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Where is Your Winch Controller?

Mt. Patterson was our destination that beautiful autumn day. Part of the Sweetwater Range and located on the western edge of the Great Basin, Mt. Patterson’s summit offers a commanding view of that area.

The drive entails a slow climb on a one-lane shelf road. I was leading a group of seven vehicles up the long switchback. The road can be a little dicey if you encounter anyone coming down. There aren’t too many places to pull off.

At one point a party of six motorcycles came up from behind. Being courteous folks, we let the cyclists slip past. To create additional room, one driver decided to back up. His intention was to aim for the trail’s edge. But he almost went too far, dropping two wheels off the side.

That was scary enough. As you can see from the image, the vehicle rests precariously on that edge. He was really off camber with a steep drop on the right.

Winch to the rescue – maybe

I made my way to the scene to formulate a plan. Another problem quickly presented itself: His winch controller was buried somewhere in the rear of the vehicle. The driver didn’t want to exit, fearing the vehicle might tip over. (His weight, he felt, kept the vehicle in place.) And we didn’t want to open the tailgate. Much of his stuff could go sliding out.

I asked for a volunteer to dig for the winch kit. Another driver gingerly crawled in from the driver’s side passenger door after we attached to the rear bumper. After several tense moments, he found the controller. We were in luck.

I attached my winch to the recover eye on the vehicle’s rear bumper. This prevented it from sliding downhill. We attached his Amsteel-Blue synthetic winch line rope to a stationary object, and winched the vehicle forward.  A successful result!

Where to store the winch controller

Considering all the gear that’s needed for a 4WD trip, the winch controller generally doesn’t get much consideration. Perhaps you rarely use the winch. Odds are the controller and related gear are stored in the back in the winch kit bag. You figure you will have time to dig it out when you need it. Not a bad conclusion, since winch recovery should be a slow and deliberate, calculated process.

But if you own a winch, you’re likely to need it sometime under circumstances when you may not be able to access the winch recovery bag. Keep the controller handy.

Good locations include the center console, glove compartment, under or behind the front seat, or in the map pocket in the driver’s door.

Even better, have two controllers: one up front and the other in back in your winch kit. Controllers are inexpensive ($99 or less) and small. And critical when winching is called for. Why two controllers? You have a backup if one fails, and it is just convenient to have all your stuff in one bag in less trying situations.

Going a step further, it’s not a bad idea to also pack a tree strap, pulley, and a couple screw pin bow shackles close at hand. Then you’re fully equipped for winching.

Important reminders from this incident

This incident ended well. Fortunately, we were able to hook up his vehicle both front and back. And, we dug out his winch controller.

Two important lessons come from this.

1. Store the winch controller close to the driver’s seat. It is too important of a tool to stuff somewhere deep in your vehicle – especially in the back.

This is yet another example of why you shouldn’t go off-road alone. Imagine you’ve just rolled downhill backward. You’ve come to rest against a rock or other hard surface. The tailgate is crunched in, and your recovery gear is buried in the lower back of your vehicle. How will you get to the necessary gear?

2. Remember the proper method for backing up when on a shelf road. Always face the danger, the cliff edge. Back up toward the hill, keeping the cliff edge in front.

Don’t worry about the rear of your vehicle. At worst, you’ll roll into some brush or maybe a tree. But if you’re pointed the other way, you won’t be able to see the edge well. And you could go sailing down the mountainside.

Whether to buy a winch is a personal call. Several factors go into the decision. But if you install a winch, be sure to keep the winch controller near the driver’s seat. It does you no good buried in the back. At a minimum, you’ll waste valuable time digging for it. Worst case, you could be really stuck.

Treat the winch controller like a wallet. Keep it handy.

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