Day 8: Grand Bench


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The Trip

The objective of the day was to make it to Grand Bench. We did achieve the objective, in part, but were confronted with a very bad situation. The photos below are what we saw.

As I was breaking camp, I spotted this fellow. He looked like he was in pretty good shape given the harsh terrain he calls home. Given his posture, he was ready to bolt.

We passed a number of side canyons before we hit Last Chance Creek. In retrospect, the name was appropriate.

We followed this line of cliffs for many miles.

The cliffs were pretty, but stark and imposing.

A number of the cactus were in bloom. Note the interesting center structure of the flower.

The finest in back country accommodations. These two small containers were welded together and then a hole was cut in the wall between them. They have a stove (good for winter) but no windows (no good for summer). This shack sits at the top of a canyon that has a steep slope to the bottom below and is the entrance to Grand Bench. Grand Bench is a 10 mile long finger mesa that runs southward into Glen Canyon.

Cowboy chic. Lounge chairs, a foot stool and a fire place.

After a steep downgrade, we reached the bottom of the canyon. We stopped in the shade to assess the situation. Note the abundance of cow pies.

On the other side of the creek was this gnarly up-grade that heads to the top of the canyon. It was as bad as it looks.

This grade looked bad enough that I decided to walk the entire distance to the top of the canyon to insure that we could actually make it. What I did NOT want to do was to get stuck by myself or become trapped due to a narrow trail that would require me to back down this bad boy. Amazingly, while I thought I had considered all the issues, one thing that I did not consider was a mechanical failure on my mog. For the record, I have had this truck for 12 years and in that time I have had a few failures, but only one major mechanical issue which was a cracked engine block. I have had no catastrophic drive line failures, so that was not on my list of things to be concerned about.

Looking back from the top of the grade, it did not look so bad. The trail was pretty wide and generally level left-right.

From the top looking across the canyon you can see the cowboy shack just left of center in the photo. We checked the grade beyond the steep part and determined that we could make it without too much trouble, so we hiked back to the truck, aired down to about 15 psi and proceeded to head up the grade.

About 1/2 way up the grade, something snapped and the truck started making a terrible noise. Since we were at the crux and the steepest part, I really had no choice but to continue on at the slowest possible pace. Once we reached a nearly level landing zone at the top, I stopped to determine what was wrong. I could not get the transmission to shift and the throw on the levers was such that I could not get the shifter in the forward position. Furthermore, I could not get the truck out of compound low!! It was almost as if the transmission had moved on its mounts. I looked and looked, but could not see what was wrong. Finally, I removed the spare tire that allowed me a better inspection point. The photo above is what I saw. (At Least) 3 of the 6 bolts that hold the transmission on the driver's side had sheared off allowing the transmission to float around. This accounted for the inability to position the shift levers correctly. Note that the transmission has moved forward by about an inch and you can see the shim plates just hanging there. Succinctly put, we were deeply screwed, through and through. The failure happened at about 1300 hours. The outside temperature was perhaps a 100 degrees and shade was nowhere to be found.

These are big, grade 8 bolts (metric 12.9). The heads are 24 mm. To make things more fun, the ends of the bolts were left in the transmission case and at least one corner of the case was cracked.

Kathleen and I spent a very long time discussing our next steps. It was clear that I would not be able to repair the damage. I had an air drill and drill bits, but no screw extractor. Even if I got the bolts out, I did not have spares. The transmission - transfer case - reducer box on the mog is huge. I do not know the exact weight, but my guess is between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds. Bailing wire is not going to fix this issue, that is for sure. At this point, we were about 50 miles on the dirt. Due to our location, the high canyon walls, and the heat, walking out was out of the question. We tried our 2 meter radio, but it is line of sight and we could not hit the repeater on Navajo Mountain. The CB was insufficient and there was no cell service. On the path in, we saw no new tracks on the trail. Stated differently, if we were going to get out, we would have to figure it out ourselves. Plus, the mog is so large that any normal vehicle would not be able to tow us.

