A Lesson in Recovery – Handwinching

Never tempt the 4X4 gods by solo driving “just one more track” at the end of the day.

About two years ago, I took my wife and dog for a trip up Mt Canobolas near Orange, to go and play in the snow for the afternoon. To avoid the traffic, we drove up one of the forestry roads on the northern side of the mountain. We parked up and had a bit of fun throwing snowballs, and getting in a poser shot or two, then started to head back down.

On the way back down, I decided to take a different route along a short but challenging track I had previously driven. The time was about 4:30pm.

I started driving it, and soon slid across the track and into an erosion gully. I tried reversing back out of it, and getting back to the high side of the track, but I was unable to do so. Knowing where the track came out, and thinking I could find a place further down to drive out of the gully, I bravely/foolishly continued forward for a little while. We half drove, half slid our way along the track, until coming to an abrupt halt at a rather awkward angle. I tried rocking the HiLux back and forth a few times, but it didn’t budge.

I pulled my hand winch out of the back, and found a suitable anchor point to start winching the vehicle out backwards, while my wife gently drove. We got back about a car length before finding the vehicle was dragging both diffs and the transfer case crossmember on the ground, and couldn’t be winched any further. At this point we called a friend named Jon, who graciously came out and helped me recover the vehicle, and his wife took the missus and dog back into town. We decided the best course of action was to winch my ute forward and to the left. This would get us to the treeline, where there was sufficient ground cover to provide a bit of traction so I could then hopefully drive back up the track.

As there was limited room to turn around, we winched at a fairly tight angle to help drag the ute around. At one point, I shifted back to 2WD and gave it the berries, which slid the backend around nicely while the winch held the front. We got the HiLux pointing up the hill, and threw the now muddy winching gear in the back of the ute. After a small amount of pruning, I was able to drive back up the side of the track to where Jon had left his HiLux.

Thinking that was the last recovery for the night (it was now 9:30pm, and freezing), we started heading back into town. I only got a short distance before sliding back into the gully and getting bogged again. I tried rocking my ute a couple of times, but couldn’t get out. Unfortunately Jon hadn’t realised I was stuck, so got about 100m up the track before stopping.

Not wanting to have two bogged vehicles, we were reluctant to reverse his ute far enough back to simply hook up a snatch strap, and weren’t really keen on doing anymore winching. We decided the best course of action was to join whatever straps we had together, redirect them around a tree, and tow my ute out by dragging it away from the ditch. As this worked we were then able to make our way back into town.

So, what did I learn from this experience?

It was about an hour before sunset, there had been recent snow making the tracks wet and muddy, and the temperature was near freezing. That is not a good time to drive another track, especially if you already know it is challenging in sections.

I had a set of Maxxis highway biased all terrains at the time and hadn’t aired down. As they were also reasonably well worn, I replaced them soon after with more aggressive rubber in the form of a set of BFG A/Ts, and am now far more vigilant about dropping the pressures when offroad.

My wife’s inexperience 4WDing meant the severe side angles were hard for her to cope with, making a 4WD course a good idea for her to learn more about 4WDing, and for me to brush up on my skills.

After spending 4-5 hours doing a recovery, it is easy to become complacent because you just want to get home. While we got away with doing something we really shouldn’t of, that doesn’t mean we are going to risk it again.

Spending more time on recoveries and cleaning than you do 4WDing is not my idea of fun.

When pulling apart your winch to clean it, make sure you take notes or photos on how to put it back together. (I figured it out eventually)

One of our cats decided that a handwinch makes a good pillow.

PM4X4 Comment

The “four o’clock track”, the one you take at the end of the day, is the one that’s most likely to end up as a recovery story on this site! While 4-5 hours doesn’t sound like fun, imagine what it would have been without phone reception (possible) and no recovery gear at all.  That’s when the emergency services go looking for you and you end up not with a story here but as a story in the national newspapers. Always have basic recovery gear in your 4X4!

This Reader’s Write story was submitted as part of our Win a Set of MAXTRAX competition. We will publish the rest of the (publishable!) entries over the next few days and then pick a winner. We have also published a MAXTRAX product review.

MAXTRAX come in all sorts of colours, although, it must be said that orange is the coolest, or so we reckon…


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Andrew Riles

Andrew Riles

My parents knew I was a car enthusiast when I was about 15months old, as I could already tell the difference between our Subaru and other similar vehicles. I have since had an almost insatiable appetite for almost anything car related. My main interest now is 4WDing, though one day I'd like to take part in 24hrs of LeMons, and maybe one of the rallies that raises money for charity.