Adelaide Jeep Club, South Australia
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Saunders Gorge . Come and Try weekend. June 2012. Words by Tim M. and photos by Darren S.

Saunders Gorge . Come and Try weekend
Location –  approx 75 minutes North East’ish of Elizabeth

A newbies perspective

Well it started with a call, about 9am, the morning of departure. The Pres’ was considering postponing until Saturday due to the absolutely foul weather. After some discussion, it was decided to wait until midday and see what Mother Nature had in store. Midday came and blue skies were calling, besides which I had already loaded the car the night before and confirmed with the boss I could take the arvo off to get to the meet on time!

So 4 o’clock at TTP was the deal. We thought that it would cut travel time since original plan of the Toll Gate would see us (The Smith’s, Ann-Marie and I) essentially heading back past where we came from. There was some slight confusion where we thought we were helping Ben as well; until we found out he was coming from down south!

Suffice to say, while waiting at TTP, the weather had spun around a few more times. The wood on the roof rack for the fire was already dripping from the rain and, on the slow wet trip to Saunders’, it was about ready for pulping.

No matter, it didn’t take long to get to our destination, and by the time we did, the last squall of rain had passed allowing us to meet up with a couple of earlier arrivals, enough dry time to get the tents up, and look at getting the fire started.  A little bit of miracle juice sorted out the wet kindling. (Really Tim? A little bit? That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing! – Darren)

We enjoyed the communal fire while some went temporarily to sort out dinners. A note for future trips, Ben is evil! He seems to have a tendency to cook at the right time, from the right location, so you all get to smell his marinated steak and other assorted goodies. They fill your nasal cavities with want, nay, a longing, regardless of whether you’re full or not. Then it was back to park in front of the fire until the late hours before all starting to head off to bed from about 9:15 (?!)

After a cold and wet night, with not too much sleep for some, lots of local alarm clocks (Crows, Magpies, Kookaburras, Galahs – heck – too many to identify) ensured an early wake up call for all. They must have all been happy to see the sun up nice and early and wanted let us all know it was there too.

The fire was restarted and coffees brewed whilst we awaited the arrival of the morning crew. This also provided the first true chance to view the surroundings due to the inclement weather and poor light the night before.

A little after 9 we saw the arrival of our additional wheelers. Whilst great to see there, the J20 was a non-starter for the 4wd course with the “maisonette” sitting beautifully on the back. A few more passenger seats were occupied in a nice mix of vehicles and fitments, especially tyres. More introductions, some paperwork and fees, followed by some experience surveys, instructions on what was to follow and equipment checks before the group got to airing down for the good stuff. Initial preparations were complete and saw us lining up for the first pictures around 10am as we headed out of camp to hit the trail.

A short drive from the Gate 1 saw us arrive at the first obstacle – a nice little incline with a lovely big gum tree beckoning for a mudguard or two. Some of us were feeling a bit uncomfortable just looking at it. It was a bit muddy looking and whoever went before us that morning had already chewed it up a bit. There were a number of cars with road tread and a couple with low clearance. But all in – we only had 1 vehicle that chose to use the alternate track rather than tackling. Darren led the way after telling us all about having disconnected his sway bars and some tips on letting the car do what it can if we got into trouble. One of the JK’s had to go back down when the tires just couldn’t keep up with the track slowly getting worse. Not using your brake is not a natural feeling for a beginner, I was just glad it wasn’t me! I could feel myself wanting to hit the brake even though I was outside watching and knew it would just make the car slide where gravity and geography wanted (see gum tree reference earlier!).
Last cab up the rank was Dave in the Discovery and it was interesting to watch the traction control in action as you could see how the computers dealt with rotation of the tires. At the risk of sounding too much like a petrol head – it was rather beautiful to see how well it executed it’s design. We all then regrouped in front of the old gold mine for some feedback and education on tires

After clearing obstacle 1, it was mostly just nice straightforward driving while enjoying the views, clean air, and some natives, along with plenty of photo opportunities. As we navigated along the occasional detail was passed over the radio suggesting how practise using gearboxes/transmissions. This was to get a feel for how they could assist us in traversing sections later where it would be mandatory. There was also some timely advice NOT to use the rut in the track as wheel placement as the previous group had done. Timely as some of us new to the 4wd scene may have seen the tracks in the gutter and thought that’s where we should be. Wasn’t long until we saw the monkey’s that had caused those destructive tracks and stopped for lunch while watching them having to recover one of their group on the side of a hill.

From our vantage point, the hill looked rather ominous. There was obviously some slip going on as the guy stuck had been spinning his wheels and looked to have come back and settled against a big rock sticking out of the ground to stop his descent. The recovering vehicle looked like he took up position using a different rock at the back to stop him from getting pulled back down. Then once they were all hooked up and the snatch began, they were both sliding around and going at odd-looking angles that just looked bad and worse.

