Posts Tagged ‘winch’

Limping along (again)

16th September 2010 by Helen

Thursday 16th September

outside the hunter's lodge where we camped last night

outside the hunter's lodge where we camped last night

After a long cold night we wake to the welcoming rays of the sun warming us through the tent walls.  The scenery is as beautiful as it was yesterday.  The silver birch are shining yellow and gold in the sun.  The occasional gust of wind sends a cascade of leaves down to the forest floor around us like nature’s confetti.  The sky is a pure clear blue, not a cloud in sight for as much as we can see between the treetops.

We’d peeked in last night, but now in daylight we take a closer look at the hunters’ cabin.  Measuring some 15 foot by 12 foot inside, half of the space is taken up by a wooden sleeping platform.  Immediately inside the door on the left is a wood stove, similar to the stoves we had seen in the gers in Mongolia.  To the right a high table and bench in front of a small window.  Outside the front, covering the entrance door, is a porch with another table with bench seats either side.  Simple but clean and warm.  In front of the hut is an open fire with facilities for hanging cooking pots.  A small stream running nearby is undoubtedly the source of water for any occupants of the hut.  I dream a little of how to make it homely, surrounded by the sounds of the brook and the birds in the trees.  From up the hill, somewhere in the distance, come the sounds of a woodpecker.

It was still early and our on-board tap water had frozen somewhere in the pipes or tank, but it soon defrosted in the warming sun and we had breakfast of tea and cream crackers before we had to face the task of moving on again.

Starting with an assessment of the situation, we found the engine started and the winch still worked.  Both good news, although we realised we probably had about 70 kilometres to travel and the winch alone would not get us there in under a month!  Some of the gears seemed to be working intermittently in low range.  That meant we could drive, albeit very slowly.  We set off at between 5 and 15 km an hour, with frequent stops to re-establish drive to the wheels by deselecting and reselecting the centre diff lock.  It was hard driving, the gears kept jumping out.  There were crunches and clangs going on all the time.  Nasty, complaining bangs, and sounds of metal scraping against metal.  Going uphill was a tense nightmare. 

First, we tried heading west again to Babushkin, the nearest reasonably large town on a very main road and by far the best option.  Although the towns here are no further apart than they were in Mongolia this is much more isolated due to the absence of smaller settlements and nomad gers.  We hadn’t seen a soul in 36 hours.

The road going west soon becomes impassable due to dead trees having fallen across the track and the forest having reclaimed the ground.  As we recce’d up ahead, it was clear the rest of the road had obviously not been used for some time.  This is great terrain for off-road clubs with several vehicles, winches and time for fun and games, but not for a lone injured Landy in need of TLC.  We turned back (again).  We were now heading south east on a track that had seen much more regular traffic, back towards the A165 and a town called Gusinoozersk.  All the while Paul was trying to work through in his head the various scenarios of what exactly had broken, fearing expensive and long winded repairs and another long wait for parts.   He would later reveal  how dispirited he felt, struggling not just with how to nurse Landy and ourselves to safety, but  also with realising his ambition to drive the Road of Bones to Magadan was evaporating.  This had become much more than a practical challenge for him.

Paul removing the prop shaft helped us on our way

Paul removing the prop shaft helped us on our way

managed to get same wheel stuck again today - must be something about that side of the car

managed to get same wheel stuck again today - must be something about that side of the car

After dropping a wheel in another deep puddle we carried on.  Soon we were struggling to climb uphill through a pass when Paul realised that Landy would drive in gear better with the hand brake on and takes this as a cue to remove the rear prop shaft.   We now have a three ton Land Rover with only front wheel drive – not good, as we are still in slippery off road conditions.  But by working a combination of the gears that are available to us, along with both the foot and hand brakes, he coaxed Landy up the remainder of the rise through the pass for another couple of kilometres.  Cresting the top of the pass we were relieved to find ourselves going downhill again.  With no engine braking available to us, and no hand brake either, we were now freewheeling downhill in a three ton Land Rover with pointy out wheels over what is a badly potholed and rutted mud track, gouged by deep water run-offs.  I suggested I would feel happier at a slightly slower speed than 47 km per hour and Paul eased Landy back to a more sedate 35.  I suspected this was still a far from safe mode of travel but chose not to ask!

our first sight of the lake as we approached Gusinoozersk

our first sight of the lake as we approached Gusinoozersk

We could see from the map that there is small lake and a railway line between us and the town.  After some 10 km of the off-roader’s equivalent of the Cresta Run, the hills parted before us and the lake came into view.  Never before have I been so relieved to see a lake!  We still had a long way to go but the town was in sight.  Two tall chimneys belched out smoke, surrounded by electricity pylons.  We could already see this town has more than its share of apartment blocks, no doubt housing the workforce for the power plant on the outskirts of town.

