Overland travel Trail Runs

Driving Northwest Forest Logging Roads

When driving the back roads of Washington you are likely to encounter all sorts of roads and vehicles. I would like to address “logging roads” through the forests of the Northwest.

Having worked in the woods for a number of years, I have become accustomed to driving logging roads and “dealing with” other logging road users. Weekends are a little easier but during the week logging roads can be down right dangerous to the unaware driver. There can be a wide range of vehicle traffic such as foresters in pickups to fuel and lube trucks servicing the heavy equipment at logging sites to loaded log and dump trucks. While drivers can seem rude at times, remember this is THEIR place of work. Their livelyhood relies on traveling these roads.

A few basic rules to follow while driving these roads are common sense. First of all SLOW DOWN and turn your headlights on. It may seem like you are the only one out there at times but 35 mph on a gravel corner can be really fast when that loaded logger lumbers into view, and according to the “law of gross tonnage” you will not be the winner. Many of the roads are not posted with speed limits, unless it is part of the county road system. 10-15 mph is a good speed for most locations with a narrow 1 or 1 1/2 lane road. Wider roads with long lines of sight and well maintained can be safe at 35 mph. Remember there are spur roads (short dead end roads) all along the way and they are often difficult to see from a distance. Headlights make it a lot easier to been seen as you pass from clearing to timber. If the oncoming car is in the sun and you are in the shadows you will be very difficult to see.

Second is to read road and warning signs. This can be misleading, at times as old signs are often neglegted and no longer a valid warning. Look for other “signs” too. If the sign says “Keep Out, active opperations” but the road has a layer of leaves and looks as though no one has driven it in a while you can assume operations are no longer active. If the road is well traveled and there are other indicators of a logging operation (strips of fresh bark, new rock, etc along the side of the road) then do as the sign says. If you are up berry picking and you encounter a sign that says the roads have recently been sprayed, look for a different berry patch. Chemicals used on roadsides are not hazardous to us in the doses you will find, but who like fresh fruit covered in weed killers. Lastly, plan on staying out of the woods during HIGH fire danger.

Active logging roads are often open to travel, even during the day when trucks are traveling it. Look for a sign that has the CB channel (you have a CB don’t you?) for the road and make not of the road name or number. Number three is, if you are going to travel logging roads, get a CB radio. They are inexpensive and are available at Radio Shack as well as other online and local electronic stores. Tune to the proper channel and listen for traffic. If a channel is not marked start at ch14 for main haul roads, ch12 is often used on secondary haul roads as well as ch13. Call out your position as you start up the road (I will use C-line as a generic road name) “in bound c line at the black top”. Look for numbers along the way either painted on threes, stumps or rocks as well as little signs tagged to trees. These are road markers used to identify the position of various vehicles along the road. If on your way in you pass a 2 painted on a tree call out “”inbound c-line marker 2”. Also listen to were the other vehicles are. “Loaded logger number 4 outbound (or east/west/north/south depending on road)” means you should start looking for a good turn off before you meet up with the truck.

Last, keep to the right. Theres the basics.

I found some good info on CB radios over at Roadtrip America.

If you have other advice or experiences with logging roads, please contact me or comment. I would also like to start a list of common CB channels used on main logging roads in the Northwest.

Overland travel Trail Runs

Searching for Snow, Part II

Again we visited the Ahtanum area West of Yakima.  This time there was a little more snow.  We traveled the North Fork Road up past Snow Cabin.  We were able to make it within 2 miles of Darland Mountain from the north on this road before the snow (and snowmobile tracks) halted progress.

Snow Cabin CGWe spent the first part of the day at Snow Cabin Campground (there was no cabin that I could see).  This is a nice campground at about 4700′ elevation.  It has about 6 camp sites with fire pits and picnic tables.  There are 2 unisex latrines as well, but no running water.  We setup for at one spot for lunch.  I had forgotten to bring firewood, so we scavenged a few of the other fire pits for semi dry/charred wood to use.  After an hour of trying to start a fire (while I was making lunch on the camp stove) we gave up.  We ate lunch, then decided to head further up the road for deeper snow.

