Cape York via Simpson Desert 11 June 2015 – Day 10

Saturday, Jun 13, 2015 at 20:53

Peter Beard (WA)

A very comfortable night at Mt Dare, the cabins are warm, the beds are firm and clean and the showers hot. You couldn't ask for more after a dusty drive and heading for a few days camping in the desert. We spoke to a group of travellers last night that had just come across the Simpson along the French Line. They had taken almost all day to do the trip but found it passable, despite the large number of motorbikes and utes with motorbikes on the back heading east from the Finke Desert Race. That sounded promising, we are eagerly soaking in any news about the track.

A bit of a sleep in this morning, we hit the road around 9:30 for the trip down to Dalhousie Springs and a swim. The first section of track out of Mt Dare was nicely graded, turning left about eight km out it turned to sharp rocks and another Mars landscape. Red rocks, no vegetation but once again we came across cows. What on earth (or Mars?) do they eat out here?

Dalhousie Springs is an incredible place. The pool, in the middle of a desert, is an oasis surrounded by trees full of birds - cockatoos, ducks and the ever present yellow-bellied flyeaters. Air temperature is still very cool, the high cloud cover that has accompanied us from Alice Springs is still with us so it was a bit challenging stripping down for a swim. Not quite as cold as Liard Hot Springs in Canada where we swam, it was snowing there! But it was well worth it, the water is a balmy 40 degrees, like stepping in to a warm bath. We floated around with a pool noodle under our arms, being nibbled all over by the tiny little fish called hardyheads that are unique to Dalhousie. It got a bit creepy after a while, when they nibble a sensitive bit of skin (like around the top of the legs or under the arms) it was a sharp little tug, almost like a mosquito bite. We paddled to the edge and shivered as we dried and dressed. Fun over, time to take on the Simpson Desert.

The track down to Purni Bore initially runs through wetlands, in some places there is still water off to the side of the track and evidence of a muddy crossing for some in the last few weeks. The wheel ruts occasionally catch the car tyres, sometimes leaving us feeling like the car is more a train on tracks than an independent vehicle. The first dunes start soon after, not very big and quite far apart initially, but definite red ridges began to erupt out of the claypan wetlands.

Our sand flag mounting has let us down. By the time we left Dalhousie Springs it was wilting towards the windscreen, the metal base already bending under the pressure of the whip and the flag. Pete solved the problem by removing the HF aerial and moving the sand flag across to the aerial mounting. We will screw in the aerial when we need it tonight to log into VKS-737.

We stopped for lunch about 10 kilometres east of Purni Bore in a small valley in between the now more regular sand hills. An odd cracking sound from the front end motivated Pete to pull off the track to check the steering so we took advantage of the halt to enjoy some bread, left over from our dinner last night at Mt Dare, making a very nice cheese and Vegemite sandwich washed down with shared Red Bull. No coffee today. The steering bolts are all tight, thankfully

The track to the corner of the Rig Road and the French Line is pretty good. The sand hills are reasonably low and very close together, about 50 to 100 meters between short, sharp, red crests. Unlike the Great Sandy Desert and Canning Stock Route, where the sand hills are very high and widely spaced with long valleys full of either gums or spinifex or desert oaks, the Simpson has short valleys with either clay pans and low shrubs or spinifex and low shrubs. Spinifex seems to be a key theme across all the deserts, it was also the dominant life form way down on the Great Victoria Desert when we crossed the Anne Beadell. In terms of fauna, we saw two dingos not far out of Purni Bore, one completely unfazed by the car, walking purposefully towards along the track, nose in the air searching for food.

Our original plan was to take the WAA line but we were persuaded by the information from the other travellers last night and the thought of more people in case something goes wrong to take the French Line. That was a mistake. We lasted an hour travelling just seven kilometres, grinding over outrageous whoop de doos at a snails pace before deciding to turn back and take the Rig Road to the WAA Line as planned. Too many people have thundered over the track too fast with over inflated tyres, making it a chewed up nightmare for subsequent travellers. Even more alarmingly the cracking sound in the front end is getting clearer. Every time the front wheels get out of synch - over the big lumpy step ups or downs over the sand hills - a crack-crack noise comes from the front. Very worrying after our earlier steering failure.

The return journey surprisingly fast because the approaches to the sand dunes from the east were smooth. Heading south along the Rig Road the track is relatively smooth along a long clay pan between dunes. Once it turns east it remains relatively smooth, a clay base being laid across the dunes helping to smooth the approach and exit for trucks to bring in oil drilling equipment in the 1960s and 70s. Hence the name. Many wash outs on the steeper dunes are slowly eroding this track bed but it is much better than the horrendously chewed up French Line.

The view from the top of the big dunes is wonderful. You can see across three or four valleys, looking like coloured strata of yellow (spinifex), red (dune face), green (bushes across top of dune). Lots of birds are enjoying the insect life and finally the clouds are clearing to provide a bit of sun.

We are camped about 10 km east of the Colson Track on the WAA Line. The first bit of this track is not as smooth as the Rig Road but not nearly as bumpy as the French Line. There is 53km to the Knolls Track corner tomorrow morning, then the trek north to Poeppel Corner and the QAA Line and then east to Big Red and Birdsville. We will see if we make it in one day or spend another camped in the desert.


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