Highlander 4×4 Jamboree

Minden, Ontario, Canada

by Mark Coles

Photography: Mike Bohlmann


The telephone rang and a potential participant asked the question “so what exactly is a deep woods adventure?”. The question was in reference to the advertising of the Highlander 4X4 Jamboree. A deep woods adventure, I replied, is when you enter trail early in the morning, wheel all day through tight muddy dense forest strewn with rocks and hazards, eat on the fly and exit the trail at dark with no escape exits along the way. “Sounds like fun, sign me up” he said. And so went the beginnings of the Highlander two day event at Ogopogo Resort near Minden which staged sixty vehicles over four trails.

The event, sponsored by Central Ontario 4X4 Club, was a hit and from the moment the trucks plunged down a steep embankment off the highway. Participants realized this wasn’t your average well worn trail. For the most part, the days ride was on snowmobile trails abandoned because they were too heavily forested and too boggy to economically maintain. The trees were closely spaced and unforgiving. Typical of the Haliburton Highlands area, you were either climbing uphill navigating over rocks or descending downhill into mud holes fed by underground springs.

At the first mud hole, there is the one and only bypass of the day. The hilly off camber trail encroached by trees that winds around the perimeter of the mud hole is too tight for full size vehicles and even the Jeep’s and Suzuki’s usually have to winch as the back end of most vehicles slides off the low side of the trail. The mud hole itself is about 100 yards long. Most trucks must winch tree to tree through the entire length of the bog. Some of the more extreme vehicles could make it through provided they had significant momentum and picked the right lines.

Haliburton mud has it's own unique consistency. Mike Leggaro up from New York goes to the winch cable. Note the driver's side nerf is bent up blocking his door exit.
Hols Off Road Bronco enters the first bog hazard.

Three big rocks guarded the far end of the mud hole and those trucks with unwary or out of control drivers run the risk of leaving axles behind. After the first hazard there are hours of wheeling in deep woods conditions before the next major hazard.

Along the way, considerable body damage ensued with liberal doses of winching in between. In one area, both the entrance and departure angle of the gully must be winched by all but the most built up trucks. Participants salvation was the woods were absolutely beautiful in its final showing of fall colors. The wet leaves on the trail added to the challenging conditions. At the second hazard an abandoned beaver dam meant a steep approach and exit with a quagmire of mud in between.

The sharp right approach over a large rock base meant only the precise could make it through without tipping the vehicle or sliding into trees that tightly bordered both sides of the trail. An approach rock that provided the lift over the larger rock face had to be traversed with front and rear drivers side tires. Even the most extreme trucks had to be within an inch of this line, if they were to make it down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, a solid stump guarded the beaver dam. Over the stump with both front and rear tires, into the mud and up the steep slope on the other side. On this day, every truck had to winch up the exit embankment. It took many hours to get all the trucks through.

Mark Cole's YJ leads the group over the beaver dam trail.
Yukon meets tree. Notice rear window is already busted from body flex

We had already been on the trail for five hours and we were only about 1/3 complete with no shortcuts out. Another hour and a half of deep woods which continued to claim body panels on rigs and we emerged onto a forest access trail.

A few miles up the trail and we encounter the last deep mud section. The difficulty of this section is compounded by logs embedded at all angles throughout the mud. One truck pushed up against a three foot by two foot chunk of lumber that was totally hidden by mud. After winching fruitlessly we finally had to get into the mud with a high lift jack so we could lift it enough to build a ramp up over the log. We all got really muddy and finally winched him through. The Warn winch on my YJ earned its stripes in doing about thirty pulls that day. In any event, only my extreme YJ, a Hummer and a super built Suzuki made it through this day out of twenty five trucks. The trail went on over rocky terrain through beautiful pine forest with one last pond crossing before we made our way out to the highway in the dark.

Lots of winch action all day. Here a modified CJ cranks himself up a slippery hill.
Full sized vehicles suffered the worse on the tight trails. Here a big lifted Ford gets up against a tree.
Lots of winch action all day. Here a modified CJ cranks himself up a slippery hill.

When we arrived back at the Minden Community Center for our buffet dinner, our entrance was met with a round of applause. Trophies and prizes were doled out after dinner. Many participants had never driven deep woods and commented how awesome the trails were. Some trucks (including new trucks) sustained significant damage but the drivers were still smiling. I suspect the next day would be comparable to a hangover when the full impact of the repairs sunk in. Many experts shared a new found respect for the Haliburton Forest and hoped to return for future adventure.

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