Desert Touring: Knowledge is valuable, experience a must have…

Saturday, Jan 27, 2018 at 13:33

17 South

I’m always on the hunt for the path less travelled, exploring deep into the remote Outback propelled by the desire to discover what’s over the hill and round the next bend …

Since I was kid I’ve been drawn by the lure of desert. Lawrence of Arabia and Flight of the Phoenix ignited a desire to explore what lies beyond. I have travelled to most – and while very impressive there’s nothing as unique and remote as our own desert ecosystem.

This story starts perfectly; a place far away where red sand is king and the track is long and winding through a sculptured landscape.



I’d come off the Sandy Blight Junction, made the dash to Kiwirrkurra, topped up with fuel and was heading into the heart of the unknown and Lake Mackay (Wilkinkarra).

This trip is not for the faint-hearted. One of the most remote and isolated regions in Australia, it requires a well-prepared and maintained vehicle, bush savvy and experienced smarts and even that’s no guarantee. I’m well off the beaten track and the chances of seeing anyone are just two... and neither of them have particularly good odds.

But that’s the sweetener. I’m sure many of you reading this already know and love the sense of isolation and freedom and with it, the irresistible promise of adventure.
I stand atop of Troopy on the edge of the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts taking in some amazing views. Click, click goes the shutter… this is just magic!

But it’s time to make tracks and find out, just what is over the next hill and round the next bend.

Besides, I’m getting the hurry up from Bear.


He’s my 8-year-old Australian Red Kelpie and he doesn't care where we go so as long as we're going. He’s as curious as I am. A former cattle dog turned movie star (Red Dog True Blue) now retired but still with plenty of “Hollywood” attitude.
He's also what every journeyman needs… a trusty sidekick with a nose for adventure.

The Kiwirrkurra-Balgo Rd to Lake Mackay is in pretty good nick. Verdant Minerals exploration along the southern shore of the lake has seen some works done on this part of the road and regular grading. It swings east about 7kms south of the lake and the original road north quickly reverts back to a classic outback track.

I followed the track north. It quickly deteriorates to a goat track. The anticipation builds as I crest each dune expecting to see the vast expanse of the lake before me. I won’t tell you how many dunes you need to crest but it was more than I was expecting so I was tad relieved and bloody excited when I finally crest a dune to catch one big moon rising over the vast expanse that is Lake Mackay.

It’s the 4th-largest lake in Australia covering 4737 sq. km. straddling the border of WA & NT. It fills only with seasonal rainfall and is rarely deeper than a few meters. Named after explorer Donald George Mackay, but I felt like I was the first to see it and all mine to explore.

Bear had already taken off down the dune to stake first claim and ‘twas nearing sunset as I moseyed down to shore and setup camp. Bear’s not big on camp setups however, does sit facing me and "oversees” my activities… waiting patiently for dinner.



A few hours later we’re both fed and enjoying the evening solitude but soon it’s time to get down to business… there’s a purpose also: to shoot the Milky Way. I won’t go into detail now (perhaps another story) but astrophotography is a practice I’ve been refining and this lake is an ideal environment to shoot.

The next morning we explore following the track around the lake. It wasn’t bad, mostly smooth going through a soft sand layer on a harder surface and we spent the best part of half a day finding various access on to the lake and shooting aerials.



I found this awesome rock platform. It was about 50m long by 10m wide and lay about 150m from the shore. This’d be a great place to setup camp and shoot tonight’s Milky Way.

I walked out checking the surface of the lake. It was a little spongy but felt firm enough to drive. I deflated air to take the edge off the tyres and cruised out nice and easy. I was indenting the surface between a half-inch and an inch in places but was holding firm. Good stuff, I thought, this is gonna be awesome.

10 meters from the rock platform things came a cropper, almost serenely, as the surface of the lake quietly broke and Troopy’s front tyres went subterranean. I got out to look. The tyres are in thick claggy mud. Didn’t seem too bad and my assessment was to continue towards the rock platform as I could use it as a launching ramp later. I dropped the recovery tracks in front and wedge them under. Got back in the car, put the lockers in and moved forward. And forward I went but no lift and I had sunk the tracks into the mud. This was not going to work. I was a little surprised by all of this. I thought it’d pop out no worries – but I didn’t want risk digging it deeper.

