Words & Images Neels Van Antwerpen
Our old friend Murphy is always there to lend a hand. Well, that’s the take-out after what had promised to be a good camping weekend, hosted by
Trompie Offroad Training and Adventures at the popular Landman’s Vallei resort near Roossenekal, ended up in a weekend of serious recovery.
A group of five vehicles set out early on a Friday from The Rose garage on the N4 highway en route to Landmansvallei. We arrived at approximately 10:00 and everyone went about setting up camp.
At 14:00, one of the members requested that we drive down to the river along the “difficult” route – which is not used often and has a grade of 4 to 5. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted, as it has a few gradients that get the heart really racing.
When we checked with the owner about two vehicles wanting to drive this route, we were met with deep concern. “Daaie roete is lanklaas gery, en is baie verspoel. Jul kan ook nie oor die rivier gaan nie aangesien die rivier redelik vol is na die onlangse reen, so jul sal met dieselfde pad moet terugkom.” (That route has not been taken for a long time, and has been washed away. You also can’t cross the river as it is rather full after the rain, so you’ll have to come back by the way you went.) Looking back, we should have heeded his words. Our thoughts at the time were different: drive down, have some refreshment at the bottom, turn around and come back. How difficult could that be?
One of the vehicles was a 2012 Fortuner D4-D manual with EFS suspension, Cooper ST Maxx tyres and TJM 9500 winch. The other was a 2006 Hilux D4-D manual with a 4.55 diff ratio change, ARB diff lock in Front, TJM suspension, Bridgestone 33 x 12.5 tyres and a Warn Tabor 8000 winch.
So the descent started. It was clear that no one had driven down for quite some time, as the route was heavily overgrown, making it hard to spot loose rocks. The route had been washed away in places and some of the turns had to be negotiated very carefully. Some of the turns were
more than 90 degrees, compounded by slopes of up to 37 degrees.
The descent took approximately one hour, and after refreshments at the turnaround point, we were ready to head back up at 15:30. We decided to let the Hilux go first, as its front diff lock would make some of the obstacles easier, and it could help the Fortuner if necessary.
If only it had worked that way. Right from the start, it seemed that the Hilux was battling, but we put it down to driver excitement. About 20% of the way up, while it was battling to ascend an obstacle, we realised that the Hilux had a problem. When using the Hilux’s winch to get over the obstacle, we saw that the right front wheel was not spinning; and the owner mentioned that the steering was very stiff. On closer inspection, we found that the shaft had broken where it entered the stub axle.
By now it was 17:00 and the light was starting to fade. We tried to continue with just three-wheel drive, using the winch on several occasions. Approximately halfway up, the left-rear rim caught a rock while the driver was negotiating a particularly steep 90-degree turn, damaging the
valve and letting all the air out. At the same time, the winch remote fell under the wheel, and the wiring was ripped out. It took us almost an hour to repair the remote and get going again.
A few metres up, the Hilux slid to one side and the tyre came off the rim which had been extensively damaged by the rock. The vehicle was now at the precarious angle of some 37 degrees, so we had to winch it to safety using a tree as an anchor, in order to change the tyre. Anyone who has tried to use a Hi-Lift jack at an angle will tell you that it is no fun. We jacked up the vehicle, but because of the suspension upgrade, we lifted only the chassis; the wheels stayed almost on the ground. We then had to use the Hilux’s own jack, and that was difficult with no flat areas about. It was dark by the time we had changed the tyre, and we decided to call a halt for the night.