What Goes Into Researching a New Track?
One of the biggest unseen elements that feeds upon itself in every 4WDers heart is trying to answer the eternal question: "Where does this track lead to?"
Its that uncertainty and curiosity that leads us down tracks that can at times lead to nowhere, but other times lead to majestic scenery that 2WD vehicles aren't able to traverse. Especially, if the terrain begins getting tough and challenging.
BUT FIRST - A WARNING
There are so many tracks up here on the Sunshine Coast, that to drive them without a map or GPS, is more than half the fun BUT can also be fraught with major dangers that are taken far too lightly. Getting lost in the labyrinthine network of our tracks without a GPS can leave you looking for help for days or even weeks. Our tracks are inside a big place. A really, really BIG place. Some of our tracks are over 50km in length, so without adequate supplies like water or even a the repair kit, next level emergency will be looming. And unless you have a very reliable and capable decked out rig, I would avoid wheeling on your own because if you get bogged (and it will happen) or break something, you're on your own.
So what goes into creating a track that can stretch for nearly 50km?
As a 4x4 Tour Operator, GONE Offroad 4WD Tours have a number of elements that must be answered before a track becomes a commercial activity. As you read this, it is very important to keep in mind that the absolute primary objective when routing new tracks is fun and adventure infused with a strong sense of exploration that is real! So here is what we at GONE take into consideration when creating a new track:
1. Can We Access This Track Under Our QPWS Permit Authority?
GONE Offroad is a permit registered business. This means our permit is governed by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services (QPWS) under various forestry related Acts. As we vigorously explore new tracks, we are aware that not all tracks are accessible to the public. We need to ensure that every metre travelled does not trespass management roads, gated trails nor can it contravene signage and/or vegetation. After all, the bush and rainforests that are contained within these State Parks and National Forests, are for us to enjoy and respect, so I am a strong believer in conservation guidelines and enforcement in order to keep these beautiful places open. GONE Offroad 4WD Tours have authority to commercially operate within these State Forests and Parks.
2. Balance of Terrain Aggression
Back in the office, even before we begin to physically drive a track, we sit down and look at very specific GPS software designed primarily for this purpose. Nope - its not HEMA and its not VMS although they are both terrific bits of kit and worthy of a good look.
Overall, we strive to get a perfect blend of everything with a bias going towards what that specific tracks objective is when we route it. For example, Coyote Canyon is a mid range difficulty drive thats very technical at the beginning but eases out in the middle with a awesome 4 Low drive for over an hour at the end.
Winterfield Peaks is technical up front, chilled out in the middle, and the Smugglers Trail (part of Winterfield Peaks) will demand your absolute devout concentration and then some (see Point C below). As a result, because Winterfield is much more aggressive in terrain, difficulty ratings change.
By looking at the topographics, we can estimate, in theory, what type of terrain we are looking at and what to expect when we physically get in our rigs and drive it. We can assess distance vs slope grade, ridge line distance, estimated speed and pace and much more. This gives us the "visual fabric" in our minds as to what we will encounter when we drive it for the first time. Not everything you see on a map is how it appears in the real world.
We want to make sure that our tracks are NOT designed to FULLY max out the vehicles capabilities to the point of breakage. I honestly see no excitement in driving flat-stick 100% of the time. It'll eventually cost you a lot of money. So we ensure we get a very nice 70/30 blend of 4 High/4 Low driving with every track with its own repertoire of challenging drives.
In terms of Terrain Aggression, this is defined by a very strict combination of the following doctrines:
a. How challenging a track is
b. How technical it is
c. How often do these "Aggressions" arise on the route or track tempo
d. Chance of a winch recovery
All of our tracks answer these doctrines to the "T" and together make up the difficulty rating of a track. Although the term "Difficulty" can vary greatly depending on ones 4WD experience, we are still obliged to define somewhat based on our experience in combination of our customer base. What could be double black diamond for one person can be seen as easy for someone else. I have driven several State Park tracks that have "Difficult" clearly sign posted, but was in fact quite easy.
So bottomline, if the track we are routing has an objective of easy/medium, then the doctrines above are catered towards this objective. If the tracks objective is intentionally meant to be difficult, then the doctrines above will be skewed towards difficult.
Lastly, we try and route tracks that minimise or nearly eradicate the chance of a winch recovery. The reason for this is obvious in order to maintain a smooth flow of motion throughout the convoy. But sometimes, a winch recovery is unavoidable.
3. Risk Mitigation
It is impossible to avoid at least some form of risk from driving in general let alone when 4WDing. Unfortunately, so many just don't consider how much can go wrong. Inskip Point comes to mind here. People head out there with not just a vehicle not capable of handling the risks, but this is compounded by the lack of knowledge and adopting the "she'll be right" attitude. They also forget that their 4WD's is not a boat. Those taking their 4WD out without some form of prep is asking for trouble.
We do our best to minimise risk by using a common sense approach. Things like track conditions during wet and dry periods are assessed. We use the "Walk the Line" approach when we come across challenging sections like rocks, ruts, cambers and very steep slopes. The list can be endless.
The bottomline is, if a section of track "feels" like a risky proposition then its canned -even for our Hell's Bells track (currently in progress). We don't use the word "risky" lightly. If the statistical odds of something going wrong is high, then we simply use a chicken track. Nothing puts more of a dampener on your day than a drowned 4WD or panel damage. We know the limits and we stick to them.
Most of the time, risk is mitigated not by the vehicle but by how capable the driver is. I have personally seen an incredible driver climb a pretty steep track with highway tyres on his Hilux. True story. I've also seen other drivers with fully rigged out trucks, lockers on, and need a winch on inclines that were less than half the slope. The driver accounts for a lot.
4. Estimated Driver Concentration
We have found that our customers love a solid day out in their fourbie, and that a trip that ranges between 5 to 6 hours is the sweet spot before heading home on the black top and calling it a day. It allows for a mid morning snack, lunch and a solid tag-along tour throughout a vast diversity of terrain types and challenges within a beautiful landscape. Many newbies have gone away with a solid foundation of technical driving and knowing their 4WD's much better.
5. Grit, Fun and Off the Hook Adventure
Every single one of our tracks is designed to challenge the driver regularly and in multiple sections on the one segment of a given track.
This is what we are here for right? Every metre of track we map route has to answer the obvious questions: " Is this segment fun?" By looking at our TripAdvisor, we are proud that EVERY single review is 5 Star. People just love our tours pure and simple.
We give you the opportunity to drive your own vehicle and control the action at your pace to give a real sense of "feel" through some of the most remote high country on the Sunshine Coast only accessible with 4x4.
The mountains are calling so learn more about each specific trip here.
You can also check out our TripAdvisor reviews right here.
If you have not been on a tag-along with us then heres a good read.
Map research involves endless impassable sections and dashed hopes. It involves lots of reversing, map pondering, thinking and "what if" scenarios. Not a dull moment ever and we love it. So you can appreciate that all the hard work is done for you by thinking about the amount of time is invested into piecing together a decent track for our tours.
Thanks for your time and see you in the bush.
Mobile 0422 299 099