The Legend of Camp Six
Words by Graham Jackson, pictures by Nick Taylor, Aaron Zielski and Graham Jackson.
“A well earned cuppa!”
The lodge owner at Gumbo Limbo saw us coming; how could he miss us? Eight exhausted people, covered head to foot with mud, in two Land Rover Defenders that were now mud brown adorned with jungle vegetation. That we looked like a military convoy had crossed our minds. As we pulled up to the bar at the lodge two locals made a scampering b-line for their puck-up and raced down the driveway. Going for the police perhaps? That’s the last thing we needed, as it was well past happy hour.
The morning had begun deep in the Chiquibul rain forest in Southern Belize on the fabled Camp Six road. It was day two of our traverse and we’d already turned back. By beginning of day two, I’m being very clear; Nick managed to navigate the lead truck out of our campsite and all of three meters down the track before the Pro-Comp tires lost traction and forward progress halted. Out came the winch line.
The turn off to Camp Six doesn’t really look like a road
Camp Six was made famous by the Land Rover expedition where Bob Burns and a group of ex-Camel Trophy team members took some journalists into the jungle and ploughed through the mud to test the mettle of the new LR3 and Range Rover Sport platforms. Before that it had been a timber company rail line, the tracks now long gone and the grade slowly degrading (even de-grading) into the forest. It returned to fame more recently, being named by Four Wheelermagazine as one of the 100 roads to ‘wheel before you die’. But calling it a road is highly generous; it is a vague two track through the jungle that gets so little traffic, it is typically completely overgrown. So overgrown, in fact, that just finding the trail-head is a very advanced exercise in land navigation.
The Chiquibul is some of the most dense forest in Central America, and gets 1.5 meters (yes, meters!) of rainfall a year. It also has some of the highest jaguar concentrations in Central America. Given that it is also extremely remote, makes the challenge of Camp Six much more than just the mud and the road.
Our team of eight people and two Defender 110s was on the first exploratory expedition since Land Rover took the journalists through (the Belize Army had attempted it the previous year in a tractor, but gave up after 100 meters. We had four very adventurous clients with us who all agreed to the uncertainly of a test trip as well as James and Angela of No Limits, and Nick Taylor and myself of 7P International.
Clearings are welcome, allowing unimpeded progress
Vince and Joey clearing brush ahead of the trucks
We had arrived at the turn off at around noon, after a visit to the Caracol Mayan ruin site. After verifying that there actually was a road there, we started cutting. Land Rover had the benefit of a local team to clear the road before they arrived. We were given no such luxury, so progress was less than walking pace as four of our team went ahead with machetes to clear space for the two Defenders.
Because of the overgrowth, the road wasn’t water logged, and the mud was manageable. A few short winch pulls and we were progressing steadily, if slowly, until we came to a downed tree and progress halted. It took our main machete man Vince a good 45 minutes to cut the tree by hand, and with some winching we were able to clear it out of the way. We noted the need for a chainsaw on the next attempt.
Progress so far? About 0.7 of a mile and it was already late afternoon, but at least we had come to the top of a raise and it was downhill as we progressed. As twilight began to fall, and the need for a campsite became more obvious, Nick and I took machetes and scouted ahead of the convoy trying to find a level place with enough space to make camp; not the easiest thing in such dense forest.
As we walked, slicing at low hanging vines, we assessed our progress so far, marveling at the work it had taken, and lauding our luck that it was not raining. With the slightest additional water the track would become a quagmire.
Nick posing with some of the old timber equipment being reclaimed by the jungle
After a long day, camp was welcome
Just after six we found the perfect camp spot off the track to the right. It was mostly clear, level and welcoming. We marked the spot and headed back to the convoy. It took a further 45 minutes to reach the camp from where we found the trucks, so in almost seven hours we had made 1.7 miles of progress an average of a quarter mile an hour. For the 10 mile track that would be a 40 hour traverse!
James cooked a magnificent meal under the canopy as we, quite quickly, destroyed our remaining alcohol supply while contemplating the coming day; we were already a full day behind schedule on the trip as a whole, the prospect of completing Camp Six would put us a week behind! But at least it wasn’t raining.
The heavens opened a little after midnight and everything changed. Comfortable and dry in my hammock, I knew that we would have to turn back in the morning. The quagmire would be waiting for us.
Morning greeted us with a continuous flow of rain. The track had become a stream. After a quick breakfast and agreement on our plan of action, Nick pulled the first Defender onto the track, and promptly lost all traction. The winch line came out, and for the next four-and-a-half hours we pulled each truck along, a winch line length at a time, our quarter-mile-an-hour progress from the previous day an unattainable speed record. The first 0.7 miles out of camp took 4.5 hours, the uphill now distinctly against us.
A very wet morning
Leaf cutter ants use the track as a highway . . .
. . . and their nests become mud-bogs when the rain comes
The mud becomes the battle
That we had cleared a path the evening before was hardly discernible in the morning, and while forward progress was a winch speed, the team still had to clear the jungle, getting drenched in the process and dealing with the fauna as well as flora including magnificent golden orb weaver spiders that had moved in to the Defenders overnight. Worse were the ant-hills in the track that became near-bottomless pits of mud as soon at the trucks hit them.
Once the top of the hill was reached, and after a brief stop for tea, the downhill section took about ten minutes, and we popped out of the jungle.
The drive back through the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve in the fading light was like an added chore, and as soon as we saw the sign for Gumbo Limbo we took the turn. At the lodge we found a welcoming couple who saw our state as we drove up and immediately got their staff into action. The two we saw making an exit returned a short while later with cases of ice-cold Belikin beer, which is the nectar of the gods after a long exhausting day in the jungle. Fantastic rooms with warm showers were put on, with beds that looked almost too inviting.
James and Nick, looking cleaner and enjoying a Belikin
The team after we get off the trail and back to the road
After making a significant dent on the beer supply we sat down to a gourmet meal, and talk turned back to Camp Six.
We all vowed to go back and complete the road. It’s a challenge that just cannot be forgotten. Four Wheeler has one thing right, Camp Six is a tough road. What they don’t have right is its location; for some reason their waypoint is Belize City, far from the road. Luckily we know the location, and 7P International is planning a trip to complete the traverse, come with us if you dare.
Golden orb-weaver makes impressive company in the jungle
James and Graham contemplate the next trip