Crossing Lake Torrens

Submitted: Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 11:34
ThreadID: 130549 Views:5656 Replies:4 FollowUps:10
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G'day there!

I've accessed Lake Torrens in South Australia at several different points, mostly on various stations.

The amount of salt varies with the location, based on the elevation of the lake bed at that point. It also seems to vary from time to time, for a given area, maybe based on the most recent rain events. Although Lake Torrens has filled only once (or maybe it's twice) since European settlement, a significant rain event puts a bit of water in the lake.

Recently I accessed the lake at the regular tourist destination, east of Andamooka. In the past, from memory, the mud extended as far as I could see and I sure know what walking on (in) the mud is like.

However, this time, the mud extended only a couple of hundred metres to meet the salt so I decided to have a walk and check it out.

The mud was OK to walk on and the salt was firm, though I could stomp my heal through it.

Couldn't help myself! Although I had no GPS, compass or water, I just had to keep going. After a while I picked up two sets of motorbike tracks so followed them for a reference till they wheeled off to the north. With the ute barely visible at around two kilometres, I headed back. Bad place to be disoriented. It was overcast.

This has led me to consider crossing the lake, well prepared.

Now, we all know you mustn't create wheel tracks in the lake.

The quadbike is out of the question and so is a two wheel motorbike. Either would leave tracks and if they went down, recovery would be a nightmare.

At my age, walking would be quite a challenge, though not impossible for me with a pull cart.

The other option seems to be a mountain bike with wide tires and a small trailer to spread the weight over several wheels.

I'm aware that the surface changes and it would be possible, even with a GPS, to get across on firm ground but miss the route on the return.

When walking on the lake I got into some softer salt that still held my weight but was moist and built up on my boots, half an inch thick, flicking off to the front with each step.

Looking on Google Earth, I've found a suitable route at only 17km, with some wheel tracks to follow. Across one day, return the next.

I don't know how to determine the relationship between the load/area on my boots versus bike tires except that if I walk on the sand in our local river bed I make less impression than on the mountain bike.

Anyone out there with any experience in these matters?

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Reply By: Member - ACD 1 - Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 12:48

Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 12:48
Definitely not an expert in this area, but what about these type of tyres?

Have seen them being used on the beach in very soft sand - perhaps they will have Weymouth of a footprint to spread the load - like your boots!


AnswerID: 591393

Follow Up By: Bega Photographer - Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 13:26

Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 13:26
Thanks Anthony!

That looks like the go. I see it's not only the tires bit the rims also that are wide.

Let the tires down a bit and I'd be good to go. Tires as wide as a small motorbike without the weight.

I reckon a pair or such rims and tires would set me back a quid or two. Maybe better to look for a second hand bike with that gear on. It's only got to go 100km or so (well, 34km).
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Reply By: get outmore - Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 16:01

Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 16:01
quite a few years ago a solo man trekked into the heart of lake eyre with a cart type setup
'it was documented by Australian Geographic - surprisingly he found lots of not much ........... but then thats probabally the point?
Ive walked into salt lakes and accross small ones and it doesnt take long before the sense of nothing at all really kicks in
maybe not for everyone but I do see the point
AnswerID: 591400

Follow Up By: Bega Photographer - Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 16:40

Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 16:40
Thanks get outmore!

That lone hiker would have been John Muir, if I remember right. I didn't see the doco but have heard of it. The former owner of Pernatty station told me how Muir walked across Pernatty Lagoon. His cart left a wandering trail a bit like a snake trail, which wasn't understood at first. Then the pastoralist figured out he had the cart harnessed to his hips, hence the snaking as he walked.

Yes, I see the point too and thoroughly enjoy it. It's surprising how much there is out there in the nothingness.

I've spent a bit of time out west of Lake Torrens, camping with a quadbike. I've been scared a few times but never lonely.

As I walked east, out towards the heads of the bay and beyond towards the Flinders Ranges, the power of the unknown was strong. Fortunately, common sense prevailed.

Hopefully I can make this new adventure come together in the late autumn, when things cool off a bit.
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Follow Up By: dean ( SA ) - Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 18:06

Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 18:06
Fascinating stuff...Just curious what you were scared off ?
FollowupID: 859485

Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 19:37

Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 19:37
I think the Australian Geographic trip out onto Lake Eyre may have been this one , one of Murray Frederick's. Fabulous photos, and I'm pretty sure his latest trip was aired as a feature doco on ABC a while back.

I know we are getting off the track, wrong lake etc, but it's all great stuff!


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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 21:00

Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 21:00
Hi Laurie

The surface of Lake Torrens is so very different to other major inland salt lakes. From your photo, the northern section looks so typical of the major salt lakes, while further south is a very different story.

I have only ever ventured onto the very lowest section of the Lake on Yadlamulka Station and near the middle section of Nilpena Station.

The very lowest point is soft and reminds you of just wet red sand. There is a very strange marker placed there, as a measuring point, around 200 metres from the shoreline. At this point it looked like it was going to get very soft the further out we walked, so gave it a miss.

The next longest stretch of the Lake that we have ventured out onto was from Nilpena. We were crazy enough to walk out over three and a half kilometres from the shore line in a quest to record a Degree Confluence that lies out there. Once again the surface was very soft and at this point, is around 80 kilometres from the eastern side to the western side.

