Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oh My God, that's steep

We are at the Porcupine campground, at 8,750' in the Bighorn National Forest (map).

Yesterday we drove through the main part of Cody -- wow, what a tourist trap. I did note, on our way out of Wal-Mart, that six of the rigs I noticed yesterday were closed up for the day, and the tow or towed vehicles were away doing whatever. We decided that printing copies of the etiquette letter to leave on these rigs would be a waste of paper and expensive ink.

We had a pleasant drive along US14A to the Yellowtail Wildlife Management Area, along the Yellowtail Reservoir just south of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Our guides indicated primitive camping there, and the sign on the roadway did, indeed, have a tent symbol. After half a mile of rutted dirt road, though, we had to turn back due to low trees.

As we continued east, we noticed a few more camping icons at various other turn-offs into the Wildlife Management Area, but our guide books were silent on these. Not knowing whether the camping was one mile down the road or ten, combined with the fact that the temperature had already climbed into the 90s, persuaded us to continue east into the Bighorn Mountains.

Little did we know that the grade ahead of us is called the "Oh My God Hill," and consists, according to our Mountain Directory West, of a section of 8% grade followed by a section of 10% (really!) grade, a total of 13 miles worth.

We averaged 13 mph (not counting stops) up this hill, at a fuel rate of 1.2 MPG. More than one full hour and at least eleven gallons of diesel later, we pulled off onto the brake check area at the summit. I say "at least" because that does not count the fuel we burned sitting in turnouts on "high idle" for several minutes to let the coolant temperature come down from 215 or so back into the 190s. We turned out four or five times; once onto a patch of fresh asphalt into which we sank -- I could not get the bus rolling forward even in low gear at full throttle, so we had to let our 24 tons pull us backwards down the hill until we were back out in the traffic lane. (My humble apologies to WYDOT -- we left some humongous ruts in the asphalt both on the shoulder and into part of the lane.)

I can honestly say that, not counting short bits of driveway and the like, this is the steepest continuous climb we've ever made in Odyssey. It is also the longest it has ever taken us to drive 13 miles -- I think Louise could have blown by me on her 49cc Honda. There are precious few turnouts, as well, so I felt sorry for the one poor bloke who was stuck behind us (at 12 mph) for a good three miles or so (the whole grade is double-yellow).

We had our sights set on the Bald Mountain campground, a mile or so beyond the summit and just off the road. The campground is apparently open, and completely empty -- that's because a foot deep snow drift blocks the entrance road for perhaps 30 yards. I did try to power through it, but even our aggressive traction-tread drivers began to spin as the snow under foot compressed into ice. Too bad, it was a great spot. We backed out onto the highway, and backtracked a quarter mile to Forest Road 13.

Two miles of slightly muddy dirt, with patches of snow, brought us here. The entry road here also had several snow drifts, some perhaps two feet deep, but none wider than a couple yards. This place was also completely deserted, and, as with Bald Mountain, the iron ranger was covered over with plastic and tape (free camping!). There were no gates or "closed" signs, however, and so we powered through the snow drifts and found this most excellent site with a view of the valley, and plenty of open sky for both satellite access and passive solar heating -- it was in the low 70s when we arrived, in stark contrast to the valley 5,500' below where it was 90 as we began our climb.

Our solitude was relatively short-lived -- around 8pm, a couple from Wisconsin drove in, and set up two sites down from us -- about the only relatively dry site in the whole place for their tent. They did the whole drive that day, and are on their way to Oregon. They knew of this spot from a previous visit, and had called the ranger station before arriving, who told them it had been opened just last week.

Their last visit was in the month of August, and so they were a bit unprepared for early spring conditions -- snow melt has most of the campground very soggy, and the hand-operated well pump is still bagged and closed for the season. We ended up giving them a couple gallons of water from our tank.

It was just the four of us here last night. This morning, another set of tenters and a Scamp travel trailer have pulled in, and at least another two cars came through for a look. My own fault, I guess, since Odyssey compacted and/or leveled all the snow drifts blocking the road yesterday.

It's exquisitely beautiful and peaceful here, and since we drove four hours rather than the planned two yesterday, we are going to spend two nights here. Tomorrow we will continue east through the Bighorn National Forest, rejoining US14 at Burgess Junction.


  1. I didn't see any posts for S.D. and since you are headed that way, you might try the Firehouse Brewing Co. in Rapid City. Try their Beer Milkshake for dessert.


  2. This post made me sick to stomach as I thought about facing those kinds of grades when I hit the Rockies in late September. :)

  3. I am looking for a good boondocking spot for 2 weeks after Escapade and considered the Big Horn Mtn area. I did a little research and read that 14/14A were NOT the routes to take with a motorhome. LOL! I will probably take 16 if I go that way. Thanks for verifying what I read. PS. I'm parked at the Cam-Plex. Upside to early in, you get FHU. Downside to early in, you are the furthest away from everything. See you soon!!

  4. Whether it's awnings and lawn chairs at WalMart or ruts in asphalt at 7800' and slowing other traffic because you're not properly informed about the mountain road you're attempting to climb with a 47,000 pound camper...

    What's the difference?

    It's inappropriate use of a vehicle given the conditions and expectations of courtesy and, in this case, safety of others.

    I'm appalled!

  5. Gee, Thomas, was that you behind us on US 14A? Sorry, buddy. You could have at least helped us by blocking traffic while we backed out of the improperly cured asphalt.

    When you pass us, wave. I promise to use all five fingers when I wave back :-)

  6. @thomas -- I feel compelled to respond here even though Louise has already done so, in case my original post was unclear on the situation or circumstances.

    First off, we "slowed" precisely one other car. Total delay to him was perhaps six or seven minutes, until we reached the next safe turnout. Whenever we hold up traffic, particularly if there are more than a couple of vehicles behind us, we always use turnouts. That's just common courtesy.

    Secondly, driving more slowly than the posted limit in such circumstances does not constitute a safety hazard -- this is not like a multi-lane freeway. Causing this individual to slow to 13 mph in no way compromised his safety. It might have annoyed him, perhaps, but who among us has not been stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle once in a while?

    If you are referring to having to back out into the lane, that was done with no other traffic on the road. I could see easily a full mile downhill. And there was no way to predict before hand that the asphalt was soft in that spot -- it was a legitimately marked shoulder. The road surface here has clearly been a problem -- it appeared to be a recently repaired wash-out.

    As for "properly informed" I did consult the truck atlas, before selecting this route, to determine that it was an approved route. There are no restrictions of any kind posted for RVs on this well-established US highway.

    I fail to see how using a US highway that I pay for every year is an "inappropriate use." (In fact, I also paid $2.64 in federal tax and #1.54 in Wyoming tax, merely by driving this 13 miles.) Both the designers and users of this road know full well that heavy vehicles will have to drive it slowly -- there is even an enormous sign stating this fact at the beginning of the descent.

    Lastly, I don't own a "camper." Few would call our lifestyle here aboard Odyssey "camping."

  7. Geese Thomas, are you one of those awnings and lawn chairs at WalMart people?
    If you guys have time, can you do another 360* video? That looks like a beautiful place!



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