From the author, RW:
When customers find out that I’m from Kansas, they often say, “Kansas? What can you tell me about mountain passes if you’re from Kansas?” But after they hear my story, they cut me a little slack. (By the way, did you know that there was once a researcher with too much government grant money who determined that Kansas actually is flatter than a pancake?)
When I was a kid in the early 60’s my parents owned a 16 foot Mobil Scout travel trailer. We pulled that trailer all over the western United States and Canada with a 1962 Chevy with a 283 cubic inch engine and a three speed on the column. So I learned to love mountains and I learned to love traveling the wide open spaces of our great land. With that small trailer and the reliable Chevy, we never had any problems climbing or descending grades.
VITAL INFORMATION FOR ANYONE DRIVING A LARGE OR HEAVY VEHICLE
In an attempt to make mountain driving a little safer for truckers
The printed versions of the Mountain Directory books had almost 240 pages of text and color relief maps. All 240 pages are in the downloadable versions of the Mountain Directory ebooks. Nothing is missing. In the printed versions, mountain pass locations were marked with a yellow triangle on the color relief maps. In the ebook versions, you can click on the yellow triangles and the text appears that describes that location.
4. US 33
There are three summits along this stretch of US 33. The eastern summit is between Rawley Springs, VA and Brandywine, WV. The east side is 4 miles of 8 to 9% grade. The west side is 4½ miles of 9% grade and both sides have continuous sharp curves and hairpin turns. The highway is two lane on both sides.
The middle summit is between Oak Flat and Franklin, WV. The east side of this hill is 2½ miles of 8% with 25 mph curves. The west side is about 3½ miles of much milder grade. It is 4 to 5% over most of its length. There are some sharp curves near the bottom. The road is two lane on both sides of the hill.
The western summit is between Franklin and Judy Gap, WV. It is 5 miles of steady 9% grade on both sides. Both sides are two lane with sharp curves and hairpin turns. Use caution on this road.
There is an old saying among over-the-road truckers. “There are two kinds of drivers — those who’ve been in trouble on a mountain grade, and those who will be.” Unfortunately, this also applies to many RVers. Trucks and RVs have similar problems regarding weight, engine power, and braking in mountainous terrain.
Imagine yourself descending a mountain grade in your RV. You didn’t know there was such a long, steep grade on this highway. What a surprise! And things are not going well. You have a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel. The engine is not holding back all of this weight, the brakes are smelling hot or even smoking, you’re pushing harder on the brake pedal but your speed keeps increasing. All you can see ahead is more mountain. Your mind is racing through all of the available options and none of them are good. “I’ve got to do something,” you say “or I’m not going to make it.” The options include: run into the rock wall, go over the side, hit those trees, or see if you can make the next curve and ride it out. You choose the last option and, if you are lucky, you make it to the bottom in one piece. You pull over and while you are waiting for your heart to stop pounding, you wipe the sweat from your face and you notice your shirt is soaked, your mouth is dry, and your hands are shaking. You are thinking, “If I had known it was going to be like that………….”
Perhaps your rig has difficulty during the steep climbs. The temperature is in the 90’s and the grade is so steep that you can barely climb it in first gear. The engine and transmission temperatures are rising. How far to the top of this hill? You don’t know if it’s one mile or ten. Something smells hot. What to do? Pull over and cool off? But then all momentum is lost. Can you even get started again? You wish you had unhooked the car you’re dragging up this hill behind the motorhome. If you are lucky, you can do that next time. You are wondering how many thousand dollars a new engine and transmission will be.
Many people are under the impression that the grades in the eastern mountains are not as serious as the grades in the western mountains. Apparently this is because the elevations are not as high in the eastern states. But elevation alone is not the problem–it is the change in elevation that makes a grade potentially hazardous. If all other factors are equal, a grade that descends from 4000′ to 1000′ over 10 miles is no different than a grade that descends from 10000′ to 7000′ over 10 miles. Either way you have a 3000′ change in elevation spread over 10 miles. (This example would result in an average grade of almost 6% for 10 miles.)