We stopped for a rest and a coffee before tackling finding our way across the railway line and round the power plant.  We were unable to find where the road crossed the railway line but instead followed a local driver through a culvert and think we are nearly there, but after finding several dead ends in the power plant we had to stop to ask a worker how to get to the town.  Fortunately at this point a man arrived in a mobile crane at the end of his shift.  He was going home and led us to the town.  Just as well.  With no road signs and 5 km of driving still, we’d never have found our way on our own.  Once again it is now dark (bit of a theme there).  We have explained we have a problem with our vehicle and he drives at our speed, leading us to a garage.  It has already shut for the night and so we headed into the town centre hoping to find a hotel. 

The town centre is really rather small.  The bulk of the town is made up of the apartment blocks we saw from a distance.  Then we saw red and blue flashing lights behind us, followed by the police siren.  What traffic infringement have we committed we wondered?  Before they get a chance to tell us off for doing something wrong we plead for directions to a hotel.  There are no hotels in the direction we are going.  The police officer indicated we should follow him back the way we’ve just come.  He led us to what we think is probably the only hotel in town.  It’s 700 Roubles per night for both of us – that’s about £16.  We confirmed that tomorrow they can register our visas for us.  Secure parking is available – a 10 minute walk away.  While Paul parked Landy I learnt that there is no hot water, at all, even in the shower.  There is no breakfast facility either, although the restaurant on the ground floor does open at 10.00 am.  Still, when we get to our room it is clean, reasonably warm (don’t know how as we can’t find any heat on), with our own toilet and (cold) shower.  And the beds are comfortable, not rock hard like they were in Mongolia (wooden floorboards would have been softer).  The restaurant is open until midnight and so we went straight down for dinner.   We ordered something that sounded like lasagne only to discover it is chopped chicken made into a fritter, topped with a little onion, tomato and cheese and flashed under a grill to melt the cheese.  Not what we thought of when we heard lasagne!!  Served with cold rice (potatoes were on the menu but, like most things on the menu, not available).  Time for some welcome sleep again.

Overnight location: Gusinoozersk

Distance travelled – 70 km

Wonderment & Disaster

15th September 2010 by Helen

Wednesday 15th September

Well what else to you expect from us by now?

autumn colours in Siberia

autumn colours in Siberia

Landy having some fun earlier in the day - hope he's got his wellies on!!

Landy having some fun earlier in the day - hope he's got his wellies on!!

After a fairly late night last night we weren’t too struck on an early start and left our campsite around 11.00 this morning.  Last night we had already turned off the A165, heading west along a secondary road, ultimately aiming for Babushkin, a large town on the shores of Lake Baikal.  We’d camped last night just before the small town of Gusinoye Ozero.  We had no need to stop at the town and so decided to carry on the road that by-passed the town, and found ourselves driving out through the town rubbish dump!  I say road, but here in this part of Russia the term road is as ambiguous as it was in Mongolia – even the secondary road, the equivalent of a B road in England, was a rutted dirt track with water filled ditches the width of the road.  Still, we had no trouble following the road around a small lake and alongside a railway line.  However we soon needed to turn off on to a minor road if we were to take the direct route to Babushkin.  What we found though was that there are several tracks in this area.  There is obviously quite a major logging industry going on and so many of these tracks have been cut through by the logging trucks.  This made it extremely difficult to find and stay on the roads we wanted (the ones printed on the map), and more than once we found ourselves going the wrong way and having to turn back.

the colours of Siberia

the colours of Siberia

2010 09 15 (150)

where the road turns into a river bed

This triangle of land between the two main roads, Ulan-Ude and the Mongolian border has to be a green-laner’s paradise, and served up our best expedition experience yet.  Enough green lanes to keep you occupied for a week without repeating the same thing twice, plenty of places to camp and loads of wood for open camp fires.  The tracks all lead through the valleys lined with thick natural forest of silver birch and pine.  We marvel again at the colours around us.  We delight in filming the off road terrain.  Despite the occasional backtracking we are making good progress towards Lake Baikal and are looking forward to camping on the shores tonight.  Particularly as we finally think we are on the right track and are only about an hour from the lake.

OK - so now the hi-lift jack has got the wheels level we need to find some rocks to fill the hole

OK - so now the hi-lift jack has got the wheels level we need to find some rocks to fill the hole

However.  Yes, there has to be a however in there.  The track we are on peters out.  Or rather it becomes temporarily invisible as it turns into a waterway running downhill through a boulder field.  There are large rocks and muddy ruts for a couple hundred yards before the track reappears.  This is easily do-able terrain for a Land Rover, but we get stuck.  Major stuck.  One wheel is deep in a water filled hole with vertical sides.  One wheel is off the ground and spinning.  One wheel is spinning in mud and the fourth wheel is heavily into a second underwater hole, and without any purchase on the other three wheels, is not able to climb out. 

It was time to put some of our recovery gear to use.  The hi-lift jack was persuaded to work with the application of some WD40 and Paul was able to lift the wheel from the deepest hole in order to build up under the wheel with small rocks.  It was enough to level us up and get the other front wheel touching the ground again.  Paul was able to back up enough to find a way through without losing any more wheels in the deep holes.  It took us about 45 minutes to get moving again, and we were not unscathed – the rod that keeps the front wheels parallel had landed on a rock and been severely bent, so our front wheels now point outwards!   For the next couple hundred yards of rocky river bed I walked ahead ‘spotting’ to prevent any further damage or entrapments.

beautiful scenery but Landy's feeling a bit like he needs something to lean on

beautiful scenery but Landy's feeling a bit like he needs something to lean on

Landy leans so far over half a tank of diesel can't get to his engine!!

