Return to CA: Sequoia National Park, The Ascent

I awoke nice and early because I wanted to beat the crowds to Sequoia National Park. My goal was to photograph the car with some Sequoias and to get a photo with the car/trailer in the fallen tree tunnel. The road had been indicated “closed” on Google Maps, but appeared to be open now. I called the road conditions hotline: “Roads open… Chains not required.” I’m gone! My hotel was at around 350 feet above sea level. The Sequoias are in the mountains where there is no fuel stations or cellular service. It was no place to take a trailer without a full tank of fuel. I refueled about halfway there to avoid any surprises. Then came the entrance… all to myself…

It was a beautiful morning and about 45 degrees outside. The sun was up, but still behind the mountains. I shot a few scenic items as I climbed toward the Sequoias. This formation is called Moro Rock. I shared a higher view in the album below. did see another vehicle during the entire climb. I had the road to myself. I started to notice around 4000 feet of elevation that the temperatures were dropping. It was near freezing as I passed 5000 feet.

I cannot recall if this first Sequoia was above or below 5000 feet. But this is when I started to see snow on the ground. The road was still clear. Look deeper into this photo and you’ll see one of MANY 15-mph switchbacks on this road. The car had plenty of traction and was pulling the trailer up the mountain like a champ! I started to see light snow on the road as I approached 6000 feet. Still, the hotline said “Roads are clear; chains are not required.” So, I was cautiously optimistic that the road would be okay.

I felt the first slip of my tires just above 6000 feet. I was only a few miles from the fallen tree tunnel. But it was quickly beginning to look like I needed to abort my climb. There are plenty of pull-outs along the climb. I began to look for a place to turn around. I knew the ride was over when I saw this climb at a switchback. I had just passed a pull-out to my left and was beside another. But it was too late. My traction went from “good” to “nothing” very quickly and I lost all forward momentum. The car slid backwards each time I eased out the clutch. I could not get to the pull-out that was just 20 feet to my left. I set the parking brake and got out to assess my situation. I was going to unhitch the trailer and get turned around.

Then something shocking happened: The two rear wheels that had been held by the parking brake were not enough to hold the combined weight of the car and trailer. The combination began to slide down the mountain with me standing outside! I quickly jumped inside and stood on the brake pedal. I’m not sure how much farther I slid. A foot? Two feet? More? The car did eventually stop sliding and came to rest as shown in this image, just an inch from being jackknifed. This time, I turned off the engine and left the car in gear, hoping that four locked wheels would hold. It seemed to work! I wanted to work quickly to separate the car and trailer before things got worse, as if a disconnected and brakeless trailer on an icy mountain wasn’t bad enough! My goal was to uncouple the trailer from the car, push it back and away from the bumper, spin it around, and then move it downhill and away from the car so that I could move them each to safety… first, the car and then the trailer.

Personal background: I’m a believer in minimizing any negative impact that I might have on others. I make mistakes, but honestly seek to avoid involving others in them. As I mentioned earlier, I was practically alone on this road. I wanted to clean up my mess before it could affect anyone else.

I didn’t take many photos because I was busy trying to save the car and trailer. My technique involved spinning the trailer around and then “surfing it” down the hill a few feet at a time. This worked well. The tongue weighed about 140 lbs. So, I wasn’t lifting if off the ground while standing on ice. Instead, I just sort of unweighted it to move it left or right. The tongue jack foot acted as sort of a ski. I would lift, pull right, “surf,” and then push it into the snow berm when the trailer picked-up a little speed… maybe a few inches per second. I managed to slide the trailer about 50 feet down the hill from the car, about 5-10 feet at a time.

With some space between the car and trailer, I attempted to move the car over to the nearby pull-out. No luck! I could only slide backwards. So, I set the parking brake, turned the steering wheel hard-left, and then let the front wheels spin gently. This action allowed me to pivot the car around to point it downhill. From there, I drove to in front of the trailer to see if I could recouple. That didn’t work. Here’s the little “burnout” where I lost traction while trying to back up. As you can see, I kept the tongue pointing at the berm except for when I was “surfing.” I moved the car down to the next pull-out and continued “surfing” the trailer down the hill.

A park ranger came down the hill as I worked. I’m sure it looked much worse than actual when he saw my car facing downhill on the right side of the road and my trailer facing downhill on the left. It looked like I had lost my trailer. “Failure to secure” and “failure to chain” are no joke! I told him what happened and what I was doing. He approved of my plan and was impressed by my ambition. Not enough to help, which I don’t blame him, but enough to loan me a set of boot spikes (shown below). They made the work MUCH easier. He parked near a turn to provide warning to upcoming traffic, which was starting to pick-up. About 10 cars drove by after I had been there for about 30 minutes. All of them were either 4×4 or AWD except for two. The first FWD got stuck, but was able to mount chains in a pull-out. The next one was able to get going with a small push from the ranger and me.

After that, the ranger opted to have a truck come sand the road and encouraged me to wait for the sand before coupling the trailer. I was near a blind turn at this point. The trailer was visible, but any more “surfing” may have been hazardous. While we waited, another FWD car got stuck with us. We were able to get her into my pull-out to await the sand truck. It was about 10 minutes away. While we waited, the ranger encouraged me to leave the trailer in a pull-out and go see General Sherman Tree. “Really? I was going to call it a day. HAHA!” He insisted, “You can’t come here all the way from Virginia and not see what may be the largest living thing in the world.” He assured me that the trailer would be fine. The sand truck came by and laid sand (the park does not salt). The women waiting with me were on their way and I moved-in to couple my trailer.

I went down to the next pull-out and uncoupled the trailer, but I couldn’t leave it there because it wanted to slide down the hill, using the tongue jack as a ski. I took it to a level pull-out below 6000 feet and was able to leave it. I also found some rocks to chock the wheels. General Sherman Tree is off-road and about 1/2-mile into the woods. So, no car photos with it. But I did manage to shoot a photo with this smaller Sequoia. This tree is large, but General Sherman Tree is massive! It’s neither the widest nor the tallest in the forest. But it carries the most girth farther up its trunk, which makes it the most massive tree in the world. I’ll share photos of General Sherman later.

Thanks for hanging out through this nutty story! See a video about this story, as well as the rest of my solo visit, by clicking here.

No Runaway Trailer Today!


About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and served in the U. S. Coast Guard for over 30 years. I have an electronics background and continue to work in the electronics engineering field. I taught myself the basics about automotive systems as well as how to perform some of my own maintenance (cars and bicycles). I became involved with Amateur Radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology has made my job and several of my hobbies quite interesting. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, photography, electronics, amateur radio, web management, and reptiles. Visit my websites to learn more.
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