Story by Pat Harrison, photos courtesy of Glenn Adams, Merv Dion & Dave Svensson
We recently led a group of a dozen Jeeps over the Whipsaw Trail in B.C. and although it was early in the season the route was completely covered in snow. The group consisted of Jeep drivers of all experience levels and although our goal was to complete the entire trail in one day we weren't expecting quite that much of the white stuff. We managed the 90 kilometre trek into elevation and down again by sticking together and using our radios to offer advice and encouragement within the crawling convoy as the familiar trail took on a whole new look and feel.
I've heard that it is rumoured that Eskimos have about 100 words for snow. There are even more ways to drive in it and just as many to get stuck.
Any dyed in the wool northern wheeler thinks snow wheeling is the best kind because it can offer a lot of fun if you are well prepared. Even a mild FSR road can become a challenge if it is covered in several feet of snow, while some of the normally difficult trails can become easier when holes are filled in and the terrain evens out. Even so it bears keeping in mind that the stakes are much higher. Breakages that can leave you stranded in winter conditions can lead to injury, and even death, for the unprepared. Here are a few things I've learned along the way with input from others as well to keep in mind if you are going to exercise your right as a true-blooded Canadian and get out there year round.
DO NOT GO ALONE!
Always have at least a couple other vehicles with you. Often one vehicle is not enough to get you out of a situation. An organized 4x4 club winter run is a great first trail ride for learning. Use your good common sense and try to prepare for everything as if it is going to be a worst-case scenario. It’s always a good plan to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Don't expect cell reception if you are out far enough into the backcountry. We prefer VHF radios these days for longer distance communication capabilities but you'll need to know the frequencies for the local repeater stations to be able to really reach out.
DO GO PREPARED!
Have enough food and water on hand to last each occupant a couple of days if you are any distance at all from the nearest Timmy Ho's. Make sure everyone dresses for the weather and bring footwear that keeps your feet dry. Good boots and wool socks are a must because frostbite sucks. Do not think that just because you may have a good vehicle heater you don’t have to prepare as much, there will be plenty of times when you will have to leave the warm confines of a heated rig. Have plenty of spare clothes and a few blankets for yourself, your passengers and any pets, as you never know what might happen. The difference between wet and dry clothing can be a miserable experience when the temperatures drops. Wet clothes in the cold can lead to bad things fast! Try not to wear cotton as it absorbs moisture. This is a time when layering works out really well as you go from sitting in your vehicle wondering what the hold up is, to digging like an infantryman to get someone back on track. Fabrics like polypropylene wick moisture away from the body and you can get it inexpensively from box stores, but The North Face, Mountain Hardware or Patagonia make the good stuff.
CHECK YOUR RIG!
Make sure you’ve kept up on maintenance of your vehicle and you've got it in good shape. Holding up a group in the winter to do what should have been done beforehand is just poor form old chap! Snow driving can stress parts much more than other times of the year. You will want to be sure your gas tank is full as the skinny pedal gets a good workout in the snow. You will also need a good cooling system in low temperatures because snow creates a lot of rolling resistance that can lead to boiling radiators and cooked torque convertors. Make sure that your grill does not become clogged with snow, which can block airflow through the radiator and the engine bay. If you have an automatic you may want to consider running a transmission cooler to keep it running cool. Breaking trail is particularly hard on the cooling system so you may need to take turns in front when wheeling with a group. Everyone North of Tijuana knows that running straight water in the radiator can cause frozen cooling systems and result in cracked blocks under extreme conditions. Test your anti-freeze mixture if you aren't 100% sure it is good to go.
BRING YOUR GEAR!
Most of the recovery gear that you need for snow is the same as any other terrain. Tow hooks, snatch straps and winches are all important when in deep snow and they might as well be kept handy right from the get go. A snow shovel is an important addition for digging out tires, axles and frames when you are not going anywhere. Tarps are always a good idea as you can use them to keep your clothes dry when lying in the snow under your buddies rig. They work well to help keep the tools from disappearing too. Chains are good for later in the season, when the snow is hard packed and ice becomes more prevalent.
AIR WILL GET YOU THERE!
When you air down your tires you need to have a way to air them back up at the end of the run. Lower tire pressure helps in the snow, where we are talking single digits; I run my 37"s as low as 6 psi and notice a huge difference in traction. Be prepared to go as low as your tire/rim combination will allow for the best grip in snow. Blowing a bead is not fun, with lower pressures there is more potential for the tire to unseat from the rim. You don't want to change a tire in the snow if you can avoid it! This is the time to have an onboard air source. There are three basic types of air sources: Electric pumps are inexpensive and portable and work well for airing up tires but won't reseat a tire bead onto the rim. Engine compartment mounted belt driven compressors produce a lot of air, and with an auxiliary tank they can easily reseat a tire. CO2 tanks are another great choice as they are portable and have plenty of power to reseat a tire. CO2 requires a temperature change and can be less effective in extremely cold conditions. Mount it inside on winter runs to avoid additional external freezing.