Landy leans so far over half a tank of diesel can't get to his engine!!

Continuing on we found we were once again on the wrong track.  With the tracks winding round the mountains and valleys it took a while but we decided to turn back and take a track to the left we’d passed earlier.  This looked more promising, although as we came across a hunter’s log cabin we momentarily feared we had come to the end of the road, before seeing the track continue off to the right.  We were definitely heading in the right direction to Babushkin now.  After a short while the road became two gravelly ruts and was getting steeper. 

Soon we found we were trying to climb what had in effect become a 1 in 3 scree slope.  Trying being the operative word, because we were not succeeding.   The steepness of the track, and the shale surface rendered steering and braking ineffective – to stop was to slide backwards out of control!

To cut a long story short we get completely stuck – wedged diagonally across the track with our right hand wheels taking all the weight, and at a perilously lopsided angle.  We winch, we slither, we scrabble, but still we are stuck.  And by now it was almost dark.

Then, in the process of trying to straighten up to reverse off the hill, we heard a loud CLANG thanks to some vehicle movement while the handbrake is applied.  We’ve lost the use of most of the gears.  To cap it all the engine petered out, it seemed, for lack of fuel.  The reality is that Landy is leaning so far over at this stage the half a tank of fuel we have is all laying on the wrong side and not able to get to the engine!!

Finally with the aid of the winch and some intermittent engine power we managed to get straight and inch our way back down the hill in the dark, all the way to the hunters’ log cabin where we camped for the night.  It was pitch black, and fast getting cold.  We cooked up some pasta in pasta sauce as the frost formed, ate in dispirited silence, and then climbed into bed, exhausted.

What next.  We don’t know.  But by virtue of the fact that you are reading this blog entry you will know we have made it to a town large enough to have internet access.  Read on for how we got there and what happened next.

Campsite – somewhere in the Siberian forest between the A165 and the M55

Distance travelled – 89 km

Tug of the Land

25th August 2010 by Helen

Tuesday 24th August

After breakfast at the ger camp and Paul finishing off the repairs on the fuel tank we took part in one of our few ‘tourist’ activities – a camel ride.  We were led to an oasis, an island of lush green grass, pools of water and frogs nestling amongst the sand dunes, before heading back to the camp.  It took no more than an hour but my nether regions were declaring very loudly that an hour on a rock hard saddle was more than enough.  Coming back from the camel ride we were amazed to see the remains of a hedgehog run over on one of the sand tracks.  Of all the space here in Mongolia the hedgehog can still manage to get run over!!

Then it was off to the dunes with Landy.  Paul’s aim was to get in a bit of practice at dune driving, hopefully get stuck and have to dig ourselves out.  Goal achieved (the latter part taking about an hour) we headed back towards the ger camp and the main road to Dalandzagad where it is vital we get some internet access to order spare parts from Foundry 4×4 to be waiting for us at Ulaanbaatar.

Just a minute or two later, as we crested the brow of the first dune on our way back, we saw right in front of us a tractor struggling to pull a cart heavily laden with a packed up ger.  The cart is stuck in the sand, the wheels of the tractor are spinning in the sand, and the children of the family are frantically scrabbling at the sand in front of the cart’s wheels trying to help free the cart even as the tractor is pulling it.  The family’s dog and cat wander round

We stop and pull out our Dyneema rope provided by Goodwinch, hook it up to the cart and, with both us and the tractor pulling, help free the cart.

Then the tractor breaks down.  The men are desperately trying to restart the engine by hand.  Occasionally it fires and once or twice

Landy tows a tractor and a trailer over soft sand

Landy tows a tractor and a trailer over soft sand

 it even starts, only to stop again.  We’re not sure what we can do but we sit and wait.  Eventually it’s obvious there’s only one thing we can do.  Paul reverses Landy back over the sand, hooks up the Dyneema rope on to the front of the tractor.  Then, with Landy in low range gear, he slowly begins to reverse.  Landy’s own wheels are spinning in the loose sand, but the General Grabber AT2 tyres are able to get enough purchase to keep Landy moving.  The rope tightens and the tractor begins to move, just fast enough to for the tractor driver to bump start his engine.  A cheer goes up all round.

This surely has to be a headline: Land Rover Defender bump starts a tractor by towing in reverse on soft sand.

However it’s not over yet.  Paul pulls Landy forward as the tractor reverses back and hooks up to the cart.  Then, still in reverse, on soft sand, Landy pulls not only the tractor but the cart which contains a ger and all the family’s possessions, until they are free of the soft sand.

New headline: Land Rover Defender tows tractor and whole house!! 

(Did I mention we still have a dodgy water pump?)

Drama over it’s back on the road again to Dalandzadgad.

Campsite – just past Bayandalay

Distance travelled – 138 km