Dec 25, 2013 at 6:06 pm #1311395
I'm going to be doing some winter backpacking and early spring backpacking this year.
I just have a regular Mazda 3… no crazy SUV.
Assuming I have chains for my car, how reliably will I be able to go backpacking in the winter?
I obviously don't want to get stuck.
I think my main goal is to get into Yosemite valley and backpack around that area…
Of course one strategy is to find backpacking buddies with an SUV :-PDec 25, 2013 at 6:29 pm #2057569
If you can swing it, put some Bridgestone Blizzaks on your car. I plowed through some snow with them on with my old Prius where I had snow coming up over the hood crossing a mountain pass in scary weather. Carry good chains too but I found that I never needed them.
Obviously use good judgment and avoid roads where you won't see traffic, carry a tow strap, some kitty litter or sand to help with traction, shovel, etc.Dec 25, 2013 at 7:12 pm #2057574
Wait till after a storm. I live in the mountains and do fine without a 4X4. I sold my old Chevy LUV last year, so back to two 4X2's. Getting up the hill should be easy, getting to Badger Pass ski area may require chains, they'll check you at the bottom. If you wait a day after a storm and it warms up, the roads would clear off nicely, or if you wait a week. Funny, I live here, had no drivable 4X4 the last 10 years and had no issue getting to trailheads and a number of my valley/flatlander friends come up with 4X4 rigs for our trips. I'm the little bit redneck and I have the concerns over gas mileage. Go figure.
DuaneDec 25, 2013 at 9:29 pm #2057594
If you are going to Yosemite Valley via 140, you shouldn't have any problems. Just buy some chains in the case that you get a little snow and they are required for entry.Dec 25, 2013 at 10:10 pm #2057599
FWD drive with chains beats 4WD with all-weather-, mud- or snow-tires. I've gone places in a 2WD Corolla with chains, shovel, etc that 4x4s and chained-up 18 wheelers wouldn't go.
A few tricks: put those chains on as tight as you possibly can. Once installed, grab the side chains and yank them around to gather up any slack. Try to take up another link. Then drive 2 miles and repeat. I'd get my chains on so tight, I'd hear OTHER people's chains as they drive by more than I hear my own.
Bring a closed-cell foam pad. You put chains on and off in the transition zone with melted snow/ slush. It's wicked cold to lay down in.
Practice all of this in your driveway. Really. You'll feel stupid, but just like I'd tell backpackers ("you really don't know if your tent works if you haven't set it up this season"), you HAVE to check the current length of the chains against the set of tires you have on your car this month. Also, every minute you practice in your driveway on a 60F sunny day, is s minute you SAVE in the wind, slush and splashes from traffic at 2,500 feet on I-80.Dec 25, 2013 at 10:16 pm #2057601
Fourth tip: get the chain tighteners. Better yet, get two sets per set of chains. Don't put them in a pentagon configuration like everyone does, that provides little tensioning.
Put then in a star pattern.
One way to do that is to do the pentagon, then take two points of the pentagon to side chains 180 degrees across. The greater the total length, the more tension is applied. The tighter the chains, the less they wear and the less the chains damage your fenders.Dec 25, 2013 at 10:53 pm #2057609
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
1) During the winter in Yosemite, you will need to carry chains. Period. If your are backpacking, you may be out for a couple of days and the weather can change leaving you stranded. I did a hike from Glacier Point to Lake Merced and down to the Valley. When I reached the Valley, I discovered that they close Glacier Point road for a few days and had to stay in the Valley for 2 extra days.
2) I have a Mazda 3 and found that it was not recommended to use standard chains (or rather cables). The backside of the wheel has basically zero clearance and cables may not clear the brake lines and other pieces of hardware back there. There are some newer traction devices that bolt onto the hub and wrap around the front and top of the tire keeping the backside clear.
Let me know what you find out as I have a new Mazda 3 and plan on taking winter trips to Yosemite.
JonDec 26, 2013 at 7:26 am #2057635
Unless you go on a rainy day, you likely won't have to put chains on until the park, if at all. There's a pull out right near the 140 entrance station, which is a couple thousand feet lower than the entrance on 120 and can see less snow. I just put the cables on my Carrolla there and have never had an issue, if they are required. So far this year we've been way too dry so the chains may do no more than sit in your car. That all being said and as others have mentioned, weather can vary and it's worth it to practice putting chains on beforehand.Dec 26, 2013 at 7:41 am #2057638
Daryl and DarylParticipant
@lyrad1Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
It is easier to put chains on the front wheels than the back wheels.
The front wheels can be moved right and left to more easily attach the chains' inside hooks.Dec 26, 2013 at 8:04 am #2057643
…Dec 26, 2013 at 8:37 am #2057651
As one who spent six long years/winters in Canada's Northwest Territories driving a 2WD vehicle:
David speaks the truth, and Roger is a wise man. Heed them!Dec 26, 2013 at 8:41 am #2057655
Stephen–not to hijak the thread but I am wondering about the Marmot Plasma 30. Saw you comment on it way-back-when, but want to know if you're still using it, like it, whatnot.Dec 26, 2013 at 10:26 am #2057683
Be advised too, the CHP may make you chain up the rear also on front wheel drives. I guess they are worried about the rear passing the front. Also in CA, if you do not have chains with you for your vehicle, you could be sited in chains required times if stopped or in an accident. I try to drive my old Toyota pu in bad weather and save the Civic for nicer roads.
