Tag: gear

a taste of the sierra high route and tips to remember

My friend and I took off for a section of the Sierra High Route last week and got back in the wee hours yesterday. The spring conditions gave us snow, granite, some dirt, and ice. We spent some time on the JMT/PCT as well which I’ve come to nickname “the highway” : full of people, busy, and usually littered.

It used to be rare to see a PCT thru-hiker, now mid season you’ll easily encounter 20 per day in addition to other trail users. Not a Disneyland mob by any means, but enough to break you from the isolation of the Eastern Sierras.

taking off
Me and my buddy stepping off on the Pine Crest Trail out of Round Valley, Eastern Sierras.

Forget daily mileage, think daily hours and your schedule.

A reality for cross country travel especially on mixed terrain is that you will go slow. Specifically how slow is a crap shoot, but slow it will be. Maybe 1/3 – 1/4 of your trail speed.

Far more important (trails or cross country / mountaineering) is your daily schedule. It’s really not hard to pack away a lot of miles if you start walking early and stop walking late.

branchriver
A valley we needed to descend into, without (a) dying in the river (b) falling off a cliff.

By midday you can start estimating how much farther you’ll get. Whether or not you want to shoot for that next pass, stop ahead of it, or push for some objective. But a general strategy for me (assuming ~8pm darkness) is “how about around 5:00pm we start looking for a good stopping place, and try to be driving in tent stakes no later than 6:00pm”.

If you’re feeling beat down, go slower. If you’re feeling pumped, push it. Either way you know that (by consulting your map and planning materials) that you’ll have plenty of time for evening and a comfortable place to crash.

silverpass
Silver Pass, Eastern Sierra in June 2018. Snow, ice, rock, and water: you’re not moving fast through here.

Get moving early.

There’s nothing fun about standing around a cold campsite in the early dawn hours. But if you went to sleep at “hiker midnight” (sundown), then you’re probably going to be awake by 5:00am if not earlier. It will be cold and you’ll likely have some ice and moisture on your sleeping gear. Provided it’s going to be a clear sunny day, pack it all up as is. Start eating a cliff-esque bar and get walking. You should have done everything the night before to make breaking camp be a 15-20 minute affair. Keep your trail clothes in your tent/bag/bivy so they’re not ice cold in the morning. Get walking. Sure, it sucks to start cruising at 5:00am but you’ll warm up and have more hours to work with.

By mid day you’ll have been walking for ~7 hours and can stop for a bit. Wash your feet off, maybe wash your whole body off in a stream. Put your wet sleeping gear out on a rock to dry in the mid-day heat. Charge your phone with your solar charger. An hour or so later, get moving again.

Also, mosquitoes tend to be extra-motivated in the hour right after sunrise: you’ll bail on them before they show up and since you’re moving they won’t have an easy time latching on.

bivy
My OR Alpine Bivy is great for sleeping, but hanging around for hours awake in it sucks. Get up, get moving.

June is a rough month in the High Sierra.

Intellectually I knew that June generally brings mosquitoes and high/fast waters. But there’s a difference between knowing something and really having it seared into your memory the way that can only be achieved with the firebrand of reality.

I am a mosquito magnet of epic proportions. It’s truly shocking watching them fly by others and head right to my juicy capillaries. Spring through fall carries mosquitoes in the Sierras but the spring thaw causes water to be nearly everywhere and thus mosquitoes are nearly everywhere. And mosquitoes can make the difference between a nice couple of hours hanging around watching a sundown versus hiding in your tent/bivy as they mercilessly attack your mesh netting.

waterfall
It’s hard to capture the ferocity of water in a still frame, but crossing this was the second scariest of ~20 water crossings we dealt with.

With all that melt comes the swelling of streams, creeks, and rivers. Bridges can end up submerged. Stepping stones to hop across are equally deep, tossing up whitewater. It’s worth remembering that in our county people die every year from drowning or the trauma that results of getting carried away in a river.

At best, your feet will be getting wet constantly, and if you take your shoes off to cross you’ll be taking the time to do that ~12 times a day.

branchcross
We crossed through this with similar conditions. Blown mist and out of frame to the left is the multi-hundred-foot drop on polished granite.

