To coincide with this month's towing theme, we're exploring a question that has always intrigued us: Where are the toughest places to tow in America? Of the more than 4 million miles of paved roads in the United States, there are hundreds of places across the country that can challenge even the best drivers and push the trucks they choose to tow with to their absolute limit-but we've set out to identify the top ten.
What Makes A Tough Tow?
Whether it be a sharp 6 percent uphill grade (the maximum allowed on U.S. interstates-with certain exceptions in mountainous regions), a snowy, winding, heads-up stretch of highway in the mountains, or a long, drawn-out pass continuing on mile after mile in the desert heat, we've narrowed it down to the ten toughest tows found along our nation's highways.
We've picked the brains of former OE engineers, over-the-road truckers, and even sought out opinions from readers just like you to make this story possible. In fact, we'd like to hear even more of your towing stories, and read your top ten lists. If you've got a white-knuckle tale to tell, an interesting photo to share, or a death-defying towing route you run, shoot us an email at: email@example.com.
#10. BLACK MOUNTAIN
The Black Mountain pass begins at the eastern end of lengthy I-40, just three miles outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Located in the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, the pass spans 15 miles east before subsiding (somewhat) after the town of Black Mountain. It's unknown what the actual grade is, but locals claim it's definitely steeper than 6 percent and that the pass is also chock-full of winding turns that often catch drivers off guard.
#9. MONTEAGLE GRADE
Along the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains in Southeast Tennessee, the Monteagle Grade is known for its exceptionally curvy, 6 percent downhill grade-and for being a braking nightmare. The grade spans just seven miles along I-24 but can give braking systems a serious workout and surprise unprepared drivers. In fact, all tractor- trailer operators are advised to stop at the brake inspection station located approximately two miles before the downgrade begins. Unpredictable weather patterns often shut down this stretch of Interstate as well, and traffic is re-routed to nearby U.S. Highway 41.
#8. THE GRAPEVINE
One stretch of highway known to overheat trucks and skyrocket EGTs is called the Grapevine. It's located along I-5 in Southern California and links the southern part of the state with the San Joaquin Valley to the north. Varying 6 percent (or more) grades are faced when heading north on the 40-mile pass. Thanks to the utilization and freshening up of an existing highway, which was constructed with considerably less decline, the southbound descent on the Grapevine drops traffic into the Los Angeles basin in a safer manner. This was done to reduce the number of runaway trucks as much as possible. With summer temperatures averaging in the mid-to-high 90s, it's definitely a pass that can lead to roadside meltdowns. Winter snowfall has been known to shut down this section of highway as well.
#7. EMIGRANT HILL
Also known as Cabbage Hill or Deadman Pass, Emigrant Hill stretches 53 miles along I-84 in Oregon and connects the towns of La Grande and Pendleton. Drivers attempting to negotiate the pass are in for a challenge: Heading northwest, you're forced to climb more than 2,000 feet in elevation that's chock-full of double-hairpin turns, as well as 6 percent grades. Heading southeast, the scenario flip-flops, and your brakes need to be operating at their full potential. In fact, road signs along this route caution tractor-trailer operators to go as slow as 18 mph and chain up during the winter to ensure a safe trip to the top.
#6. UNION PASS
The 30-mile section of Highway 68 connecting Bullhead City and Kingman, Arizona, is a textbook example of the type of long, drawn-out grade that can get towing rigs in trouble. Located roughly 60 miles south of the Hoover Dam, this section of desert highway is currently used as a bypass route for heavy trucks (which cannot cross the Hoover Dam). Lucky them. The combination of extreme heat conditions (temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees) and its substantial grades create a brutal towing climate. In fact, it's been used by Ford Motor Company to test new trucks and may soon be the new standard in the SAE's towing guidelines.
#5. VAIL PASS
The Rocky Mountains in Colorado are home to some of the highest passes you'll find anywhere, and three of its high-elevation locations made our list. Vail Pass is located less than 50 miles west of Loveland Pass on I-70. The highway is extremely steep on both sides (eastbound or westbound) and is described as having at least a 7 to 8 percent grade at one point or another. Much like Loveland Pass, its windy nature features hairpin turns and brutal winter weather. The pass crests at 10,660 feet above sea level and two runaway truck ramps exist on the westbound side for victims of brake failure.
#4. SISKIYOU SUMMIT
Another brief but dangerous stretch of highway known for some of the steepest grades, winding turns, and inclement weather in our Interstate system is Siskiyou Summit. Located just south of Ashland, Oregon, it's the highest pass on I-5 at 4,310 feet above sea level. Depending on which way you're headed (north or south), the summit gains or loses 2,300 feet in altitude in just six miles on its 6 percent grades. The pass' close proximity to the Pacific Ocean combined with its high elevation and hazardous curves, brings with it brutal amounts of snowfall and freezing rain, which are known to force Oregon D.O.T. officials to shut down the entire highway on occasion during winter.
#3. WOLF CREEK PASS
Another high mountain pass in the Colorado Rockies is Wolf Creek Pass, which exists in the southeastern part of the Centennial State in the San Juan Mountains. This high mountain pass on the Continental Divide is full of 7 to 8 percent grades and reaches 10,800 feet above sea level. It's made up of a 40-mile stretch of road along Highway 160 and rests between the towns of South Fork and Pagosa Springs. Like most mountain passes in Colorado, the winter season also makes this highway a challenge to tow on. In fact, when given the opportunity, most over-the-road truck drivers will avoid the entire state during the cold months.
#2. LOVELAND PASS
Once more, we visit Colorado, and this time Loveland Pass, which is also located on the Continental Divide, but along U.S. Route 6, just west of Denver. Its slow, steady 6.7 percent grade coupled with hairpin turns that sneak up on drivers peaks at 11,990 feet above sea level before descending. The pass is well known for its treacherous winter conditions, and the weather only gets worse as you climb higher in elevation. Since 1973, most traffic on nearby Interstate 70 has been able to avoid the pass by taking the Eisenhower Tunnel, but trucks measuring 13 feet 5 inches in height or more, or those hauling hazardous material have to take the high road, which is 800 feet above the tunnel.
#1. ATIGUN PASS
The steepest pass we've heard of is Atigun Pass in Northern Alaska. It's located midway through the 400-plus-mile James B. Dalton Highway that spans from an area called Coldfoot to a region referred to as Deadhorse and ends near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. At 4,800 feet above sea level, it's known as the highest year-round pass in the state and its 11 to 12 percent grades are sure to challenge even the most experienced drivers. If you've ever tuned into The History Channel's Ice Road Truckers program, you'll know that elite truck drivers transporting supplies to this area are paid top dollar for their efforts. As you'd expect from an area in the Arctic Circle, weather has a huge impact on this pass. With winter temperatures ranging from 0 to -40, regular storms, and the occasional avalanche, the harsh elements of the region make it challenging and extremely dangerous.