Rudall River - A death march of discovery through the remote Broadhurst Ranges - Part 1

Monday, Jul 06, 2009 at 00:00


Monday 6th July, 2009
DQB Rudall River NP WA

Preface; In my trip planning for my sojourn into the western deserts this year, I spent a fair bit of time puddling around on Google Earth. I capture GE images and convert many into maps for use on my track ranger and Ozi programs. One of the benefits of using Google Earth is that it gives you the opportunity thoroughly investigate terrain and gain a level of detail that is often not available from a paper or digital map. It also allows a view of areas that have simply not been explored or mapped and where many features remain unyet discovered or reported. It was this close examination that led me to several anomalies within the low resolution GE images of the Broadhurst Ranges south of the Desert Queen Baths. I could find no information on these features from any source so resolved to make one of the key objectives of this years trip, to go and find out just what they were. Having picked up my travel companion Al Kennedy at Port Hedland a week earlier, we arrived in Rudall River on the 4th July and set up at the DQB campsite on the 5th. Read on....

Well I must confess that it’s the day after our hike and late in the afternoon at that. The reason is that after 9 hours of solid walking through extremely difficult terrain. I was so physically exhausted upon our return to camp in the late afternoon that I was incapable of doing anything. We learnt a few valuable lessons yesterday, stick to your original plans and never underestimate the harshness of the Pilbara environment. It can leap up and bite you no matter how prepared you think you are, or how experienced for that matter.

Our day began early, very early! 5:40 a.m. in fact. We had breakfast and had the camp squared away and everything packed for the hike. I opted to carry 3 litres of water and Alan, two. I had my photographic and video equipment as well GPS, radio, satphone and some foodstuffs. Alan had a bit of gear as well including the majority of the lunch stuffs. We hit the track into the gorge right on 7.00 a.m. passing Three Goanna and Kangaroo Pools before commencing our rock-hopping down to the No.1 pool and reaching it at 7:20. I was amazed to see that some of the larger pools along the way were completely dry. No. 1 was down a good metre on last year.

Scouting a route around the pool, we opted to climb the walls immediately to the left of the pool. It was a steep wall but plenty of foot and hand holes as we clambered the 80 metres to the top of the range. From here we struck out south east down along the length of the range and into the gullies reaching a pound like area. It was then over several more lower stony rises and we were into the pound area at the head of the gorge where I had walked to with my mate Hugh back in 2007. From here we followed the creeks deeper into the range checking against the Google Earth images we’d printed. It wasn’t long before we came to a dry rock hole the length and breadth of which exceeded anything in DQB. It was fully 150 metres or more long and at its southern end was 30 metres wide and shaded by a large cliff on its eastern side. When full it would have been 3 metres deep or more. Several hundred metres further on we found a second dry pool again sheltered by tall gums and rock walls to its east. Here we found a cavern with rock art in fair condition. This set the tone for the walk along the length of the creek. We would often find large, ephemeral pools that would have been difficult to negotiate back in 2006 when the abundant cyclonic rains of that year would have seen them brimming with water.

As part of the hike planning, I had divided the route into 15 waypoints on the Garmin, number 10 being at the head of the creeks and where we began our trek across the high plateau. Our first real destination was a dark spot on the map I though may be a waterhole. This was reached after two hours of walking and we were richly rewarded to find a wide, sheltered pool not dissimilar to the No. 1 Pool of DQB. Certainly equal in size, it was surrounded on three sides by rocky walls and a drop of several meters on the southern side that the creek water would have seen water tumble over and fall into the pool during the rains. It was a fitting place for our first break. We had been strolling easily, stopping to take video and photos along the way as well as compare our GPS points with the map. The rocky walls of course meant that we would again be forced to climb the walls to get around the pool (No 3 Pool) and continue our journey south.

The route around this pool was not as strenuousor challenging as that around the desert queen baths. We negotiated the cliff face on a ledge about three quarters of the way up the left hand side. Behind No 3 pool was a number of much smaller water pools set in horizontal rock faces including an oblong one which proved to be a good source of refreshing water on the retyurn journey.

