Out of the Woods (video)

Getting out of the woods, even when it seems impossible.

At the last AOAA Friends and Family event, my group was confronted with an enormous impediment. As you can see in the image above, one of our group’s wheels sheered off the axel. I don’t really know how it happened, and in fact that is inconsequential to the story. The point is that we were several miles from the parking lot and we had a vehicle in our group that was seemingly immobilized.

I suppose we could have tried to get a tow truck up the mountain. But, if you knew the members of this group then you’d know there was no chance they would let someone else have all the fun of extracting that vehicle.

So, there we were. As we stood around scratching our heads, Kyle (Option-It Offroad) suggested we chop down a tree and make a ski. Several of us chuckled, myself included, and shrugged off the suggestion as a joke aimed at lightening the spirits of our group. To our surprise, Kyle declared, “No really. I saw it on YouTube once.” With that, he was off to get the Sawzall from the back of his JKU and took half the group up the hill to find the perfect ski. Once done selecting and cutting the perfect timber (a beautiful, dense, green log) they lugged the limb back to the trail and began the process of fitting it to the vehicle. I should note here, the timber they took was large enough (7-8 feet) that two burly men had quite a time of getting it back to the trail.

Lesson One

The general idea was that we were could use several nylon ratchet-style straps to hold the timber in place at an angle, with the forward end higher than the rear. Easy enuff’, we thought.

So, we got out a high jack, lifted the front bumper, strapped the long timber under the vehicle, and tried to let the XJ down. We quickly learned the first lesson in sizing the jeep ski –

The ski length should be only slightly longer than the distance between the bumper and axle.

The first attempt left too much of the timber trailing behind the axel making it impossible to get a decent approach angle on the ski. Again using the Sawzall to cut off the excess rear length, we were able to get a better approach angle.

Lesson Two

Lesson number two came soon after lesson one – Nylon is not up to the task. Our attempts to strap the rear length in place soon left us with chaffed and torn straps. And our attempts to strap the fore section (attached under the front bumper) left us with too much sag and stretch. We were not able to “ratchet” the strap tightly enough, and the timber hung loosely away from the front bumper. Luckily, the XJ had a which installed and with one wrap of the winch cable and a quick tap of a button we were able to hold the log tightly under the bumper.

Lesson Three

Our next challenge was towing the vehicle down the mountain, with switchback trails and steep descents on either side. You must understand that in the best case the log provides no steerage or braking capabilities, in the worst case the vehicle slips and slides irregularly.

We were able to overcome the downhill breaking challenge by connecting a tow strap to the rear bumper of the XJ and using the engine compression and breaking ability of the Jeep behind the XJ. But even with that, we encountered at least one switchback that required us to tether the XJ with yet another winch line to keep it from sliding away.

Through all of that craziness, and during the hours that ensued, we all became more confident in our skills. I’m sure I heard each of us, at one point or another, say “Well I know I learned something today!” And I think I can safely say that even though we got very little actual wheeling in that day, we all had a great time. And due to some great team work, a large dose of American ingenuity (and/or red-neck engineering), and special considerations for safety, we ALL got out of the woods, on our own, without injury, and with our vehicles.

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