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Climbing Guide - How To Drive It

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 1, 2008 Comment (0)
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Contributors: Pete Trasborg

One of the perks of our jobs as magazine editors is that we get to travel all over to go wheeling. From the Maine woods to the New Mexico desert, from the volcanoes of Hawaii to the bogs of Florida, we've covered this whole country in an effort to bring you a glimpse of wheeling across the USA.

We've seen guys take lines they couldn't possibly get up and make it; we've also seen guys try to take "the line" up a given obstacle and roll it, or grenade something by being just a little bit off of where they should have been. Sometimes it is hard, if not impossible, to roll up to a brand-new-to-you obstacle and pick the right line the first time.

Well, we figured that as part of this Stuck and Broken blowout, we'd show you some of the more famous obstacles we've seen. And to keep you from getting either stuck or broken if you should ever run those obstacles, we'd show you the line you need to take in order to drive them, along with some information that might prove to be helpful.

Potato Salad Hill
Every time we go to Moab, Utah, we end up at Potato Salad Hill. The hill isn't really a trail-it is just, as its name implies, a hill that loosely resembles a certain picnic treat. With all the small bumps and undulations like the lumps in a real potato salad, it is easy to understand the name of the "trail."

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At first glance, it can be hard to see why so many roll so spectacularly down the hill. It isn't really off-camber and there aren't any particularly big climbs to it, so what's the deal?

The deal is that the bumps right at the top, while not huge, are spaced just far enough apart to make it so that a normal 90- to 100-inch wheelbase Jeep is trying to climb a ledge with the front and rear tires at the same time. While that is happening, there is loose dirt that causes you to use more throttle to try to climb to the top. And if that wasn't enough, the top of the hill has just enough slope so that while you are spinning your tires, your Jeep is working its way to the left. There is only about 5 or 6 feet of lateral play up there before you get into the tipping hazard area, and there really isn't a good way to back down once you've slid that far over.

Potato Salad isn't a huge deal. If you keep your head on your shoulders, think it through, and ignore the crowds egging you on, you can back down before it gets to the point of no return. But once they are up there near the top of the hill with one more bump to make it up, many drivers focus on getting to the top and not on where they are on the hill, thus getting into trouble and rolling back down.

While the rule of thumb is that the longer the wheelbase, the more likely you are to make it up, we've seen everything from stock flatfenders to Samurais make it look like child's play, while the long wheelbase pickup right behind ended up on its lid at the bottom.

Keep it to the right up at the top and you'll do fine. There are several different approaches if you are in a normal Jeep, but really only one safe way to get up over the top. If you are in a buggy or something with a stretched wheelbase and bigger tires, you have some leeway, but if you are in a normal Jeep and want to stay rubber side down, follow the arrows.

GPS CoordinatesN 38.56329 W 109.51490

Devil's Crack
Moab Rim Trail in Moab, Utah, offers some of the most scenic backdrops for photos with the famous Colorado River in the background and Poison Spider Mesa rising out of it. There are a few obstacles going up the rim that are must-have photo ops with the killer background. Then, the plateau at the top of Moab Rim Trail offers some high-speed fun sections, some technical stuff, and awesome views of the town of Moab, both during the day and at night.

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Moab has some trails that offer white-knuckle, death-defying drops on the thousands of feet scale. Some of the obstacles you will encounter in and around Moab pitch the Jeep toward the seemingly bottomless drop. Devil's Crack on the Moab Rim Trail does have a drop, but it isn't thousands of feet. It is just a couple hundred feet, but that isn't why it is special.

The unique aspect of the Devil's Crack is that you get to it after about half a mile of climbing a ledge above the road that you just drove in on from town, which is right next to the Colorado River. While you are ascending the trail toward the Crack, it can feel as though if you make one wrong move, you'll fall off the ledge, bounce off the road below, and go right into the water. We've never seen or heard of anyone driving off, but we remember the feeling the first time we drove up it.

Then you get to the Devil's Crack.

