Great Sandy Desert - Out of the wilds & onto the Anna Plains Track ( & the Whithorn Ranges).

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010 at 00:00


Tuesday 13th July, 2010
The Whithorn Ranges
19° 50.800'S, 122° 15.170'E

Despite being only eleven (as the crow flies) kilometres from the Anna Plains Track, I emerged from the RTT this morning resigned to the fact that today was going to involve a very hard days travel. The loss of our cut line earlier yesterday afternoon coupled with the fears surrounding just how thick and dense the local scrub was (as revealed by our preliminary scratching around the dense scrub searching for firewood) left no doubt. The nature of the country was changing as well. The dunes have lost nothing of their height but are becoming more tightly packed. Rather than a single crest, a dune top may now cover several hundred metres or more and have numerous crests or be punctuated by deep blowouts and bowls. Treacherous soak areas are also filling the slacks between the dunes rather than just the dense scrub we have been used to. These final eleven kilometres southward will bring us no joy that’s for sure.

It was a windy morning that had the advantage of drying the dew soaked tents out quite quickly. I coaxed a jaffle or three out of the fire before we got everything squared away for departure.John led out again and our first tranche involved navigating south across the soak area and its heavy brush. On reaching the dunes once again, the games began in earnest as we forged our way upwards and then twisted and turned through the blowouts on high. In some areas, the dunes were precipitous and ended in long narrow lakes of water. This is where the quads came into their own providing us with valuable intelligence on the ground ahead. On occasions we were able to navigate around a dune end into a “gate” that provided a softer rate of climb up to the top of the next ridge but these moments were far too few.

The scrub and spinifex remained dense and it wasn’t long before both Scotty and Gaby had suffered punctures on the Guppy and the quad. Scotty had managed to get the vehicle up on a dune top before the tyre expired but Gaby was stuck a bit of a distance back. Grabbing the Doctors kit and compressor, I had Suze take me back to Gaby’s location on her quad where we soon had repairs completed and the tyre pumped up again. There is a distinct area in the Great Sandy Desert that we refer to as “soak” areas. The most significant of these areas covers many thousands of square kilometres in a crescent shape commencing only a few kilometres below our current position at roughly 20° 0's, 123° 0'e) and extending to the north east as high as the McLarty Track. It then curves around towards the 124th Meridian where it stretches downwards to the south east for 150 kilometres. It also stretches as far as the 125th This area represents a significant drainage system where not only surface water is held, but the underlying water table is often close to the surface. Both Dragon Tree and Elizabeth Soak sit in this boomerang shaped band which varies in width from 20 kilometres to a hundred or more at its northern tip. It was the southern extremities of this drainage system that we were now straying into.

A decision was made to veer onto a more easterly tack which would take us out of the soak areas and into the more regular dune country again. We didn’t have to vary much as our straight line course took us across a soak system that was drifting on a south westerly direction and away from us anyway.Our decision paid off as we emerged into the massive dunes once again. At one point we perched all vehicles on a dune top to scout the surrounding countryside. While we knew we were close, there was absolutely no indication of the APT to be seen.

It wasn’t much later that John led us down the southern side of a significant dune, across a broad swale and directly onto the APT. I was absolutely gobsmacked to find that we had emerged exactly at the site of the burnt out land-rover, our “haunted” campsite of 2009. What an amazing coincidence. Of our original campsite not a thing remained. Not that we have ever left a big footprint anyway but it was as if we had never even passed this way. Hunting a round, I managed to locate a few sticks lying side by side. Disturbing the sand nearby also revealed the ashes of our previous fire. The winds and shifting sands of the deserts soon scours and covers evidence of our passing. We are indeed transients in this environment.

There was plenty of surface water present beside and over the track as we began our westward drive on the APT. Almost immediately we were into the 20 kilometre stretch of soak area. I’d forgotten just how overgrown a lot of the track is and our path was a winding one as a result. We passed many familiar landmarks from last year before taking a break for lunch. Sitting in the shade provided by one of the pod doors, I was fortunate enough to notice the back left hand wheel. It was a disaster waiting to happen. It appeared that the wheel nuts had worked loose and had caused damage to the holes in the rim, widening them through wear. This allowed it to slip ever so slightly against the wheel studs flattening the thread and grinding down the wheel nuts. Very ugly indeed! The wheel was quickly changed but we had to break our Johns grinder and shape the wheel nuts suitably. This reduced me to one working spare now and even that had been welded! Here’s hoping it all holds together.

We were pushing to make it to the Whithorn's, those low rocky bluffs we’d stumbled on last year that provided a most pleasurable and sheltered place to camp. In an amusing aside, Gabster managed to ride the quad through a bush crawling with red ants. Naturally they were none too pleased with the disturbance which made for an amusing sight for us (and not to amusing for Gabster). Thankfully she managed to remove all the invaders while maintaining her modesty LOL. Stopping for a bit of timber along the way, we soon found ourselves cresting that familiar rise to look out across countless kilometres of spinifex and sand. We pulled in to the Whithorn’s with sufficient time to arm ourselves with mandatory supplies and climb the mount above our campsite. Another great sunset followed by a great evening around the fire with wine, beer and baileys discussing if we should claim another confluence or not… After a phone call to Al McCall to ensure that it remained unclaimed, we decided we were to close not to give it a crack. A confluence quest was on for tomorrow.

''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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