The creeks continued to become narrower and shallower, often strewn with boulders and at times choked by brush and trees. We saw the occasional fetid pools of water in near dry holes, a haven for birds as a dozen spinifex pigeons rocketing out of the brush proved to us. Jumped a foot we did! Finally, we found ourselves pushing along a narrow windy stream chocked with new growth, the previously confining walls becoming nothing more than rocky gullies. Waypoint 10, the commencement of our trek overland was reached at 10.00 a.m.

From here we climbed across the rocky slopes until onto the plateau which continued to gently rise beneath our boots. Underfoot was rough gibber, sharp sandy shale and quartz which really took it’s toll and required you to watch every step lest you twist an ankle.

Our path south curved along this ridge between the many craggy gullies commencing to run from the high point. This leg was over 2 km in length and then saw us veer to the east. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have done this, again proof of how difficult it actually is to reconcile the situation on the ground against a Google Earth image. The ground borne reality can be very different. Such as it was, we were fast approaching our provisional turn around time of 11.00 a.m. and were only just reaching the point where we were to commence our decent into the maze of gullies that form the southern side of the range. A quick 'go/no go' decision saw us set a new ETA for our destination of 12 noon. On we pushed. Looking south, we could glimpse the far valley and distant ranges that signalled the edge of our range spurring us on. Picking our way down the maze of overgrown gullies we finally entered onto the floor of a wide 'pound area', its flat floor some 1.2 kilometrs wide. Reaching the far edge of this pound/plain put us within 300 metres of our next major destination, “Circular cliffs”.

There were two strange rocky knobs at the southern end of the plain and I had no trouble in picking up the creek we were to follow to our destination. It was still a very wide open area as we moved onwards but it soon narrowed into a constricted gully with rocky walls. Imagine my surprise when I clambered over the high rocks at the end of a dry, shallow rock pool and was confronted with a precipitous drop! We had hoped for cliffs and by god we weren’t disappointed! The creek ended in a plunge of over 30 metres into a circular shaped canyon at the bottom of which sat a deep pool of dark water. We were chuffed, thoroughly exhausted but thrilled. It was going to be a hell of a climb down though. We followed the top of the ridge south east for a distance and then climbed down the steep rocky slope into the wide creek bed below the falls. Knowing that I had identified another deep shadowed anomaly from Google Earth images only 300 metres further down stream, we opted to head south east and check that out first.

Again we had to rock hop down the length of the creek, climbing around large boulders until we found our path was blocked by a series of high rocks, at the base of which was a dry pool. Climbing around the western side of this obstruction, I again found myself peering across a wide, open valley from a good height. To my east sat sheer rock walls 70 to 80 metres high, capped with loose stone slopes. The creek flowed over an even higher fall than the inland pool tumbling some 40 metres into a deep long pool in the creek below. (Pool No 6, otherwise known as "Olsen’s Limit" as suggested by Al. I've dubbed it "Explosion Pool" because it looks like a bloody big hole that someone has blown out with explosives!) From our vantage point on the western wall above the pool we had great views of the hills and valleys to the south and south east. It was fast approaching midday and the climb down would have taken a good 30 minutes. Satisfied with our discovery, and each having the enormous desire to return, we headed back along the creek to investigate Pool No 5, rock-hopping and finally forcing our way through thick brush to arrive on a sand bank overlooking the dry waterfall and pool.

The water was chilly and soon bought the blood back to our battered feet. We sat soaking our feet and had lunch in the cool shade before reluctantly putting the boots on and departing for camp at 12:30 p.m. We knew we had at least a good 4 hours walking in front of us and we were already feeling battered and bruised from the outward journey. This hike had originally been intended as an overnight hike but having had our time cut short due to mechanical difficulties earlier in the trip, the distance of 8.5 km seemed doable in the day. Hmmm, there’s another lesson there I think.

Thanks to "Outback Al" Kennedy for the reminiscences and assistance on the day and in writing the journal. Part two of the death march later. Mick.

Link to Part 2;Broadhurst Death March - Part 2

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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