On its own, it is a simple step up and turn to the right that takes you off the edge of the mountain and farther toward the plateau of the actual Rim. If it were at ground level, you wouldn't think twice about it. But through the crack, you can see the road hundreds of feet below, and the river below that. So you try to stay toward the uphill side, but the uphill side of the Crack is what tends to put Jeeps on their side, falling toward the river.

We've seen plenty of Jeeps flop on this one, but never a complete multiple roll like on Potato Salad.

There are two ways to run this one. Either run up the outside of the crack, closer to the cliff, to keep your Jeep on all four tires; or, depending on your wheelbase, straddle it and have some three-wheeling fun, because you will likely carry a tire up it by taking the latter line. But if you know at what point your Jeep tips, it can be a good time.

GPS Coordinates
N 38.56223 W 109.58055

Nemesis Two
Las Cruces, New Mexico, is known for its tall waterfalls and monster Jeep-sized rocks. Patzacuaro's Revenge is located in the mountains to the west of Las Cruces, and while a relatively short trail, it packs a wallop. A series of V-notches, waterfalls, and stair-steps with very few bypasses mean that you better have all the kinks worked out of your Jeep, not to mention a full supply of spare parts and tools, before you even think about going down this trail.

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If you aren't fully armored with corner protection, heavy-duty bumpers, rocker guards, and good under-Jeep skidplating, you shouldn't try to run this trail unless you like body and possible mechanical damage. If you are armored and have a winch, this trail is a great test of your driving skill and your Jeep's mechanical fortitude.

Nemesis is the first obstacle on this trail, and it is the gatekeeper. If you can make it past Nemesis, your Jeep should have what it takes to make it down this canyon. But it isn't Nemesis that we are concerned with here. It is Nemesis Two.

Nemesis Two is just 300 yards around the corner from Nemesis and stands an imposing 12 feet tall. It is the tallest sheer rock climb on Patzacuaro's Revenge, and as you might imagine from a 12-foot, near-vertical climb, wheelbase here is a good thing. We've only seen low-slung trucks, Jeeps, and buggies with at least a 110-inch wheelbase run this obstacle without taking a strap or pulling a winch. For the shorter wheelbase Jeeps, there is a winch point up at the top to keep the front end sucked down and stuck to the rocks.

No matter your wheelbase, the line is the same. Start at the bottom of the climb roughly in the middle and aim toward the right so that when you crest the top, your passenger-side tires are kissing the wall. Then when your front tires get over the edge, steer a little to the driver side to get your Jeep lined back up with the trail at the top of the obstacle.

GPS Coordinates
N 32.27738 W 106.90183

Upper Helldorado
Hey, and this is only the entrance! Upper Helldorado is a hardcore trail located in Area BFE recreational park in Moab, Utah, and it's one of our favorites to drive or just hang out at and watch. The entrance is double tough, and it gets progressively harder as you move through, culminating with the infamous waterfall climb.

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Therefore, if you can't drive the entrance without too much fuss, then you should turn around and take the bypass out. There have been numerous novel attempts at wacky lines made over the years, but the most popular way to navigate the entrance to Upper Helldorado is to line up nearly straight into the crack and drop in from the slightly off-camber lip as shown. Depending on how heavy the winter rains and runoff were, the drop in could be as little as a few inches to as deep as 3 feet or more.

After dropping into the trail, resist the urge to make a left hand turn up the rock face since doing so almost always results in high centering or a rollover. It's steeper and sharper than it looks. Climb in and straddle the crack. Shoot for keeping your passenger-side tire up on the rock face. Once you're at the end of the crack, you'll need to turn left while keeping your passenger tire into the big rock outcropping. Try to keep the sidewall pressed into the part just above the vertical portion. Depending on how much travel your Jeep has, you'll probably be hanging a tire high in the air, but if you gently ease down, it's not as scary from the driver seat as it looks from the outside.

After you're down on all four wheels again, you'll be lined up to neatly scale the sharp, rocky outcropping with your driver-side tire. Many try to squeeze between the rocky outcrop and the sheer wall on the front/right, but it always results in body damage or getting wedged. Put your driver-side front tire up and over the outcrop while turning left over the rock and your rear will follow you. Then you're ready for the next obstacle.

