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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"Miller designed his two directories for RV as well as truck drivers because, he says, ‘RV drivers would face the same problems as truckers because of the weight of their vehicles and braking systems that may not be designed to deal with the extreme conditions encountered during mountain descents.’ Since most road atlases do not include this specific data, many motorhomers will find one or both of these books useful in taking the surprises out of driving in the mountains." Sherry McBride, Senior Managing Editor, Motorhome "RVers often have problems with mountain grades–both going up and coming down. It’s helpful to be warned when a steep grade is coming up, and… Read more…