In the footsteps of Carnegie-Day 11 Desert Discoveries (Arid ranges, lost cities & mongrel country!)

Saturday, Aug 03, 2013 at 18:00


Saturday 3rd August, 2013 - On the Dora Creek, Erica Range WA

The quad team got away from Thomas Bluff camp about 9:00 a.m. after numerous repairs to the quads, principally leaky tyres. We had to swap out one of Al’s tyres giving him my spare radial. He now has two of these good quality radials on the front. The front tyres are the ones that strike the most issues in the harsh desert environment so this will make things a lot better for him. His old set were looking like porcupines!

I had to Loctite the bottom shock absorber mount on the unit we had swapped out at Mount Hughes. I had three punctures in the front right hand tyre and a further in the left rear that needed attending to. While I was preparing the quad and re packing supplies, water and fuel, ‘Dingo’ cooked up bacon and eggs for breakfast. This went down a treat as we sat around the fire and discussed the egress route for the vehicles. They were going to head south and claim a confluence and on to Lamanabundah out station where there was a good supply of water, remaining there for a day or two then heading on the cross country journey westward to meet us at Wilson Glen. Around 9:00 a.m. with the sun already high in the morning sky, we mounted up and headed out into the desert.

Our route took us to the north around the bluff under which we had camped and then across the gravely soil of the laterite range before we dropped into the sand dunes. From here we headed east to meet Carnegie’s southern line we had diverted from yesterday. It was interesting going amongst the dunes with a lot of turpentine scrub and thick, old growth spinifex. This made travelling pretty lumpy and unfortunately our turn to the south didn’t improve conditions much!

The dunes were up to 15 metres high and very steep on the northern side. I got almost to the top of one dune and then buried the quad in the soft sand at the top. Rather than back all the way down, I pulled the winch cable out and used Jaydub as a land anchor to pull myself free of the clawing sand and up the last few metres to the crest. From here we headed south east looking for a rocky outcrop Carnegie had stood upon to detect yet another range further to the south east. We located it, building a cairn and knocking up an aluminium plaque to mark both Carnegie’s and our passing. You could get quite a good view to the south east, the gap in the distant range that Carnegie described as his next bearing being quite prominent.Carnegie’s party were being guided by two Aboriginal men at this stage of his journey and they were keen to locate water. We completed the journey to the gap, the surrounding hills growing larger as we crossed the country.

To our surprise, the gap sat in a magnificent, arid range of immense proportions. It stretched almost the full fourteen kilometres south, almost joining the Erica Range where we camped.Carnegie rode into the gap and searched the various side valley’s for water. He was able to ride to the top of the range and gain a great view of the country to the south including the Erica Range. We too scouted the terrain for signs of water but found everything dry. We rode to the top of the hill and then explored further.

Carnegie was led up one valley and then down into another where they found a native well at the confluence of two sandy gullies. Carnegie’s description was just not detailed enough to identify which valley. Splitting up, I went south along one valley climbing to its head and crossed the saddle. I had only descended a few metres before I reached a wide sandy plain that stretched off to the south west. This plain sloped away gradually for many kilometres and I could help but note that if we’d passed a few kilometres to the south west, we would have missed this range all together. It was quite amazing. I could find no traces of water, just plenty of dry pools.

Heading south west, I came across another valley heading to the east which had a very well worn animal pad heading along its length. In hindsight I probably should have known that it was a camel pad, a trail enabling them to get from one valley to the next rather than a path to water. I followed it down the valley, becoming narrower and steeper as I progressed. At a particularly narrow choke area where the path avoided a deep gully, I looked and thought, “Oh yeah, tight but enough room for the quad there”. There was, but only just! As I moved forward I had the right front wheel on a large triangular piece of rock when it dislodged, giving way. As the rock slid, the point picked up and dragged the left hand front tyre. Before I could even abandon ship, the quad was sliding its way sideways into the ravine with me on it. Thankfully, the rock snagged about 1.5 metres down the embankment giving me time to recover and assess the situation. Still being largely side on to the ravine, to pull myself off the loose rock, I would have to continue downwards and try to straighten the quad before I could select low range and attempt to claw my way up. It was a close run thing and a sphincter tightening moment. Thankfully the plan came together with the rock sliding off into the gully and the quad climbing up and out. It was an abject lesson in just how quickly disaster can strike.

I reached the bottom of the rift to find it emptying into a wide, sandy floored valley. Again no water. As I was now on the southern side of the range, I would have to retrace my route to return to my companions. No dramas on the ascent but once on the sandy plain, I was thankful for the GPS as it would have been easy to misstep into one of the many side canyons.

Back in the main central valley, I found the boys on top of the north eastern ridge and joined them there as they tried to reconcile distant landmarks with maps and Carnegie’s notes. Our next goal was the Erica Range, named by Carnegie after one of his sisters. Al was satisfied with the sweep we had conducted through the range and as it was about 1:30 p.m by this stage, the red light was on….we were in need of sustenance. Returning to the valley floor we found a bit of shade by pulling in hard against some acacia and had tuna and biscuits for lunch.

It was a most interesting trip out, the journey punctuated with low stony rises and rock walls. In the distance we spied large stony outcrops that stood like sentinels, surrounded by blood red sand and white trunked gums. It was so interesting that we decided to make the diversion over and my god it was truly amazing country. Incredibly picturesque, the late afternoon sun highlighted many of the rock faces and deepening the redness of the sand. Often it was like being in a lost city as we rode through rocky chasms and past huge boulders and outcrops. We followed this for quite a few kilometres before breaking through and back into the dune country. Extremely harsh scrub forced us to “run the red road” as we call riding along the dune tops. It is often rough but always fun and a welcome departure from the rough scrub of the dune corridors. On this occasion we were forced high simply because the dune corridor was so tightly packed with the horrid turpentine that it was impenetrable to us.

As we approached the Erica Range, the Dora creek was evident by the splendid white trunked gums that bordered its edges as it snaked across the plain. The creek drains the range to the north west and out here on the plains it is nothing more than a deep sandy gully some 4 metres wide. We followed this along to the foothills of the range and as the sun was sinking low, selected a campsite on its western side, a kilometre of so from the commencement of the range. It was not a particularly pretty site but good enough with plenty of timber. Getting camp up and the fire set, we unwound with dinner in front of the fire. Al had made plaque for the Dora Creek Rockhole such was his confidence in locating it tomorrow. Every night out here under the stars is simply amazing. Even without a moon, you are not in need of a torch to see your way about once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. I can never get enough of it.

''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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