GPS Coordinates
N 38.40587 W 109.40690

Tip Over Challenge
If you've ever been to the town of Moab, Utah, then you've seen the Hell's Revenge trail. Even if you didn't realize it. Just stand on any street corner and look up eastward to the huge sandstone cliffs surrounding the town and you'll see it. Hell's Revenge is one of our favorite trails in the area for a lot of reasons. It's close to town, it's not too hard on sheetmetal, and it's got a ton of fun obstacles for built rigs and bypasses for stockers. You can drive nearly anything with 4WD over the trail and not be bored or overwhelmed.

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Tip Over Challenge is one of the last obstacles on the trail before you exit down a long, rocky ledge that swings you past the back of Lion's Back and returns you to pavement near the town dump and Potato Salad Hill. Tip Over Challenge has been a hot spot for us in the past to set up with our cameras in hopes of carnage, but in reality, it's not a hard obstacle if you hit it right.

For starters, make sure you're aired down as far as your rims will safely allow. The obstacle is pretty steep and you'll need all the traction you can muster. The bottom of the obstacle is a bit more off-camber and steep than it may appear as you drive up to it. You'll want to drive the whole obstacle in a gentle, swooping right hand curve. It sounds easy, but there's a pretty tall, steep drop off to the right and your brain is constantly telling you to steer away from the fall, not toward it.

Once your front tires are up and your rear starts to climb, put your passenger-side tire just inside the rocky crack that runs vertically up the obstacle. You'll want to use this crack like a blind person reads Braille, because most of the time you will be flying blind. If the setting sun isn't in your eyes, then all you'll see out the passenger side of the Jeep will be air and sky.

About three-quarters of the way up the obstacle, the Braille crack goes away. Keep your front tires pointed toward the top while your rear tire is still in the crack both guiding you and helping to hold the Jeep stable. Depending on your wheelbase and suspension, you may hang your driver-side front tire in the air a bit as you crest the top, but it will quickly come back to earth as you continue your lazy right hand turn up Tip Over Challenge. It's easy once you know how to do it right, but if you panic and shoot too far to the left or steer too sharply to the right, the result can often be a hard tumble and roll to the bottom.

GPS Coordinates
N 38.58735 W 109.54192

Minor Threat
For the past two years we've found ourselves on the Minor Threat trail at Area BFE recreational park in Moab, Utah. And while we admit it's not a high-draw trail and the obstacle we're highlighting isn't even named, we feel it's representative of enough obstacles you're likely to encounter across the country that it's worth inclusion in this story.

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What we're dealing with here is a nearly vertical ledge about 3 feet tall situated in the middle of a steep climb up a mountainside. The rocks aren't particularly grippy, but they're not as smooth and slick as granite, so huge wheel speed isn't needed. To complicate matters further, there are loose rocks at the bottom and top of the ledge and some soft soil on the top of the climb on the driver side; the ledge also fades away from the Jeep as it goes up the hill on the right, so it's difficult to line up squarely on it.

Because of the way the ledge fades to the right, you've got to slowly climb your front tires up on top and make a slight left hand turn to get the rears to line up a little more squarely. But here's the rub: If you try to hit the obstacle hard to bang the rears up while lined up squarely, you'll wind up with your front tires in the bushes and rocks at the top of the obstacle. Try to bump the rear tires up while not lined up straight and the Jeep will lurch hard to the passenger side, nearly tipping you on your side.

Longer wheelbase rigs like Wrangler Unlimiteds, Cherokees, and so on, can crawl it slowly or can survive the side bump a little more easily than shorter CJs and Wranglers. For the shorter rigs, you've got to line up for the bump with your rear tires square to the obstacle and initiate a slight right hand turn as the rear is bumping up. It's sketchy, because if you fail to get the rears to climb during this operation you're more than likely going to end up on your two passenger-side tires for a second or two and may even tumble off the ledge. However, if you're not up for the bump-and-turn, you can move over to the right side of the ledge and take the easier line, but where's the fun in that?

GPS Coordinates
N 38.40667 W 109.40748

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