It seems like the term “extreme” is plastered in front of many activities nowadays. If there were extreme 4x4 camping, we think the undisputed winner would be the Turtle Expedition’s incredible, jaw-dropping, we-cheated-death-every-day Russia expedition, which took place in the late ‘90s.
What was the big deal? Well, the expedition included, get this, camping in staggeringly cold -80 degree temperatures. We think that qualifies as extreme.
The primary focus of this month’s issue of Four Wheeler is camping, so we would be remiss if we didn’t saunter down memory lane and revisit the Turtle Expedition’s Russia journey- one of the most amazing adventure series we’ve ever published. The series began in the January 1997 issue and continued for several months. It told the story of Gary and Monica Wescott’s exploits as they drove a 7.3L diesel-powered’92 Ford F-350 pickup 7,000 miles through 11 time zones. Among other things, the truck was fit with a simple Four-Wheel pop-up camper. Wescott, a past participant in the legendary Camel Trophy, was no stranger to the perils of inhospitable off-road travel, and his intricate preplanning was critical to surviving the frigid Siberian nights while camping. The challenges were monumental. For example, the camper’s on-board water storage system couldn’t be used due to the cold, so water, when it could be found, had to be boiled or filtered; the propane cook stove was replaced with an alternate fuel unit due to the fact that propane freezes at -42 degrees; the camper’s propane heater was replaced with a unit that was plumbed into the truck’s cooling system (an electric 110-volt ceramic heater was used on warmer nights); and the truck had to be fitted with engine, oil, battery, and cab warmers that were powered by a trailer-mounted Coleman Powermate diesel generator.
On a typical subzero night, the Wescotts would park and leave the camper top down to preserve heat, limit condensation, and prevent the sides of the camper from cracking in the cold. If the temperature was -40 degrees or lower, the truck would be left running all night.
"The temperature when we stopped was -64 degrees. By morning, it would drop to -87 degrees."
-- Gary Wescott
One night, the team camped on the Kyubyume River in Russia in temperatures below -60 degrees and they followed what would become a standard procedure. “We stopped, waited five minutes, and moved forward a second time, allowing the tires to cool and prevent them from freezing to the ground overnight,” Wescott wrote. At these temperatures, roasting weenies over an open campfire while relaxing in chairs was out of the question. “We crawled into our camper, not much bigger than a three-man backpack tent, and whipped up a one-pot meal using canned meat, canned butter, instant rice, and Alpine Aire freeze-dried vegetable mix. The temperature when we stopped was -64 degrees. By morning, it would drop to -87 degrees. With the engine running all night (and the Deflecta-Shield Wintershield on the grille completely closed), we were able to keep warm by using only the Hunter HW-6 12-volt hot water heater, which is plumbed to the engine’s cooling system. Set on medium, the inside temperature remained at 65 to 75 degrees, making our Cascade Design R-0-degree sleeping bags almost too warm. Nevertheless, water or coffee spilled on the floor would freeze instantly. Snow melting off our LaCrosse Ice Man winter boots created a small glacier by the door,” Wescott said. In the morning, low range was still needed to break the tires loose from the ice.
In the end, the Wescotts completed their Russia trip, and it was a study in extremes, forcing them to think outside the box in order to survive while camping off-road, on-the-go. It was an example of extreme 4x4 camping at its finest.