A benefit to June is that the days are long, allowing you sunlight by 6:00am and not needing a head lamp until nearly 9:00pm (in the Eastern Sierra). For thru-hikers in particular, this is pretty ideal.

You won’t eat much.

My friend and I knocked out 27 miles on our last day. Outside Magazine’s calculator says that I burned roughly 320 calories an hour, so 8,640 calories. That’s a lot, and nearly impossible to eat enough to support. When you’re walking and scrambling all day there’s not a lot of time to eat, and even if you could most folks find their appetite suppressed.

jmtresupply
Some fellow JMT hikers we met in 2015, sorting through their resupply boxes, Vermillion Valley Resort.

It seems really counter-intuitive but you’re better off with slightly less food than slightly more as you’re probably over-estimating what you’ll eat anyway. It’s of course better to be dead-on accurate but I’d rather stretch my meals a bit than haul a bunch of weight (food) around that I never use.

VwNMcdU
Beef jerky, dehydrated apples and bananas and much else are staples for me. I even dehydrate my pasta sauces, ground beef, and ground beef to make something resembling a real meal.

Figuring out what to eat and how much is a never ending quest. Most folks, especially if only going out for a couple of nights, are generally better off buying freeze dried food (Mountain House, etc) for their dinners. I don’t personally enjoy the stuff and find it expensive, but to each their own.

Be prepared for the long dark.

Winter backpacking sucks for me, chiefly, because of the incredibly long nights. The sun comes up much later, stays lower in the horizon offering up less heat, and sets earlier : the whole “winter” thing.

I generally need 6-7 hours of sleep to feel good, but 9:00pm plus seven hours is 4:00am and that’s if I don’t wake up early or pop up in the middle of the night for some reason.

If you can lay peacefully in the dark of your tent for a couple of hours with your own thoughts, go for it. For me I pre-load my phone with several long and dry audio books. Stuff on moral psychology, political autobiographies, etc.

Try not to think of night time as a cohesive block of sleep but rather a long span of cold and darkness in which you’ll be mostly asleep but also awake for portions.

niceface
I’ve started using a bivy, but on this trip I rocked a 2 person MSR Hubba Hubba NX. It was September/October and with the long nights it was nice having some room to move about.

Filtering water is probably not necessary.

I’ve watched cows crap and pee into a river that I’m getting water out of: you definitely want to filter that. But I’ve also seen snow melt from a 13,000 foot granite spire: you don’t need to filter it.

Backpacking gear companies make a fortune off of selling filters, and it’s hard to argue against the safety-first adage of “well you don’t know for sure that’s safe so filter it to be positive.” That’s true, sort of, but you trust your car won’t explode the next time you go to start it even though you don’t really know that for sure either.

Just read up on the data and make your own decisions. What you’ll find is that it is very rare to find dangerous protozoa (giardia lamblia being a chief culprit) in wilderness settings. What is very common however is people taking a dump, not washing their hands properly, and then grabbing some of their buddy’s trail mix. Further, the incubation period of gastroenteritis (aka “food poisoning” aka “stomach flu” aka “jelly belly”) can be hours, days, or weeks. So one week after a backpacking trip when you come down with diarrhea for a day it’s complete guesswork as to the cause.

If you travel along rivers known for heavy use, I’d bring a filter. If you’re watching snow melt drip off a granite slab, no one’s going to stop you for lugging a filter around and taking the time to use it, but base your decisions in data and not REI’s marketing. To which, I’ll leave you with these conclusions from the linked study:

Published reports of confirmed giardiasis among outdoor recreationists clearly demonstrate a high incidence among this population. However, the evidence for an association between drinking backcountry water and acquiring giardiasis is minimal. Education efforts aimed at outdoor recreationists should place more emphasis on handwashing than on water purification.

But of course, outdoor companies make a lot more money selling you $100 water filters than they do a $3 bottle of Campsuds.

filter
Me filtering water at ~12,000 feet, well above tree line, from a snow-fed stream into a tarn. There’s no evidence to support my actions.

The more you go, the better you’ll do and the more fun you’ll have.

The first backpacking trip I went on was in 6th grade. I brought, amongst other ridiculous items, a propane lantern. Cotton socks and ill-fitting mountaineering boots rounded out the disaster.