A large percentage of the grades in the western states are in the 6% range. A large percentage of the grades in the eastern states are 8, 9, or 10% and sometimes even more. The eastern grades are often shorter but this is not always so. A quick glance through the eastern book will reveal over 50 grades that are between 7 and 10% and from 4 to 7 miles long. There are others that are even more challenging. The road to the top of Whiteface Mountain in New York is 8 to 10% for 8 miles. There would be no need for truckers to use this road but RVs are allowed. Near Cumberland, Maryland there is a hill on I-68 that is posted as 6% for 13 miles. In North Carolina highway 181 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and the southbound descent is 11 miles of grade that varies from 6 to 10%. Much of it is 8 to 9%. These grades are just as hazardous as the grades in the western states.
VAIL PASS elev. 10603′ (on I-70 east of Vail, CO)
The descent on the westbound side of Vail Pass is about 10 miles in length and begins at milepost 189 on I-70. One half mile west of the summit there are warning signs for westbound traffic–“Speed limit 45 mph for vehicles over 30,000 lbs.” and “Steep grade next 8 miles–trucks stay in lower gear.” The next mile is rolling hills. Then there is a sign–“7% grade next 7 miles.”
The descent is steady at 7% and there are 3 advisory signs for the first runaway truck ramp which is about milepost 185 or 4 miles down from the summit. The escape ramp is upsloping on the right. The second runaway truck ramp is about milepost 182, which is 3¼ miles after the first escape ramp, or about 7¼ miles down from the summit. There are several advisory signs before reaching it and it is an upsloping ramp on the right. Don’t be fooled when the grade eases after the second escape ramp. It soon goes back to 7% and doesn’t bottom out until 2½ miles after the second escape ramp or about milepost 179.
The eastbound descent from the summit of Vail Pass continues almost to the Frisco exit about 11 miles down the hill but the descent is not steady. There are short steep sections followed by short sections of lesser grade. The last half of the descent is 3-4% grade. There are no escape ramps on the east side of the pass.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the maps included in this book, it is nearly impossible to include all necessary detail on such small maps. We recommend that these maps be used in conjunction with larger, more detailed road maps.
In most cases the passes and hills are described as descents. In other words, a pass will be described from the summit down in one direction and then from the summit down in the other direction. This directory does not claim to include every steep grade. In fact, because of the enormous area we have tried to cover, we can guarantee that we have probably missed some. Sometimes the percentages quoted are estimates and many times they are based on road signs or information provided by highway departments. This book does not attempt to rate passes or grades according to difficulty. There is an enormous variety in vehicles and equipment. A hill that is very difficult for one vehicle may be no problem at all for a similar vehicle that is equipped differently. Driver judgment is critical in deciding which hills should be avoided.
The purpose of this book is not to discourage drivers from going where they please. It is only to inform them of the conditions they may encounter and to encourage them to make sure their equipment is in good repair. Brakes must be in good working order and properly adjusted and the engine and transmission should be used to slow the vehicle whenever possible, thus saving the brakes and keeping them cool enough to retain their stopping power. The engine’s cooling system should be in good repair to prevent overheating during the climbs. Turning off the air conditioner during climbs may help, and if necessary, turning on the heater will help dissipate heat from the engine.
I-40 (between Black Mountain and Old Fort, NC)
By law, all trucks except pickups and vans are required to stop at the top of this hill and read the information posted about the eastbound descent ahead. The top of the hill is near milepost 67 just east of Black Mountain. The grade is posted as 5 miles of 6%. It is a strong 6%. There are three runaway truck ramps, all of which are short sand beds with sand piles at the end. There is about a mile of grade left after the last escape ramp. The westbound descent is about 1¼ mile of 6%.
