Land Rover Driving

Getting stuck on Dartmoor – snow driving & recovery

venford-roadJust the other day i wrote a post on driving in snow & ice.

As it turns out, I needed to call on everything i wrote in that post, and more, after the south west awoke to the worst snow in 20 years.

I headed up to Dartmoor with the intention of sledging the hills with a few buddies. I had listened to Radio Devon before I left to assess the conditions, and decided to visit the very outskirts of Dartmoor near Ashburton, rather than push into the middle of the moor.

I loaded up the Discovery with recovery and survival gear, (just like i suggested in my previous post here) even though I didn't actually expect to use any of it. How wrong was I?

Here's a list of the recovery & survival gear I threw into the back of the Discovery:

  • High lift jack - can also be used as a short haul winch
  • 5 metre tow rope
  • 2 metre tree strop
  • Shovel
  • Shackles of various sizes
  • 2 way radios
  • CB
  • Sat Nav
  • Socket set, screwdrivers
  • Spare clothes & boots
  • Food & drink

The hill up to DartmoorAs I headed up the hill onto the moors, it soon became clear that conditions were worse than we expected. Cars had been left on the side of the road unable to get any further, the tree's were thick with snow, and the road was really icey in places.

I engaged diff lock, and selected low range for control. I was following a Mercedes 4x4 up onto the moor and was quite impressed with way the Mercedes was coping with the conditions, dispite having wide, low profile road tyres on each corner. My logic was i would follow him, as if we got into difficulty, we could help each other out.

As the lane become more and more snowed in, i kept following the Mercedes. He ploughed through one snow drift, and then another. I followed.

He then stopped up ahead, as the whole lane was blocked with snow. He got out and came over for a chat. He didn't want to try and blast through it, and to be honest, i was thinking the same thing. We agreed to reverse out the way we came as there was no room for a 3 point turn, with snow drifts on the right of the lane, and a stone wall and hedge on the left.

The wind was howling through, blowing the snow off the fields and making it difficult to see back down the lane. We started to reverse slowly, but we had 2 snow drifts to reverse through, and this is where it started to get interesting.

Getting Stuck

Working out the best way through the snow drift - in reverse!The snow drift was on a camber, sloping towards the stone wall and hedge. The snow had been compacted into a slippery ice/snow combo from our journey onto the moor. I attempted to blast my way through in reverse, but the Discovery slid sideways and became stuck in the snow - with all 4 wheels spinning.

If I am completely honest, I was loving it, and my friends who were with me, were loving it. It's just I wasn't showing it, and they were! They were busy taking photos & videos, while I had to keep focused on ways I could recover the Discovery from the drift. I was pretty confident we could do it, because I had the tools for job on board - it's just I didn't know how long it would take.

The Mercedes driver on the other hand, had no recovery equipment whatsoever, and had his wife and child with him. He seemed impressed that i had come prepared with a shovel, ropes and high lift jack, whereas i was thinking that the kit I had was standard issue if you are going to be driving onto the moors in these conditions!

Land Rover Discovery Stuck in snowAnd the conditions were terrible! We were being blasted with snow, and could hardly see a thing, and it was freezing. I had 3 of my buddies with me, so we got kitted up in waterproofs and slalopettes, grabbed the shovel, and set to work clearing away the snow from the tires of my stranded Discovery. With a lot of effort we got the Discovery free, and ready to attempt the drift for the second time.

Second attempt to reverse through ended the same - stuck fast. More frantic digging, some heaving and pushing, and i was ready for attempt number three.

I took a different line on the 3rd attempt, but alas, I ended up stuck again with the passenger side of the car wedged up tight against the wall and hedge. Time to dig again, but this time I tried to reverse out.

I didn't really care too much about any damage to the side of the Discovery, coz after all, it is a £600 Discovery i bought to play with. So after a lot more digging, rocking the car backwards and forwards, i managed to get the Disco free with nothing but a few marks on the paintwork.

We now had to repeat this all again with the Mercedes. It soon became apparant however, that the Mercedes driver didn't know how to drive in a recovery situation, and he wasn't even sure how the 4x4 mechanism worked.

I had planned to attach the towrope to my Disco, and pull him through the snow drift, but he had no recovery point on the back, let alone a tow hitch. It was going to have to be driven through, except he didn't know what to do, so I had to direct him from outside the car - cue the 2 way radios!

It took three or four attempts to get the Mercedes through, with plenty of digging, heaving and pushing from all of us. He was scared about using the throttle, and wouldn't keep the front wheels straight, so they just acted as snowploughs - so he would loose momentum easily.

The second drift to reverse through proved easy for the Discovery, and I made it over on the first attempt. The Mercedes didn't however. Again, lost momentum through lack of throttle and not keeping the front wheels straight. More digging, heaving & pushing ensued, and we freed the Mercedes from what was starting to look like a snowy grave.

Snowy 3 point turn In the end, the Mercdes made it through with some damage to the front wing/bumper, and a few loose trim panels. The whole recovery operation had taken an hour and we were wet, cold and hungry, but were now able to reflect on what had happened.

We were all pretty stoked that we were able to recover ourselves from the sitution, but this was purely down to carrying the right equipment & knowing how to use it. A weekend at an off road school many years ago had taught me off road driving skills and recovery techiniques, and these proved invaluable on this occasion.

Lessons Learned

As has been demonstrated here, if you are going to be travelling in harsh conditions in your 4x4, it pays to carry the right equipment, and know how to operate your vehicle correctly & safely.

If I hadn't followed the Mercedes, then he would have been stuck in a bad situation, with no recovery equipment, and no idea how to recover himself - it would have either been abandon the car, or call for help.

I am a big advocate of knowing how to operate your vehicle properly, and knowing it's capabilities. If you are driving a Land Rover (or any 4x4) then a day or weekend at an off road school will teach you everything you need to know on how to safely operate your vehicle and recover yourself from various situations.

It sure helped me.

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