Until you know what you need and what you don’t there’s a tendency to bring items “just in case”. The penalty for all these unnecessary items of course is weight which directly corresponds to pain and fatigue which equally tracks with you hating life.

Similar to life in general it takes a while to learn what makes you tick versus what your neighbor is into. You both probably love indoor plumbing, but you might have a better mountain bike because that’s important to you as where your neighbor’s TV might be better.

I’ve seen people in the backcountry with stuff I’d never bring, and I’m sure they feel the same about me. But do try to lock in the general principles and common threads that nearly all wilderness travelers can agree on. Go with other people that have experience and learn from them, I certainly do. As soon as you get back and unpack, note the things you loved, the things that were debatable, and the things that you didn’t even use.

Hike your hike.

Maybe backpacking for you is getting somewhere to hang out and fish for a few days. Maybe it’s crushing miles. If you’re like most people it will be several different things and it will be based on your input and those that you’re with. Don’t get boxed into doing things that you really don’t want to do, but don’t make the world revolve around you either, if for no other reason that you won’t learn new ideas or have your boundaries pushed.

chillaxing
I like to crush miles as much as I like to lay on my ass and do nothing.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you out there sometime. It’s a mighty big backcountry and I hope you find it as good for you as I find it for me.

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consider becoming a ham radio dork

Let me just tear this baind-aid off: amatuer/ham radio in the United States is almost entirely comprised of old nerdy (generally white) men.

You will never see a cool Hollywood action guy who has amatuer/ham radio as a hobby and while I’m sure this will offend some people it can be pretty insular too. Like any group, there are normal people but the hardcore folks are the loudest and most active therefore setting the tone.

From a practical perspective, even a lot of homeless people have cheap smart phones and hooked up to a public wifi they can talk to someone in 4K video chat on the other side of the world for free. To do so with an amatuer/ham radio requires a couple grand worth of gear, passing two tests with a fair amount of studying, and doing a better-than-laymen-level job of electrical routing and antenna construction.

hamscouts
Back when people traveled by hot air balloon and used radios the size of refrigerators to talk to someone in another country (who also had a radio the size of a refrigerator).

On any T-chart of plusses and minuses, what kind of terrible math would have you arrive at the idea that an amatuer radio license and all the hassle associated with it would be worth your time? Let me give you my answer.

It started on December 27, 2017. Our phone system went offline here in Mammoth. Data via the Internet, cellular voice and 3G/4G: all offline. The only way information was coming in was via FM broadcast radio and hilariously enough the town broadcasting was Bishop which I assume couldn’t get a message that we had lost communications up here.

In our hyperconnected lives, everything was offline. 911, that important conference call you had to be on, checking on an Amazon package you needed, getting an Amber Alert: all gone. So to was the nature of the outage. While surely just some glitch in some technical box somewhere or a backhoe that pierced a fiber line, there’s always that lingering question:

Is something big going on that I don’t know about?

Here in my office, armed with my ham license, I have the iconic $30 Baofeng UV-5R. The antenna is also $30, a magnetic mount that’s supposed to be on a car but instead it’s sitting on a 5 pound can of artichokes. My wife mistakenly bought them, I needed something steel to put the antenna on, and bam: it works.

dc13bd17-a3a8-4f53-9b55-9a31d1936cfa-large16x9_21918calfirepleasantfire
The #PleasantFire, burned near Bishop, CA in February of 2018.

Here in my office I listen to 92.5 Sierra Wave on that little $30 radio, which really has a pretty sweet music list. But the radio also cuts over automatically whenever there’s someone on the repeater network that connects all the ham radio dorks (of which I proudly am one) between Lone Pine and Carson City: the entirety of the Eastern Sierra, essentially.

One day while working in my office the radio sparked up and said “Hey, any of you guys see that fire over there by the campground?” Before Twitter, before Facebook, before the 911 call even went out, I knew about it. As the fire started growing I was able to contact other amatuer/ham folk who on a whole take public safety quite seriously, and get up-to-the-second news on road closures, evacuations, and the fire’s path.

Texting my friends down in Bishop, he was getting bombarded by bogus Twitter updates from random sources and gossip from neighbors.