To our surprise, the surface was covered in very low samphire plants that continued out the the far horizon. Most times we were leaving foot prints of around 25mm deep, and then every now and then would go down to almost ankle deep. We did make a very important discovery out on the eastern side of the Lake, of sighting and photographing the Lake Eyre Dragon Lizard. The only confirmed sighting were on the western side of the Lake in the 1960's, and over nearly 50 years had made their way across to the eastern side, as confirmed by the Museum in Adeaide.

A very good friend of mine, who has now past away, was manager of Moralana Station for over 50 years and has told me many great stories about the Lake. John told me that there were a number of time that stock from the western side had walked across the Lake to his Station, and like he said, they must have survived on the vegetation on the lake surface. He did take the long and treacherous task a couple of times of driving out there on motor bikes to get his stock, bit said it was always very soft, even in years of drought.

Judging by our experiences, I would only trust walking out there and never attempts vehicle crossing. One thing that you will need, is lots of water, as the reflection out there is very vivid and you will be surprised how much water you will consume on a large walk that you are planning.

I would be interested to here how you go.

All the Best.


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Follow Up By: Bega Photographer - Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 22:36

Friday, Oct 09, 2015 at 22:36
Hi Stephen!

Thanks for that info and the photos.

I know that marker, ya know. Like you said, it's about 200 metres north from the shore at the very southern most point. The track is close to the fence. There's a watercourse washed out under the fence so I got under there.

Pleased to know it's just a marker. I thought it must be a prospecting bore, but of course, there's no pile of dirt. The marker was as far as I ventured.

I've forgotten the name of that station. In truth I hadn't planned on going that far so didn't have permission to be there.

Not far back to the east along the track, on the southern side of the track, is a small salt lake and as you said, much different in character. I photographed what was left of a sheep half buried in the salt.

I accessed that part of the lake from Kootaberra and was truly enjoying the growing view of the Flinders.

I reckon I was following the 1851 route of John McDouall Stuart within a hundred metres, for quite a way.

The true story "Rabbit Proof Fence" occured in WA but the movie was filmed in SA, not too far from the area in question, up the Flinders somewhere, from memory. But I reckon one of the scenes was filmed on that track. The scene of a fella in an old car driving along. Well, that's my story!

I don't recognise the station names you mention. I suppose you access the east side of the lake where I visit the west side.

I once camped on Andamooka station, by Lake Torrens, not far north of the boundary with Bosworth, and Andamooka Island.

Walking out onto the lake bed, the stinking, black mud was getting deeper with my progress and building up on my boots, as you'd expect, so I headed back. Eventually I came to an area with stepping stones and did much better.

Six months previous I'd had an accident at work. Besides other injuries, due to some nerve damage where my leg was crushed a bit, I couldn't hold the weight of my foot with my ankle. I'd clipidy-clop down the street sounding like an old horse.

Well, on one of my stepping stones, a flat rock, I placed my heal on the rock with my foot hanging over. I couldn't lift my foot using the reduced strength of the ankle, but when I took up the weight and raised the foot I could hold it there level with my full weight on that leg. What a joyous day that was!

So those memories of that sticky mud are mingled with thoughts of such a great experience of the beginning of the rehabilitation of my ankle. Mud, beautiful mud!
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Follow Up By: rotor138 - Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 15:42

Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 15:42
I have been out there after following a track through Andamooka airport. There was several wheel tracks across the lake following a fence line. On foot I found it quite soft and slippery so not sure how long prior the vehicles had crossed but I wasn't keen on taking my bus out there. There was also kangaroo and emu tracks following the fence line.
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Reply By: Sigmund - Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 12:30

Saturday, Oct 10, 2015 at 12:30
I walked across Gairdner, just the neck at the Speed Week clubhouse. And been well out on it at dawn and dusk. It was dry, so firm. You get these small salt ridges zig zagging around the place, plus big crystal clusters forming on a branch or the like that's been blown onto the surface.

Helluva experience.

The dingos trot round the edge, on the flat, to cover distance. Easier than on the dirt and rock.

I've read that the salt in places is over a metre deep.
AnswerID: 591435

Follow Up By: Bega Photographer - Sunday, Oct 11, 2015 at 19:20

Sunday, Oct 11, 2015 at 19:20
G'day Sigmumd!

When my son lived at Roxby Downs he had a fair chunk of salt from Lake Gairdner on his computer desk. I advised him to move it. ;)

I've photographed those zig-zag ridges in the mouths of creeks feeding Lake Torrens, where there's more salt owing to the slightly lower elevation in the creek bed.

I used to get right down on my belly to photograph the salt and salt encrusted twigs and rocks. Now I'm not so keen on getting all covered in salt so I made up a base board for the camera and put a small level on it to get the horizon level.

I agree, a mind opening experience.

I sure I hope I can get it together to be out there where all I can see of the horizon is salt, and the distant Flindres Ranges.
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Sunday, Oct 11, 2015 at 19:42

Sunday, Oct 11, 2015 at 19:42
Gairdner at sunrise ...

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Follow Up By: Bega Photographer - Sunday, Oct 11, 2015 at 23:27

Sunday, Oct 11, 2015 at 23:27
I'll bet you got a few more good photos that morning too Mate!
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Monday, Oct 12, 2015 at 13:06

Monday, Oct 12, 2015 at 13:06
Shoulda got down on my belly like you've done.
Shoulda taken the tilt lens on that trip.
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