After various social chatting, some minor exploring, young kids paddy melon flinging (and older kid – me – resisting the temptation), the request was made for who wanted to tackle the ascent. Darren said he’d be doing it, but dropping his pressures down another 5 psi. Stu championed that it was a good time to try while there were enough experienced folk with recovery gear to “come ‘n’ try” as per the spirit of the event. There were a couple of “chicken track” volunteers and some seat rotations for less experienced to get a front row seat to the trip rather than risk their vehicle due to lack of confidence.

Well. I dropped my pressures to 19-20 psi with my street treads and hoped for the best. I lined up behind Darren, Stu and Peter and trusted that Darren would let me know after tackling it if he thought my tires wouldn’t be up to the task. Talk about a rush. As we hit the hill, the JK started doing a bit of sideways dancing before we even got near the bit that I was concerned with watching the prior group – but the car was capable, I’ve seen it on YouTube ;) – so it was just a matter of the tyres holding up and me picking the right line. Much to my relief, it was easier than anticipated. It looked bad from a distance, but on the section, I could see the surface and follow an intelligent line (stuck guys were obviously clueless or deliberately making it hard for themselves) and we ascended with some “quality tire spin” – slowly spinning but still moving consistently and confidently uphill. I’ve never experienced such before – it was cool and at least inside – I was grinning from ear to ear – outside I might have looked like I was just plain hard focused. In the end all 9 cars came up without incident, just further confirming the earlier group were “owner operators”.

I don’t recall being advised that the descent on other side of the hill was much drier, rockier, and looser. M navigator certainly wasn’t proving to be very effective at telling me what was on the map provided by the property owner. (Probably something to do with her hands being over her eyes – Darren) It was all very exciting and proving difficult not to try to take it out of gear and use the brake. My body kept wanting to but I kept telling my brain – No! It was a buzz feeling the car moving around in directions that “weren’t right”. There were a few bangs and scrapes heard during the descent and I just hoped they were not important. Once at the bottom we parked next to those that had arrived before us and watched the remainder complete the journey down. Standing at the bottom the hill looked to be a 45deg angle as we watched Peta standing part way up taking pictures. Struth – no wonder it felt like the Jeep wanted to fall down rather than drive.

From there on, it was a nice drive including some following the Scottish Walls and past the old stone pens. A rabbit proof fence it was not, with hundreds of holes disappearing into the ground along the stone fences, knowing the other side looked about the same where they’d pop back out. We got close to a Wedgie on one slope that the lead car had driven straight past. As the second and third car stopped to take some photo’s, he/she decided it was time to create some distance. Some nice “take off” shots were taken and we all gathered at the summit for a group photo. It was funny and a little sad to see all the Jeeps lined up with the Rover segregated at the end with the group then forming an L shape. Photo taken – time to get out of the cutting wind.

There were a few interesting sections on the return end of the track, some tighter sections, some loose sections and bumping rock, but nothing as intense as the big hill. Maybe that’s because we’d tackled it without injury and now it was all old hat.

Back at camp we had a slight debrief, re-gas of the rubbers before the day trippers headed off. The fire was relit and we all gathered around and talked about the run, getting to know each other a bit more and chilling out with the rain holding out until later in the afternoon. As the sun receded and the temperature again started to plummet, that bloomin’ kiwi started cooking great smelling food again. Several “pockets” of coals were taken advantage of to do the obligatory spud’s in alfoil and most of the wood brought up was put to use before another early night for all.

In my camp, the original plan was to leave late Saturday night due to other commitments on Sunday, but the company and location tempted us to push through and hope we could be efficient enough in the morning. Another early wake-up call made sure we could only blame ourselves if we were late. Better sleep for me last night after I loaded the bed up with all my previously discarded clothes for some extra bulk. -5 degree sleeping bag my butt! So – refreshed and cold – we packed up efficiently and effectively, now having space in the car to pick up a couple of kennelled dogs on the way to our next engagement. They would have loved the location, but sanctuaries are no place for pets. Quick goodbye’s to all and off.

It was a great weekend. I learnt not only more about how to drive my car, but also how capable the tires I already have really are. Gaining confidence and trust in myself and my capabilities and seeing the same develop in others in only a couple of hours. We met some new friends (OK – so there were some comments about puppies that caused some concern), saw some different accessories and setups and just had a great time overall.

Loveday trip Come ‘n’ Try is coming up later this year.. That should offer some sand work as well as potential for a “water crossing” depending on local conditions then, but definitely some mud run opportunities. I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to try and make sure there’s no competing booking and bring some newspaper for insulation and fire starting.  I’d suggest these events are not only great to get to meet some fellow Jeepers, club members and socialise, but an absolutely brilliant way of getting to know your vehicle so you can learn the skills and gain the confidence to do what the car has already proven it can do. There will be opportunities to learn from not only skilled and experienced drivers, but several are likely to have formal qualifications to back it up. You’ll see that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars upgrading your rig to get out and enjoy – unless you want to (Has anyone told you that group chats like this bring up all sorts of resources for where you can offload your cash as well :) hehe) and some “best practice” so you can avoid traps for young players. Best of all. You will get to experience getting out in your Jeep (or other – the club doesn’t discriminate) and enjoy Australia – even if it’s only a bit at a time.