One of the best things about the East Coast is that we get all 4 seasons – which is great for offroad adventure in that the terrain changes all the time. Minivan-accessible routes in the summer months requires recovery gear for serious 4x4s in the winter months. This was the case for us this past weekend when we got out for a Saturday of exploration and sightseeing on USFS forest roads and trails in the northern sections of George Washington National Forest.
We had a couple of goals for the day:
- Have Fun! None of us had gotten out super recently, and 2 out of 3 trucks were sporting new mods that had yet to see dirt.
- Cover new ground. We’ve spent a lot of time in the areas immediately West of Harrisonburg while neglecting routes that exist further north (and closer to home in Northern VA). We wanted to check these routes out and scout some views and camping spots to revisit on future trips.
Myself and friends Jason and Mark got an early start to the day heading West on 66 towards the mountains, stopping off at Cristina’s Cafe in Strasburg for a tasty and fresh breakfast (try the breakfast tostadas!). Jason had done a little route-planning in advance using his Delorme Maps, and we headed into the mountains south of Strasburg, beginning in the Wolf Gap area.
In the morning the forest roads we covered were snow/ice covered, but with the strong Saturday sun traction was not much of an issue and we made great time covering scenic ridgetop drives. The mood was pretty light and the driving wasn’t hard. We even stopped for Mark to harvest a little deadfall for his fireplace back home.
As we headed deeper into the forest in the afternoon, the snow got deeper, the trails got narrower, and the shelf-road drops got more intimidating. We were driving on trails covered in 8-14” of snow that nobody had been on in weeks.
Jason played lead in his AEV JK, and Mark and I followed in the 4Runner and Tacoma. We encountered our first recovery scenario on a short-but-steep climb out from a creekbed. Jason made the climb, but the 4Runner wasn’t having success on worn Goodyear MT/Rs and without a front locker. Thankfully it was a quick, textbook winch pull that safely got the 4Runner up the hill with no drama. Mark was able to walk up the hill locked front/rear on fresh Goodyear MT/Rs. It was the first time that day we’d see firsthand the importance of fresh tires, but unfortunately not the last time.
As we continued covering miles, the snow got deeper, such that we weren’t just leaving 2-track marks, we were dragging diffs through the snow as well! The 4Runner continued to struggle on old tires, and needed a tow-strap tug from Mark after sliding into a small ditch in deep powder.
Things got more intense as we descended on a shelf road bathed in sun, but covered in snow with a nasty layer of solid ice underneath. We tiptoed down the road at less than 5mph, but even at those speeds the ice made things unpredictable. All 3 trucks at one time or another lost footing a slid into the ditch. The 4Runner did so most dramatically – with only about 12 inches between the truck and a rock wall.
Some careful placement of MaxTrax and some stabilization in the rear with Mark’s winch safely got the 4Runner back on the road. Again, this was another safe, textbook recovery and we all felt damn good about it afterwards. We finished getting down the mountain with daylight to spare.
Overall it was a great day; the right mix of covering new ground, trail difficulty, great views, and great company. It was also great to spend time with good friends who also happen to be experienced offroad drivers and skilled in safe recovery:)
What trail were you on? Number?
Did that trail during last year’s snow fall in a LC 100 and Disco II. Fun trail!
Great article Ben. Just wondering if you gave crawl control a try coming out of that river on the incline? I’ve been wanting to try crawl control coming out of something like you mentioned, but haven’t had the opportunity yet.
Lastly, any idea what tires you’ll try next? Thanks again for the trip report – looked like a great time.