middle. There is a bypass to the left but I highly recommend running the pit. Every time I run this mudhole it's a little different. The bottom is relatively firm but the entrance and the exit seem to get steeper each time. I've seen guys become high-centered at both the beginning and the end. Having said that, all it takes is commitment. You have to go in with some speed and make sure you keep that momentum through the pit and use it on the exit. As long as you don't try to creep in and out your fine. Trust me, it's a blast.
From here the trail winds on up the mountain side until it reaches a subtle fork in the road. This is the turnoff to the famous Panther Rock lookout. Taking the right hand side of the fork will immediately dump you off into a downhill playground of v-notches that weave in and out of trees as they go down. If you're careful and pick the right route, the notches can be bypassed all of the way to Panther Rock, but I'm here to tell you the notches can be fun! If you've never played in notches, this is a great opportunity. Just be careful and make sure you have a spotter. Good times.
Once you're down at the rock, you have the option to walk out and take in the view or be a little braver and drive out. It's best to have a spotter when taking a truck out on the rock though. There are two large crevices that run completely across the formation that will swallow a 33"-35"tire, but with spotting and proper wheel placement it's not a problem. I highly recommend driving out if you have the time. It makes for a great photo no matter the season!
After visiting Panther Rock and making your way back up, you'll take a right onto the main trail. At this point it's decision time. You can continue straight down the trail to the toughest obstacle on the trail or you can take one of several bypasses to the left. The obstacle is a ledge climb that's in a very tight spot. Over the last few years the ledge seems to have gotten tougher every time I've run it. If you attack it straight on in a 100 or 200, you get hung on control arm mounts and usually have to winch. If you take the right line as you climb, the rear of the truck is forced into a wall right as you high center, then you find yourself unable to reverse and it's time to pull cable. It can be done with liberal use of the throttle but it's always a little violent. 😬 I HIGHLY recommend at least having sliders for this obstacle.
Next up is a small rocky area that takes just a tad of attention and after that a few rutted-out places, but mostly you are home free. Sometimes the ruts can be a little intimidating but the best way is straight through. I've seen guys try to go around the off-camber areas and mudholes and it's usually not a pretty outcome. Once at the end, you can turn around and run it back, head further into the park towards the Radar Base and Caryville Flats, or just take a green trail out to pavement. 51 is a great trail to end the day or start the day.
I think I've run 51 every time I've been to Windrock. It never disappoints and it's a little different each time. I never know exactly what I'll run into, but I always know it will be fun. At the next COTR make sure to check it out, it's sure to be a blast! See you in October!