Photo: Gregory MacDonald

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to the Mormon Emigrant Trail in the Sierra Nevada with my friends Greg, Mas, and Ismael to get into the snow and practice our recovery techniques. We started with a plan that Greg had drawn up of the different types of recoveries we wanted to do: Pull Pall with winch, winching with Hi-Lift, Kinetic strap pull, etc. When we got to the snow though, we found that it was a lot of fun just to drive around. We were doing recoveries soon enough, however.

Mas’s Wrangler heading out in the snow.

Photo: Gregory MacDonald

The guys started by airing down for traction. I had a full set of RUD Grip 4×4 chains which I was eager to try out and set to work mounting them.

The guys air down their tires.

Photo: Gregory MacDonald

I got to work mounting my chains.

Photo: Mas Watanabe

Mas, in his Wrangler, was our first test case. He had pulled over to the shoulder, gotten hung up, and tried to drive out to no avail. Greg had a set of two “Tow Truck in a Box,” aluminum traction mats. We shoveled a bit and stuck the mats under Mas’s rear tires. It didn’t budge. Since Mas’s jeep was the only vehicle equipped with a winch, I suggested using it with the Pull Pall but the guys thought putting the anchor on the other side of the road (so Mas wouldn’t just be pulling himself along the shoulder) wouldn’t make a good pull angle for the winch.

My RUD chains were working quite well and since I had the most traction out of the group, I offered to pull him out with my Montero. He then got out a nice static recovery strap from Viking Offroad which we hooked to the front of my truck. One quick pull and Mas’s Wrangler was free.

I pull Mas’s Wrangler free.

Photo: Gregory MacDonald

Next up was Ismael in his 1995 Montero SR fitted with 35″ tires. I guess no one could believe that it was so easy to get stuck merely by pulling off into the thicker snow at the road’s edge. It really was that easy.

At first I hooked up my strap and tried to pull him straight back as I had done for Mas but the snow was too deep. I really needed to pull him across the road and out instead of along the road. With the trucks arranged angled across the road, my strap was too long though. I would have been in the opposite ditch before the slack was taken up. In the end we doubled up Mas’s static strap and the Monty SR came out of the ditch. I was 2-0. So was the Viking static strap.

Rigging up to pull out the SR

I give Ismael a pull with Mas’s doubled up static strap.

Photos: Mas Watanabe

Not much further up the road, Greg went into the ditch. Maybe he wanted to give the Tow Truck in a Box mats a chance to redeem themselves? They didn’t. I hooked up my tow strap and soon Greg was back on the road. Me: 3-0. Tow Truck in Box: 0-2.

Greg in the ditch

Photo: Gregory MacDonald

Greg’s out and I'm 3-0.

Photo: Mas Watanabe

By the time everyone was back on the road, it was starting to get late. We wanted to be on our way home before the sun went down. So we found a wide spot to turn around and I, feeling cocky about being the only one not to get stuck, planted my right foot in the gas pedal as I made a U-turn.

Now, earlier in the day Greg had suggested that the number one thing we try to avoid on trail was “adrenalin poisoning,” which roughly meant “feeling like an invincible bad-ass will cause you to do dumb stuff.” Adrenalin poisoning must also make you forgetful. I drove, wheels spinning, right off the shoulder into knee-deep snow. The wheels hung ineffectually in the snow holes they had dug for themselves as I tried in vain to back out. I was stuck and stuck good.

Assessing the situation. I was stuck good.

Photo: Mas Watanabe

We debated for a minute on a plan. I was basically perpendicular to the road, so there wasn’t enough room to get a truck behind me with a winch without it going into the opposite ditch.“No problem,” I said, “I’ll winch myself out with the Hi-Lift — easy,” and got out my jack and the Hi-Lift Off-road Kit. It was anything but.

The first thing about the Off-road Kit is that, when you’re out on the trail, under pressure to make a Hi-Lift winching set-up work, it’s really hard to figure out how it all goes together. It must have taken me and Greg 15 minutes of trial and error to make it work.

This is how we did it, in case you’re wondering:

  1. We took the foot of the Hi-Lift off and pointed the bottom of the jack in the direction we were winching.
  2. We hooked the head of the jack via a D-shackle and strap to the thing we were pulling (my truck).
  3. One of the short chains with the hooks is meant for the tongue of the jack, the other we connected where the foot used to be. The two hooks “climbed” along a 25′ length of chain that we had attached to a secure point (in our case a tree).
  4. We slid the jacking mechanism down to the foot-end of of the jack and attached the “tongue hook” to the 25′ chain. Once we jacked the length of the jack, we hooked the “foot hook” to the 25′ chain and released the tension on the jack.
  5. The tongue hook became loose as the foot hook picked up the slack.
  6. We slid the jacking mechanism back down to the foot end of the jack, hooked up the tongue chain, and, as we began jacking, the foot hook became loose. We unhooked it and continued the jacking cycle.

Technically we made it work, but it was tedious process and, although we put a lot of tension in the system, we couldn’t make the truck budge. To be fair, I now realize this was because we were winching against a kinetic strap (more on that in a sec) but it was still tedious.

Setting up the Hi-Lift for winching. How does this work?

Winching with the Hi-Lift but the truck doesn’t budge

Photos: Gregory MacDonald

Our next idea was to winch me out using Mas’s Warn winch and a snatch block. We anchored the snatch block to a tree using the tree saver and tow strap I had just been winching against. Mas attempted the angled pull but there was more friction holding my truck than his, so he ended up winching himself toward the tree.

As a last-ditch effort, we hooked Ismael’s truck to the back of Mas’s Jeep for extra mass. Mas engaged the winch again and it ground ahead, albeit more and more slowly. He idled the engine higher to generate more power. The winch pulled and pulled but my truck still wasn’t moving. Mas paused for a second. He prodded the Jeep’s gas pedal again and gave the winch another jolt. Just then my truck shot backward out of the ditch moving about a full car length in the blink of an eye. Thanks for the pull, Mas!

What happened though? Yup, the kinetic strap. I had bought it years earlier on Craigslist, thinking it was just a static strap. I had just never put enough force on it to make it stretch. My stuck Montero, and the strap getting a double-line pull between me and the Jeep, did though. Once the energy in the system reached a tipping point, my Montero shot out of the snow. It pays to know your gear. I’m glad we practiced safe recovery techniques. Everyone was either in a truck or out of the way.

Getting ready for the pull

Photo: Mas Watanabe

This was the setup we used to finally get me unstuck.

Illustration: Nik Schulz

We packed up and headed home, hungry but none the worse for wear. In the end, we ended up doing almost every technique on our list. Next time, however, I’ll be sure to keep my adrenalin in check.

Note: Be sure to always read the instructions that came with your gear. We’re just a bunch of guys practicing our skills, much like yourself.

Here are a bunch of photos from our Recovery Day (including outtakes), if you want to see them in one place. Click any one for a large-format gallery.

Thanks to Mas and Greg for taking such great pictures!