Sunday, March 15, 2021
Late night trek to Switzerland trail to either pull out a disabled vehicle
or at least its contents (theft concerns).

While I was out earlier today jaunting about the wonderfully snow covered roads around Fort Collins, another gent with the 4x4 group, down near Nederland Colorado, was doing the same - but on a mountain trail (Switzerland trail). Both of us were solo (no one else wished to play in the wonderful, fresh snow - rather odd of them). His day was not to be the same as mine.

His comment - it was the best of times... it was the worst of times. He said he was thoroughly enjoying pushing through un-tracked snow. It was mostly powder (which I found curious, as the snow in town, 5000' elevation, was heavy and wet versus powder up at 8500'). A comment that snow was blowing over the hood, blocking visibility, that riding with a head out the window was the trick - processing trail at 10 to 15 MPH. Grand fun in the snow!


Until the engine gave out. It seems that model of vehicle (Land Rover / Range Rover - I'm not sure which) has a weakness with the cooling system's thermostat housing - it's plastic and it's not reliable. The part burst and the cooling system lost coolant and he didn't know it (white cloud of anti-freeze smoke mixed in with blowing white snow). Pushing snow, for a decent distance (at least 2.5 miles) requires a bit of heavy gas pedal. That equals heat into the motor. With no coolant and continued operation - the engine gave all it had and seized.

He sat with the vehicle for an hour - looking at the situation and letting the motor cool. He tried starting it with the consideration to limp it back to where he started - the trail had been packed down in that direction and it would be easier rolling than continuing to push forward through untracked snow. He was able to get the vehicle turned sideways on the trail - fully blocking the trail (shelf road on a mountain - no driving around it) - and the motor called it quits again. He said it was barely running when it was.

From there he walked out to the nearest trailhead (0.7 miles south - the way we came in for this trip) and was able to get a cell signal to phone a friend for a ride home. He made a post to the 4x4 group asking for help. I offered and we discussed the options. I loaded gear into the jeep and headed out. I was on the road at 7:44pm. This is going to be a LONG night.

Before leaving, I was talking with family about the events and had a comment: I'm heading out - Dad's going to have fun tonight (Dad passed several years ago).

It was two hours from home to meeting spot (Sugarloaf Mountain Road @ CR93). There I tossed on chains for the front tires and we drove to the trailhead 1.5 miles away. Seeing the snow depth, I backtracked to a clearer road and added chains to the rear tires and we headed to the disabled vehicle. Each 0.7 mile trek trailhead (where he parked his running vehicle) to disabled vehicle took between 5 and 8 minutes - the first trip the longest as there were several back-up-push-forward sections of deep snow. We made three round trips - heading out twice shuttling personal belongings to his running vehicle (should vandals visit).

The last trip in, with his vehicle as light as it would get, we gave it a go to pull it out - or at least pull it away from it blocking the trail (up trail a bit there is a wide spot where others could easily drive around it). We started with one kinetic energy / recovery rope (7/8" x 30') but that was rather harsh for me in the jeep. I'm perhaps 4000 pounds and it was about 7000 pounds - I'm at a reasonable disadvantage for the task. He had a similar rope so we hooked each end-to-end. I would be able to get a longer run and when the stretch takes hold, it would be less harsh (I don't want to break a suspension or drivetrain component - leaving two disabled vehicles on the trail). Kinetic recovery ropes can be thought of as giant rubber bands - but with not quite rubber band amount of stretch (only about 30% stretch).

About eight tugs had his vehicle turned 90 degrees and positioned on the trail to pull out - now to get it to the wide spot. His vehicle sits lower than mine so while mine did some snow clearing his would be doing more - and I'd need do the work. We gave his engine another try - anything that can help get us down the trail would be appreciated.  Then something unexpected happened.

Each tug would give us one, two or maybe three feet of movement down the trail. The trailhead was 0.7 miles (3700 feet) away. The wide spot was about 500 feet away. At two feet per tug - that would be an excruciating (and possibly jeep breaking) 200+ tugs. The first two tugs - the typical two feet of progress. On the third tug - something happened - we were moving!  We had continuous movement - the wide spot looks possible! As I'm driving, the curious note was that I was not having to foot-to-the-floor the gas pedal and surprisingly I was quite light on the pedal (40 to 60%). Me, solo on packed trail for the in-n-back's we did, I'd be in the 60 to 80% gas pedal range. I'm thinking Dad and perhaps a few others were back there pushing.

I made it into the wide spot but didn't anticipate the 60 feet of rope well enough - he needed to be pulled another ten feet or so - multiple tugs again (no surprising movement this time - perhaps those pushing needed a rest). Once his vehicle was positioned, the simple task was for me to make tracks around his disabled vehicle as a path for others.

Turning around in deep snow is a task of its own - mainly due to the snow 'ruts' and the tires wanting to follow the ruts. Once turned around, I drove back to the original stuck location (where I had turned around a couple times before and the ruts were well broken up). On the way down and back I noticed that his vehicle vehicle didn't follow the ruts / path I had broken. Rather it was about 1/2 of a vehicle offset with each tire well into deep snow. There is no way my light jeep pulled his heavy vehicle out with the ease encountered. Yes, there was help.

With a remaining few items pulled from his vehicle - he locked it up and we headed to the trailhead. He tossed remaining items into his vehicle and we headed to the meet spot. I removed chains and we each headed home. I made it back to the computer - ready for bed at 3:55am (but not before helping another low clearance, street tires car stuck in a gas station parking lot).

A good night out. My thanks to the helpers, I hope Dad and others enjoyed the night as I did.

Update: The next day a few 4x4 members met to complete the task of pulling the disabled vehicle off of the trail. They used two jeeps, in-line, to complete the pull. They said it was a struggle. I must have had helping hands.

A note on fuel use - this ties in with the higher than typical "heat load" pushing snow can be on the engine.

On the final trip out of the trail, the gas gauge caught my eye - it was slightly above 1/2 of a tank. Miles on the trip odometer said 31. A chuckle - 1/2 tank and only 31 miles - a record!!!

The gas station to the meet spot distance was 24 miles. The jeep gets about 12MPG on the road. Let's say two gallons of fuel were used from the gas station to meet spot. That leaves about five gallons for miles 24 thru 31 (7 miles, 5 gallons = 1.4MPG). That's a large increase in energy conversion / heat production in a short amount of distance. To help manage the increased heat load, when the jeep sat idle, the hand throttle was used to bring the idle up a bit to help with cooling.

A couple years back at the "Little Moab" trail (trip report / picture of the jeep) after making "first tracks" pushing through some wonderful snow I parked the jeep at a nice lookout spot and waited for the group to catch up (engine off). When I went to leave - it was a hard start and it didn't want to run smooth - my first experience with deep snow / hot engine. This evening, knowing what to pay attention to, the jeep was happy.

A symmetrical profile tonight. The spikes on the "crown" were the in-and-out visits trailhead to disabled vehicle.

The meet spot on Sugarloaf Mountain road - it was wonderfully powed (which was good because it was STEEP).

Heading in - pushing snow.

His footprints from walking out - a strenuous task in the deep snow (2.5 feet perhaps).

The snow's above my axles. When it gets to that point the effort to push forward takes a good jump.

The divot / trench in the center is the pumpkin from the rear axle's differential.

It was a NICE evening out. Temps were mild (high 20'sF), no wind, no precipitation. The high wind and snow that was forecast didn't happen.

For comparison, the tires are 35" tall.

We're at the wide spot. His vehicle is nicely centered in my traveled path - but with its lower clearance - it was pushing a fair bit of snow.