In our hyper-connected world what you may notice is that while much more information is flying around the majority of that information suffers from terrible qualify. The ham radio dorks, however, risk losing their licenses and certainly their reputation if they pass on incorrect information about something important.

Amatuer literally translates to “for the love of”, and amatuer radio is no different. For some it’s heavy on the technology of radio, for others (like myself) it’s more so the civil preparedness model. At the same time that I get to be more valuable to my community, I also get more benefit for my family, my friends, and myself.

If you want to talk to some guy on the other side of the planet (99% chance it will indeed be a male), you’ll need to drop a few grand in equipment and really get into this stuff. But if you want to have a cheap, reliable, and effective way of communicating in your area and a bit beyond, it’s $70 and a pretty simple test.

Step 1: Find an exam near you. You’ll be taking the technician exam.

Step 2: Buy a little handheld radio, the programming cable, and a magnet mount antenna. You can stick it on top of your car, or on top of a file cabinet in your house. My 5lb can of artichokes works.

Step 3: Study for your test. You can buy a book, use a free app, and/or take free sample tests. I did all three because I’m a nerd at heart and liked learning some things.

Step 4: Download chirp, find the repeaters in your area, and load them in. These are the ones in the Eastern Sierra, as an example.

Step 5: Go get a pocket protector, fellow radio dork! We can sit around and make fun of the jocks now.

We all use and rely on technology that we don’t understand. You don’t really know how your car’s computer works and if you do then you don’t also really know the chemical structure of medications you take. We tend to get a working knowledge of things in our lives and call it good, specializing deeper in areas that require it, that we make money from, or that we have an interest in.

I think there’s a valuable argument to be made that medium range communication with other civic-minded folks, and not entirely relying on the rather delicate nature of cell phones and the Internet is worth a few hours and few dollars.

maps for the mammoth / june / eastern sierra (mono/inyo/yosemite)

I looked at my rather beefy selection of local maps and thought it might help some others figure out what they could use. For reference, here’s a link to the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center.

For anyone looking to explore the area a bit via their computer, check out CalTopo if you haven’t before. CalTopo also gives you some awesome route planning options and you can print out your maps from home (for free).

Have fun and be safe!

two trucks in two days

The entire social media presence of Mammoth Lakes is on the “buy sell trade“. Someone stole your fishing pole? Need a place to rent? Heard a weird noise? It all goes there.

So I’m sitting on the couch doing my EMT+W homework and Charlotte hands me her phone and says, “You see this?”

2QlhTxQ.png
Yep, that’s stuck.

So some realities start to collide:

a) I’m on a search and rescue team, with the sole desire to help people who are in various shades of screwed.

b) I’m literally sitting there studying how to help people (medically, but the point stands).

c) I have a gassed up off road rig with a big winch on the front and a bunch of recovery gear sitting in the driveway, backed in.

So I call the dude up. We make plans to meet in 15 minutes and I text another buddy of mine from Mono SAR who’s got a likewise dope 4×4 set up.

Mind you, Friday morning there was another guy posting about he got stuck out at Lake Crowley which I handled myself before work with just a simple tow strap. But for this big ass Ford Expedition it required nearly 25,000 pounds of pull power.

c5yKVJa
Off course it had to be getting dark, full of mosquitoes, thick mud, and cold water. Of course.

Two winches, two snatch blocks, me revving my engine to keep the electricity going, and the stuck Ford with street tires in 4L. We popped the guy out, told him we hoped he had a better time in the Sierras, and to hit us up anytime he’s got problems.

Honestly it’s really nice to be a position to help people. I feel like not only do you get a chance to come to someone’s aid when they’re in a tough spot, but doing it for free with a cheerful attitude can really spread some positivity in this world.

It’s fairly well known that our country is quite polarized politically and ideologically these days. Half the people in that shot above probably voted for Trump, the other half hate his guts. There are ties that bind us only if we form and tighten those accords. Lincoln famously said, “We must not be enemies, but friends.” Not only do we need to keep from loathing one another, but we must also purposefully reach out and be kind.

