On some days, it just does not work out the way we have planned. Things go wrong and everything comes differently than expected. We are traveling through the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. We have discovered wonderful landscapes and drove hundreds of kilometers through rough, remote and difficult terrain. Everything has gone well so far. We like the diversity of the landscapes of the Gobi Desert a lot. We found super nice camp spots, collected enough fire wood for a campfire and marveled at the beautiful starry sky in the night. But today things are not going as planned. We drive through a sandy area and suddenly, we are surrounded by large puddles of water and mud. The surface is getting very wet and all of a sudden we are stuck in the mud. Our LandCruiser sits knee-deep in the mud. What now?
We spent the night at the Flaming Cliffs near Bayanzag. Right next to this amazing landscape that is carved out of a sandstone plateau, we found a beautiful camp spot with a fantastic view. For a few days we have been traveling together with Noemi and Cyrill. Together with the two Swiss and their Land Rover we have been exploring the Gobi Desert. In the late afternoon we arrive at the Flaming Cliffs by beautiful sunshine and explore the cliffs by foot. In the evening, thick clouds start to roll in. It doesn’t take long and we are surrounded by thunder and lightning. Thunderstorms are all around us but we are lucky. Only light rain patters onto the roof of our LandCruiser during the night.
The next morning we leave our beautiful camp spot and hit the tracks again. Our next destination is the Ongi monastery, which lies in the valley of the same name. The landscape is flat and only small elevations are to be seen in the distance. On the way we pass small puddles of water and mud. We follow the most direct track, which runs through increasingly sandy and barren landscape. There are multiple tracks branching off and it is increasingly difficult to follow the main one. Only a barely recognizable track leads into a sandy depression with very little growth. We are surrounded by ever-increasing puddles of water and mud. I try to get around the muddy spots as much as possible, but they are getting more and more. Then suddenly it goes very quick. The water and mud puddles are getting bigger and bigger. I cannot find a way around all of them. It’s too late. I hit the accelerator but all the wheels are spinning in the mud. We are stuck in the mud of the Gobi Desert.
Not an inch further. The wheels are spinning in the mud without helping our LandCruiser moving forward. Neither backwards nor forwards. Our LandCruiser doesn’t move a single inch. I get out and have a look at our vehicle stuck in the mud. The back of our heavily loaded LandCruiser is knee-deep in the mud. The axle is sitting solidly on the mud. The thread of the wheels is no longer visible under the sticky mass of mud. We’re stuck in the mud up to our knees. What now? How do we get out of the mud in the middle of the Gobi Desert?
How do we get out of the mud in the Gobi Desert
So far we have been very lucky and never really got stuck with our LandCruiser. As we crossed the Simpson Desert in Australia, we occasionally dug into the sand, but we were always able to free ourselves without much shoveling. Along the Canning Stock Route in Australia we had to fight a lot while crossing some sand dunes, but we did not get stuck. In the end, reduced tire pressure and a bit of shoveling always helped. The adventurous drive through the many rivers and muddy passages along the Old Telegraph Track to Cape York, the northernmost point of Australia, we have managed without getting stuck too.
It has happened here in Mongolia. We got stuck in the mud in the Gobi Desert. Of course, we are prepared for such cases and carry recovery gear to get out of the mud. We have Maxtrax, shovel and tow ropes. Let’s see if that’s enough.
We prepare our Maxtrax and I start shoveling. The mud is very sticky. Within a few seconds the whole shovel is full of sticky mud and it is getting heavier and heavier. Trying to shovel the mud away from the wheels is quite exhausting. I try to shovel channels in front of the wheels, so we can drive over the Maxtrax out of the mud onto dry ground again. I reduce the tire pressure too, so that the contact surface of the tires gets bigger and we have more grip.
The Maxtrax are positioned and I try to get out. Nothing happens and our LandCruiser doesn’t move an inch in the mud. Neither forward nor backward. The only thing that happens is that I dig our vehicle deeper into the mud. The thread of the tires is completely filled with the sticky clay and just does not catch. I have to shovel more to better position the Maxtrax under the tires. I try it again too soon and still nothing happens. After one hour shoveling the clouds are getting darker again. That’s bad news. This will make the ground even wetter and make it even more difficult to get out of the mud.
