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Posted By Toutle Trekker

The Spirit Lake Highway is not like other mountain passes in the winter.  It is not plowed, sanded and de-iced on a regular basis.  The Department of Transportation doesn't publish hourly pass reports or send out alerts for dangerous conditions. The only working camera, at the Forest Learning Center, shows the snow covered parking lot, not the conditions on the roadway.  Sometimes the Department just plows a big berm near the runaway truck ramp, or at Elk Rock, and that is where driving ends until a big melt.  And when regional snows hit, it is the last road to get attention.

Today (1/2/2022) my family took our heavy, lifted and studded 4x4 up to see if the skiing was any good.  We knew it would be windy at Elk Rock, and the blizzard like ice pellets belting our skin sure stung.  But we did not have a chance to ski.  We instead spent over two hours digging and pulling and pushing other people out of the snow.  I knew I had to post a few rules for driving up the Spirit Lake Highway in the winter.  

First, and foremost, BRING A SHOVEL.  Not a pair of snowshoes to be used as a shovel (like today) but a real shovel.  I've seen folks digging with a clawhammer, a stick, or their bare hands, but in all the times we've helped people get unstuck, they have never had their own shovel.  Everyone should know that you simply do not venture into the snow without a shovel of some type.

Second, all-wheel drive does not a snowmobile make.  For some reason it is assumed by many that if they have four wheel drive they can drive in any amount of snow.  Subarus are the most deceptive because people use them all the time to get to ski resorts.  Today, after pushing and pulling a mid-sized SUV back onto the roadway, the next little sedan that showed up insisted they had all-wheel drive so they were fine. We told them without high clearance they would get stuck, and we wouldn't be available to pull anyone else out.  The real problem was there was no place to turn around, so many of these hapless vehicles just kept going, up and up.  The wind at Elk Rock was blowing drifts of several feet into the plowed-last-week roadway.  These drifts would clog up under any low clearance vehicle, and there they would sit, high centered, in the middle of the highway.  

And finally, if you do have a big, high, 4x4 with good snow tires and you remember your shovel, also add tire chains and strong tow rope.  Not those rinky dink cable chains either, but real, heavy tire chains.  They are especially helpful when you can't get enough traction while pulling a Subaru out of the ditch.  If you actually need to chain up your big 4x4 truck to unstuck yourself, you've already gone too far and should have turned around when you had the chance.  Now you dig. 

 

 


 

 

 
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