So I’d ask of you the same thing I’d ask of myself: try to help folks out in whatever way you can. Not for money or notoriety but from the simple truth that living in a world where we are kind and helpful to each other is the only kind of world we want to live in.

getting out of mud, or : the hi-lift is more than just a 4×4 ornament

Buzzing around town today we rolled north into the 4×4 trails past Shady Rest. There’s some neat stuff over there: nothing super technical but it’s gorgeous and has been effectively off limits due to snow for the last six months.

For 20 minutes we bounced around the gorgeous trees, the FZJ-80’s OME suspension laughing off anything we hit. I saw some water ahead: no big deal.

The ground got soft, and we sank in like a stone to a dead stop. Hub deep on the driver’s side: both tires. The stereo kept pumping but I instantly knew it was un-stucking time.

stuck
Literally deep mud and figuratively deep shit.

We had no cell reception so I couldn’t call anyone, but what kind of self respecting off road enthusiast needs to call help just to get unstuck? I had a Warn M8000 winch (up front), straps, an axe, and a Hi-Lift. Missing were my traction pads and shovel, and really I should always have a shovel.

I of course considered winching: it’s a big powerful piece of gear. But I wanted to go backwards because the next 100 feet was more super soft mud and ten feet behind the truck was solid ground. Going further with just me and the family with no cell service seemed a little risky. I’m a coward: sue me.

winchinghmm
Winch cable out, but respooled and staying as a heavy/expensive hood ornament for the day.

My plan was to basically jack up the wheels that were spinning in mud and get something under them that could grip a bit. Right next to the truck were a bunch of downed smaller trees and branches: perfect. Out comes the axe to shape things for what I’m needing.

chopchop
Yeah, I keep a sharp axe in my truck. I’ll show it to any guy who wants to date my daughters in the future.

To lift tires out of the muck with a Hi-Lift you need:

  • A platform to put under the jack. Like snowshoes, you need to spread the surface area out otherwise the jack will just get pushed down into the mud. I carry a huge piece of 2 1/2″ thick 1’x1′ and it’s been working great.
  • A Hi-Lift wheel attachment or aftermarket bumpers. “Modern” vehicles have laughable bumpers that in no way can support the weight of a vehicle and as such the Hi-Lift will simply rip it off.
  • A Hi-Lift. Especially if you have a lift kit and/or oversized tires you’re going to need an insane amount of jack height. With the wheel attachment this might not be so bad, as you’ll keep the suspension compressed as you lift up (I think).

Once you’ve got the hole the tire was in exposed, jam some crap in there. Rocks, (already downed) trees, (already downed) branches, traction pads, etc. A note on traction pads: I have some and have used them a few times. Get bright orange because they tend to get really smashed down into the mud/snow and can be almost impossible to see and are quite tough to retrieve. If you can find some natural stuff and don’t hurt anything, I’d vote for that. Save the traction pads for when you don’t have a gazillion downed limbs laying around.

hilifttrees
Lowering down, logs/branches jammed in, and now we’re driving on the shrubbery.

It definitely looked bad, out there hacking up wood with an axe and jamming them into a muddy hole to be driven on, but I don’t really see any actual environmental impact aside from the heart palpitations I may have some put some Green Peace observers through.

frontoo
Did the same thing to the front end for good measure.

And the end result is rather boring but you can see below, out the vehicle goes without much issue. I had my center dif locked and was in 4L, for any off road dorks reading this.

Some lessons I learned:

  • Bring your gloves. I had left mine in another bag, and especially when working with the winch it becomes almost necessary. My nitrile gloves were a poor excuse.
  • Lube the Hi-Lift. More.
  • When working the Hi-Lift, you need to put your back into a bit and, while not jerking it about, make sure you’re powerfully going all the way and all the way down. It took me a while to master the descent until I understood that.
  • Consider putting an old t shirt, some cardboard, or really anything sacrificial between your Hi-Lift and whatever point it’s contacting otherwise it will chip powder coating and paint.

Don’t view getting stuck as the end of the world. It’s like having a somewhat empty kitchen: you’re not going to die, and it’s a great time to experiment with what you’ve got. You’ll learn a lot and provided you don’t get hurt and make the situation worse it can be down right enjoyable.

off road shower

Another entry in my #MojaveRoad series because I’m too lazy to write it all down at once (original article here).

