And now for something completely different – Well not that different as it is a post about people getting out to do what they would like to do – namely 4WDing. Club member Shaun (AKA Goona) led a band of intrepid explorers into the wilds of NSW (when we were still allowed) to show their skills in feats of awesomeness. He wrote about it too….
Yalwal weekend – May 2021
After some (lengthy) discussion on vehicle modifications, we decided to test out a few changes made to the vehicles, namely the ultra-low transfer case Doug had put in his JK. We decided to head down to Yalwal to put the vehicles through their paces and to check out Middle Earth track followed by Monkey Gum Fire Trail.
The idea was to ‘sneak’ out of work early on Friday, set up camp and have an early start on Saturday. Unfortunately (and probably predictably), I got held up at work and did not manage to leave town until after 1500hrs. Doug also realised he needed a new tent so used my delay to peruse the local camping store.
This resulted in a late arrival to camp and setting up in the dark. But it was an opportunity to put the camp lights on my Jeep to use!
Luckily, we were camping reasonably light, so setting up camp didn’t take too long, and we were soon enjoying a cold beverage by the fire. Chef Bodge opted to cook up a slow cooked stew on the coals. A quick thirty-minute stew turned into a four-hour stew. Even though we didn’t eat till 2300hrs, it was certainly worth the wait! Dinner was followed by a couple of single malt whiskeys around the fire before retiring to the cold swag.
In the morning we were greeted to a beautiful day and watched the fog roll through the valley below as we had a quick coffee and breakfast.
After a second coffee, we hit the road towards Mintbush Fire Trail, where the low-range action would start, and straight away, we were into the thick of it. Picking lines between a few big rocks and some surprisingly large ruts.
We navigated our way down some large rock steps towards the creek, with the undercarriage of the Jeep gently scraping and grinding its way down. Once at the bottom we were greeted by the start of Middle Earth Track.
After a quick assessment of the muddy, rutted creek exit Doug attempted to crawl up. This tactic didn’t work, and he promptly lost all traction with all four wheels spinning in the mud. A quick back and fill, with more berries was the next option. Except as he backed through the creek for attempt two, he sunk. Bodge and I discussed whether this was a good or bad sign as we promptly got the recovery gear and spooled the winch out before another attempt was made. This time he got a little further, but the exit was too sloshy resulting in zero traction, so he winched the rest of the way up.
Next was the Perentie, with nice throttle control Bodge made it a little further and winched the rest. Finally, it was my turn. Not wanting to be outdone, I thought I’d try a little more throttle. With all four wheels spinning and the traction control working overtime I came to a halt. As usual, I forgot to wind the window up, so ended up giving the inside of the Jeep a wash, with mud. The guys quickly got the winch rope out and we were all at the top of the first climb. Only 15 minutes into the day and all three vehicles had their winches out. I couldn’t help wondering what the rest of the track was like, would we even make it out before nightfall?
We continued following the track as we climbed and weaved over and around fallen trees and thick scrub. It’s amazing how much the area has recovered after the fires. We came to a large washout which had taken out most of the track including a reasonably large undercut, only leaving a narrow section between the bank and a hole to get through. We carefully guided each vehicle through, avoiding the soft undercut track and the steep bank with no issues.
The track continued, surprisingly, without too much fuss. Although, it was very overgrown and not somewhere you want to take a vehicle if you like your paint work
We then came across another large washout; this one was too large and required use of a bypass track. Someone had already made a track around this, although this too had been washed out with the last rain event. So, with a little bit of track building and the recovery boards we managed to get all three vehicles through without any issues.
The rest of Middle Earth was tight, narrow, overgrown and had more switchbacks than hairs on your arms. We had been driving for approx. 4hrs, the day was getting on and we hadn’t found an opportunity for lunch yet. We decided to push on towards the start of monkey gum before stopping for lunch.
