To the GEO CENTRE and Back

Submitted: Sunday, Aug 11, 2013 at 19:25
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Well we (Robin & Anne) along with Howard (ACT) crossed a big one off the bucket list this year.

Over the past few years I have driven a rectangle of tracks around the Northern Simpson by doing the Hay River to the east, French line to the south.
The Madigan to the north and the Colson track to the west and it was time to nail the dead centre and get to one of the most remote places I know of, the Geographic centre of the Simpson desert.

Its a harsh an remote place with very few visitors and as I now know there is very little reason to go there other than the challenge of putting together what it takes to get there and actually doing it.

The research for this trip began many months ago with post 101775 on Exploroz calling for help with information about this challenge.
Several EO's who have been out there responded both on and off line, including Dave JimR Chris(Qld) Stephen L and to all I offer thanks.

Sometimes seemingly little bits of information help form a view and knowledge base that is really helpful when it counts.

In putting together this trip I had different objectives than most.

In addition to just getting there I wished to come up with an approach that would make the journey easy for others in future.

Typically travel to this area has been from west to east taking advantage of the shallower approach to the dunes from the west, intersecting with the Geo Centre then continuing on to the east coming out near Erabena or Poeppels corner.
This is a slow rough approach taking several days with hundreds of dunes to cross, but is easier than approaching the seriously steep stuff from the east.

We like a challenge and in the end Howard and I came up with a plan which to my knowledge has not been done before.

After much discussion we decided that the easiest way would be to drive straight up the swales between the dunes and return via the same path.
This would minimze the dune crossings and give us an opportunity to make adjustments to the path on the return journey.
The Geo Centre is 80km line of sight at a bearing of 342 degrees from a straight line intersect with the french line.
(In reviewing my research post I note Alan(Equinox) also suggested this approach.)

Several other travellers as far back as Willem Kempon have done part of this route and we even found a reference in the "North Simpson" outback travellers guide handbook (available from EO).
This appears to show that Ian Stabler from Mt Dare went that way before his death in 2007 ?
He apparently did not go all the way and a note in the booklet on page 8 when about 40km from the center says "Track Abandoned - Progress slow and difficult 2-4kmh"

This booklet also mapped the track section north from the french line in S.A. to N.T. but from then on you navigate to waypoints.

About half-way to the centre via this approach is a old shotline which can be followed to near the Geo Centre which interects with a shotline coming from Colson track.
I believe this is approach used by Stephen L some years ago.

The shotline is now almost gone, I couldn't even find it but Howard and his experienced eye did and we used it.
Shotlines however are just straight line cuts which make a depression which fills up with water and causes more vegetation and erosion than average along there path.
This means that they get overgrown and can in fact be harder to drive than straight cross country.
This was the case for us however as far as possible we stuck to the shotline rather than make a new track.

I had spent many hours plotting an efficent path which, with Howards input became a trip starting at Mungerannie for a 460km drive to the Geo Centre via Warbuton crossing and the K1 line before turning off from the french line.
The return plan was to follow our own tracks back to the french line and then drive straight to Birdsville for a total of 800km without re-fueling.
This was a long way in the dirt for my auto petrol 4800 GU Patrol and we both carried around 260lt of fuel.

The Geo Drive
It began easily about noon but soon after we crossed into N.T. we moved from the odd lovely claypan into fields of Moguls, we tried moving up and down the dune slopes but without much relief from the pounding.
Howards computer GPS failed, but he had a secondary system that could only display the underlying map, we put a few waypoints in it manually but I had the only full working navigation system which could track my manually created plot file.
Soon the water temperature on my Patrol went above what I was comfortable with and we stopped to check all systems.
Just as well as the rear leaf spring retaining bolt on Howards Landcruiser was almost off with the nut on by only 1 turn.
I had fitted a 70% shade cloth covering car bra to my vehicle to limit scratches and this along with a warm wind blowing from behind meant the normaly
excellant GU cooling was not enough - I removed the car bra and had no further issue.

I was glad that I had also applied Auto-Goop scratch proofing as additional protection before I left - it was a mess at the trips end.

The day wore on and the sand got softer and soon we were sliding down the steep dune faces which were hard to pick with heavier than normal grass covering the moguls. There was no sign of any track now for many kilometers and we ploughed along.

I had to constantly watch the GPS bearing, as well as try to find the best path and I noted that mostly the GPS speed read 13kmh.

Despite the Patrols longer suspension travel, Howards V8 79 cruiser was doing it easier than my car until I remembered my "Snow Mode" switch.
This remaps and deadends the accelerator and stops you squirting in extra fuel at every moguls bump.
When engaged the car became much smoother to drive.
I left it in "Snow Mode" for the entire trip, but this wasn't enough to stop Anne being tossed around and us all having sore muscles by days end.

The base of my HF aerial went wonky and Howard had a jar of flour shake loose all over things.
So we camped about 4pm on a flat area just big enough for 2 cars.
It was a long and tiring drive and we needed to adjust a few things but we had made good progress.