DuaneDec 26, 2013 at 11:40 am #2057698
"Be advised too, the CHP may make you chain up the rear also on front wheel drives."
Duane, that is not consistent with California law.
R3 is the toughest that it gets. You meet that with 2WD and one pair of chains.
–B.G.–Dec 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm #2057709
Bob, I used to manage a convenience store in Plumas County, that is what officers told me. It may also involve how they see the situation when they come across it.
DuaneDec 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm #2057711
Duane, the law is the law, regardless of what understanding you had. If your vehicle is compliant with the law, then no judge is going to convict you.
–B.G.–Dec 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm #2057764
Since my parents moved to Bend Oregon I have driven highway 97 a number of times in the winter. Frequently the road is covered in packed snow. My car is a front wheel drive car. My brother has a 4 wheel drive car.
Most of the time I don't need chains for that 2 hour portion of the drive. The only time I had handling issues is when I had a rear wheel alignment issue that I didn't know about. The alignment issue caused the back end to loose grip and I spun out.
My brother on the other hand has had more issues with spinouts and I have seen other 4W drive trucks have a lot of issues. The two issues with 4WD cars are:
1, In some cases you can switch between 2WD and 4WD. My brother at times thought it was set to 4WD when it was rear wheel drive and it is very easy to spin out when it is set to rear wheel drive.
2. With 4WD if you get on the gas too hard one or two of the wheels may slip and if one or both of the front wheels slip the the car could spin. The tendency of manufactures putting larger engines in 4WD vehicles doesn't help.
The advantage of 2WD cars is that the front wheels pull and the rear wheeels just follow. If one of the front wheels slip you are generally OK.
When making turns there is no difference between front and 4WD vehicles. You have to slow down to make the turns. Otherwise you will slid off the road when making the turn.
when applying the brakes never lock up the wheels! If the front wheels lock up you will loose the ability to steer. Antilock break are really great on ice covered roads. Also give yourself more space to stop.
In Yosemite 120 from the east to west side of the park is closed in the winter. Glacier point road is also closed. The roads to the valley are generally are kept open but temporary closures are possible if there is a heavy snow fall. You must carry chains.
Note: Hiking the trails from the valley floor to the rim in the winter is not recommended due to the danger of falling ice and rock. Call the park before your trip for current conditions.Dec 26, 2013 at 6:47 pm #2057831
@feetfirstLocale: Northern Sierra Nevada
As long as you have decent, both quality and condition non-summer (e.g. all season, mud & snow) tires, you'll be fine with cables/chains. I believe most newer Mazdas come stock with all season Toyo Proxes. As suggested above, practice fitting your cables to your drive wheels (front), before your stuck on the side of a slushy highway. If your Mazda has tight clearance for traction devices, I recommend looking at SCC's "S" Class clearance cables, like the Super Z6.
Bring a small poly tarp, mechanics gloves, headlamp, and rags. Turn your wheels lock to lock for each side to ease installation.
What are the R-1, R-2 conditions that I hear about?
Although Caltrans does not post signs with these designations nor use them to announce chain controls to the public, they are used internally within Caltrans and the CHP as a kind of shorthand to describe chain restrictions and may be included in traffic reports disseminated by various news outlets.
There are three primary categories of chain restrictions, as shown below:
R-1: Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle. Trailers with brakes must have chains on at least one axle.
R-2: Chains are required on all vehicles except four-wheel-drive vehicles under 6,500 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires on all four wheels. Chains for one set of drive wheels must be carried by four wheel-drive vehicles using snow tires.
R-3: Chains are required on all vehicles without exception.
R-1 and R-2 are the most common conditions. A highway will often be closed before an R-3 condition is imposed. Some local areas may use variations of these designations. You must follow the directions on the signs posted for chain controls or any instructions given by Caltrans or CHP personnel at chain control check points, even if these are at variance with broadcast road condition reports or information contained herein.
What California Vehicle Code sections refer to chains?
Chain requirements are covered in the California Vehicle Code (CVC), Section 605 and
Sections 27450 to 27503.Dec 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm #2057847
"A highway will often be closed before an R-3 condition is imposed."
Agreed. One of the common places for R-3 is in Yosemite NP, the open stretch of the Glacier Point Road from Chinquapin intersection to Badger Pass Ski Area. The reason is that the pavement is not banked correctly.
When it starts snowing in the afternoon and then the snow starts piling up on the pavement. Skiers see that much snow piling up, so they decide to exit the ski area early. They fly down that stretch of road at about 45 mph and wipe out on the third curve. Immediately the park service must close the road in order to let a tow truck come up and operate. When they re-open the road two hours later, they put up a sign at Badger Pass that says "Chains Required All Vehicles" (which means R-3), and there will be a ranger standing there to inspect. The 4WD Jeep drivers are infuriated by that, because the reason that they drive a Jeep is so they never have to put on chains. So, they will try to sneak out of the parking lot when the ranger isn't looking and it becomes a cat and mouse game.
