When we left them in Part 1, the Van Stralen family was feeling good after traversing what was left of an avalanche in the British Columbia backcountry. Now things start to get really good/bad. Lots of winching, tons of recovery gear, ample good spirits.
Words and Pictures by Epic Family Road Trip OB 4010
After crossing the avalanche, we continued down the trail. We began to see a lot of signs that moose were in the area, so we radioed back to the other Jeep to keep their eyes peeled, hoping to see a moose or two, and if we were really lucky, we might find an antler shed.
As we traveled along the road we failed to realize that we were gradually climbing in elevation. Thankfully there were no more avalanches covering the road ahead, but as we drove on, the trail became snow-covered. Very patchy at first and then deeper and deeper until suddenly we began to lose traction.
We backed up out of the snow to see how deep it was and to assess the situation. It was slushy spring snow which looked more like small ice pellets, and if you tried to pack it into a snowball it would just fall apart. The sun was shining, the weather was warm and we figured the snow covered roads would probably turn back to slush and gravel somewhere not too far up ahead. We had a set of MaxTrax, two Warn winches, and a good supply of recovery gear. We had both of our fridges stocked with food plus plenty of dry food. We had a week’s supply of freshwater plus our life straw filter bag where we could filter an endless supply out of the many rivers and lakes ahead.
We had about a half a tank of gas in each Jeep, a full 17-gallon auxiliary tank in both Jeeps, and our 10-gallon fuel caddy on Vandi was also full. We had our tents, warm sleeping bags and Mr Heater “buddy heaters” with plenty of spare propane. Because we can only carry so much gear and had planned to spend the winter in the southwest, we didn’t have good winter boots with us. We did have hats and gloves and figured we could layer up on jackets if we got cold.
Taking all of this into consideration we decided to go for it.
We knew we would get stuck a few times and probably have to use our recovery gear, but we were ready for an adventure and didn’t mind putting in a little bit of hard work. We aired down our tires to about 12 psi and started into the snow. We are running Milestar Patagonia MTs on both Jeeps, which have proven to be great all-around tires for rocks, mud, and snow. With Worsley in the lead, we began blazing a trail through the snow. By slowly moving ahead we were able to pack a trail and stay up on top of the snow, with Vandi following in our tracks behind.
In areas where the trees were thick on the other side of the trail, the snow was much deeper. It was so deep in spots that if we got out of the Jeep we would sink right down to our waist. On uphill sections, despite our best efforts, our tires would start spinning and we’d get stuck. The only way forward was to get out the winch and start pulling. We use synthetic lines on both winches as well as soft shackles, and a strap to loop around trees.
The first recovery was successful and before long we were back riding on top of the snow again. Little did we know that this would be the first of many recoveries.
Driving back through the tracks we had created on the way in was incredibly easy compared to blazing the trail and within what seemed like minutes we were back at the cut off we had missed. The cut off the trail was now right in front of us, but to our dismay, it was a steep incline deeply covered in snow.
We were now getting low on fuel. Wesley had a half a tank left from the auxiliary and Vandi was at 1/4 tank.
That’s when it hit me. “I have a plan,” I said over the radio. “We are getting out of here on the trail we came in on.”
When you are so focused on a destination and have worked so hard to get there, turning back is not an easy decision, but in this case, it was the right one. With the rain that fell this morning and the trail that we blazed the past two days we should have no problem getting all the way back to the avalanche where we started two days ago. We should have enough fuel in Vandi to at least get there, if not farther and enough fuel in Worsley to go find a gas station and bring fuel back.
We all agreed that this was the best plan of action, so without any further ado, we began backtracking off the mountain. Despite the disappointment of not reaching the town of Elkford, it did feel good to be moving steadily again.
We tethered the two jeeps together so that if Worsley got stuck, Vandi could pull backward and if Vandi got stuck, Worsley could give a little tug and we’d be back on the move. What took days to drive in took only a few hours driving back out and soon we found ourselves back at the avalanche and on gravel once again. After all we’d been through the last couple of days we weren’t going to let an avalanche or anything else stand in our way. Soon we had crossed over and were heading for fuel. We drove until Vandi was right out of fuel and set up camp for the night.
What a feeling of relief as we sat by the fire that night enjoying a delicious meal. That night was one of the most pleasant and restful sleeps we’d had in a long time.
The next morning Carol and I got up and drove 40 minutes into town to pick up a can of fuel so we could continue our journey.
- Tire chains might have helped but would not have made it so we could just drive without getting stuck. Chains work best when you’re on a snow covered hard surface like a paved or gravel road, but in the conditions we were in where you are riding on top of 3 or 4 feet of snow, chains can actually work against you. The problem is that they will dig a hole in the snow faster than the tire would and once that happens you’re stuck.
- 8 pounds of tire pressure seemed optimal for these conditions. Would you have gone lower?
- Mountains are very beautiful but also very dangerous and mother nature can be unforgiving. Never venture into the mountains unless you are fully prepared and confident that you can get out.
- Always carry a satellite-based communication device like a Garmin or Spot, and make sure that someone knows where you are at all times. Send them your coordinates and status on a regular basis.
- Challenges and tough situations create many opportunities for character building and family bonding.
- Lastly, as part of the Overland Bound community, we had the confidence knowing that if we really got into trouble, we could send a message and within a short time, we’d have a small army of overlanders heading our way.