If you want insanely hard, then the Hammer Trails are for you. Sledge Hammer is the southernmost trail of the Hammers in Johnson Valley, California. This extreme 4x4 trail is a collection of large boulders, massive ledges, towering waterfalls, vertical climbs, and spots you just have to drag through. This trail is going to make you work for it if you are wanting to complete it. Once on this trail, it is clear why this is one of the hardest trails in the country and why it makes the cut for one of the hardest parts of the King Of The Hammers race. If you think you have what it takes to do this run, have a rig that is built for the extreme, and have plenty of off-roading experience, then this is for you!
Trail Difficulty and Assessment
Specialized Buggy Type
Non-stop obstacles that include:
Large Rock Obstacles
Off-Camber Hill Climbs
Deep Sandy Hills
The trail gets its rating for Plaque Rock, the normal line would be a rating of 9, but smaller vehicles can get around the vertical climb which only gives this a rating of 8. But now there is a rock after the Plaque Run that is blocking the trail making it basically a buggy or rear steer only line.
(Last reset on 12/01/2021)
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The hardest part of the trail that you
cannot bypass - you have to drive it.
The hardest part of the trail that is
purely optional - you can bypass it.
Rocky or undulated road surface. Rocks less than 10' tall. Vertical ledges less than 8' tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 18' foot. Tire placement not good. Extreme steep and off-camber.Read More about our Rating System
Like Jack Hammer, the trail consists of waterfalls, massive rocks, and areas where you have to set up for following obstacles. This trail is for the adrenaline junkies and the people that want to do the extreme. Sledge Hammer will likely leave its mark on even the most built rigs with the most experienced drivers. Planning, spotting, and patience will be required to complete the trail. For a trail like this, it is never-ending major obstacles that are just feet away from each other. There are no breaks or rest spots on this trail. Once you are in the rocks, it is like that to the mailbox at the top. This guide covers what we feel are some of the most important obstacles to plan for, but note, even the obstacles on this trail that might not be as hard could easily roll a vehicle over or break someone. Planning is important, and spotting is critical.
This trail is only for the highly experienced to extreme drivers with a well-built rig and strong roll cages. Do not attempt this trail alone, and do not attempt this trail unless you have recovery gear, spare parts, and a group of at least 3 vehicles.
Flash floods can happen in this canyon. Never enter if rain is in the area.
1. Trailhead - Sledge Hammer (0
At the base of the trail is a sign letting you know to either go right for Sledge or left for Jack. Once you pass the sign, be prepared for you and your vehicle never to be the same again. These are some of the most extreme offroad trails in the nation, and for a good reason.
2. Waterfall (0.34
Not far up the trail, you get to the first waterfall. This v-notch waterfall is about 4-5 feet tall and can easily put a vehicle on its side. There is a catch to this waterfall that you have to see to understand. And that is the straight line up this will not work. Each vehicle has to take what line will work for them if they want to get up.
Just after this spot is a right turn you have to set up for when going through the v-notch waterfall. It is crucial you do this obstacle correctly to set up for the next spot just feet past this.
3. Plaque Rock (0.4
What might be the only official named obstacle on the trail, Plaque Rock is a tough one. With about 7 feet of vertical climb and on top of that, it is undercut; this is one of the most challenging obstacles on the trail. There are a few lines that work, but it is easy to roll over or break here. Extreme caution needs to be used.
The easier line is on the right side (8-Rating), which you have to s-turn up the rock. This is a dangerous line because of the increased risk of rollover. Thus the 9-Rated line, even though harder, is the safer line.
4. Waterfall (0.48
The next obstacle is deceptive. The harder-looking line is often easier because of the increased traction, while the easier-looking line doesn't provide much traction making it hard to get it up.
5. Go Right - Mailbox and Jack Connector (0.51
Once at the top of the canyon is a mailbox. This is pretty much the end of the original Sledge Hammer Trail. This is a great spot to take a break, relax, and discuss the victories and losses.
If you really wanted to, you could camp in this area due to it being a large open area that could easily fit a sizeable group.
6. Waterfall (0.72
You didn't think the fun was over yet, did you? This large waterfall is a great challenge. People have made bypasses around it now, so it isn't required.
7. Stay Right for Exit or Left for 3rd Canyon (0.81
The original exit to Sledge is on the right, while if you want to do the 3rd Canyon, you can go left.
8. Fissure Mountain Trailhead - Stay West (0.97
This is the trailhead to Fissure Mountain, which the trail splits off and goes up the hill. You want to continue straight or to the right to stay on Sledge Hammer.
From this point, you can go straight up to the overlook or make a right on the less-traveled trail and which also goes to the overlook.