The rest of the track continued to be uneventful, except for the numerous switchbacks. Until I misjudged a tight corner and took out my rear door and flare by bumping into a tree on the side of the track which was hidden by the thick scrub. Not happy…
The final challenge (of this track) was a steep, rutted, slippery exit out of a creek. I was in front at this stage and promptly bellied out. After a couple of failed attempts at climbing out of the creek out came the Maxtrax. Double stacking the Maxtrax boards in front of the front wheels was all that was needed. The other two vehicles followed the same line, with a little bit more momentum, without any issues. A few minutes to dig the Maxtrax’s out and we were making headway again
We arrived at the start of Monkey Gum at around 1430hrs. Unfortunately, we heard the group coming up behind us and didn’t want to get stuck in a traffic jam. Unbeknown to us, there was already a bit of traffic on ‘the gum’. Luckily, we all had plenty of snacks so weren’t too unhappy about skipping lunch.
The start of Monkey Gum has quite a few rocks and big ruts to negotiate, not the easiest while trying not to choke on the Biltong I decided to snack on
The track was a little moist but had reasonable traction, or so I thought. I was now at the back of the pack and took a slightly different line to the vehicles in front, which resulted in the Jeep crossed up in a large, damp rut which I just couldn’t seem to climb up and out of. Several approaches were taken but I just couldn’t find the traction. I though I’d try a little more momentum, hoping the front wheels would pop up onto the drier ground and pull the vehicle up. I was wrong (well Bodge was wrong, it was his advice). The front just slipped, and I ended up sitting on the axles, in a rut, millimetres from destroying another flare and potential body damage.
Luckily the guys found a nice tree to winch off and the Jeep popped out of the rut without any issues, I was pleasantly surprised.
A couple of groups pulled up behind us, with one group admitting they had bitten off more than they could chew with this track. We advised them to follow us and to call out over the UHF if they had any issues. They cruised up behind us with minimal issues though.
Continuing up, traversing big, off camber ruts, we caught up to a family in a 105 series cruiser. They seemed a little out of their depth and were certainly having some ‘communication’ issues between the driver and co-driver. After some advice and spotting from Bodge, they were both back in the vehicle cruising up.
The track continued without too many issues; it was getting close to 1530hrs when we caught up to the traffic jam. There were several stock vehicles who were unsurprisingly getting stuck and required winching or towing over obstacles.
It was about this time when I realised my right rear tyre had a leaky bead and was losing air, quickly. Because we weren’t moving too fast, and not wanting to hold anyone up I kept on topping up the tyre to get a bit further up. It wasn’t until we were stopped in traffic again, just before a harder section of track that I decided to change the tyre. Between the three of us, the tyre was changed in less than 10mins including pack up!
A little further up we came across the 105 again, this time stuck in a mud hole above sill height. With the vehicle slowly filling up with water, Doug in his JK tried to gently tow him out backwards with no luck. So, he ended up turning around and giving him a solid snatch to release the suction. As the 105 exited the mud hole, the driver opened the door, with a stream of smelly, brown water splashing out.
We all took the bypass around this hole.
We hit a few smaller obstacles before arriving at the last climb out, but we were held up by the traffic jam again. It was 1730hrs and starting to get dark in the valley now. We watched a few stock or near stock vehicles traverse the rocks with varying degrees of success and some questionable recoveries. Once they were clear, we casually cruised up with a few bumps and scrapes against some of the bigger rocks.
It was dark by the time we made it to the top so decided against visiting the lookout and decided to head back to the main road. Before we got to the main road, we had to traverse a series of mudholes, luckily most of which had bypasses around them.
We finally reached the main road at around 1830hrs and it was dark. We aired up, reattached sway bars and mudflaps while waiting for the kettle to boil. It was about now when we were all feeling the late night…I whipped up some late lunch (dinner?) sandwiches with salad, which were promptly eaten.
Back on the dog, we casually got to highway speeds making sure there weren’t any undue noises or vibrations from any unnoticed damage. It was a very quiet drive back into town, with the odd call on the radio to make sure we weren’t falling asleep. I think I got home around 2045hrs, took the Maxtrax’s and shovel off and parked the Jeep in the garage. Unpacking and washing was future Shaun’s problem.
Unfortunately, I copped a bit of damage, on the rear passenger door, rear flare, and rear bumper. Not ideal, but not the end of the world (although I was a little grumpy about it).
Regardless of the damage and traffic, it was a very enjoyable trip. But then again, any 4wd trip is a good trip!
Goona (AKA Shaun)