The next day Howard picked up the almost impossible to see shotline line to the centre and took the lead.
The driving was probably even rougher now but navigation was not an issue.
We even saw the occasional faint bike/vehicle tyre marks and the odd sign of old exploration teams.
Anne found the first of only 3 pickets seen in the 92 km run.

For the last section we followed the advice of others coming out to a point on the old shotline about 5km east of the centre and then turning west to it.
This however means you have to climb several steep and difficult dunes in the middle of the day.
We had to find alternative paths up and around these but after some hours we arrived at the small tower at the Geo Centre.
Mission objective 1 was now accomplished in about 8 hours of driving for the 92km.

In some ways the drive was easy, we had not come across any rocky bits, or treed bits that couldn't be easily bypassed or any ground water.

The centre really is an inhospitable place situated just on the western side of a steep dune in mogul country.
We thought about having a rest day but really it was more comfortable in the cars so after 30 minutes, some photo's, and a quick snack we jumped into the cars and were off on the return journey.

With wheels tracks and a now more obvious shotline to follow we made good progress and by 4pm we were back at the campsite we used on the way out.

Another perfect night was had - both of us had carried firewood the 2000km up from home and so we didn't even have to go collecting.

Next morning we were off at 7:30 local time for the run back to the highway (our name for the french line).
We had found some steep soft dunes on the way out, but because we were back tracking we knew where the hard parts were and could avoid them by driving round the end of offending dunes.

We completed the return to the french line in 7 driving hours at noon meaning that the entire Geo Centre drive had taken just 48 hours.
We estimate that less than 25 dunes had to be crossed instead of 300 - 500 via other paths.

As a result of our trip we conclude that an overnight return trip from the french line to the Geo Centre is a hard but practical challenge for those fully prepared and experienced in trackless desert conditions.

Cars Fuel Tyres
Both cars are well suited to rough terrain with dual live axles and the ability to sleep internally.

My 2011 auto petrol 4800 GU Patrol used 25lt/100km or 199lt for the 800km route from Mungerannie to Birdsville and 32lt/100km for the 184km Geo Centre leg at an average speed of 12kmh.

I do not have accurate figures for Howards V8 79 series tray but we concluded together that in the full desert the Patrol used 40% more fuel but that when cruising at around 120kmh the Patrol actually used less fuel.

I used standard size 32" Cooper ST-Maxx (10ply) at 18psi and the heavy Cruiser ran 33" Mickey MTR in 8/10ply at approx 25psi.
We had no tyre issues at all and there seemed to be less stakes than expected.

P.S. I have made a few assumptions in the above and would welcome any feedback that would make this a more accurate post.

Please refer also to post 101775 which has lots of input from other EO members

Robin Miller

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Reply By: MUZBRY- Life member(Vic) - Sunday, Aug 11, 2013 at 19:42

Sunday, Aug 11, 2013 at 19:42
Gday Robin
Good write up , very interesting.


Great place to be Mt Blue Rag 27/12/2012

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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 08:15

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 08:15
Hi Muz

I must have been posting this while you were emailing me !

Its amazing how much the comfort of the main highway felt after being off it for a day or two - driving it (the french line) back to Birdsville was like going for a coffee - which I am just about to do.
Robin Miller

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Reply By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Sunday, Aug 11, 2013 at 20:04

Sunday, Aug 11, 2013 at 20:04
G'day Robin,
Great trip report and a good read, thanks.

Kind regards
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 16:08

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 16:08
Thanks Beatit

The 4800 worked really well out there with snow mode on - don't now if you ever tried yours but I reckon it even makes reversing easier.
Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 19:07

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 19:07
G'day Robin,

I haven't tried it mainly that even with a load and soft sand I've been ok - well mind you I have had to use the front locker once or twice to get out of a jam.

Kind regards
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Reply By: Rick (S.A.) - Sunday, Aug 11, 2013 at 21:27

Sunday, Aug 11, 2013 at 21:27
Congrats on using your brain and the knowledge of others to show that, when properly prepared, one can do almost anything.

A great result in saving those 3-500 other dunes, indeed.

To what extent did you use Google Earth in your planning?

(now driving a Mazda BT 50 after 2 x GU Patrols, the last of which was a 4.8 L auto - a beast!)
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 18:17

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 18:17
Hi Rick

You know I didn't use Google earth at all but I tried - the images didn't have the contrast or resolution to be of any help there.

I really was pleased that we did it in 2 days without pushing any limits.
Howard and I took a bit of a gamble but over the years the alternatives have become less attractive as erosion and new growth destroys the shot lines.

There are so few that go there that I believe even our path could be improved apon near the actual Centr.,

I spent many many hours on the detail and in the end the path just looks like a straight line drive.

Common tell the truth - you must be missing the beast just a little when it comes time to get angry !
Robin Miller

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Reply By: Member - Boobook - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 08:58

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 08:58
Nice write up as usual Robin, sounds like a great trip.

