On the way out to Israelite Bay, you drive around the side of a big salt lake. The salt lake is around 190km away from Esperance, making it extremely remote and very difficult to recover a stuck vehicle. I was driving in front in the 80 Series Land Cruiser, following one of the main tracks next to the lake. The ground was firm and very flat, making it easy to cruise along at 50km/h. I was distracted by what I thought was a snake on the track, and missed a bend that resulted in one of the worst situations you could be faced with in a 4WD. I continued on forwards, and went down a little hump. I could see tracks going just next to where we were, so I wasn’t too concerned. By this time, I was just idling along in 3rd high, sitting at around 35km/h. All of a sudden the rear left wheel sunk down over half a meter, and gave everything in the car a right shake up. It came right back up again, which was a relief.
I thought it had hardened back up again, when all of a sudden the right rear dropped again, then the left rear dropped, and the car came to an abrupt stop. I was not in a good situation, and judging by the angle I was sitting, we were in serious trouble. Even having dropped it down to 2nd and given it a bootful before the car completely sunk down it wasn't enough. Luckily, Daniel didn't follow me, and continued around on solid ground. The back corner of the car had sunk in the softest, stinkiest and saltiest mud I have ever experienced. I got out of the car (the drivers side door only just opened up as the mud was to the sill level) and began to consider the options. A rear recovery was out of the question because I couldn't get to any recovery points, so we decided to join all of the snatch straps available together to see how it would go.
Nothing is that simple though, is it? Upon attempting to open the tyre carriers, I realised the mud was in the way and was going to cause a serious headache. I could only just swing the tyre carriers out (after pushing the tyres through the mud, so I could open the back of the car and then pull the drawers out. I found my snatch straps, and joined them together with Daniel's. We had 4 snatch straps joined together, spanning some 40 - 50 metres. Not the ideal situation, but you do what you can with what you have!
Under no circumstances was I going to get the other vehicle onto the salt lake, so we had to sort something out. We managed to get the Patrol on a reasonable angle, with barely any room to use the snatch straps elasticity. The first few snatch attempts were just gentle tows, but it became very obvious it wasn't going to work any time soon. We gave it a few bigger snatches, with no luck. The mud just sucks you down, and holds on to the vehicle with all its being. Even with twin lockers on in my 80 and the Patrol on hard ground, it would just dig holes. We both got out, and started digging away with the shovel. I suppose I underestimated the force required to break the suction. We really should have been digging earlier.
I got the Maxtrax down from the roof, and wedged them as far as I could under the front wheels. We gave it 3 more tries with some decent pulls, and the vehicle barely moved. Finally, on the 4th pull the car came up a little bit onto the front Maxtrax. Once the wheels were sitting just a little on the Maxtrax, another pull and a decent bootful from the 80 had it pop up and out of the hole, onto hard ground. Once I was moving, I wasn't going to stop until I hit hard ground. I was very glad to be off the salt lake!
The issue now though, was my car was covered in stinky mud and I had to pull the Maxtrax out of the mud. After tugging on them for about 5 minutes, they came free, and must have weighed about 20 kilograms each. We strapped them to the roof racks, and headed off as quickly as possible, keen to get to camp and clean up.
It really was a terrible situation to end up in, and one that I was seriously regretting. However, like all 4WDing trips, things will go wrong from time to time, and you just have to accept it and move on. There were a number of things that contributed to good quality learning:
Maxtrax are priceless
I’ve used my Maxtrax a number of times, but I am very sure that without them we would still be stuck in that salt lake. They help the vehicle to get on top of the bog and can do this by spreading the load more evenly. Even though they were a right pain to clean afterwards, I will make sure they are the first thing to go in on every trip! Nothing beats a piece of recovery equipment that helps a 4WD physically lift up and out of the bog, without the need of any dangerous towing recoveries. If you haven't got a set, check out my Maxtrax MKII review.
Snatch Straps are very important
Without the 4 snatch straps that we had (2 in each car) we would have been in serious trouble. It was just long enough to get the recovery vehicle off the salt lake. Snatch straps are great in certain applications, but they do introduce a certain element of risk. I don't believe a winch would have helped in this situation anyway, because it would have just pulled the recovery vehicle forward and we had nothing to attach it to.
Taking your time on a recovery is important
Unless you have a rising tide or some other urgency, there is no reason why you shouldn't stop and evaluate the situation properly. Rushing things only results in an increased chance of something going wrong
Join your snatch straps properly
To join a snatch strap properly, you need to make sure one is not choking on the other, and that a roll of newspaper or magazine is put in between. This stops the straps from locking up on each other, and ensures that you will be able to get them out later! We spent about 30 minutes with a hammer and screwdriver prying the straps apart. They are slightly damaged, which could have been prevented by taking the time to wedge something in between each join.
Salt lakes are seriously deceptive
One minute we were driving on rock hard ground, and the next it just sunk like a stone. Even walking around the vehicle, it was very obvious that there were hard sections and spots that you would sink straight to your knees. Stay on the edge! If we hadn't been able to get the Land Cruiser out, it would have been a very expensive recovery – over 5 hours journey away!
Watch where you are going over what you have driven over!
Distractions will ultimately cost you. Had I ignored what I thought was a snake, I would have seen the main track swung around to the left and avoided the situation completely.
Be prepared to cop it!
When you get bogged, expect your mates to give you a hard time for a long time. It's all in good fun, but the photos and memories never go away. I am totally ashamed to be pulled out by a Nissan!!!
Go with a second vehicle
4WDing alone on more difficult terrains can land you in a world of pain. If I didn't have a mate with me, no amount of shovelling would have seen me out; the mud was just far too soft.
Don't let one bad experience ruin your trip
- Despite having covered the bottom of my 80 in stinky, sloppy, salty black mud, we weren't about to let it get us down. These things happen, and you look back later and laugh about it. It's all in good fun, and when you have great mates to chuckle with, its just part of a 4WDing trip!
If you've been stuck and thought you were there for good, leave us a comment below!