A few weeks ago, I found myself making the 8 hour round trip to a small town in Northern Alberta in order to hand deliver a bid to a Client and the clock was ticking. In order for it to be considered in the competitive process, I had to get it there by 2pm that day.
The weather was typical January for Alberta. There had been a fresh snowfall the night before and the roads were clear and in the most dry, thankfully. However it was cold with temperatures around -26 degC. You soon learn that you need to take precautions to be safe, when travelling in this part of the world. I had cold weather clothing, water, food, a sleeping bag and first aid kit. I was also travelling in a 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD off road (read more on my rig here) with winter rated tyres. A very capable machine with significant off road capabilities.
The drive had been uneventful and I was only 50km away from my ultimate destination when I rounded a corner to be met with a snow plough clearing the other side of the road. Again, this is a common sight in Alberta and I reacted as normal by slowing down and making sure I gave the plough enough room as I passed.
Snow ploughs never change their course…
As I passed I was constantly judging the the distance between my vehicle and the spraying snow from the plough. I was also subconsciously aware that there was built up snow at the side of the road on my side and concluded that the plough must have already cleared that side.
And that’s when it happened…
The front wheel of the 4Runner started to get caught up in the new soft snow at the road’s edge, it must have been between 8-12” in depth; and I could feel the vehicle getting pulled that way. I gently corrected the steering to bring the wheel back to the road but as I did, I could feel that the vehicle’s rear end would then get pulled around and could roll over.I did apparently, what you’re supposed to do and instead of fighting the momentum I straightened up and steered off the road in the ditch!
In the ditch…
Stopping wasn’t difficult in the deep drainage ditch as the soft snow provided a cushioned mass to take away the momentum. As the 4Runner stopped I took in my surroundings and noticed that the plough was nowhere to be seen and the road was empty.
So I am now in a deep ditch in virgin snow with no one around and furthermore a commercial bid to be deliver some 50km away……but I am in a very capable off road ready vehicle so all is not lost…yet.
I engaged low range 4WD and with the deep tread of my BF Goodrich tyres I immediately moved forward through the deep snow. I decided to take a gentle angled approach to get back on the road up the sloped side of the ditch and made some headway but unfortunately the snow could not hold the weight of the vehicle and I started to tip over. I reversed and tried again on a new section of the slope but with the same results. In the end I drove back to the ditch bottom and reassessed.
My bid is still sitting next to me and the time is ticking to the deadline…
I could see, further along the ditch, a road crossing to an abandoned property and I decided to drive to the end to get on to this narrow track first before returning to the highway. The 4Runner had no problems driving through the snow and I accelerated as I approached the track’s sloping sides and made it…almost.The vehicle was now full length on the slope to the track at an angle of around 25 degrees and so, so close to making it to the track’s edge. However the more the wheels rotated, the more the vehicle dug in and I know when that starts to happen, you stop!
Once again I reversed the 4Runner to take a new run at the slope (it looked so easy to climb from behind the wheel!) but this time I engaged the electronic off road traction aids built in to the vehicle where you can select terrain and control the speed of your ascent (or descent) using a dial.Again so close but with the narrow ditch, steeper sides alongside the track and the soft snow, the vehicle just dug in again and again…
To the rescue…!
I has now out of the vehicle walking in the deep snow and taking a closer look at the dug in wheels on the passenger side. I had tried just about everything I had at my disposal mechanically to get myself out and my last option was to deploy my MAXTRAX traction mats (MAXTRAX).I had never used these until now and they were purchased as a safety device for when I go overlanding (see my other posts), not for delivering bid documents at work!
I took the pair of mats and inserted them in front of both the tyres, spanning the deep holes the wheels had created. I then got back in the vehicle, turned off the electronic traction aids and with the vehicle in 4 low, drove forward. I made more progress this time but as the wheels fought to grip the rigid teeth of the mats they lost momentum and the boards slid away. I reversed, repositioned the MaxTrax back under the wheels and then gunned the engine and hit the mats hard and “fast” and…
…the 4Runner shot up the slope and mounted the narrow track. I had to hit the brakes hard to stop the vehicle going straight over the other side and then was able to reverse carefully back on to the highway.In remembering the event it seems a lot happened in a short space of time as it only took me 20 minutes to get myself out and back on the road but I was lucky. I had a capably off road vehicle, the right tyres and recovery traction mats and with that combination only was able to recover myself.
The consequence would have been to sit it out at the side of the road and wait for a passerby on a quiet road in deep country in -26degC temperatures. It could have gone wrong, very wrong and I could have rolled the vehicle and not be here now writing this blog.
If you’re still curious, I was able to get my bid delivered and still await the outcome.
Thanks goes to Toyota for making a great vehicle and a major shout out to MAXTRAX for producing a fantastic product – a life saver!