4x4 trail re­view

Car­nage Canyon is not the sort of trail where you can pitch up, pay an en­trance fee, and spend a leisurely Sun­day driv­ing some ob­sta­cles. It is ar­guably the tough­est 4x4 test South Africa has to of­fer.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text: GG van Rooyen. Photography Roland Hair­bot­tle (4x4 Trac­tion)

Car­nage Canyon

Car­nage Canyon isn’t your typ­i­cal trail. You can’t find it on a map and it isn’t truly op­er­ated by any­one. Even its ex­act lo­ca­tion is a se­cret. All that can be said is that it is in the Lim­popo Prov­ince, less than 100km from Polok­wane. What you’ll also quickly no­tice by study­ing some of the lo­cal 4×4 fo­rums, is that Car­nage Canyon is a phe­nom­e­nally dif­fi­cult trail. It is 6.2km of ex­treme off-road­ing in a riverbed that features mas­sive rocks, thick sand and loads of water. To make mat­ters even worse, it’s a ‘one way in, one way out’ sort of trail; once you’ve com­pleted it, you need to find your way out via the same route that you just trav­elled. A ser­vice road runs next to the trail for much of the dis­tance, so es­cape is a pos­si­bil­ity at cer­tain sec­tions, but this is the sort of trail where you need to com­mit for the long haul. There are no tra­di­tional es­cape routes or ‘chicken runs’. The last 500m is par­tic­u­larly daunt­ing. It pro­vides the tough­est chal­lenges of the en­tire trail, and no ser­vice roads run next to it. If you get stuck there, you’re prop­erly stuck. Com­plet­ing that sec­tion of trail with a small con­voy of ve­hi­cles

can eas­ily take five hours.

Ron­ald Hair­bot­tle, owner of 4×4 Trac­tion in Polok­wane, is one of the cus­to­di­ans of the trail. He takes peo­ple out onto the route and or­gan­ises week­end ex­cur­sions. “We stum­bled on it while play­ing in the river one day. The more we ex­plored, and the deeper we ven­tured, the more we re­alised that this was a phe­nom­e­nal off-road chal­lenge. We keep its ex­act lo­ca­tion a bit of a se­cret, since we don’t want it to be over­run with peo­ple, and we also don’t want peo­ple to tackle it if they don’t know how chal­leng­ing it is. It’s not as daunt­ing as Letele Pass, for in­stance, since it’s not as dan­ger­ous. It’s very chal­leng­ing from a tech­ni­cal stand­point, but you’re not go­ing to roll your ve­hi­cle,” he says.

If death or in­jury is un­likely, how­ever, ve­hi­cle dam­age is prac­ti­cally in­evitable. “If all goes well, you won’t wreck your car, but there will be dings and scratches. A rock is go­ing to touch some­thing, some­where.”

More se­ri­ous dam­age is also pos­si­ble, which is why Ron­ald rec­om­mends tak­ing along spares like axle shafts, U-joints for front axle shafts and prop­shafts, diff oil, power steer­ing fluid, sealant for diff cov­ers, fuses, re­lays, elec­tri­cal wire and a good set of tools.

Good re­cov­ery gear is equally essen­tial. Things like a com­pres­sor, tyre re­pair kit, hilift jack, solid re­cov­ery points, bow shack­les, a snatch strap and a winch can help get you out of a tricky sit­u­a­tion.

From the above, it should be clear that this is not a trail to tackle in a stan­dard 4×4. “You need at least 33-inch tyres, though 35-inch ones are bet­ter,” says Ron­ald. “You also need diff locks, prefer­ably on both the front and rear axles, and you need to make sure that your ve­hi­cle is sturdy and re­li­able. If any com­po­nent is act­ing up, you want to have it sorted out be­fore tack­ling the trail.”

In ad­di­tion, you want to fit your ve­hi­cle with pro­tec­tion. Ron­ald sug­gests diff, steer­ing and belly pro­tec­tion, as well as rock slid­ers. Ground clear­ance is ob­vi­ously cru­cial, so you don’t want any of th­ese to mas­sively re­duce clear­ance.

Once your ve­hi­cle is ready, how long can you ex­pect to be out on the trail? “It takes the av­er­age group two days. It’s a slow and tech­ni­cal process. How­ever, it can also be a fun and so­cial af­fair. The ser­vice road al­lows for spec­ta­tors to fol­low the ac­tion and cart along camp­ing gear, so when we take peo­ple out to Car­nage Canyon, we camp right on the trail. It’s tough but very en­joy­able. If you have the right at­ti­tude, it will be one of your fond­est 4×4 mem­o­ries.”

Main and above left: Car­nage Canyon features some large and in­tim­i­dat­ing ob­sta­cles. It’s not the sort of trail you can tackle in a stan­dard 4x4. Even heav­ily mod­i­fied ve­hi­cles need oc­ca­sional help. Re­cov­ery equip­ment and a winch are cru­cial. Right, top: This 6.2km trail should be tack­led in con­voy. Go­ing it alone will re­sult in dis­as­ter. Right, bot­tom: Car­nage Canyon is a mas­sively tech­ni­cal test of your off-road­ing abil­i­ties.

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