I'll take a stab at the shot line going left to right just below the dune in the pic.

I have a couple of questions if I may.

-Did the scratch goo stop all the scratches getting through? I am planning a Hay river trip and don't think my paintwork could stand too many more cut and polishes. I am thinking of that or a film. I recall the scratch pro brand I used ages ago was more effort to get off than it was worth. You say it was a mess at the end hence my question.

-I take it your 342 degree bearing from the French line is magnetic yeah?

Great trip I am sure.
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 19:05

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 19:05
Hi Boobook

I'm glad Howard come on below and answered the question about shotline position - I still can't see it and I took the photo !

The scratch really did stop scratches and this is second time I used it.

However I stuffed up and applied it incorrectly , first I left it to late and had to apply it on a cold Melbourne day about 10c and it went on in streaks and is a pain to now get off - I have already spent 3 hours using my fingernail 1/2 the time and its only 1/2 off.

Also I got clever this time and used masking tape but then forgot to do it in small sections and remove the tape while it was still wet.
Hence because it dried it tore when pulling off the tape - but would I do it a third time , yes I will.

My 342 was true north however is was 342 to a point 5km east of the geocentre which is the closest point on the shotline most use to get to centre. The true heading to the centre is 339.

Your on the ball there !
Robin Miller

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Reply By: Member - Howard (ACT) - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 09:19

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 09:19
Hi Robin,
thanks for doing the write up-another great trip
as far as fuel use for the 79 series went
my overalll Mungerannie to Birdsville use was 140 litres or just on 18/100
from Mungerannie to Poeppels Corner I only used 38 liitres (13/100) for 300km and actually reached Poepells still in 2wd high range .
The Poeppel to Geocentre to back on QAA where I switched tanks I used 79 litres for a 345 km leg (23/100)
for the last 135km of QAA back to Birdsville 23 litres used for (17/100)
and the highway runs home (but at 110kph not 120) the usual 15.5-16/100

It was also great to finally get those last few Madigan camps that were under water on our 2011 trip that put the icing on the cake.
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 21:06

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 21:06
Thanks Howard that looks pretty close to our estimates.

We got some good video of various bits and also good shots of camp 20 so I will do another post about the side trips in a few days.

Even got a good shot of the Rangie sport traction control stuffing itself up.

It was magic driving straight into the snow in brillant sunshine the day after the constant rain from B Hill , we didn't have to do a detour like you did.

We came in under budget using 789 lt for just over 5000km or 16.5lt/100km and I never even pumped the tyres back up from the 28 psi at Tibooburra because it was to wet & cold.

Seriously good trip !

Robin Miller

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Reply By: member - mazcan - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 16:19

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 16:19
hi robin
nice story great reading
but didn't like your patrols fuel figures
the Toyota diesel crapped on the patrol with it's much lower consumption
but I know you love your pet patrol

the shotline goes over the sand dune from just slightly left of center in the picture i can see the track leading out of the spinifex and up over the dune where it has a bare section showing as a track made by previous vehicles going over
awaiting your confirmation
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Follow Up By: garrycol - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 16:32

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 16:32
I am actually surprised the petrol Patrol was so low - I would have expected it to be higher.

Likewise I am surprised how much the diesel Toyota used - but then it is getting 15/16l/100 on the highway which is a very high figure for a diesel.
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Follow Up By: Member - Howard (ACT) - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 17:01

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 17:01
close but actually the picture looks straight along the shot line
it is fairly easy to see the raised edges from the grader many years ago in the dip just before the dune (2 dark lines)
at first I also noted the angled line over the dune and it may be from a previous vehicle crossing there rather than going straight over.
the other good thing is it was exactly where the topo map showed it which wasnt the case on all the shot lines we crossed or ran along
some were mapped up to about 100 metres off. by this iI maean while we followed the actual line ,the map showed it about 100 metres away .
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Reply By: mikehzz - Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 19:30

Monday, Aug 12, 2013 at 19:30
Many thanks for a good story and pictures Robin. I was out at Warburton Crossing a few weeks ago but had some really bad mud problems from the tiniest bit of rain. Cheers.
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 16:12

Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 16:12
Just 2 weeks ago today Mike there was a sign up there saying closed due to flooding - it was actually open according to website and it was bone dry even in the ruts in the actual crossing - I hope no one was put off by the sign not being promptly removed.

From your comment though it seems as though it can get slippery real quick.
Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 16:58

Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 16:58
Yes I ignored the sign, I was told at Mungerannie it was open. it was sprinkling light rain when I turned on to the track and the top layer was plasticene type clay mud but not that slippery and all seemed ok. I got about 5kms past the crossing and the car started labouring. I got out to find all the wheel wells totally full of thick clay mud that was setting solid and the wheels could no longer turn as it was rubbing on them. I had to hack it out with a shovel every few kms but it ended up upsetting an abs sensor so the traction control stopped working. I know....don't say it :-) Mate, all I needed was some dirty diesel to complete the picture lol! Cheers
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