It’s not fancy, it’s not sophisticated, and it really only works best in warm and windless conditions. But if you’re looking for a simple shower, consider this.

4x4shower
Don’t drop the soap.

They key ingredients of this is (obviously) straightforward.

First, you need a way to get a solar shower up in the air. A big stick I had ontop of the roof basket worked great, the tail end strapped down with a bungie. A folded up camp chair, a shovel, or a hi-lift would work great too.

You want something other than dirt to stand on, but lucky for you I’m sure you carry a piece of wood for putting under a jack so that works just great.

Try to anticipate your showering if you’re using a solar shower: deciding to shower “now” means cold water. Deciding you want to shower later in the day means warm water.

Flatter sun showers work better to strap down on a roof rack (prior to your shower) than my smaller/ligher version pictured. I’m still not sold on the idea of strapping a full shower to the rook basket while bouncing around driving in technical terrain as I think it’s a great way to rip/thrash/bounce the bag to death. But on flat roads or stopped, it’s a great idea.

overlanding(?) the mojave road

I’ll be adding little snippets about my experiences on the Mojave Road which you can find via my handy #MojaveRoad tag.

Shortly after I fell in love with my 1994 Land Cruiser, I read up on “overlanding”. Subcultures have their own vocabulary, partially to convey meaning and partially for identification. Sometimes hilarity ensues such as this gem:

I spent two years cruising in Mexico.

When sailors toss this gem around, it means one thing. To a gay man in a nightclub, it means something entirely different.

So in four-wheel-drive circles (or ‘wheelin), “overlanding” basically means really long drives across varying terrain whilst being self sufficient and probably sleeping in a tent of some type.

milezero
Sitting (literally) at mile zero, me and my buddy’s truck.

The Mojave Road is roughly 160 miles long (counting detours and shenanigans). I stumbled across it when looking for “overland routes” on Google one day, and realized that it:

  1. Did not seem insanely technical. You need to know how to drive off road, but you don’t need to be happy making 5 miles a day via winching and swimming (ala Camel Trophy).
  2. Was relatively close by. Starting in Laughlin, NV I left Mammoth Lakes and was having a beer at our campground right after sunset.

So I called up one of my likely-as-poor-a-decision-maker-as-myself buddies and asked if he wanted to do it with me. Less than 10 seconds later came the affirmative, so we made plans in early spring of 2017 to tackle it later that May.

It was a pretty cool six days and five nights out of my and my kids’ lives doing this trip and rather than try to summarize it all here I think I’ll break it into pieces. Click on my cool #MojaveRoad hashtag (once I’ve written more than this one).

travmonument
The “traveler’s monument” is a basically a pile of rocks in the middle of hell.

For now it’s good to be home, it’s good to knock out some laundry, and it’s good to not have rivers/trains/winds howling in the air all night long. I’m back to the peace of tranquility of bears and snowstorms here in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

the art of getting high centered in snow

In sailing, a joke exists that there are three types of sailors. Those who’ve grounded, those who are lying, and those who will soon. Much the same exists for driving offroad and getting stuck.

YJoPpWQ
My friend here is not having a lot of fundra. Me in the background, my FJ80 Land Cruiser behind with the lights on, the tiny car way back is discussed below.

If you drive graded dirt all the time or limit yourself to mall crawling, “recovery” can seem like a worst case scenario. But at least for me in the 16/17 winter up here in the Sierras I’ve pulled three vehicles free, shoveled out half a dozen, and high centered myself thrice (counting today). I have a winch, strong attachment points, big ass shackles, a real no-shit shovel, two recovery straps, some chains, and traction pads. None of that keeps you from getting stuck but it will give you a fighting chance to get out of it.

Things get snow-stuck in all kinds of ways, but usually the most pain-in-the-ass is the high center. Simply put, you compact so much snow underneath the bottom of the vehicle that you create (via the pressure of your axles/difs/undercarriage/etc) a solid block of ice that is supporting all the vehicle’s weight.

