We are stuck off-road in New Mexico

We are stuck off-road in New Mexico

Friday, 10th of February, at 10:15 a.m. (MST), we received a text message in our emergency line (503-877-5263) from Trent Cleary. He and his wife were traveling in a Camper Van when they got stuck in the snow. They requested an offroad recovery from New Mexico.

We created the ticket manually and assigned it to local volunteers by 10:48 a.m. At around 11:58 a.m., Kate Davis, a local volunteer contacted Trent and announced in our lobby that she could assist later the same day.

At 2:00 p.m., Howard Snell announced he was taking over the recovery. He already contacted Trent and was coming from Pie Town.

new mexico offroad recovery of a camper van off-road rescue new mexico
Photo submitted by Trent

By 6:30 p.m., we received word from Trent, Howard got them out.

A day later we received a detailed full report from Howard:

Report – Mount Taylor, NM – Off Road Portal Recovery March 10, 2023.
Howard Snell, images Heidi Snell

While returning to our home in New Mexico after a month of overlanding travel in Arizona and California we received notice at 1430 (10 March) of a vehicle stuck on the western slopes of Mount Taylor while we were at the Pie-O-Neer cafe in Pie Town. We called the owner of the mired truck to confirm they still needed help, that they they were in a camping van and able to comfortably spend the night. Our original proposal was to finish the return home and head out to recover them the next morning (11 March) with a winch-equipped 4×4 Tacoma. As we finished lunch I did some route calculations and checked weather forecasts to find that a round trip recovery operation from home on 11 March would entail at least 5 hours and expose everyone to higher winds and potentially colder temperatures. On the other hand, traveling direct from Pie Town on 10 March would take about two hours to effect the recovery and get everyone off the mountain in better conditions.

I made another call to the owner, discussed conditions at the truck, the route, recovery points on the truck and decided we could get to them in our 4×4 EarthCruiser between 1700 and 1730. We finished lunch and pie then left at 1512. We decided to take a slightly longer but potentially faster route via Quemado, NM due to muddy conditions on gravel roads heading due north from Pie Town (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – Route from Pie Town to mired van on Mount Taylor.

We aired down at the intersection of paved Lobo Canyon Road and dirt Horace Mesa Road on Mount Taylor. Horace Mesa was wet & moderately muddy for a couple of miles and then transitioned to slushy snow. We reached the stuck van (2017 Ford Transit fitted out for full time living) at 1730 (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Position of van on Horace Road.

When owners started up the road in the morning, they thought conditions were OK. As they progressed uphill and encountered deeper snow there were no places to turn around in their 2WD van so they went further up than originally planned. Once able to turn around they started back down and quickly became stuck in snow on the downhill side of the road (Fig 3). They worked with a small shovel for several hours, moving maybe 30’, before realizing they could not get out on their own and submitted a rescue request to Off Road Portal.

Fig. 3 – Van had slightly slid to downhill side of road but was not in immediate danger of going further.

We decided a simple pull moving them forward and back onto the road would likely allow them to drive back down Horace Mesa Rd to pavement at Lobo Canyon Road. However, there were no obvious recovery points on the 2017 Ford Transit Van. When we originally made contact I asked about recover points, so the owner had done some Internet research & determined that there were none provided by Ford. A quick search through the owner’s manual confirmed the lack of “factory approved” points of attachment for a forward pull. Owner reported several work arounds suggested by others on the web, but all of those threatened the plastic components of the front bumper. I was reluctant to perform a recovery that could damage the vehicle, so I suggested we try using our MaxTrax & simply drive the van back onto the road. That failed due to the weight of the van, smooth highway tread tires, and icy conditions from the compressed snow. I then told the owner that even a gentle pull would likely damage the bumper, and suggested I’d continue if he made the attachment to a point that satisfied him. He accepted, attached one of my soft shackles to a sheet metal cross piece below the radiator and routed a static (Amsteel Blue) tow line below his bumper (Fig. 4). I attached the other end of that line to a recovery point on the rear winch cradle of our EarthCruiser and after shoveling snow away from his wheels very gently pulled him back onto the road (Fig. 5 & 6).

Fig. 4 – Van rigged for pull back onto road just at sunset.

We led the van back down Horace Mesa Rd to Lobo Canyon Rd where the owner expressed interest in compensating us for the recovery. I explained the volunteer nature of Off Road Portal and suggested they could make a donation to the site, but that I wouldn’t accept anything – suggesting they help the next person they encountered who was in trouble.

We then aired our tires back up to highway pressures and started home at 1900, arriving at 2100.

Thanks, Howard and Heidi, for helping with this recovery in the snow in New Mexico, and especially for sharing such detailed report.

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