DRIVING THE SLIPPERY SLOPES!
If you can't go up hill do not try going downhill unassisted. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being a hapless passenger in the drivers seat as your vehicle slides downhill going wherever it feels. The closest recollection I have was as a young child in the back of granddad’s car watching him catch a few winks at 80 kmh on the highway in traffic! You need to get a feel and appreciation for what your vehicles gearing can do to help you get down hills in slippery conditions. Stay OFF the brakes and let the gearing control the descent. Easier said than done because as you start to slide your natural reaction will be to hammer the brake pedal, which will just lock up your tires. At this point momentum is not your friend. Watch out for glazed over tracks as the first few vehicles get down a hill with ease but pack or glaze the route enough to make the same hill a whole new ball game for the trailing vehicles. Get a tire into the rough stuff on the side if it helps check your momentum. Let the vehicle in front of you complete any descent before you start.
The same snow packing happens when climbing if the first few vehicles polish their tracks by spinning rubber on the way up. If you lose forward momentum don’t stay on the gas. You’ll just make ice or dig yourself a bigger hole to get out of, so back up and hit it again. Be aware that the snow can grab a tire and pull you off your track in a surprising hurry. Top floatation is key, but there are times when you've got to get on that skinny pedal. One of the most important things to develop in snow wheeling is being able to “read” the snow. Soft, wet snow found in the sun is quite different than the hard, cold snow that lurks on north facing slopes and in the shadows of trees. The different consistencies provide varying levels of traction. Wet, heavy snow is often the easiest to get on top of, while dry snow can produce rooster tails off all four wheels and not much in the way of forward progress. Momentum is back to being your friend when climbing so carry as much as you can at the bottom of hills and avoid stopping anywhere that doesn't allow you to get it going again. Let the vehicle in front of you complete any climb before you start.
LOCK IT UP!
Locking differentials are always good in any terrain, but especially in snow. Selectable lockers work the best for snow duty as they can be turned off when traversing off camber slopes, allowing one tire per axle to propel the vehicle forward and the other tire to act as an “anchor” and keep the vehicle from sliding down the hill. Once you get back into the deep snow, the locker can be engaged and keep both wheels biting in for keeping that elusive momentum going. The matched wheel speeds will help keep the tires from spinning and digging you into a new hole. Wide flexible tires such as Dick Cepek Fun Country tires have proven themselves to be the cat’s pajamas for snow wheelers. Tires like these with a flexible carcass, mild tread pattern and wider than normal sizes provide a larger footprint which helps to lower contact pressure. The mild tread pattern works well to propel the vehicle across the snow without digging in. Keep in mind that we are talking about snow wheeling here, which is different than driving on snow or ice covered roads. For snow covered roads you want narrow tires and high contact pressure to cut through the snow to the pavement below.
Expect the weather to change fast, whether you like it or not, Mother Nature and Father Winter will probably decide to mess with you when you don't need it. Keep up to date on the forecast.
After all that advice and information I should add that it's a good idea not to get too confident as you start to get better at handling your new winter playground conditions. If I remember correctly it was me that blew a bead, was stuck on the trail and needing a winch more often than anyone in the group. I was trying to keep moving as much as possible. That really cut in to my trailside story telling...much to the chagrin of no one!
January 5, 2014
DRIVE IT LIKE YOU RENTED IT
Story & photos by Pat Harrison
Experiencing Moab with a twist
Moab - the Mecca of off-roading. A must do for every four-wheeling nut bar rolling across the planet. Enough articles, trip reports and pictorials have been posted on the subject to fill a terabyte hard drive and here comes another… with a twist.
We’re used to driving our own JKU down with a gang of like-minded marauders intent on punishing their skid plates and getting some real live rock crawling use out of their expensive tires. There’s nothing quite like a 2,200 km road trip to put an exclamation point on the term “road trip”! It was time to try something different for a few reasons, and as it turns out, it was enough fun to share what we learned along the way, in hopes that we might encourage anyone with similar thoughts to do the same. This time around, we were going to fly down and spend the next 10-days in our favourite location trying out three different rental vehicles - all for the sake of research you understand. Our options would be a stock JKUR, a RZR 1000 and a lifted JKUR on 35’s.
First off, let me say you’re not going to be saving any money going this route so, let’s just put that to bed right away. But it may not be as bad as you thought either. For example our two flights round trip from Bellingham to Salt Lake City (SLC) were just over a grand. The four-day 4,500 km round trip drive with gas and accommodations was very similar in cost. The cool part here is the two extra days you will net by flying. I’d opt for a flight into Grand Junction, Colorado, next time, which is two hours out of Moab as opposed to SLC, which is more like four and a half. No commercial flights were available directly into the small Moab airport that we were aware of, although we were told there was such a service at one time.
