This weekend some friends and I took an off-road trip on the Washington Back Country Discovery Route (WABDR). We debated all winter on where to go and what route to take but, with all the recent snow, and some logistics around a couple of participants wanting to leave a day early, we settled on starting in Ellensburg and heading South and then North.
There were seven of us in all:
- Eric Edmonds and Josh Dahlstrom driving a 2020 Tundra
- Albert Merkel with his daughter driving Mitsubishi Montero
- Michael Stokesbary driving a Jeep Wrangler, and
- Benjamin and I taking up the rear in a diesel 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser (HDJ80L)
The main purpose of the trip was to test-drive the Land Cruiser which, thanks to Albert’s help, has undergone some major improvements including regearing the differential, upgrading to bead-locked wheels, rebuilding the brake system, installing rear differential lockers, re-doing the auxiliary power, replacing the auxiliary fuel tank with a 42-gallon tank, and installing new storage draws in the rear.
Our drive to Ellensburg was flawless and we filled up the auxiliary fuel tank with 18 gallons of diesel there. We then took the circuitous route (I think we turned around four times), before arriving at the start of the rugged version of the WABDR. We initially started on the route via Umptanum dirt Rd. within a few meters, Albert decided to take the more “rugged” route so we turned around one more time and began our adventure. The road wound around and down into the valley at Durr Road Campsite but this was not for us. We started up the other side which was quickly covered in snow. We all down-shifted to 4×4 low and headed up with Albert in the lead and Stokesbary taking up the rear.
Unfortunately, after about 15 miles, Eric radios us that the Tundra is stuck. Hmmm… We wait at the top as attempts are made to continue. Eventually, Mike makes his way around Josh and joins us at the summit and the Land Cruiser (which needs a name – suggestions welcome) heads down to try to help. After a couple of attempts, however, and the interruption of another car (not in our party) descending, Josh and Eric give up and start heading back to Ellensburg to purchase some chains.
On the way back, however, they radio us and suggest we camp at the Durr Road Campsite. This works for the rest of us and we head back down to the campsite for the night.
We set up camp and Benjamin, with Josh’s guidance, cooked a stew for dinner in the Afghan pot. Excellent!!
We awoke with a beautiful sunrise and Benjamin’s, again with Josh’s guidance, cooked an egg souffle – albeit this time in the dutch oven. Mmmm!
Rather than head back South, we decide to drive through Ellensburg, pick up chains for the Tundra, and then drive over to Cashmere – to try our luck traveling North on the WABDR. Alas, it was closed for exclusive snowmobiler access, so Albert lead us to a different trail. We started out on dirt with a caution sign – what we assumed was just a suggestion – and then progressed to mud.
At this point, we all aired down. (I took the Land Cruiser down to 9.5 PSI thanks to the fancy new bead-locked wheels that Albert installed.) However, the mud didn’t last for long as we were shortly driving on three to four feet of hardened snow. I was impressed with the lack of concern, but everyone seemed undeterred, so we continued up the mountain. In spite of the newly acquired chains, the Tundra got stuck, but Josh successfully was able to get it moving again on his own.
It was this next stretch, however, where the adventure really started – and we stopped. Albert was in the lead, Stokes and Josh next, while Benjamin and I took up the rear. Josh gets stuck. Yay! It’s about 3:30 PM. Time to pull out the winch, shovels, and recovery boards.
Overhead on the radio, “I think we have reached the end”, says Albert. “Yup, we are a little stuck.” Mike and I are going to go radio silent for a while as we figure this out.
We pull out the winch and start helping Josh. No, go! We tried angling (pun intended) off a tree but the Tundra would not budge. Recovery boards… nope. Shovels are out and we start digging. The Land Cruiser, while not stuck, didn’t have sufficient traction to pull Josh out. Thanks to suggestions, we anchor it to a tree. More pushing, shoving, digging, etc. Still no luck. It is starting to get dark. Benjamin volunteers to cook dinner.
There were a few less-than-ideal details:
- Josh doesn’t have the correct fitting to undo his spare tire.
- The Land Cruiser was missing the handle for the bottle jack (details).
- The connection on the winch controller was failing and the winch was failing to activate.
- It was getting really icy as the evening went on.
- The Tundra was so close to the cliff side that you couldn’t enter/exit from the passenger side as the door couldn’t open.
- The Montero blew a fuse so Albert had to jerry rig it directly to the battery (fuses just require replacing anyway).
- In an attempt to descend, the Jeep skids perpendicular to the trail.
- The Montero is high-centered and there are no nearby trees to anchor to.
Focusing on the Tundra, and in desperation we allow the winch to pull the Tundra to the side with a little extra vigor and the beading gives out and its tire goes flat. Stink! This truck is completely high-centered to the point that even taking out his spare tire from under the vehicle is challenging. (Benjamin continues cooking dinner with Eric’s accompanying conversation.)
After some hemming and hawing, Josh decides to attempt to reseat the wheel with gasoline and a lighter. Yes… this is the time for Macgyver-type measures. And, what do you know, it works the first time. Wow!!
Yeah… it’s been 4.5 hours and we finally have the first car unstuck.
Josh and I reverse down to a “passing” spot, Josh stays on the trail and the Land Cruiser passes by off-trail. No getting stuck. we head up to the next rig. Here we find Mike’s Jeep rotated 90 degrees on the road. And after pulling his rig out (another few hours), we again switch spots and the Land Cruiser heads to the top to find Albert’s Montero. We tried with the winches (the Montero also had a winch), and some raw pulling. Regardless, the Montero didn’t budge. To reduce the likelihood of the Land Cruiser getting stuck, we drop the air pressure down to 4.5 PSI. And, while it came close, it was always able to self-rescue. Yes!!!
Eventually, we take to digging, rotating, and digging some more, slowly pulling the vehicle around.
At 3:30 AM, 12 hours later, all cars are unstuck and we head down to Josh and Mike’s car to camp for the night.
In the morning we wake up fresh and ready for a new day. It doesn’t take long, though, before we all decide to head home. We’ve had all the practice we need for this trip, all concentrated into a single 12-hour block. Although the Tundra got stuck one more time, we all knew the digging drill and were able to rescue it without much ado.
Once off the trail, we head to Cashmere Riverside Park for a picnic. Josh whips up dessert in the dutch oven (yes, really… it was wonderful). A great finish to an adventurous trip!!