This of course is a problem because if the cool new made-of-compacted-snow jack stands under your truck are holding you up guess what isn’t? That’s right, your tires. So your tires sit there spinning happily in the air, laughing at you and all your locking differential technology. In fact, the more the tires spin, the deeper they make their little holes, compressing the snow further and further under the vehicle. It sucks.

pixelatedsnow
After getting through a rather horrible patch. Note the streaks in the middle. That’s the differential and axles dragging across compressed snow.

When high centered, your options are limited. You can attempt to shovel out the snow which is fully caked under your vehicle, but remember it is highly compressed to the point that you are nearly going at ice blocks. Plus, you’re coming at it from the sides and will have a hell of a time getting an angle. I’ve only seen this work when one axle is stuck. If both are, which means the entire undercarriage is, read on.

You can use a winch or a buddy’s truck with a strap, but basically you’ll need to drag the vehicle where it’s got to go. As a bonus you can toss some traction pads under the tires (the orange things strapped to my spare tire in the picture above). An upshot with snow is that for the most part it’s fairly slick so once you get out of the augered holes that your tires have made, you should be able to move.

UPSTug
Mid winter, I got a chance to yank the UPS guy out of a snow bank.

The third mechanism falls into road-building albeit no dynamite required. If you have a hi-lift jack (and bumpers/sliders you can attach to) then you can lift the vehicle up and off it’s high centered mess, jamming rocks/dirt under the tires to make a solid track for the wheels to travel on. Likewise, you can shovel out the part in the middle (ahead of the vehicle) where you would get high centered again. This is grueling multi-hour work to even make it 100′, depending on the snow conditions.

If you’re dangerous, stupid, and lucky, you could always try using a blow torch to melt the snow. Make sure you film this so if you ignite the gas tank the video can go on youtube and make a lot of money for your family.

Obviously the easiest thing is simply to avoid the problem in the first place. If the snow is more than a foot thick (or taller than the bottom of your axles), don’t go into it. Remember that snow cats exist for a reason; wheeled vehicles can only do so much in snow.

Additionally, be careful about driving around early morning. The snow is harder then so you’ll float a little better. The same route when tried a few hours later could prove impassible. In the first picture above, way in the background there’s a subaru; it’s not going anywhere for weeks. I’m assuming it got out there on a cold icy night, and is now surrounded by soft spring snow.

For more information, feel free to read up from folks who’ve done this much more often than I have: it’s not like there’s one way to get stuck or unstuck. Open your mind, brother.

mechanical lessons i’ve learned the hard way

I’m not a great mechanic: I know people who are way better than me and that’s not even touching professionals who do it for a living. I didn’t grow up doing mechanical work and the most “handsy” thing I do at work is touch a keyboard and pen. I’ve got a long row to hoe for improving my skills, but I try. And here’s some things that might help you too.

1) Research what you’re about to do, primarily on youtube and aficionado websites.

I pulled my inner axle and knuckle joint out, replacing various components. To do this, I had my iPad constantly looping through a youtube tutorial, made several posts and viewed nearly all of the 400+ comments on the IH8MUD forums on knuckle rebuilds for my make/model. I knew that I’d need a rebuild kit, saw the tools that people used, and prepared accordingly.

There’s a strong case to be made for owning cars/trucks/boats/planes that people frequently modify and maintain. As where I doubt there’s a lot of folks modding mid 90’s Chevy Cavaliers, there is an enormous amount of information for modding mid 90’s Toyota Land Cruisers, as an example.

2) Speaking of tools: buy once, cry once.

Buy good tools. You may not need “shop quality” all the time but you may indeed need the best in certain situations. Having the right tools can make the difference between a job taking 1 minute or 1 day. It can also be the difference between you hurting yourself or nearby components vs having everything be clean and easy.

Good tools aren’t cheap, take a look at a small sample of mine:

And that’s hardly the entirety of what you need. But even that $650 worth of tools is less than the cost of the labor for having a professional shop do the axle/knuckle job that I did myself. In fact when I added up my tools and materials, I was still under the cost of having a shop do it. And of course in the end I own my own high quality tools, so things really start paying for themselves the more work you do.

3) Wear protection, son.

A nice box of nitrile gloves can be the difference between your hands being eternally filthy or not, and bathed in toxic carcinogens or not. Plus, they offer a smidge of abrasion resistance: drag your hand past a little metal pokey thing and the glove will catch hopefully before your skin will.

