If you spend enough time in enough places in a 4WD, it’s not a matter of if, but when you’ll get stuck. If you're sensible (and lucky), it'll be nothing more than a quick snatch recovery or perhaps a short period on the end of a winch rope. However, if you host a 4WD show, well, chances are you’ll face some absolute doozy recoveries.
I’ve been involved in more 4WD recoveries than I’ll ever possibly remember, the number would be astonishing. From mild to wild, I reckon I've literally seen it all.
However, a few do stand out. The situations were utterly gnarly, but with some thought, plenty of time and patience we've gotten out of all of them.
The first that comes to mind occurred several years ago in the Victorian High Country. We were busy filming when a ‘mayday’ call came out across the UHF. A car had rolled and the obviously shaken occupants were begging for help. We narrowed in on their position and took off to lend a hand. What we found were three young and very lucky occupants of a rolled 4WD at the base of an exceptionally steep hill. I say “lucky” because absolutely nothing had been tied down in the vehicle. The fridge had flown out the window, an axe had landed in the front from the back, and their bags were everywhere! Somehow, they walked away unharmed.
So darn lucky. Over the course of the next six hours, using multiple winches from multiple angles we managed to get the vehicle onto its wheels and turned around. Heading further down the hill was out of the question, so up and out was the only option. I climbed into the front seat and did the best I could to control a dead vehicle being flat towed up a notoriously steep High Country hill. The truck was a write-off but the passengers were safe. By the end of the night we had definitely earned a beer, or three, back at camp.
The second, once again, happened deep in the Victorian High Country. We had perhaps been a little ambitious. But nearly two weeks of filming some of the gnarliest terrain in the region, we were feeling confident. With a camper trailer in tow, tackling the South Basalt Knob wasn’t going to be an easy feat.
However, with our confidence high, we felt it was possible. It would have been too, had we not blown a diff on the tow vehicle. Halfway up one of the steepest hills in the High Country, we had several tonne of 4WD and camper busted. Going up simply wasn’t a possibility, so down was the only way. Reversing was out of the question, so somehow we had to turn the whole circus around. But first, the rear tail shaft had to be removed so the vehicle could drive.
With that done, we had a front wheel drive Patrol and camper, on an incline, needing to be turned around. Using several winches, we painstakingly managed to somehow turn the whole lot 180 degrees. The exposure on that hill, looking out across the High Country, with a vertical drop below us, coupled with the extremely complex nature of the recovery will forever be in my memory. I’ll be happy to never face a more difficult recovery again.
The final one occurred while filming late at night in the south-west of Western Australia. We had one final long bog hole before freedom, but the last rig went down deep in the slop! Luckily all other 4WDs had made it through, so we had a winch anchor point. Our biggest issue however was a deep lip in the front of the stuck 4WD. The winch was more than capable, however all it was doing was pulling the 4WD down into the lip instead of over it and out. With no higher anchor points we were stumped. That is until I came up with the idea of putting a spare tyre directly in front of the bogged 4WD and running the winch ling over it, changing the pull angle to up rather than down. It worked an absolute treat! The 4WD gave a strong sucking sound and popped up and over the lip and we drove to freedom.
Recoveries are part of 4WD life, however I cannot express enough that preparation is paramount. Get your gear and your knowledge in line before you get stuck in. It’s not if you get stuck, but just how badly you do.