I sat there and talked to myself for what seemed like most of the afternoon and I finally came up with a possible plan. The plan was simple but unlikely to work. That said, I had no Plan B, so making a choice was easy. The plan was to use wooden blocks and one of my heavy lift hydraulic jacks to reposition the transmission into the correct location to allow selecting forward gears. Then, we would use 2 heavy duty ratchet straps to hold the transmission assembly in place. To assist in keeping it in place, we would re-install the sheared bolts to help act as pins to keep the transmission from moving around during travel. It took us several hours to get the fix in place, but we did it. I tightened those straps until they were so tight that I got "C sharp" when you plucked them!

We loaded our stuff and attempted to head down the hill.

A view from the underside of the ratchet strap repair job.

Another view of the ratchet straps holding the transmission in place. Look carefully and you can see a crack in the casting coming from the right-most bolt to the edge. This baby is barely holding on!!

We are ready to roll down the hill. Literally. This hill is very, very steep and once I was fully committed, I discovered that the truck would not stay in forward gear. In the end, I had to come down the grade with no engine braking to slow the descent. I used only the normal brakes and crept at the slowest possible speed.

Once we got to the bottom of the canyon, I could not get the truck into forward gear at all. And, we had a very steep up grade to attack to get back to the cowboy shack. Once we got to the bottom, we pulled the spare tire again (which is no small amount of work given the size of the tire) to gain access to the transmission. Not surprisingly, the whole assembly had shifted during the steep down grade to the canyon floor. We hemmed and hawed and huffed and puffed and finally got partial engagement of the forward gears in compound low. Anything was better than nothing, so we loaded the spare tire again and took off up the grade in compound low which was about 1 mph (maybe less). We had sufficient fuel and water, so assuming we could keep the truck in gear, we COULD get out, although it may would several days. At this point, that seemed good to me, so off we went.

After we got past the cowboy shack and the road got more level, the whole assembly shifted closer to its normal operating position. While the rig would not fully stay in gear and popped out every time I let off the throttle, it was running. And, later, I discovered that it had moved sufficiently to allow me to get out of compound low and into normal street gear. This was good as we had 50 miles of trail to go. I still could not hit any gear where the lever had to be aft. So, I had 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th gears but none of the others. But, that was sufficient. It is a big jump from 3rd to 5th, but we struggled through. Later I discovered that being in 4WD exacerbated the issue, so after we did not need it any more, we were 2WD the whole way back. Ugly, but we were mobile. As we got more confident in the fix, and the transmission assembly continued to shift more toward its normal operating position, we actually started discussing finding a camp site and staying the night. I was really beat. The combination of the heat, the stress, the exertion made a nice meal sound pretty inviting. But after much discussion and the devil on my shoulder pleading to stop for the night, we both concluded that it would be pressing our luck beyond any reasonable bound. So, we kept rolling with the plan being to get to Page, get a motel, get a shower, meal and a good night's rest and attack the issues tomorrow.

The cliffs on the north side of Lake Powell look pretty good in the late evening sun.

A marginal sunset, but at this point we were within 20 miles of the end of the trail so it looked pretty good to me.

The moon is now about one day from being full. This shot was the consolation prize for the day. I took this shot about 20 miles from the end of the trail during a bio-break.

We finally got back into Page, AZ about 2145pm. We attempted to get a room in a motel because we had been in the dirt underneath the truck and were hot and sweaty, but they were full. And, we were told that EVERY room in the city was full. This was the perfect storm: spring tourists, graduation night for the local high school and an off road race. So, we parked the truck in the lot at the hotel, walked into a nearby restaurant and took a bath in the sink and ordered dinner and drinks. Then we returned to the camper and slept in the parking lot until dawn. Tomorrow, we would head to the NAPA to get tools and parts to see if we could effect a repair.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2008, all rights reserved.
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