Not Beyond Approach - A Quest for Mount Unapproachable.

Tuesday, Nov 06, 2012 at 11:00


Docker River was my departure point. I had arrived yesterday afternoon and after a brief tour of the town I camped in the local campground just west right before sunset. The views of the surrounding hills and mountains including Mount Hastie were spectacular and I somehow wished I was able to take the view back with me to Perth when I leave the area.

The town of Docker River itself is in quite a remote location compared to most others. Situated on the Great Central Road just inside the border of the Northern Territory it lies over 200 kilometres west of Uluru, which itself lies just over another 200 kilometres west of the Stuart Highway, the main arterial bitumen road of the Northern Territory, splitting the territory in two.

To the west of the town the Great Central Road continues all the way to the town of Laverton, almost 700 kilometres distant, passing only a few small service centres on the way.

I was talking to a traditional owner of the area, drawing a map in the sand of the ground with my fingers, and discussing the best way to achieve my goal for the day. I use the phrase “goal for the day” rather loosely, as it was for some years now that I had wished to be in the position I was now, and if all the right conditions were met it was quite possible that I would have achieved my goal by day’s end.

The goal was to try and reach Mount Unapproachable named by Ernest Giles in 1872. Giles was on his first expedition trying to find a way across the desert from east to west, and had just found and named Lake Amadeus, when he tried to reach the mount.

A few extracts from Giles’ book Australia Twice Traversed describe the situation in regards to Giles attempt to reach the mount.
“ departed for the high hill westward, crossing a very boggy salt channel with great difficulty, at five miles; in five more we came to the arm. It appeared firm, but unfortunately one of the horses got frightfully bogged, and it was only by the most frantic exertions that we at length got him out...Our exertions in extricating the horse made us extremely thirsty; the hill looked more inviting the nearer we got to it, so, still hoping to reach it, I followed up the arm for about seven miles in a north west direction. It proved, however, quite impassable, and it seemed utterly useless to attempt to reach the range, as we could not tell how far we might have to travel before we could get round the arm...We were sixty-five miles away from the only water we knew of, with no likelihood of any nearer; there might certainly be water at the mount I wished to reach, but it was unapproachable, and I called it by that name; no doubt, had I been able to reach it, my progress would still have been impeded to the west by the huge lake itself...”

With a description such as this I could not help but make this a goal worthy of seeking out and with a name like Mount Unapproachable it implies a challenge, especially seeing I have never heard of anyone else going there. (Tietkens in 1889 and Mackay in 1926 believed they reached the mount however this is disputable.)

Times have changed since days gone past and there are some tracks in the area now, one in particular that gets as close as 28 kilometres to the mount. This would be my way into the area, and I left Docker River around 10:00am before reaching this track to the north east about 10 minutes later. The start of the track looked very indiscriminate, with only one sign stating that entry was prohibited without approval of traditional owners. The local people used this track for hunting and as a shortcut to the Mereenie Loop Road some 240 kilometres away as the crow flies.

The first impression I had after driving for a while is that it is a fairly ordinary track for these parts, the single track over pindan, sandy with occasionally wash outs. Soon though, the immense grandeur of the Bloods Range in the distance stuck me, and I knew that I was in for an interesting day. There is nothing quite like the personal experience of seeing something on a map many, many times, and then finally seeing it with your own eyes.

The track went through many areas containing desert oaks which were very beautiful; soon I came upon a shed with tank and a water pump. The pump was broken however the shed would have made a very good shelter if I was in need of one.

The absence of any litter on the track was testament to the fact that the custodians looked after it very well, it may also mean that not many non-traditional people traverse the track either. In the far distance I could see the Rowley Range, and its highest peak, Mount Carruthers (Tietkens 1889). I will pass by there very soon. To my left and north west was Mount Harris (Tietkens 1889) about 10 kilometres distant.

The weather was very hot, humid and wet today; looking at the weather reports upon my return both the nearest weather stations, Giles and Yulara recorded temperatures in the mid 30’s, and minute rainfall. I was getting isolated rainfall on my way along the track.

As I passed Mount Carruthers on my left, I stopped quite frequently to take photographs, as it was very striking, quite a decent sized mountain. The track went through a pass in the Rowley Range – I somewhat regret I didn’t stop and climb the eastern peak as the view would no doubt have been very impressive, however I was concentrating on the main goal and didn’t want to get to distracted from it.