9. Top of the Mountain (1.19
After heading around the corner, you get to a great lookout point. Here you can see Johnson Valley in almost its entirety. This is a cool spot to take photos and check voicemails.
The area is also open enough for camping if you are looking to camp away from everyone. But getting up here isn't easy, even coming in the back way.
10. Sand Hill Straight or Optional Rock Crawling East - Go Straight (1.38
Near the end of the trail is a rather steep downhill section that is a combination of sand and rocks. The hill is getting very torn up and is quickly becoming an obstacle that people are not liking. There is an optional route around it that involves some rock crawling just to the east that might be easier when going up it. When going down, the sandhill isn't as hard as the rock crawling, but people often choose to go that route because of how intimidating the sandhill is.
This is also shared with Fissure Mountain Trail; thus, what is probably the hardest obstacle that is part of that trail network.
The 3rd photo shows the rock crawling route on the left side.
11. Trail End (1.56
The trail ends at the bottom of a sand hill not very far from where you started.
You are allowed to camp anywhere in the area. Most people camp on Means Dry Lake with some camping options against the hills to try and stay out of the winds. Everything from RV's to trailers to tents are welcome in Johnson Valley. Please note, this is dispersed camping, and the nearest form of food, water, or help is 30 miles away.
If you want to do something unique, and if you can, take some tents and firewood up to the mailbox area and camp up there. Just note, you have to be pretty extreme to get to this.
Lucerne Valley, California
To get to this part of Johnson Valley from Lucerne Valley, take Old Woman Springs Road (Highway 247) east for 24.5 miles. Turn north/left at the Johnson Valley Sign (Boone Road). Follow this road roughly 4 miles to the dry lake bed (Means Dry Lake).
The US Government has come to an agreement with the Off-Roaders that use the area, and we will be sharing areas of the land in Johnson Valley with the US Military. During these times, which are unknown, civilians will not be allowed in the area. There is no set schedule yet of when it will be closing and reopening. This is a growing concern for many people that enjoy the area for the fear that they will permanently close this area after the first time they use this area for military training.
So the plaque run has changed and will likely result in a lower of the rating on this trail.
There is now a right line that is much easier then before.
The plaque line was the hardest part of the this trail meaning the rating will likely drop. I will see about getting out there to take a look, but right now I would say it is dropping down to an 8 or maybe 7
After the koh guys preran the last few weeks, after plaque rock is incredibly hard now. 3 4 foot tall rocks sitting in the middle of the line. Unless you have a flat bottom to cradle the rocks you have to ride the wall to get through. Great trail.
The area is closed for military use to Nov 1 2021
This is the weekend for Military use... Make other plans if you are going to be in the shared use area
plaque rock is harder than ever. there was a collection of broken parts on it that included a 40 spline alloy axle. a large rock is now situated in the V notch at the top of the obstacle. rear steer buggies can maneuver through it but anyone else better be ready to winch their entire undercarriage over it.
This trail is extremly difficult. There's many videos of people doing it and it seeming easy. Its not. The videos dont show the crazy amounts of rock stacking needed to complete this trail in regular builds. Plaque rock is insane if there's no rocks stacked. Somedays its impassable for anything not on 37 plus tires or crazy rock stacking. So be ready for a challenge or a workout if you're not in a legit built rig. Super fun challenging trail for anyone that is capable of completing this trail.
This was my first time running Sledge Hammer. This was a great time. All and all we had no drama. Plaque Rock required winching for the guys on 35s. One rig smashed smashed his bedside and I broke a tail light. I cant wait to run it again.
From the Community
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Mapping Crew - California
Joshua Noesser grew up in Southern California but has lived in different parts of the country during his young adult life. Josh was first turned to four wheeling when he road with one of his friends dad up Surprise Canyon in the Panamint Valley at age14. After nearly 3 different roll overs later and a half dozen intense waterfalls, Josh was hooked. At 16 he purchased his first Jeep a CJ 7 and by 17 was putting his first locker in it.
Currently, Josh is the owner and CEO of Nybble, an IT Solutions Company based in Orange County, California. Nybble isn't your normal IT company where everyone stays in and plays video games. Nybble's average company trip is out on the trails since a good amount of his staff enjoy wheeling too. As Josh likes to say, he offers the only IT Company with the ability to provide services in extreme locations. "If you want a server at the top of The Hammers, we will take care of that for you."
Today you can find Josh out on the trail behind the wheel in one of his three different off-road vehicles. See the vehicles below for more information.
If you ever run into Josh, please say high, he is a very friendly person and is always happy to have a new person join the group.
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