Tech Tips in 4-Wheeling Part 1: Lines and Devices for Hauling
Well we’re well in to winter again and I’ve already heard of some 4WD epics in the Ghost River. For example, one day recently my friends called me from the road on their way home, wanting to borrow my shop vac (and beer) to dry out their truck: they had been in the Ghost River … deep. And they had to get pulled out.
4-wheel-drive is terrific but it does have limitations too, and when your truck gets stuck, it’s usually twice as bad as 2WD: “4WD Means Twice as Far to Walk.”
When a vehicle gets stuck, there’s nothing better to pull it out than another vehicle, but the first thing to be sure of if you‘re planning to take your truck in to Waiparous valley or the Ghost — 4WD or not, is that it has tow points on both front and back: typically tow rings under the front bumper, and similar at back; if your vehicle has no tow point at the front, OR no tow point at the back, then spend the money to have at least one installed before going in to rough country — both front and back will be needed sooner or later. A good option for the rear of your truck is a hitch, which can be used for towing a trailer too.
If a vehicle is stuck and another one available to rescue it, forget about winches and come-alongs, as they still need a solid anchor, either a tree or a huge rock, something like that, AND… they are slow, and have a short range. But they don’t take up much space and are still good to have in the back, but only for a last resort.
Luckily, climbers tend to have ropes when they get stuck, but you likely won’t want to use your good climbing rope for towing — think about that in advance. Anyway, someone once told me: “A climbing rope is no good — it stretches!” Well yes, it does, and that’s one of the great things about climbing rope: it can store energy, that’s how it stops a fall, not just sheer brute tension, but also in its stretch, and that can be very useful in towing.
For towing — out of a jam, not continuous down-the-road pulling, but rather, out of a hole, or a drift, or off a boulder — just one big pull to get it loose — the best thing is to have a tow vehicle with a clear path ahead of it, and a long rope: allow at least 30 metres of rope from the stuck truck, to provide some stretchiness, tie it on, and take a run at it. Start easy the first time, to test the stretch and the shock on both vehicles, but a rope won’t be anything like a chain or cable — you don’t want to take a run with those, as something will break, and it could very well be a hitch, bumper, or tow ring. With a chain or cable, or a short rope or tow strap, safe towing is limited to dead-pulling — that is, relying on ground traction in a steady pull. But that often works anyway, and pulling with a truck, if it’s available, is still better than a winch.
A rope will soften the impact of a moving tow vehicle, and stretch, building up tension while the tow is still moving, and that may be enough to dislodge the victim vehicle even before the tow loses traction and stops. When it does, the tow driver should lock his brakes on to avoid being dragged back by the tight rope and conserve tension for the victim. Then the rope continues to supply force while relaxing and the victim gets well clear of its hole. A few seconds of hefty towing force is much better than a sudden destructive shock.
By the way, during such ‘rescue’ pulling, especially in dynamic loading of the rope by a fast-moving tow vehicle, a common concern is that a rope may break and hit someone or break a window, etc. Well in fact there should be little worry with rope, as a broken rope will fly in the direction of pull — not to the side, and it won’t fly very far or hit very hard, because of its low density. So as long as bystanders stay a couple of metres to the side of the rope, they’ll be safe, and vehicle damage is very unlikely. Still, such concerns are normal, and I myself have often thrown a jacket or a tarp or sling or extra piece of rope over the tow rope as a damper to catch it in case it breaks.
Many climbers accumulate old retired ropes “for top-roping” — that they rarely use: those, especially bigger ones, 10-11mm, are perfect for use in towing, so keep one in your truck instead of the basement.
I’ll have more to say about rescue pulling later, in a coming article.