Bogged in a salt lake in my 4WD

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.  

Salt lake Esperance
Enjoying the salt lake

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.

80 Series on a salt lake
It sunk like a stone

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.

80 Series bogged
Up to the tyre carriers

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 Harrop E 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.

4x4 and bogged
A long way from help

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!

Take the easy way out
Maxtrax to the rescue

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.

Stinky salt lake
Out of the mud

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:

4WD bogged in mud aftermath
The aftermath

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.

4WDing Australia
Filthy Maxtrax, but I’m out!

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.

Stinky mud hole
The stinky hole

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!

Bogged in a salt lake
Who would have picked this?

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!!!

4WDing with mates
Take your mates with you!

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!

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  1. Hey Juan,

    There’s nothing quite like being bogged in a salt lake eh! Good to hear you got out without issue.

    All the best

  2. Juan Gonzalez says:

    We got bogged in a salt lake driving from Israelite Bay to Point Culver….alone, in 2017. Not exactly because missing the right track but because opting to follow tracks across the lake and not driving along the borders. Be aware conditions change with time, you may get bogged where people could drive through some weeks before. We were able to reverse after lightening the 4WD as much as possible, carefully shoveling exit lanes for all 4 wheels and several attempts. When we drive on suspicious places we drive slowly, I would say, we were crossing at less than 10km/h at this place. We just drove about 1 1/2 vehicle lengths in softer getting ground until we got bogged. We think “Momentum” helps in soft sand, particularly on climbs. And on mud spots, where you can judge how far you have to cross to get to a solid ground. On those places I hit the hammer. In salt lakes momentum just can be the key to cross from the spot you could be bogged to the spot you get stuck and recovery is impossible.

  3. Haha, cheers for the chuckle Rob. I too didn’t find it very funny at the time, but look back now and have a laugh about it. All in good fun, eh?!

    I guess we can both live and learn; I’ll be sticking as far off salt lakes as possible now. I can’t even drive past one without mates suggesting we should try and drive it!

    My wife was less than impressed about the whole situation, and even forgot to turn the camera on to video the recovery!

    Worth the trek out there anyway; will have to do it again some day

    Have a good one

  4. Rob Hillman says:

    Hi, brought back memories of when we were there in late 2013, exactly the same spot, missed the same left turn and with the camper trailer on and no other vehicle we were in a pickle.
    Unhitched the camper trailer and with maxtrax managed to get to the other side of the lake, then come back and winch the camper trailer out.
    Big clean up as you know.
    I think our only saving grace was that I must have been on a slightly different track than you and not quite as deep, although i did not think so at the time.
    The only humorous part of the whole episode was the sight that greeted me when I drove back to get the camper, my lovely partner was there in the mud, pants rolled up, bare feet, endeavouring to find and extract the maxtrax. What a woman. What a sight.
    Thank you for the article.