So I reverse that decision and backwards I go. I swapped the tracks to back, jump back in engaging lo-range for some extra torque and I away I go…. but just the length of the recovery track, then stopped and sank. I knew immediately what had happened and it wasn’t good. The rear had also broken the surface. Again I was a little perplexed. It’s a big car with a lot of weight but it should eat this up.

So, I’m all in now and this had the potential to get ugly quickly. I was in the middle of nowhere with no chance of anyone stopping by. It didn’t look too bad. The wheels were down only to the rims, but that claggy mud had turned my wheels to slicks and there was no getting traction for love nor money.



I needed to think this through and explore the options. I didn’t have many. I must avoid digging down to the axels, I could only go back and I must get on the surface. I’ve got lockers so I can double the length of the recovery tracks by using them on one side and maybe that’ll give me enough momentum to get back on top. It’s little over 2 meters but it’s all I got.

Out comes the long handle and I make a nice ramp, lay the track. I reverse out, but the moment I come off the track, it goes down again breaking surface. The second time I try I bury the recovery tracks so I go back to one each side to spread the load.

13 times I dig and clear wheels, lay track and reverse back. Each cycle takes about 30mins and over 6.5 hours meter by meter (feels like inch by inch) I claw my way towards shore. Finally I cut a break – I’m back up the surface and moving freely. Man I am so happy. I wa-whoop to the world!

15 meters - it comes to a heart-breaking stop. One moment I’m backing up in my old tracks, next I’ve broken through the surface into the mud. I’m a perplexed, I was convinced I was bound for glory.

But the day’s done, it’s sundown and I’m done.
Early dinner, early bed – I went out like a light.

Dawn and I’m back into clawing my way a meter at a time. A further 7 times I dig, clear, lay track and reverse. Three times I bog down too deeply and have to use the high lift jack to get the tracks under the wheels. On the third, completely unexpectedly Troopy pops out. I floor the accelerator ripping through old track, mud flying everywhere but – 15, 20, 25 kmh lo-range and working up some torque I nudge the old track pushing gradually onto the clean surface. I’m on and 25m later I’m high and dry.

I can do little else but sit there stunned and relieved. I am so happy to free of that quagmire. First thing I do is crack a cold beer, possibly two… But the work day wasn’t done so I set about cleaning the car and pushing all the mud I dug up back into lake.

I retreated to the Telstra Camp, (I’d passed it on the way in) where there was bore water and shade to clean up and have another well-earned beer/s.



I spent a further three days exploring Lake Mackay, refrained from driving out onto the lake again before heading north through the Great Sandy Desert and home to Broome.

DESTINATION DETAILS
Lake Mackay straddles the WA/NT border. It’s surrounded by the Western and Tanami Deserts to the north and Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts to the south. It is one of the most remote places in Australia and is subject to extreme heat in the summer months.

Difficulty:
Moderate to difficult depending on where you choose to explore. This area should only be tackled by experienced 4WD with the ability to be completely self-sufficient. Water is scarce and there are no other resources available between Kiwirrkurra and Balgo (517km)

When to Visit
May to September. The winter time is still hot out here climbing in the 30s most days with cool nights. Definitely not recommended outside this time. There is no phone reception, Sat/GPS comms only.

Fuel and Supplies
Kiwirrkurra on the Desert Road / Gary Junction Rd is the southern entry point. Fuel and basic groceries are available from the road house.
Balgo on the Balgo Road (off the Tanami) is the northern entry point. Fuel and basic groceries are available from the community store.

Permits:
Permits are required to travel this area.
KiwirrkurraGary Junction Rd
http://www.ngaanyatjarra.org.au/
Lake Mackay - Res. 26399
Lake Mackay - Res. 24923
Balgo Community Entry
Balgo Tanami Access
https://www.daa.wa.gov.au/land/entry-permits/

Wildling from the North
BlogID: 7445
Views: 1203

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