There are a few tough 4×4 trails out there and At se Gat is definitely one of them. But what happens when you tackle some of the obstacles after the sun has set?
There can be no doubt that At Se Gat 4×4 trail near Brits in the North West Province has become renowned for its technical and challenging routes. They include various types of terrain, ranging from soft sand, river crossings and mud holes to rocky, mountainous obstacles.
Despite its formidable reputation, a night drive was recently arranged to show that, over and above the myriad challenges, there are sections that offer the less experienced driver in a standard 4×4 vehicle the opportunity to enjoy an absolutely awesome and adventurous trail.
For this event, the special route included several river crossings, breathtaking scenery and an exciting and engaging narrow road that crosses an island in the Crocodile River. You may have driven this route during the day, but at night it becomes a different ball game altogether.
A driver’s briefing early in the evening gave the rules for the event, as well as an overview of what was to be expected. Then the convoy lined up for departure, starting with the first river crossing of about 20m.
All the river crossings were narrow but had a solid, rocky base. The drivers were guided by poles and rocks to ensure that no one accidentally took the wrong line. Fortunately, the river was low and, at most, deep enough to cover just half the wheel height of the average vehicle.
In hosting a night drive at a track like At se Gat, the organisers have to take extra precautions to ensure there is a large enough room for error. The route has to provide elements of surprise, beautiful scenery and technical challenges, but all within limits and with proper guidance for the participants.
As this was the first night event held at At se Gat, we had to ensure that safety came first, as it always should. We therefore chose the island route, which offers a lot of scenic value and exhibits a landscape reminiscent of an island. We also arranged for marshals to guide drivers through some of the more challenging sections, though these were kept to a minimum for this initial event.
Soon after the vehicles set off into the night, the first challenging obstacle was encountered. At the driver’s briefing, it was recommended that soft-roaders and vehicles with a relatively low chassis height go first, as the trail would become wet and slippery after the first few vehicles had passed through.
It didn’t take long for the drivers to be surprised by the unpredictability of the route. The trail soon became quite slippery, turning even the slightest axle twister into an obstacle to be reckoned with.
As the trail crossed different sections of the island, the apparently encroaching trees and tall reeds made it feel like a real adventure. A lot of time was spent taking photographs of the convoy and testing those aftermarket LED light bars and spotlights that one seldom gets the opportunity to use properly, unless you regularly drive at night in somewhat uncivilised territory.
With the help of two generous sponsors, Efficient LED Lighting and Ruggedize, both of which specialise in off-road accessories, parts of the island route and river crossings were lit up with their products, making for some breathtaking scenes as the convoy passed through.
The island route included an area with some axle twisters and a bed of rock that got fairly tricky if you failed to take the right line. To make matters more interesting, a small stream flows over parts of it, so it is easy to get stuck.
The main island route is usually a grade 2-3 rating, but it also has many cross roads and play areas for the more experienced off-road enthusiast.
This is also the case for other parts of the 4×4 trail at At Se Gat, where experienced drivers and capable vehicles get to take on rougher obstacles along otherwise mild and less challenging main routes.
As could be expected in a novel event like this, there were both experienced and novice drivers. Armand Schaap in his Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was keen to take on some of the more challenging obstacles and soon diverted away from the convoy to tackle part of the river bed that has a tricky exit.
It took just over two hours for the 22 vehicles to complete the night drive. The remainder of the evening was spent discussing the night’s adventures over a braai, and sharing moments captured on camera.
Some enthusiasts bravely continued playing in the sand and mud sections along the river bank. The evening ended well, with a lot of interest being shown in future night drives.
Attie Rademeyer, owner and manager of At Se Gat 4×4, has committed to arranging regular night events in future.
For more information, visit www.atsegat.co.za, or follow the programme on Facebook. – Johan Swift