What’s cold for me is certainly not going to be what’s cold for all of you. I used to understand cold. Growing up for a portion of my life just outside Boston, the winters were gray, dark, devoid of that beautiful live sprouting from all the trees, and fucking cold. Now though, I live in Southern California. Cold to me is when I walk my dog in the morning and it’s in the mid-40s. So when I recently took my first-gen Mitbusihi Montero car camping in Monache Meadows, I was in for a bit of a shock. The weather report called for the temperature to dip down to 20F, but I think it went even lower. Despite my nearly turning into a frozen brosicle, my truck performed flawlessly.
The path to Monache Meadows, for me, starts in Lake Forest, California, and winds up a few hours away and quite a bit higher-up relative to sea level. There’s a road off the 395 Freeway called 9 Mile Road, which snakes up from a small nothing-ville with a gas station to around 8,000-feet above sea level. Eventually, the pavement gives way to dirt. Then the bumps, rocks, descents, and climbs start to get a bit more interesting and four-wheel-drive is recommended to get in and out of Monache Meadows.
Rolling with the Diamond Club
Our camping crew consists of five vehicles. All of them have the familiar tri-diamond Mitsubishi logo. There are two Outlanders, two gen-three Monteros, and my gen-one truck. Of the two Outlanders, one is driven by a rep from Mitsu and wears the same wheels and tires found on the version recently driven in the Rebelle Rally. This one too is a plugin hybrid, and a Roof Nest tent has been installed up top for literal car camping. The other Outlander is modified and, quite frankly, looks awesome. The owner often takes it off-road and camping with his daughter and wife. Finally, the two gen-three Monteros are modified a bit. A gray one sits on Toyota steel wheels, which give off a proper NATO vehicle vibe, while the red one is fully kitted with King shocks, rear interior storage, and beefy wheels and tires. All of those vehicles are running either four or all-wheel-drive. And they would need it.
My own car camping setup is simple. This is mostly because I don’t typically go camping with my truck. I’ve been fortunate to camp spoiled automotive journalist style in Airstreams and other vehicles. This means I need gear. I hit up two spots for such equipment; my preferred local overland/camping shop GTFO Overland, and REI. The tent is a simple pop-up unit from Front Runner. I paired it with a self-inflating sleep bad and a sleeping bag. The sleeping pad never self-inflated and my sleeping bag is rated to 20F. I’ve since learned to get a lower temp rating for what you’re actually going to be camping in. It was damn cold.
As for lighting, I brought along a Pelican headlamp and flashlight. I also have a set of four LED lights from Australian outfit HardKorr lighting. These things are awesome. They have different brightness levels, can run bright white or easy-on-the-eyes amber, have a magnetic back, and a rubber band strap so you can mount them in many ways. I had two on the back of my Montero as the sun was going down to provide light for our camping spot. I used another inside my tent, and the fourth was waiting in reserve in case I needed it. These lights are amazing, and I can’t recommend them enough. Toss them in your kit and I guarantee you’ll find a use for them. Either when wrenching (magnetic, stick to the car in weird spots) or camping.
Our group sat around for a bit after a day spent getting to this glorious spot. The sun dipped and the temperatures dropped, quickly. We all stayed up a bit longer as the sky filled with more stars than I’d seen in some time. But bedtime loomed and I set to my shivering slumber. Also, since I’m 40, I head to get up to pee in the middle of the night… twice.
Car glamping, this is not.
The drive back out
After shaking ourselves from our respective tents, we fired up our vehicles. Mine actually took a few tries to do so. It was as cold as I and did not like turning over in the cold. But it did, and it warmed up quickly. We packed our sleeping spots as the vehicles idled under the rising sun. And then we pointed the Mitsubishi logos back towards the trail. Car camping was over. Time for driving. I started at the rear of the pack, so we could let the Outlanders work their way over some of the tougher terrain. But at some point, I wound up in the lead. This was good since I have the only vehicle in the group with a manual gearbox. Less time spent holding on a hill is better here. And my Montero was damn good in this environment.
The combination of Fox 2.0 shocks and BFGoodrich KO2 tires equals a hard-to-beat setup. Add in my factory “bouncy seat” and I was comfortable along the entirety of the trail. In fact, I’m proud to say, I kept the truck in 2WD the whole time. This thing is a god damn mountain goat, and I love it.
All of the other vehicles made it out as well. The only issue arose when the Outlander PHEV had trouble in one section where grippy dirt gave way to slippery rocks. We popped out some MaxTrax and GoTreads and it climbed up and out, and we continued on. It was actually cool to hear that the hybrid was gaining back battery power thanks to all the braking. And there were times on the trail when it ran solely as an EV. It also handled a basic water crossing with no issue.
The modified Outlander, meanwhile, ran the trail with zero issues. It’s a good-looking, well-upgraded machine and I’m impressed at what that platform can do. The owner posts pictures of his rig here.
Mighty Mitsubishi Machines
My truck is 29 years old. The two gen-3 Monteros aren’t spring chickens. And most would never think of an Outlander as a rugged vehicle. Yet all allowed us to drive, traverse, cross, climb, and adventure our way to a glorious spec of California. I was cold. My truck was cool. And I can’t wait to do it again… this time with a different sleeping bag, and a closer eyeball of the forecasted temps.
[Images copyright 2020, Jeff Glucker/Hooniverse – Unless otherwise noted]