Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Discussion about deep snow wheeling, vehicle builds, trip reports, etc
gbvol54
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Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by gbvol54 » Sat Oct 20, 2012 8:57 am

I hope you guys will forgive a bit of an off topic (and a bit long winded) question but I need some help that folks like you, that tackle snow for fun, are uniquely qualified to answer.

In less than a year my wife and I will be retiring to some remote property we recently purchased in NE Washington. It's at 4000 feet, at the end of an 8 mile unplowed FS road. Moderate ups and downs (the access off the main road is at 4000 ft as well). Last winter the area had about 50"-60" accumulation. The previous owner plowed the road himself (with written permission of the FS) but I'd like to see if there is another (non snowmobile) way to provide full time access.

So my question to you gents is how many of you would feel confident that you could reliably make it 8 miles on a unplowed FS road with say 40-60 inches of snow, and if so what sort of rig do you have, and what would yo feel are the most important modifications. If you guys aren't comfortable doing this, then it would be foolish for a newbie like me to try.

I've read a bit about large tires, bead lock wheels, airing down and such, and that would be my prefered option as it would allow me to air up at the main road and continue the 14 miles to a small town. The other option I'm looking at is a light weight rig (Samurai, old 40's Willys) with tracks and try to stay on top of the snow. Yes I know the Mattracks are horribly expensive ($20-30K), the American Truck Tracks are about half that (~10K) but I've seen some Samurai's outfitted with Camoplast Tatto 4s tracks (made for heavy UTVs) that are around $5K. The problem with tracks would be the 14 miles of main road to town. They would be slow, bouncy and may not even be legal, (but in the dead of winter the local lawmen may look the other way).

I'm looking forward to your responses. The videos of the stuff you do in the snow are pretty amazing. Thanks in advance for any input/opinions you can provide.

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Nobody
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by Nobody » Sat Oct 20, 2012 3:11 pm

You're not off topic at all. Welcome to the forum! Congrats on the retirement and property purchase.

I think driving the 8 miles is very reasonable in a properly equiped 4x4 with a level head behind the wheel. The depth of the snow really doesn't matter, however the type of snow does! The hardest part is "breaking trail" in fresh deep snow. If you are able to make the trek semi frequently, you'll be able to maintain a decently compacted road.

Back to the snow... as I mentioned the depth doesn't matter. The goal is to stay on top of it. This can be challenging in some conditions. Particularly the sugar snow which you are sure to see NE Washington. The sugar snow isn't a show stopper though. You'll find the conditions that create that dry powder also tend to create a crust on the surface that you can drive on. Switchbacks could also be a problem in some conditions.

Since you don't currently have a vehicle, that really opens up some options. Great place to start. Are you interested in building something yourself, or are you looking to get a decent snow rig with as little effort as possible?

Here are some recommendations:
- Tire size: 35-36 inches minimum, 15" wheel.
- Lockers front and rear. I recommend selectable lockers for the rear such as an ARB. Automatic locker in the front such as a Detroit
- Appropriate gear ratio. Depends on vehicle and tire size.
- Onboard air. Since you plan to do this frequently, I'd recommend the A/C compressor conversion. Electric pumps will be too slow, and refilling C02 tanks will get costly and be inconvenient.
- Beadlocks certainly won't hurt, but they aren't absolutely needed either.
- Manual Transmission. Automatics are fine too, but you could run into some overheating issues on some vehicles, and inconvenient torque convertor lockup can be an issue. I also find having the ability to choose a gear can really help at times.
- Winch. Since you'll be solo, a winch might be nice for self recovery. However a good shovel take care of most recoveries.

If you decide to move forward, we'll be happy to he help. I'd love to see you follow through on this.

I'm sure you know a vehicle with mattracks would do circles around us all, especially in fresh snow. However, since you should be able to maintain your road by driving on it, I really don't think mattracks would be necessary.
WINTER IS HERE

jam session
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by jam session » Sat Oct 20, 2012 4:03 pm

I agree with all of nobody's recommendations except one. I would not want an automatic detroit locker in front. That would be unusable on the street and makes steering difficult. I'd rather have selectables in both axles if you want to do much street driving but if I had an automatic I'd want it in the rear only. You didn't mention how much you want to spend but I think an ideal rig for that purpose is a late model (2007+) Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Has the selectable lockers from the factory and can handle up to 35in tires with minor mods. And still not bad to drive on the street or freeway. I drive an 09 2dr on 35s and wouldn't hesitate to tackle what you have described, though I would have snowshoes just in case. I think the worst problem you are likely to have is snow drifts. They can get huge in a storm under the right conditions and will stop even a well equipped 4x4, so the recommendation of a winch is also right on the mark. And I also agree that it will really help if you can drive it regularly (every fresh significant snowfall) to keep your tracks packed. It can also get really tricky in the spring when it thaws during the day. You could have an easy time getting out in the morning when it is frozen but not be able to make it back if it gets too soft so you can't stay on top and have to wait for it to refreeze.