I also wear hearing protection sometimes, and not just for super loud power tools. If you have to smash something to death with a hammer, it will be ear-splitting noise. That kind of combined damage is bad for your ears long term. And honestly I find that I’m more likely to really beat the crap out of something with a hammer if I can’t hear it as much.

If you’re laying under a car and messing with things above you, there’s a 100% chance shit will fall in your eyes. If you use a grinder, even just a Dremel, things fly everywhere. For $2 you can have some goggles that will keep your eyes safe and if they get scratched/broken you won’t care.

4) Specialty tools.

In addition to a nice set of core tools, you will acquire various specialty tools. If you do not acquire these and try to use your existing stuff as a “make-shift-good-enough” you can expect lots of swearing, lots of damage to you and what you’re working on, and much more time spent.

Sometimes these tools are cheap: a 4 foot section of PVC pipe can release a birfield joint from an axle in most cases. Other times they can be quite costly like a professional ball joint remover. You can also rent these tools in many instances, if you live in a town with resources for something like that.

You can evaluate your need of specialty tools by researching your project beforehand.

5) Take your time.

If you need to drive somewhere tomorrow, don’t change our your brakes today unless you’re a better mechanic than I am. Being in a hurry makes you rush and you’ll stress out when things go sideways. Not “if” things go sideways, but “when” things go sideways: things always go pear shaped especially when you’re in a hurry.

You’ll also be more inclined to make bad judgement calls and rush.

6) You’ll spend most of your time on stuck bolts, stripped threads, and things you can’t get a good grip on: don’t think this is out of the ordinary.

If you have an object in front of you on a workbench with lots of space and tools about, pretty much anyone can be effective. On your back staring up though a mess of mysterious hoses and brackets, all coated in road grime that keeps falling on your face, things get tricky.

This goes back to good tools, taking your time, and specialty tools: wobble sockets exist because good angles are hard to come by and impact guns exist because rust never sleeps and the last asshole over torqued the shit out of everything.

You may need to cut things off with a Dremel. You may need to use a propane torch. You definitely will use penetrating oils like AeroKroil. You may need to take things apart just to get access to something else (like the power steering fluid reservoir to get to the oil filter, in my truck).   You definitely will get stuck halfway through a project and need to drive/bike/walk to a store or have something shipped to you. Again, this can be reduced by (a) researching in advance (b) acquiring the proper tools and (c) taking your time.

7) Keep a journal; I like Google Spreadsheets.

Whether you keep or one day sell the thing you’re working on, it will be helpful years from now to know when you last performed whatever maintenance. Also, you can keep track of the model numbers for things like oil filters and bearings.

8) Have the actual service manual.

The guides you can pick up at autozone for your car are a lot better than nothing and they are actually a solid starting point. But for real work and answers to nearly every question about your vehicle you want the no-kidding service manual. Often you can find the PDF online for free (as in, like, illegal), or you can buy the phone-book sized version on ebay for ~$100. If you’re really hard pressed you can get it from the dealership in most cases.

9) Use OEM parts unless you have a really good reason not to.

That service manual referenced above assumes you’re using components built to the exact factory specifications. The further you wander from factory stuff, the less you can rely on service manuals and the collective wisdom of all others that have worked on your problem before.

Some things clearly should be replaced: tires have gotten a lot better and if you’re using a 20 year old stereo with 20 year old speakers, it’s a good time to upgrade. But even things that seem to make sense, like oil filters, you might really be better off sticking with OEM. Expect OEM parts to generally be more expensive and harder to pick up. You’ll need to get them shipped or from a dealer, usually with some shipping time as well.

10) Remember, it’s a journey.

If you look at sailing like simply a means of getting from A to B, it’s clearly a terrible approach compared to driving, flying, or even just riding a bicycle. But that obfuscates the point, which is the journey and all the things you learn along the way are what make it such an awesome experience worth doing.

Looking at it another way, just because something is easier doesn’t inherently mean it’s better for you. Things that are a total pain in the ass represent a challenge and some challenges are very much worth accomplishing.

Having a firm grasp of mechanical principles and the ability to function with them is hard to understate given the nature of our world.

And really, buy an impact gun.