Sleed hillOnce we were denied access to the top of Darland Mountain, we headed back down the road a little for a good sledding spot.  We ended up finding one at an intersection with the 2300 road and spent an our sledding and having a snowball fight.  There was about 18″ of snow here.  We were just under 5700′.  I could only trek to the top so many times before I was worn out. 

snowball fightIt was getting later in the day and I didn’t want to be too far up a snow covered road once it got dark, so we headed down and around to Treephones.  We started a nice fire in the wood stove again to warm up the cabin.  We then had a good hide and seek snowball fight in the woods around the cabin.  We stayed until dark, having a snack in the now toasty cabin before heading down. 

It was another nice visit to the East Slope of the Central Cascades, one we will repeat several times throughout the winter.

Overland travel Trail Runs

Searching for Snow

This isn’t a trail run, more like a snow report. Veterans Day weekend we were over in Yakima and decided to look for some snow. On the trip over we went Hwy 410 through Chinook Pass and there was just a crust of snow left on the side of the road from the plows, and only at the summit. We figured we would have to look a little higher. We took the Ahtanum road out of Union Gap and headed up the North Fork road at Tampico. At the snow park (and end of paved road) we took the A2000 along the middle fork Ahtanum creek to Treephones campground. You can stay right at the intersection and it looks like (on the map) you will get to roughly the same place, go by Cougar Flats and another Snow cabin.

Treephones is a state Treephones Cabincampground managed by the DNR and has many camp sites and is set up for horse and pack animals. There are several large sites with trailer parking and a large turnaround parking lot. Treephones has a nice building built by a local snowmobile club the ?ski benders. It is a large hall with several large picnic tables and a wood stove in the center. We started a fire in the stove and cooked our soup for lunch. We also figured it would be nice to have a warm place to return to should we find good snow.

The Ahtanum area uses the green dot road managment system and some of the roads are closed to vehicle travel. We ended up taking the road behind Treephones up to Eagles nest and Clover Flats camp ground. This is were we started to get a little snow. We continued on to the top and Darland Mountain and Narroneck Gap. This is were we ended up playing, just below 7,000 feet. You can continue along the road and end up looping around to Cougar Flats and back to the North Fork road.

We did a little sledding here at the top of Darland Mountian.  The snow wasn’t that good, with a thick icey crust, but that didn’t matter.  Just watch out for the big rock at the bottom.

sledding 1  sledding 2  sledding 3

I think we will have to explore this area in the summer. It appears there is a number of trails that continue on down to Rimrock Lake area around Minnie Meadows and Buckhorn Meadows.

Overland travel Trail Runs

ARB Overland Driving Course – Naches, WA

This isn’t a trail run perse, but was a really great opportunity to learn some new things and put all skills needed for safe overland driving to the test. The format for the class was a one day, 3 hours in the “classroom” and another 8 hours putting it all to use. The class was taught by Chris Wood, ARBs Western Region Sales Representative and Assistant General Manager. Chris is a certified trainer with the International 4WD Trainers Association and brings over 23 years of experience to ARB’s program.

Chris welcomes drivers of all experience levels and promises to sharpen the skills of both the novice and seasoned off-road-er. This class is put on FREE of charge to participants. There is no hard sales pitch for ARB products, but you get to see alot of them in action. I attended with members of our local TLCA chapter, the South Sound Cruisers and some other area FJ Cruisers owners.

Staged at Jacks Picture by OlyWAFJ

Whistlin Jacks LodgeBefore heading out from Whistln’ Jack Lodge on Hwy 10, every vehicle under went a safety inspection. Items checked were the basics like steering components, brakes, safety gear, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, lights, tires and leaks.

Our first assignment, on the way to the classroom, was to back 1/3 of a mile up a logging road. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but if you have never backed up more than out of a parking space it can be quite a challenge. 1/3 mile is a long way in low range reverse, then through in some corners and steep down hill and you have an interesting challenge.