We rented a JKUR from Rugged Rentals near the SLC airport and used it for the next 10-days as our main vehicle. We weren’t sure if we would be happy with it as we are used to more modded rigs, but as we soon discovered, you can experience a lot of adventures in Moab using a stock Rubicon four-door.
We started with a few road trips that were more relaxing than adventurous. The La Sal Mountain Loop, Arches National Park and Canyon Lands National Park all provided awesome vistas within easy driving distance of town. Later in the week we would step it up a bit and put the OEM suspension through its paces by logging some ”county unpaved roads” as they are referred to. These seem to include a whole lot of unpaved desert routes you wouldn’t attempt in a regular rental and a couple of them had us shifting the Rubi into 4-Low, as we may have diverted slightly when the opportunity presented itself. Speaking of which, there are an impressive number of sanctioned trails in and around Moab that are perfectly suited for stock Jeeps like the brand new JK we were using. A third of the listed and described trails are rated as easy with another third rated as moderate and they are all well worth the effort. They just hadn’t been on our radar when we were in our own Jeeps.
It’s so much fun leaving the paved road right in the middle of the Canyonlands Park to descend 250 metres down on the Shafer Switchbacks to the Mesa below, that you were just studying from the lookout points above with all the tourists. Then to bomb White Rim trail with a dust cloud giving away your location to all those same onlookers still roaming around up top.
We turned around and headed back to town over red desert clay on Potash Road, coming out at the bottom, where you could turn off to start the Poison Spider Trail. We even put the stocker to the test and climbed the baby Lions Back lump at the head of Fins ‘n Things, which it handled with ease. The approach and departure angles aren’t what I’m used to, so there was a limit to the shenanigans I could to subject our newfound daily driver to. I was just as determined to keep a lid on the costs of the rentals, as I was to explore their capabilities, so it became a balancing act with my gonads in one hand and my wallet in the other.
One thing we really appreciated with a rental was the fact that as an auto, it had remote start. There’s nothing like getting into a pre-chilled ride in 33°C temps all week long.
Coming from Vancouver where only a few stars are visible through the light pollution, the clarity and majesty of a truly dark sky is well worth the price of admission. Only a five-minute drive from town saw us up on the Sand Flats Recreational Area with the freedom panels removed. We just crawled out of the Jeep and lay on the remaining hard top to watch a show that only the desert sky can provide.
At a hundred bucks a day it ain’t a cheap game to play, but with so many places you can take a capable stock Jeep in this haven of off-roading, you’d be silly not to. And to not have a Jeep in Moab is like not having oxygen on top of Mt Everest. Your enjoyment of the experience would be severely compromised. As we’ll see in the next two articles, you don’t have to own an off-road rig to experience the thrill of slick rock and red clay desert, however you will have to be prepared to roll the vehicle damage dice and pay to play just like everyone else.
June 10, 2016
DON'T PINSTRIPE YOUR JEEP
SNOW PLACE LIKE THIS - PREPARING FOR A SEASON OF WINTER WHEELING
By Pat Harrison
So you've managed to get yourself a nice new Jeep. You wrangled, traded, scrimped, and saved; made unmentionable deals with the devil, the bank and maybe even your significant other but you've got it! A few preliminary mods and you’re off to join a few other like minded nutcases to explore the back roads, trails and wilderness of this beautiful country we live in. Before long the trail deteriorates into an overgrown goat path and you're in the middle of the pack so there's no backing out. You grit your teeth and turn up the stereo so you can't hear the sound of your paint job heading south and hope that it won't be too bad. Once the dust settles, the mud dries and a new day dawns, you wash that new pride and joy and sure enough it's looking worse for the wear...and that was just one outing. What can you do to prevent trashing that nice new jeep you worked so hard to get? Trailskinz...that's what you’re going to do.
Trailskinz were born on the tight trails of B.C. to help prevent the rampant ' bush pin striping ' that some wheelers feel are a necessary part of being a hardcore Jeeper. Maybe you, your bank or your significant other don't agree. Available for YJ's, TJ's and both models of the new JK these REMOVEABLE custom cut sheet magnetic panels are vehicle rated and go on and off in minutes. With three years of production behind them, they have proven themselves to be a viable product to get out onto the less traveled or overgrown trails while preserving your Jeep’s finish.
Trailskinz is a truly home-grown company started with the help and participation of many BC Jeep Club members. New products are coming on line such as Rockerguardz, Pillarguardz, Limbriserz and Hoodskinz to name a few. All designed to help protect the vulnerable finish on the new JK’s. A few high quality aftermarket items will be making it onto the Trailskinz line up as well with Rotopax, Factor 55 Engineering, Awol Fabrication and off-road LED lighting being added to the mix. Recognizing the fact that there are literally hundreds of aftermarkets items and companies out there competing for your modding dollars, keeping the price down is a major philosophy at Trailskinz. That and keeping your shiny Jeep shiny. For more info on Trailskinz call or text 250-812-2311 or visit www.Trailskinz.com.
December 12, 2012
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