The Winter Tuktoyaktuk Arctic Expedition–Vehicle Preparation
May 31, 2023
By Graeme Bell
The Arctic winter must be respected and, while there are those for whom extreme cold is a natural environment, for this South African couple an Arctic winter is as foreign to us as the moon. Sure we have a fair amount of experience with cold weather and winter travel but, a white knuckle drive over the Donner Pass in a blizzard or camping in a foot of snow north of Boise, are not the equivalent of the Arctic Circle.
Many have asked us why, why would we leave the warmth and comfort of Central America and travel up to the Arctic Ocean in March!? The answer is simple and two fold, Firstly, our entire lives as travelers has been about learning, about expanding our knowledge and capabilities. To travel to the Arctic Ocean in winter we would need to research and prepare before leaving and learn and adapt while on the road. Our gear has been carefully chosen from head to toe but, our most important asset is our vehicle and the vehicle must be prepared for some of the toughest conditions known to man. Which brings us neatly to the second answer to a question I even ask myself. Simply, the Nimbl is the vehicle for the job. My trusty and dependable Land Rover Defender has been around the world but is not designed or equipped for extreme cold. The Nimbl is. While traveling in white out conditions during the winter of 2021 we soon learned that the Nimbl is highly capable in winter condition and the vehicle instilled so much confidence in us that we decided that this was the time, and this was the vehicle with which we could explore the far north in extreme conditions
The actual preparation of the vehicle began months before the journey to the Arctic itself. While traveling Central America we got to know the strengths and the weaknesses of the vehicle and were sure to perform regular and intelligent maintenance, ensuring that the vehicle would remain entirely reliable. Upon returning to the USA we set about diagnosing and repairing any and every possible fault. The list of repairs is relatively short but extensive. With a help of a friend we over hauled the entire brake system (the mountains of Guatemala had been punishing) and we replaced the front upper and lower C ball joints (not an easy job at all!) and replaced the steering damper. This work was followed by a service and the replacement of all filters and a winter specific engine oil (5W40). The coolant was partially drained and topped up with a cold weather concentrate, as wash the wiper fluid.
As we would be driving in the dark winter months, across icy roads teeming with wildlife, we mounted a set of KC Lights which are controlled via the “power switch” of the Garmin Tread. The Garmin also allowed us to monitor the location of our convoy companion (Jon Turner, Nimbl founder and chief engineer), and which has a feature called Group Ride which allowed us via a handheld controller, to communicate while on the road.
The systems and infrastructure of the Nimbl camper would be our life support as we traveled far north and it was absolutely essential that all the vital systems were scrutinized and elevated to a high level of functionality. There were two specific components which demanded our attention, namely the Webasto heater and the electrical system. The Webasto required a service as it had been run infrequently down in hot and humid Latin America and we drove over the aforementioned Donner Pass to visit The Nimbl HQ in Colfax where the team removed, stripped, cleaned, serviced and replaced the Webasto heater. They also turned their attention to the wiring harness of our new KC lights. With the heater running as it should we returned to Reno (our base of preparation) and visited Battle Born Batteries where we learned that there were some improvements which could be made to improve the efficiency of the batteries. Our friend KP Pawley very kindly lent us his time and workshop where Luisa (our trusted sparky) instructed me to remove all the batteries before she re-installed them correctly.
With the heater and electrical system working together as intended and designed, we could leave the USA confidently. The interior of the Nimbl is designed for all seasons and, incredibly, we need only to replace our summer bedding with winter bedding!
While in Reno we took the opportunity to mount a set of studded General Tire Grabber Arctic LT tires, a set of five, which would ensure that we would have maximum grip as we traveled icy and snow blown roads for thousands of miles, culminating with an ice road journey, before our return.
Stay tuned for the Arctic trip report!