Our Second task before arriving at the classroom was to practice our backing technique again, but up a step slope onto the trail, around a tree with a steep soft edged slope on the other side. We then continued to back down the ridge trail to the classroom parking area.

backing up

Picture by OlyWAFJ

The term classroom is used rather loosely here. We were in a small clearing beneath several tall Ponderosa Pines and a few smaller firs. It was a nice level shady place were Chris went over the basics of four wheel driving and being prepared for overland travel. It was a rather detailed session, but here are a few important high lights.

  • Are you fit for the trip? It can be a long day on the trail. It can be a lot of work to extract a stuck vehicle. It can be a long hike out should your vehicle become disabled.
  • Vehicle inspections.
  • Vehicle familiarity.
  • Recovery points, under-body protection and tires.
  • Travel plan, does any one know were to start looking if you don’t come home?
  • Packing for the trip. You always plan on the trip being longer than a day. Do you have enough food, water and shelter if you have to stay the night? What about a comprehensive first aid kit.
  • Safety and Survival.
  • Basics of the 4wd vehicle.
  • Vehicle recovery – evaluate the situation
    • Straps
    • Winches
    • Jacks (do you know the right way to use your HiLift?)
  • Driving – what to look out for and how to act around other users. The last part is very important to the survival of our sport. See the BlueRibbon Coalition web site for more info.

Class room parking
Picture by OlyWAFJ
After the classroom, we set out on the Clover Springs trail, #696. This is a beautiful drive along the northern edge of the William O Douglas wilderness. During recent thunder storms, a series of small fires were started in the wilderness. Through out the day we could see the smoke rising on not so distant hills. Being a wilderness area though, they have a let it burn policy that really helps improve the health of the forest.

After several steep climbs and drops we reached our first major task. We had to recover from a simulated “failed hill climb”. In this exercise we had to stop half way up a steep hill with rather loose footing. We then had to back down the hill around a tree and a turn in the trail. Now we could see the importance of the days first task. Every one completed without any problems and we moved on.

failed hill climb

Picture by OlyWAFJ

Our next exercise was a recovery drill. If you had a winch, you had to self recover (while anchored to the vehicle infront of you). If you didn’t have a winch, you had to do an assisted recover with a strap. It was easy to see how important it was to apply a constant amount of power from the stuck vehicle regardless of the recovery method used.

Recovery excercise

Picture by OlyWAFJ

Everyones favorite exercise was the spotting commands drill. Chris believes that the student REALLY pays attention if they have to spot their own vehicle, so that is what we did and it works. There was just one small (overlooked in previous discussion) condition of this exercise. The driver (of your vehicle) was going to have their eyes closed and be given you signal from a “co-driver” in your passenger seat navigating through a cone course, up hill over uneven terrain with you trying to tell them with hand signals which way to go to miss the obstacles and the cones. Like all the other exercises, it was ok to opt out if it was beyond your comfort level. It was a very strange sensation driving a very slow moving vehicle over uneven terrain with you eyes closed.

That was the end of the training. The rest of the day was a pleasant trail ride out to clover springs and the FS road down Whistl’n Jack Lodge.

Along the way home we had the opportunity to put some of the skills covered in the class to a real world test. The FJ Cruiser traveling infront of me was pitched sideways off the trail when the back of his truck slid off of a rock in loose soil. Chris setup the recovery using my winch and the winch from the truck in front. With a little bit of pulling from both ends, and driving backward then forward in 2wd, he was soon back on the trail.

Picture by Victor

picture by Victor

Our second real recovery was when Chris took a very loose steep hill. With just 20 feet to go, all wheels started spinning and he dug himself into a spot. Two of the FJ Cruisers went around the bypass (which was only a little better than the main hill) and with both of them for the anchor and some liberal winching, We were again soon back on the trail. Once I got to the top (using the bypass of course) I noticed a line running up the hill between Chris’s tire tracks. It had been hard to see in the loose silty hill, but the ruts were just deep enough for the differentials to be dragging. That certainly didn’t help in his hill climb attempt.

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