Due to my trying to drive our LandCruiser out of the mud and the constant spinning of the wheels, I have dug the wheels deeper into the mud and it is getting harder and harder to get out. Unfortunately, there are clouds rolling in again and it starts to rain lightly. Before the rain gets stronger, we have to get out of here. Now have to move fast. After all, we are two vehicles and we can count on the help of Noemi and Cyrill. They position their Land Rover on a dry area and prepare the winch. In the meantime, I position our Maxtrax as good as possible. Everything is prepared. I start our LandCruiser and while Cyrill pulls in the rope of the winch, I try to drive forward. Nothing happens at first. But then the pull on the rope gets stronger and slowly moves our LandCruiser inch by inch out of the mud. Then the tires are getting grip on the Maxtrax, the back lifts up out of the mud and then I almost jump forward and our LandCruiser is on a dry and stable patch of ground.
Now we have to get out of this wet and muddy area. But first we have to find a way out of this minefield of puddles of water and mud. Otherwise there is a big risk that we will get stuck in the mud again. Cyrill flew over the area with his drone and saw that there is no way through in the direction we are heading. More and more water and mud puddles block the way. In the west, we can reach dry land, but a 10-meter-wide strip of water blocks the way. On foot we try to find a possible way around the mud puddles. We should be able to cross the water strip with enough momentum. We try to memorize the route and remember the critical points. For guidance, Noemi and Reni are walking ahead and show us the way. In front the critical point with the wide puddle of water, the two get back into our vehicles. We accelerate hard and keep our wheels spinning. It’s pretty bumpy and mud fountains splash onto our vehicles. Done! We have managed to cross the water and mud puddle and have reached dry and stable ground.
What did we learn from getting stuck in the Gobi desert?
Why did we get stuck in the middle of the Gobi desert? As always, various factors have come together and led to this situation. Luckily we are prepared and know how to get out of awkward situations. Nevertheless, it is also important to learn from mistakes in order to avoid such situations in the future.
The following things I have learned from getting stuck in the Gobi desert:
- Anticipatory driving is very important to prevent getting stuck in the mud. Actually, I’ve seen that we’re heading into a depression with puddles of water. I also saw that suddenly there were no more tracks. Nevertheless, I drove on. I tried to avoid the muddy spots and drive over the dry areas. But the wet spots became more and more and I just could not avoid every puddle. Better I had stopped early and we would have driven back.
- For soft ground such as sand or mud, the tire pressure should be reduced. The rule “hard ground hard tires, soft ground soft tires” has come true once again. Even if it takes time to inflate the tires again after you have covered the soft ground, you should not be afraid of this effort.
- If you get stuck in the mud, it is important to analyze the situation first and not just to act without a plan. Because of my repeated attempts to drive out of the mud, I have buried our LandCruiser deeper and deeper into the mud. If you get stuck, you should first think about how best to get out of the mud before hitting the accelerator.
- The right vehicle and the right equipment is an absolute must. Our Toyota LandCruiser is a very capable off-road vehicle. However, it is with the entire equipment, two full diesel tanks, full water tank and all our gear also a very heavy vehicle. We have good tires, which are a compromise between a comfort ride and off-road capabilities. Mud Terrain tires would be better for such situations. We have recovery gear such as Maxtrax, shovel, towrope and Snatch Strap. If we cannot free ourselves and have to wait for help, we always carry enough food and water with us.
- Maxtrax are very helpful when you are stuck in the mud. However, you have to pick up the shovel first and clear the tires enough to be able to use the Maxtrax properly. Only if the tires have enough grip on the Maxtrax, you can get out of the mud. The Maxtrax have been developed for sand and mud. They are covered with grippy nubs and thus increase the traction of the tires. Nevertheless, it is not easy to get the Maxtrax far enough under the tires.
- Finally, it is always a good idea to join forces and drive difficult tracks with at least two vehicles. We drove through the Gobi desert with Noemi and Cyrill and the two finally helped us out of the mud with their winch. At this point, thank you very much to you both.
Have you ever got stuck in the mud with your vehicle? Where was that and how did you free yourself from this situation? Let us and our readers now about your adventure and share your story.
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Disclosure: The Maxtrax were provided by Maxtraxk Australia. Our opinion is not influenced by this. We assure you, we write what we think.