–B.G.–Dec 26, 2013 at 10:50 pm #2057883
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
All this commentary makes me thankful that I have a 4WD 2007 RAV 4 V6 with both
winter wheels/tires" (steel wheels W/All Terrain tires) and chains for my FRONT wheels.
As a volunteer ski patroller I sometimes need all this just to get to "work" on time.
But I've lived many years in Erie, PA where a foot of snow is very common to see as one shvels out the driveway to get to work. And most of those years I had front wheel drive cars with Blizzak snow tires. I seldom needed chains but sometimes had studded tires.
Two feet or more of snow? Time to stay home for the day.
Driving through two feet of snow is POSSIBLE – until your engine compartment fills up with snow and everything shorts out. :o(Dec 26, 2013 at 11:26 pm #2057890
I've heard conditions other than R-1, R-2 and R-3 announced in California. One time, the announcement was, "Only 4WD with chains on all four" are being allowed on I-80. Note this was shortly before the highway closed as 76 inches fell in 24 hours.
One more tip, very basic to Alaskans: Have a survival bag alone. If your car became your tent for a weekend of enforced snow-camping, what you would want to have? Shovel, tow rope, winter gloves, blankets and sleeping bags, food, water, and maybe a stove. And at least a half tank of gas. Always – at least half a tank when on winter roads.
If the car is mostly upright, it makes a very comfortable snow-camping tent. A 4-cylinder car uses only 0.25 gallons per hour so a tank of fuel gives you two days of warmth, even without cycling it on and off. Recline the seats, take a nap. Set the heat to whatever is comfortable. I do that 5-10 nights a year on gonzo road trips, just to make miles, save time, and skip the motel scene every other night.
Most people include food like power bars, cans of corn, etc, that will last a long time. An XGF in Anchorage figured that once it was October, she didn't have to be limited to canned corn. Hagen Daz ice cream bars would be fine in the truck until Spring.
I read about the opposite approach recommended for pilots. If they stash a few Snickers bars in the plane, they will get nibbled long before you crash land in a remote location. But if you stash some dog biscuits in the plane (1) they are made of mostly food-grade stuff and (2) they last forever, and (3) you won't eat them until you really need to.Dec 27, 2013 at 12:11 am #2057897
For most trips, just carry, and know how to use, chains; but you won't need. For Yosemite. You MUST have chains in the winter – as of 2008 this included 4WD/AWD vehicles. I digress, but one of my best winter trips was time spent in Stanislaus NF after we were turned away from Yosemite (in a serious 4WD Toyota). Anyway, rare that weather will prevent you from getting out in Cali. Just use common sense and stay home if it's nasty. PM me for more details on where and when you might go.Jan 1, 2014 at 3:36 pm #2059407
Be aware that if you're renting from a "typical" rental firm (Hertz, Avis, et al), their terms may preclude driving on unpaved roads, even if renting a SUV. Not an issue if on snow covered paved roads.Jan 1, 2014 at 4:55 pm #2059432
Didn't you or someone else ask this same question last winter?
We've been fine getting to trailheads/ski areas in winter in Western Montana and the Wa cascades in a honda accord with blizzaks. Before we got the blizzaks we would use chains more. It is key to have some chains that you can put on without having to drive the car onto them so you can put them on once you are stuck…ie not the cheapo cable ones.
Ground clearance is the thing that turns us around more then lack of traction. Our next car (the honda is getting on in miles) will probably be a Subaru but more for the increased ground clearance then the all wheel drive.Jan 1, 2014 at 5:09 pm #2059436
>"Ground clearance is the thing that turns us around more then lack of traction."
Yes, before the snow plow comes, low-slung, unibody cars are prone to getting high-centered on snow. If the snow supports only 1/2 psi of pressure, you can be parked on the undercarriage without weight on the tires to get any traction. Then a narrow-bladed, medium-handled shovel really helps. But it takes a LONG time to dig out that pedestal of compressed snow.
Subarus have above-average ground clearance compared to other small cars and any non-truck SUVs. That helps. But you can get them stuck, too.
While we are on the topic, anyone have one of those wire cable come-a-longs? Like this:
Don't bother. You need 50 to 200 feet of rope to reach a tree or guard rail anyway, and by the time you've taken up the tension, you'll be at its 6- or 12-foot limit. Instead, bring the 100 to 200 feet of 1/2" rope and one of these:
As long as you keep moving the handle, it keeps sucking in 1/2" diameter rope. If you don't have a winch and get a car or plane stuck, you need one of these. $40-100 depending on rope length. Search on "Maasdam"
1920's Model-T trick that still works today: Lacking tire chains, you can wrap rope or straight chain through the "spoke holes" of your rims. You can do this in a repeated H pattern like American chains or in an X pattern like Euro-chains for some lateral traction while cornering. This works best for getting out of a unplowed parking lot or through a bad stretch. I wouldn't recommend it for doing many miles on the highway.
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