There are many aftermarket devices that can help heavy vehicles in the mountains. Some will help by increasing horsepower for the climbs. These include turbos and exhaust systems. Other devices, such as engine braking systems can help during the descents. Some products, like gear splitters and auxiliary transmissions can help during the climbs and the descents. Many of these products also improve fuel economy (while delivering more horsepower) and reduce wear and tear on the drive train.
The main ingredients involved in overheated brakes are the length of the grade, the steepness of the grade, and the speed and weight of the vehicle. Reducing any of these will improve the chances of getting down the mountain without overheating the brakes. Most of the time, the only one the driver can change is speed. Reducing speed may keep you alive. Remember the old phrase, “You can go down a mountain a thousand times too slowly, but only once too fast.”
Try before you buy!
Try before you buy!
“RVers often have problems with mountain grades–both going up and
“Color relief maps and more than 150 new mountain pass and grade locations
12. TETON PASS elev. 8429′
Teton Pass has sustained 10% grades on both sides of the summit. An unusual feature is that both runaway truck ramps on the east side of the pass can be used only if the runaway truck crosses the oncoming lane of traffic. There is a posted weight limit of 60,000 lbs. on this pass.
The westbound descent from the summit of Teton Pass begins with a 25 mph speed limit and a truck warning sign–“Steep grade–10% next 3 miles–use lower gear.” This grade warning is repeated a mile later. About 2½ miles down from the summit the grade eases to 6-7% and the speed limit increases. This grade continues for about 3-4 miles and eases near the Idaho state line.
The eastbound descent from the summit of Teton Pass starts with a truck warning sign–“Steep grade–10% next 5 1/2 miles–use lower gear.” There are 20 mph curves near the top. About 1/3 mile down from the summit is a sign–“Runaway truck ramp–2½ miles LEFT side.” This warning is repeated several times as you approach the ramp. To use the ramp you must cross the oncoming lane of traffic. The ramp slopes uphill.
The second runaway truck ramp is about 1 mile after the first. It, too, is on the left side and is an upsloping ramp. At this point the grade begins to ease to about 6-7% and the speed limit increases. The hill continues to the town of Wilson, which is about 5½ miles from the summit.
“The worst part isn’t the white knuckles, the cold sweat, the unbelievable
“Many truckers have had the frightening experience of cresting a mountain
CAJON PASS elev. 4190′
There is very little descent on the north side of Cajon Pass. The southbound descent begins with warning signs–“Downgrade next 12 miles–trucks check brakes” and “Truck speed limit 45 mph” and “Truck scales 5 miles” and “6% grade next 4 miles” and “Runaway truck ramp 2½ miles.”
The grade may be a bit more than 6% down to the escape ramp where it eases for a very short distance and then goes back to 6% until reaching the truck scales. After the scales the grade eases to about 2-3% for 3 miles, then goes to about 5% for another 4½ miles.
This road has four lanes downhill and a great deal of traffic. Use caution on this hill.
“A useful book for those planning to travel in the Western states
Joe and Vickie Kieva Collins, Highways
“As RVers and travelers in the west, we recommend this book as a good
“From time to time, humorists writing in RV literature will gleefully
“Mountain Directory is well put together,
“Mountain Directory for Truckers, RV, and Motorhome
Jim Brightly, Managing Editor, Motorhome
“It’s bound to provide the traveler with knowledge and peace of mind…..
Bob Carter, RV Today
“Mountain Directory …. was specifically
“… let me tell you straight: this book applies to you.”
Bill Farlow, Woodall’s Southern RV
“Fear Heights No More” “While the publishers are the fist to admit
“Motorhome drivers and truckers have very similar problems involving
Family Motor Coaching
Pennsylvania highway 125
Large vehicles may want to avoid this 18 mile section of road. It crosses four mountains and includes numerous 15 mph hairpin turns and many more 20 and 25 mph curves. Regardless of your direction of travel you will have to climb and descend some very steep hills. Much of the grade is 7 to 9% but there are numerous sections that must be 12% or more, some lasting almost a mile. Brake shoes don’t have enough time to cool much between descents.