After the pass the frequency of sand ridges I had to cross increased, though none were a problem. There was a small range southward called Pinyinna Range though it wasn’t that visible due to its relative small height. From here there were no more ranges and hills to admire, just the surrounding terrain and the red winding track as I pursued my goal.

Almost four hours after I had left Docker River I arrived at a point in between Lake Amadeus and Lake Neale suitable to start stage two of the day’s journey, where I would leave the track and try and follow the north eastern side of Lake Neale. I put some protection on the front of the vehicle for the radiator, had an apple and a can of sardines, and headed into the bush.

The first few kilometres, the vegetation was quite thick, and I thought that the going would be quite slow and tedious, and that I would get many punctures due to the number of bushes I was going over. However luck was on my side, as the country soon opened up, and I was able to drive on short grass. I did not drive directly adjacent to the salt lake, as even though that may have been a smoother ride, Giles’ experience in the area and my own previous experience dictated a more calculated traverse away from the lake.

There was a part of the lake I would have to cross to get right up to the mount. This could very well be the “arm” of the lake that Giles spoke of; of course he didn’t have the benefit of aerial pictures to plan his journey through the area. I had picked the most narrow part of the “arm” to cross, and this is where I was heading.

When I was only about 10 kilometres from the mount I still had not sighted it, so I correctly assumed it was a fairly low peak compared to the surrounding countryside. There was a thunderstorm directly in my path to the mount and I felt a bit uneasy about the whole situation. There was lightning 360 degrees around me in the distance and I had intermittent rain on the way.
I slightly deviated to try and flank the storm, however if I had completely got out of its way I would have had to totally go out of the general area; as the storm was huge and my goal either directly where the storm was or just on the far side.

The lightning and thunder was getting closer and louder and the rain was now consistent. I continued on my way until I could no longer see due to the sheer amount of rain, and stopped amongst of group of high desert oaks to reduce the chances of a direct lightning strike. The noise of the rain smashing upon the vehicle was extremely loud, and the lightning and subsequent thunder told me that we were in the middle of the storm. The vehicle was shaking from side to side. My dog Massie, who normally just either looks out the window or tries to nap on the passenger seat was now just looking at me with a look of hope and guidance – I think we were both seeking the same thing.....

After the storm had passed I had a look on foot to see what the situation was like in regards to the presence of surface water, as I didn’t want to continue on with too much mud about. It was positive, after about 10 minutes most of the water had been absorbed into the sand, and driving, although you could tell it had been raining, made little difference to travelling speed or perceived danger.

After a few more sandy rises I finally saw my destination in the distance. It was fairly flat topped, though I was viewing it from its narrow side, it was the highest point of a narrow long short range with the highest point on the distant side. I arrived at the point of the “arm” of the lake; it was about 70 metres across. This was the moment I had been anticipating the most, the most risky part of my journey; If I couldn’t cross I would have probably walked the rest of the way, however I was extremely desperate to prove that one could get a vehicle to the mount, where Giles gave up with his horses. I say risky due to the remoteness of the place. I was about equidistant to Kintore, Docker River, Kings Canyon and Yulara (Uluru). A long way from help – and the previous rain may have made the situation worse. There was no argument with myself though, I must make it across and do so without drama.

I walked across and back several times, the surface was muddy, but it felt as if there was firm ground just beneath the mud. I drove to the lakes edge, put the vehicle into its lowest gear, and started to drive as slowly as possible across. The majority of the time I was looking out the window at my front right tyre to see how far the tyre penetrated the mud. It was alright, I made it across – not without my heart rate going up a fraction and my perspiration higher than it was already in the humidity and heat of the day.

The closest point to the range that the mount was on was now only 2.5 kilometres away, and I headed in that direction. The terrain although easily traversed, was considerably thicker than on the other side of the lake, perhaps due to its isolation from fires. I reached and climbed this southern section of the range, and noticed pools of fresh water collected on its rocky surface; no doubt Giles would have made use of them if he had reached this area.

I wished to reach the highest point though, so as that was still several kilometres away returned to the vehicle and drove along the north eastern side of the range.

The base of the mount nearest the highest point of the Range, being Mount Unapproachable was reached about half an hour before sunset. I could not drive any closer as it was too rocky and steep; the peak was about 450 metres from where I parked the vehicle. I climbed on foot to the top, the actual peak was hard to determine as it was fairly flat topped. Using my GPS I went to the official position and erected a small cairn and left my name and date inscribed on a cut aluminium drink can next to the cairn.

*Please note that permission is required to visit this area*
Looking for adventure.
In whatever comes our way.

<<- CSR

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