More (Jeep) Adventure Than We Bargained For

Some trips go according to plan, while others are thrown together last-minute and nothing goes right. This is a story about the latter. Our friends, Katie and Saxxon, invited us to go camping with them down in Bountiful Canyon  last weekend. After spending the previous two days packing and hauling everything we owned into our new apartment, this was just the break we needed. So we quickly rummaged though the boxes we had just packed up, grabbed our camping gear, and headed back down to the valley we just moved from. The plan was to meet up with our friends in Bountiful Canyon at one of two campsites.  They weren’t sure which one would be empty until they got up there, but then they’d be out of cell service. So we were going off a screen shot of a map with two locations pinned on it.

This was our first time driving through Bountiful. It’s a quiet town just north of Salt Lake, filled with sprawling suburbia. At the eastern edge of the town, where the houses meet the mountainside, a paved road reaches its terminus and turns into dirt. Our wheels left the pavement, made some quick maneuvers to avoid the massive potholes, and then were head up Skyline Drive and into the canyon. Unlike the Cottonwoods and Millcreek, this canyon is almost exclusively trafficked by lifted, off-road vehicles that hammer up the dirt road with ease. We were not one of those people and decided to take a nice and easy pace up the winding road. Eventually, after 6 miles on the dirt, we reached the first dot on the map where we thought our friends would be. At first we didn’t find them, so we headed down an even smaller dirt trail that shot off the road in hopes of finding our friends. We arrived at a field on a hill that was covered in tall grass and wildflowers, only to find an empty tent and their jeep parked in the field. “Well, we found their stuff, but where are they?” I thought to myself. Luckily we heard their voices coming from down the trail and confirmed this had to be the spot.

Our friends had met up with their other buddy, Eli, who had gotten up into the canyon earlier that day to do some 4-wheeling in his lifted Jeep Cherokee. And after a chicken dinner cooked in the dutch oven, we were all headed back to the campsite where we parked at. But Eli wasn’t done wheeling yet. He took off past our campsite, further up the trail, and into the woods. Our friends brushed it off as a normal thing Eli would do, and we continued to set up our camp. But as the time passed, it became apparent that Eli had been gone for a while. So Saxxon headed up the trail after Eli to see if he could find him. And not long after, the two of them came down the trail. On foot. visibly frustrated, Eli yells down to us, “Want to see someone flip a Jeep!”

I couldn’t believe it. He had gotten his Jeep stuck and it was only a tiny gust of wind away from completely rolling into a drainage ditch. Apparently, he had gone all the way up the trail, only to find it was too tight to turn around a full-sized Jeep Cherokee, which resulted in him trying to navigate back down the narrow trail in reverse. He wasn’t sure, but he thought his rear wheel hit a boulder that bumped him sideways, off the trail. And once the tires left the trail, his tires had no traction on the steep grade of the drainage. Not to mention there were a few slick logs that were stuck in the ground that also provided little traction. To add to the mess, it was now around 8:30PM and the daylight was dwindling by the second. There was nothing more that could’ve been done that night, so Eli headed back down to the valley, with our friends Jeep, to retrieve some tools for the Jeep-rescue he’d have to do on the following day. He was fully aware of how much it would cost to get someone to tow him out (+$2K). And if he couldn’t get it out on his own, he’d be forced to call someone to tow him. But that still wouldn’t guarantee the Jeep won’t flip into the drainage.

The following morning, after a the usual camp breakfast of eggs and hash browns, I headed back up the trail to join Saxxon and Eli by the Jeep. Luckily, the Jeep hadn’t moved at all from the night before, and the passenger side was still stuck down in the ditch. With all the weight on the downhill tires on the passenger side, the uphill tires on the driver’s side were the only ones spinning when he tried to drive it out of the ditch since the Jeep doesn’t have a locking differential to prevent that. So the plan was to use the tools that Eli went back down to the valley for, in order to level out the Jeep so that more weight was dispersed onto the uphill tires. To work with, Eli went and got the following: Come-along winch, a shovel, tow straps, axes, and a whole lot of courage. Eli and Saxxon did most of the digging under the car to give the wheels better traction when we tried to pull the Jeep out. I was more on the “let’s make sure the jeep doesn’t roll down the ditch as we dig around the less-than-stable tires” duty. But by the end, it took every single one of us to get this thing to move.

We wrapped one strap of the come-along winch around a large aspen and the other strap around the front of the Jeep. Other straps were tied to the side frame of the jeep to prevent it from rolling down the hill. Attempt after attempt, Eli would climb into the sideways jeep as it would creek, rock, and roll ever more in the flipping direction into the ditch. Eli would give it everything the Jeep had, as Saxxon would crank on the winch to pull it out of the ditch. But for every inch forward, the back-end would slide further into the ditch. Constantly, we were switching where the winch would go and the straps would go in order to prevent it from sliding even further. But most attempts were futile, and little progress was made. Eventually, Eli and Saxxon had to get under the Jeep with a lifted Sky-jack in order to jack up the downhill side of the car to attempt to clear out more material and rocks that the tires were sliding on. Also, there was a giant log under the jeep that the tires had zero chance of gaining traction on as soon as it made contact. But the crew kept working. Digging away at the high side tires in order to lower them, all the while adding more material and supporting the downhill side. Crank after crank on the winch, the jeep inched further and further out of the ditch. We were getting stoked to see actual progress. But then it was moving forward towards a drop-off in the drainage ditch, not back onto the trail.

 

See, the downhill tires still weren’t spinning or gaining traction when the did spin. Eli was primarily using the uphill tires which still didn’t have much weight on them to gain sufficient traction. This resulted in the jeep not having enough control to move forward and uphill at the same time. And as the hours ticked away, the Jeep got closer and closer, but never looked like it was going to make it back up and onto the trail. Finally, in our last efforts. Eli was able to remove the massive log that was under the jeep and put the pedal down. I stood on the side, pulling a strap that was connected to the car to prevent it from rolling, and I could see that the front tire was just not gripping enough. So I ran over and stood on top the driver’s side of the hood. Saxxon pulled the lever arm of the winch with everything he had. Tensions were high, both in the straps and in the air. And it made it! The Jeep pulled out of the ditch! It was such a moment of high stoke. All four tires turned over, gripped the dirt, and shot the Jeep out onto the trail. We all celebrated such a crazy, effort-filled morning. Easily, some of the hardest work we’ve ever had to put in after a morning of camping. And as we packed up all the equipment, we realized Eli still wasn’t out of the woods just yet. Remember, he wasn’t able to turn around the Jeep around, which is how he got into this mess. So he’d have to navigate the last 0.25 mile the narrow trail in reverse. And the trail was now even skinnier at the section he crashed in because we’d dug out so much of the hillside to make it level for the jeep. But with the help of all of us, he was able to swing the jeep down the narrow section, around the tight turns, over large boulders, and made it out to the clearing by our campsite. Whew!

That weekend went from a chill, car camping trip, to helping a friend not roll, crash, and total his prized jeep; as well as himself every time he got into said jeep. All in all, it was an adventure. And fortunately for me, it wasn’t my jeep that we were trying to extract from the drainage ditch. But I learned so much from this experience. I now know how to level off a jeep and support the ground underneath by hammering in make-shift aspen tree stakes. How to properly winch out a truck that is stuck. And most of all, don’t head up a trail that you aren’t 100% certain you can make it to the end. But I really won’t have to worry about that just yet, seeing as my little Scion wouldn’t even have made it to the campsite in the first place.

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