Packed snow and ice on Montana 43 in October while traveling with my RV (5th Wheel) to Wisdom Montana – BUT – the drive IS spectacular!
Its one thing to travel on snowy, icy roads in my 4×4 Ford truck. I’m honestly good with driving on snow and ice, after all, I spent an entire winter crossing Teton Pass with my Ford Truck to commute to work near Jackson Wyoming. For those who don’t know, Teton Pass connects Victor Idaho to Wilson Wyoming. Crossing it involves a 2400 ft. climb with 10% grades (for real) in EACH direction.
Pulling a RV fifth wheel trailer on packed snow and ice is an entirely different matter – and worth avoiding IF at all possible!
Recall, in my Salmon Idaho post, I stayed an extra day as crossing Lost Trail Pass would have been a really bad idea on Thursday October 26. The storm turned out to be a block-buster – several inches of snow that initially fell onto WARM roads. Given the intensity of snowfall, after some time, the falling snow caused the road to begin to ice over and then snow accumulated on top of the ice.
After waiting out the storm, I elected to leave Salmon on Friday Oct. 27 at about mid-day. I believed (silly me) that by waiting until mid-day, the October sun would melt back the snow and ice off the roads. The arctic outbreak had other plans!
When I left Salmon, the temperature was 37 and the entire climb to Lost Trail Pass and the Montana border was uneventful (and above freezing!) The roads climbing the pass in Idaho were at worst just wet.
Lost Trail Pass and Crossing the Border into Montana
Lost Trail Pass is at about 7000 ft (Salmon is 4000 ft.) It is also the Idaho – Montana border. On the east side of the pass, you drop into the “Big Hole”, a massive valley that seems to specialize in trapping cold air. As soon as I turned east onto Montana Rt. 43, it was snow and ice covered – a real thrill to encounter when towing a 35 ft. 5th wheel trailer! I switched my truck into “4H” (gotta have a 4×4 truck!!) and it performed like a champ!
When I arrived in Wisdom (upcoming post), locals explained to me that part of the issue with the road conditions was the fact that winter road maintenance (and crews) do not kick-in until November 1st. Thus, an October snowstorm left the roads largely untreated!
Winter RV Travel Tips…
Basic rules for driving on snow and ice…
- easy on the gas pedal
- use the transmission to downshift to control speed
- shift your vehicle into 4H if you have a 4×4
- do not “oversteer” if your vehicle begins to skid or drift where you don’t want it to go
- never hit the brakes!
Of course when you’re towing a trailer, these rules take on even GREATER significance!
The ONE piece of good news I had at that time coming down from Lost Trail Pass was there were no other vehicles on the road. It is, after all, a VERY remote region! So, on a Friday afternoon in late October, I had Montana 43 to myself. I was pleased to see the trailer simply followed behind, with no slipping or sliding. This, of course, does NOT mean I will look for more opportunities to drive on snow and ice covered roads again while pulling my trailer!
Heading into the Big Hole towards Wisdom
Temperatures fell near the pass to about 21F, even though it was early to mid afternoon when supposedly we should be experiencing the “heat of the day!” (Remember, it was STILL OCTOBER!) Interestingly it did not warm much, though the roads improved as I headed into Wisdom (Elevation 6000 ft.)
The entire drive was short, only 72 miles from Salmon to Wisdom (more on this town and my stay there soon!) The road conditions and fact that I was towing my trailer easily doubled the estimated 75 minutes Google offered as my travel time.
Incidentally, you can also use US 93 from Salmon to head to Missoula, Mt. At 140 miles, Missoula is one of the “nearest” cities to Salmon, the other being Idaho Falls (175 miles.)
Lost Trail Pass and Lost Trail Ski Area
As I crossed the pass, I noted that Lost Trail Ski Area is located right along side the pass. It is less than 30 miles from Wisdom. There was at least 8 inches of snow on the ground, and when I visited the ski hill a couple of days later, I noted ski tracks on the lower slope where skiers were welcome to “earn their turns.”
There are also cross country ski trails located near the pass. I was VERY tempted to return to these trails to get in some OCTOBER cross country skiing. Instead, I found other ways to spend my time while in Wisdom – more on that in an upcoming post!
More about Wisdom, Montana coming soon!
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