Many 4x4 groups will be making snow runs in the next few months...let us know if you'd like to ride along and see what it is like. Here's a shot from last year on New Years day up on Tonga ridge. Approx 4ft of snow with 18 in unpacked. Guy leading our run was on 37's and he was having a hard time breaking trail. Get stuck, back up, hit it again. No problem for the rest of us once he had the trail packed. Here's a pic taken out the passenger window of my jeep.

Image

My jeep on the same run.

Image

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Nobody
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by Nobody » Sat Oct 20, 2012 5:42 pm

Thanks for jumping in Jam Session. I agree, the Rubicon is probably the best factory turn key rig out there. It would also have the benefit of good resale value if it doesn't work out.

Good point on those drifts. No doubt breaking trail gets tough sometimes!

My preference for selectable lockers in the front is to avoid having to make the choice between traction and steering at an inconvenient time. I run a lockright in the front of my bronco, and I can honestly say that I've never had an issue with it. I don't even know it's there. I'm just hesitant to recommend lock-rights because of some extremely poor customer service I got over a decade ago...holding just a bit of a grudge :laugh: I've run up and down icey mountain roads a million times and never had any issue. It just works. A secondary reason I like automatic up front is in the event of an OBA malfunction I'll still have one locker. That of course doesn't apply to electric lockers. Ultimately, I think the locker choice is a non issue. Both options are good.

The rear is a bit of a different story. I think a spool is the best option. 100% predictable and 100% reliable. Selectable lockers give you that spool performance without all the added tire wear. They literally pay for themselves. I won't run an automatic locker in the rear. They are just too unpredictable in icey conditions. I know the performance has been improved over the years, but they also accelerate tire wear, so that's enough for me to not consider them.

Great pics!
WINTER IS HERE

gbvol54
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by gbvol54 » Sat Oct 20, 2012 6:29 pm

Thanks for the replies. While I'm willing to go the 'build my own' route, and I have some wench experience (mostly hot rod type stuff) I'm just too slow.

I've been shopping for a modified Samurai, or 40's vintage Willys based on the following assumptions (please correct me where I'm wrong):

1. I want to stay "on top" of the snow.
2. Staying on top is a function of weight and footprint. Basically the lower the PSI exerted by the air downed tires the better.
3. A Samurai is by far the lightest 4x4 available (stock curb weight of around 2100 lbs). A weak engine can be upgraded a bit with a swap to an EFI 1.6 from a Sidekick without much additional weight. Still only about 100 HP, but with proper gearing may be enough.
4. Tires: About the largest tire I've been seeing on a Samurai is in the 36"/37" range, but I'm thinking a 36" tire on a 2200 lbs rig would float better than say a 40" on a 4000 lbs rig.

So my thought has been that a modified Samurai (lockers, sufficient lift for 37" tires, power steering, proper gearing (lower the better?) and OBA) would be a reasonable approach. Do you guys know any folks who use a Samurai? Is the lack of power a show stopper?

Thanks

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Nobody
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by Nobody » Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:10 pm

Samurai19 on the forum has a Samurai. I don't think he's checked in yet this year. I'm not real familiar with the Samurai's, but it seems swapping in toyota axles is popular...as are various engine swaps and modifications since they are a little underpowered. Generally I don't believe a lot of power is necessary though.

I'm not sure that lighter is always better. I think there is a bit of a trade off between floatation and traction. Much of that will depend on the chosen tire. Lighter vehicles often are not heavy enough to balloon the tire and increase the footprint size, which means fewer lugs and sipes on the snow. When we drive on the snow, the first pass packs the snow. After that we need traction!

While Samurai wouldn't be my first choice, I think they can make a fine snow rig. I think one of the most important things would be a radial with a 2ply sidewall.

