Welcome back to our second installment of The Mountains are Calling, Get There Safe. If you missed our first installment The Mountains are Calling, Get There Safely – Alternatives to Driving, you might want to check that out for alternatives to getting behind the wheel. In this session, we will start to address the preparation items you’ll want to have on hand before heading out into bad road conditions. As you will soon understand, I wish I had this article and took head to its warning. But like somethings in life, I had to learn the hard way. I hope you do as I say and not as I do.
It was probably seven in the evening after the apres, and I was heading home from an epic long weekend in Steamboat. I had decided to head back through my college town of Ft Collins which involved a long and tedious drive over Rabbit Ears pass on US 40 followed by an equally tedious trip over Cameron Pass through the Poudre Canyon. For those not familiar, these are amongst the notoriously hardest passes to go over in the winter. I had done this trek for years while in college and never had any issues. I had just under a half tank of gas, enough to get over rabbit ears pass and onto Walden. My truck in college was always in tip-top shape with my father reminding me to check the fluids, windshield wipers, and tread depth each time I talked to him. The best part of parental oversight is it also came with his gas card to fill up when I was short on funds (I abused this privilege in hindsight).
However, this trip I was out on my own and no longer had to follow his rules. Frankly, I thought it was overkill so I wasn’t going to do it less. Less become even less and, at some point, I just relied on the shop to check the fluids when I took it in. As a result, it had been months since I had done the basics and frankly, I had no business being out with that Jeep. The snow was starting to fall and I was stuck behind a rig splashing up the road muck on my windshield. My old wipers were just smearing the dirt and other muck around. The only way the windshield was staying anywhere near clear enough to see through was by running the washer fluid nonstop. I had stopped for gas at the last station that was open in Walden that night, still didn’t think about the fluid might run out. I got just east of Cameron pass when that finally ran out. I knew of a place not much further up the road that I might be able to get to. Through my unclear windshield, I didn’t see the side of the road very well, and I clipped the bank with my right tire sending me into a sideways slide into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. Thankfully no one was in the oncoming lane!
I thought well that was a bummer. I’ll throw it into snow mode and get out of this. As I spun my bald tires, I only barely moved a few inches forward, but I sunk about a foot deeper into the loose snow in the bank. By the time I stopped trying, I was axel deep and wasn’t going anywhere. By this time, it was nearing 10 PM, and there was no one in sight… I knew I was stuck for a while. I threw on my hazard lights and got back into the jeep to waited for someone to see me.
I didn’t think I would ever run into a situation where I could be stuck on the roads. I mean, I had driven through storms ten times worse, and I’d brag about it like it was some sort of badge of honor. As a result of my arrogance and ignorance, there was no blanket, no snacks on hand, and I never carried any water. As I sat there in my car with only my ski gear to keep myself warm. As time slowly passed, I honestly thought I was going freeze out there that night. I decided to try and turn on the car, but I had drained the battery with the hazards. S&*t!
By this time, it was probably close to midnight and I hadn’t seen a car at all. I was really starting to consider leaving the Jeep and walking down the road to the first house I could find. I knew that was a bad idea, but I had to do something as I wasn’t sure about staying in that ditch all night. As luck would have it, a car finally came by about the time I had made up my mind to leave the car. They stopped to check on me and took me back to Walden where I could get a hotel and some help the next morning to recover my jeep. I didn’t care what the rate was, I was chilled to the bone and just happy to be in a room vs. my Jeep. After a hot shower, I passed out.
Nowadays, I have become more vigilante with the car maintenance and my wife keeps us hydrated with more water on hand than a camel could drink. Since we are usually heading to our ski club during the winter, we also typically have with us a couple of sleeping bags with us and generally, we have food with us for the weekend.
When it comes to being prepared to go out on the road, It’s not just a function of having mad driving skills and no fear of driving through less than ideal conditions. It starts with making sure you have maintenance items checked, a full tank of gas, extra washer fluid, some warm clothing, and a few provisions on hand in case anything goes sideways. Oh, always always have a tow rope to get pulled out of the ditch. These days I feel much more prepared than I did in the past.
As I was researching this article, there were a few items that I hadn’t considered and I will be either raiding my camping gear or picking these up before our next trip. These are:
1. Avalanche shovel and kitty litter
2. Camping stove, matches, and a tin cup
The shovel and kitty litter are great ideas for getting your car dug out and providing just a little more traction that you had before. There are some specific shovels for cars that are collapsible and easy to store. It occurred to me that an avalanche shovel, while a probably a bit more expensive, would make a good substitute for a car shovel. If you got one with the ability also work like a hoe, for example, the BCA Dozer Hoe
you can move a ton of snow in quick order. Get the tires dugout, make sure you axels will clear, and sprinkle some cat litter under the tire for traction. Wait a min or two for the litter to expand and pull out of the ditch!
If this is not successful and you are stuck for some time, a camp stove and a tin cup will allow you to melt snow to make water or you can also use these to warm up camping food packs like those made from Mountain House
. These have a shelf life for years so it’s entirely possible to keep in the car all winter long. Since we already have the Snow Peak Giga Peak Auto Stove
. It is the natural choice to go into our kit. Even if I had to buy all over again, this micro-sized stove would be the one I would choose here. Its small enough to fit anywhere, it operates right on top of standard fuel cans, and it has a built-in lighter which is super helpful when you are lighting it. To avoid carbon monoxide issues, be sure to use this outside of the car where plenty of ventilation exists. As for a tin cup, we will be promoting our MSR Duo Cook Kit
. This is the perfect size for the food packages and will hold the stove and fuel tank perfectly. If you are melting snow for water, its important note that snow to water content can be quite low, so don’t be surprised that it make take a few times before you get enough water to drink.
The headlamp was not on my list at first as the one on my phone I use for everything. However, the more I considered the advantages of having a hands free when I was shoveling out my car, this item ended up on my must-have list. The other advantage of a good headlamp is they can project a lot of light out so you can use this instead of your cars hazards. This will save your car battery. The Petzl Zipka
is a great sized solution and won’t take up much space.
Hopefully, these items just sit in your car, and you don’t have to ever use them. However, if the unfortunate does occur, you’ll be grateful for having them. On our next session, we will be discussing some driving skills and some alternative routes to take to avoid some of the other idiots on the road. See you soon!
Until next time, pray for snow and celebrate when Ullr Provides!