This past Saturday I headed out with some friends of mine and we took our sons along with us on another Jeep adventure. Things were going well until my freind's Jeep wouldn't start. When we popped the hood we became worried he might have hydrolocked the engine with the mud and water that poured out of the throttle body. It was a short time on the trail but a long day as we dragged his Jeep off the trails and had to wait for the tow truck.
Elbe Hills ORV Park
April 30th, 2011
The day started out very promising with a much anticipated trip to Elbe Hills ORV park. This was a last minute decision after learning Evan’s Creek was still under several feet of snow. Nonetheless, Joe, Steve, and I met in high spirits in Bothell and had a smooth drive south to Elbe, WA and the Elbe Hills ORV park. This day we were joined by our sons, Nathan and Aiden who were both excited to go on another Jeep adventure. While the weather forecast called for partly cloudy, the day was overcast most of the time. However, it wasn’t cold up in the hills and the rain stayed at bay making for a pleasant day.
We arrived at the staging area to find it crowded will all manner of trucks and trailers and built-up and heavily modified trail buggies. While we made final trail preparations we chatted with one of the fellows standing around the roaring fire in the picnic shelter. Today was a work party hosted by the Pacific Northwest 4 Wheel Drive Association. With some advice from him concerning trail conditions we started out before long.
At the staging area talking to the other people still there.
Shifting into 4Lo as we pulled off the gravel road onto the start of the Sunrise trail, we inched our way over the rocks and cobbled that made up the trail bed. Toward the top we crossed several bridges and encountered a few of the volunteers helping with trail maintenance. A sincere “thank you” for their work and on we went. The Sunrise trail is a nice intro to Elbe Hills and rather mild with a few modest puddles and some bridging over the more delicate sections of trail. It wasn’t long until we were dumped out onto the Mainline Trail at the edge of a clear cut.
Crossing a bridge on the Sunrise trail, it was anice and easy intro to Elbe.
The Mainline continued westward through the clear cut for a spell before entering a dense stand of fir trees. The trail bed was swallowed by several long puddles as it squeezed between some trees. A couple of hundred yards and a few puddles later we exited the trees into another clear cut area with a large puddle. This is where we ran into problems.
Starting through the trees on the Mainline Trail.
One of the long puddles on the Mainline Trail.
As the trail lead I decided to try skirting the edge of the puddle and quickly became mired in the slick, soft mud. My axles were high centered and my tires were spinning freely under me. In such a pointless situation I just stopped and began digging out the recovery gear from the back of the Jeep.
Steve attempted to take the main route through the right hand edge. Despite looking deep he actually had solid footing under his tires and good traction. However, halfway to the opposite shore he veered toward the middle of the puddle and got high centered himself. We were all somewhat amused to see his tires spinning helplessly, splashing up muddy water all around. The amusement quickly died when his engine stalled.
Without much else to do Steve sat in his Jeep in the middle of the mud puddle while Joe and I rigged up a recovery strap between our two yellow TJs. After a couple minutes Joe was able to pull my Jeep out of the mud. Then I drove out into the middle following Steve’s otherwise sound route to bring the recovery strap to him. Somebody’s feet were going to get wet hooking up the recovery gear. Being that it was Steve’s Jeep that now needed help he had the honor and I gladly handed him the strap through the window of my nice dry Jeep.
Steve spinning his tires after getting high centered (like me) on some mud.
It wasn't just Steve that got stuck. Joe hauled me backwards out of my
After getting unstuck I brought a tow strap out to Steve. Fortunately,
I managed to keep my feet dry by staying inside the Jeep.
It was surprising to me how easily I was able to pull Steve’s rig out of the mud. Between the 4Low gear ratio and the limited slips I had plenty of traction. His rig rolled easily enough after a few tugs to free it from being high centered on submerged tire ruts. In short order we had the silver Jeep up on dry land where we started inspecting the engine.
That is when we noticed that the cover to the air box and air filter was not in place. The air box had a few inches of water in the bottom with the conical air filter partially submerged. As we started disconnecting the intake ducting every connection revealed further bad news. Water had been sucked up through the intake system. Lastly we pulled off the ducting at the throttle body. Sure enough, water and silty mud poured out. The irony of this was that there was a professionally installed snorkel on Steve’s Jeep. It appears that with out the cover on the air box the radiator fan and / or spinning tires splashed up enough muddy water to flood the air box and hydrolock the engine.
Well, that was it. After about 30 minutes of trail riding and maybe another 30-45 minutes of recovery action we were through. Rather than pulling the spark plugs and cranking the engine (one method for clearing a water logged engine) we didn’t want to risk running mud through the heads and into the cylinders. We didn’t know how far into the intake manifold the water and mud had gone.
A little more work and we got Steve’s silver TJ turned around, pointing back the way we had come. Then we took a quick break to eat some lunch. It’s one thing for us grown men to by pass a lunch but our 2 and 3 yr old sons would have gotten cranky. After a quick lunch we hooked the recovery strap between my Jeep and Steve’s and I towed him off the trail. Fortunately, we weren’t far from the end of the Mainline Trail and were able to quickly exit to the gravel road.
Back at the picnic shelter we checked in with the PNW4WDA host to let him know we were off the trails. The it was a slow, deliberate tow down the gravel roads and off the mountain to pavement. Once the recovery gear was stowed away we left Steve’s Jeep on the side of the road and zoomed back through Elbe and out along the highway until we got good enough reception to call AAA and arrange for a tow truck. They said he would be out in about 2 hours.
2 hours . . . close to 5pm. Not having much else to two and having two restless toddlers with us we headed back into downtown Elbe and parked at the shore of the Nisqually River. For the next 2 hours we hung out on sand bars along the river, chucking rocks into the water. At 5pm we met the tow truck driver back at Steve’s Jeep and got it loaded up for the ride to the mechanic’s. It was a bit of a sad ride home with a stop at Sonic for a dinner of burgers and fries.
Killing some time on the banks of the Nisqually River waiting for the tow truck.
Finally we got his Jeep loaded up on the tow truck and sent it off to the shop.
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