My Bronco II was a great snow wheeler, even in the early days when it was mostly stock. The various generations of 4Runners are great, and require very few modifications. Cherokees can perform well too. There are alot of good vehicles out there. The main thing you'll want to do is research how much time, money and effort it's going to cost run big enough tires. In this economy, there's a real possibility that you can find a Samurai or other vehicle with the mods you want already done.
WINTER IS HERE

EBSTEVE
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by EBSTEVE » Sat Oct 20, 2012 8:29 pm

Toyota trucks can be a good option as well because like a Jeep you can buy almost anything you need off the shelf.
Lack of weight can also have bad effects on floatation. I wheeled with a guy lsat year in a samurai and his tires would not air down well because there was not enough weight.
No matter what you do make sure you have cb contact as a minim and a plan b just in case a good friend close by can be a life saver. Also the OBA is great but if you have selectable lockers front and rear you may want to consider a small tank of compressed as a back up.
Another consideration is a snow cat to keep at the house to pack the snow down with, you may not get to town in it but you would be able to get from the house to the road without question and make tracks that would make driving a 4x easy.
What town is it you will be close to, and keep me in mind if you want to tag along on a run this year I usually have an open seat

jam session
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by jam session » Sun Oct 21, 2012 6:46 am

I know a few guys with Zuks. Properly setup as you describe they do great in snow but aren't too hiway friendly. You probably want to plan on beadlocks cause they are so light and most 37s so stiff that most guys run less than 2 psi. Here is a zuk shot at Walker Valley last March. He runs 0 psi on 37 Iroks and does great in the snow. Another guy you might want to hookup with is Zukkev on the NWWheelers forum http://nw-wheelers.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=29. He is the tech moderator and as the name implies wheels a Zuk.

Image

gbvol54
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by gbvol54 » Sun Oct 21, 2012 9:06 am

Wow. Great information guys. I hadn't considered weight being a good thing (traction and ballooning tires). I was avoiding it like the plague. While I've wrenched on cars most of my life, I've done little with 4X4's except take them camping (2001 Silverado 4x4 3/4T HD, 2001 Jeep GC 4.7) so I'm sure I'll continue asking for input as I narrow my choices and I do appreciate you help.

My use will be a bit different than yours. I won't be challanging the snow, rather just trying to take the course of least resistance to get to the nearest town (Republic, WA in Ferry County). BUT, I'll need to feel confident that I can do that 24/7 through out any storm. From what I've read above many vehicles can potentially meet my needs with the key being the correct modifications. Certain rigs are more easily modified due to off the shelf components. Jam Session mentions his Jeep Wrangler as an option that intrests me in that it would be usable for longer trips beyond back and forth to the local store (maybe back to the west side to visit the grand kids). I had assumed that any vehicle that could do the 8 miles of unplowed road would need to be modified so severly that it would be a beast on the highway and only suited for short runs on pavement (or in the case of the Sammy with Camoplast tracks, maybe even illegal). I had ruled out the Wrangler sort of option thinking the 4000 lb curb weight was just to heavy to stay on top.

Thanks again.

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Nobody
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Re: Winter Access Over 8 Miles of Unplowed Road

Post by Nobody » Sun Oct 21, 2012 9:27 am

The weight thing is just a working theory of mine.... Being lighter definitely helps, but a little weight can help at times too! Lighter is certainly better when it comes to getting unstuck!

My Bronco weighs around 4,300lbs. Probably good bit more once I'm loaded with gear. There are times when I can only make progress a few feet at a time when breaking trail. But... if I had the need, I could continue. If you don't get more than 2 feet of snow between trips, you should be able to just drive it with minimum effort. BUT... it can get difficult when the snow crystallizes and turns to sugar. The 8 mile trip could turn into many hours. You have a real possibility of dealing with these conditions.

Also keep in mind, the vehicle is only about 50% of the solution. Driving skill will make or break you. There are a lot of little tricks that will keep you moving.

Your grand cherokee could actually fit the need pretty well. If you do your research, you should be able to build whatever vehicle you want, and be able to drive down the freeway with one finger on the wheel, and keep all your fillings in your teeth. My Bronco goes down the road really well.

Edit: I think it's worth clarifying that Jam Session has a Jeep Rubicon. If you're not familiar with the rubicon, it's a wrangler loaded with lockers and lower transfer case gears(?) etc.

I'd also recommend fuel injection. It will help a lot with cold temps and maintaining power at elevation.
WINTER IS HERE

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