Western Desert Meanderings 2010.

Thursday, Jun 03, 2010 at 00:00


From the Great Central Road and Warburton we headed north along the Gunbarrel Highway, or what is now called the Warburton North Road. We being myself and my father John. The track was rarely used, and joined the more commonly used track to Warburton just south of Kurrkarturtu Outstation which was abandoned. We found this Len Beadell Plaque replica upon a tree.

Now 3rd June 2010, we passed Jackie Junction on the Gunbarrel Highway (the start of the abandoned section) before stopping near the Van Der Linden Lakes near a sandridge to await the arrival of members of the Great Deserts Explorers Club. This was comprised of Exploroz members and friends who should arrive tomorrow. I will journey with them on this leg of their expedition, to lead them across the Gibson Desert, and I was looking forward to it.

The next day arrived and and later on in the day we met up with the group on the Highway. After the obligitory greetings we decided to camp just north east of the Van Der Linden Lakes 50 metres off the road. Now here was a group of like minded people with a common interest, each with their own level of experience and preparedness. The total group (including me and dad) consisted of nine people, 5 4wds (all Landcruisers) and 3 Arctic Cat diesel powered quad bikes. Far out - should be a good trip.

Initially we all proposed to get together as we shared a common interest in having a look at the area where Alfred Gibson perished in the desert that was named after him. Gibson perished in this area and was last seen heading towards the Bedford Range, so we proceeded towards there avoiding sandridges as much as we could. Our target was Yindi Rockhole in the range and we headed in that direction.

This was typical desert country already, with the spinifex and sandridges all around. I led the way, navigating as best I could around the ridges of sand, always looking for any signs that would reveal the resting place of Gibson. Sometimes however there where instances were there was no choice but to go over the ridges. Here are a few pictures of the 4wd's going over a ridge.

We were getting into the swing of things now. Every now and then we would get a view of the Bedford Range. Onward we traveled until there was a small hill directly in our path about 3 kilometres from the range. It had a smooth sloping surface easily drivable so I headed up and reach the top and both the view of the range and the view behind of the vehicles following was awesome.

We all admired the view for a time and then decided to continue toward the rockhole. We pretty well reached the position of the rockholes and had a look around for it. The was a gap in the range here and we thought the rockhole may be in between; however we did not find it. There was an awesome bluff through the range. We camped nearby. Here Micheal J got out his notebook and started to tally the punctures of the group. I didn't realise it was a competition :)))

The next day Mick O and myself went up to a nearby hill and observed the vista and decided on the days plans. We decided we would stay here another night. Today some would walk around and explore the area and look for the rockhole and some would stay at camp and and tend to their vehicles. Some would go slightly further afield.

Dad and I would head off in the ute firstly, and visit Diorite Hill along with Mick, Gaby, John and Suzette on the quads.

Mick had a single quad and Scott & Gaby and John & Suzette had doubles.

Diorite Hill was only about 8 kilometres from camp, and we reached it shortly after visited another small hill overlooking the ranges on the way. We and John and Suzette walked up to the top and Mick and Gaby rode the quads up a rather rocky slope.

It was another nice view form the top and West Hill and Quartz Soak Hill were clearly visible. The Rawlinson Ranges were also visible which makes me wonder whether Alfred Gibson went there if he ever made it to the Bedfords. We all made for the east of the hill and had a look for Warida Rockhole. We all spent some time looking for it to no avail. Now Mick and Gaby went back to rejoin the others at the Bedfords and Dad, I and John and Suzette made for West Hill. We arrived there, about 4 kilometres to the west shorty after.

There were a number of Kangaroos tracks around very well defined tracks in fact leading around and up to the top of the hill. We had a look on top of the hill and admired the surrounding view again. Down a gully we noticed a yellow patch of rocks, easy to see as it stuck out from the surrounding rock. Upon closer inspection there was an abundance of molten looking rock as if it was volcanic perhaps (I have kept a sample). There was a number of of other interesting rocks as well.

Now we headed to Quartz Soak Hill about 6 kilometres to the south west. Along the way we crossed the Wanarn to Patjarr Track. This hill was actually 2 small hills and myself and Dad went to the top of the northerly hill whilst John and Suzette circled it. Nothing was found of interest. I am not sure whether this hill is the West hill that Ernest Giles spoke of, or whether it is the actual West Hill, which Frank Hann named in 1904.

We headed back towards the Bedfords now. Along the way we came across an Eagles nest. It looked like it had been there for some time and we wondered if it was still active in their season.

We then found a track that was running west passed the southern end of the range and noticed quads tracks there and rightly thought that they were Mick and Gabys tracks on their way back from Diorite Hill. This track ran east of the range so we cut to the north in the centre of rocky ridges within the range and went to the very head of Bedford Creek, to see if we could find the tree that Hann blazed in 1904. We didn't find it; we were running late and it was almost sunset so we went back to camp following the creek for a kilometre or two and around the thick scrub.

The next day we all got ready again to really start the offroad adventure. We would try and eventually reach and find David Carnegies "Deep Rockholes". They were supposed to be located at 24°20’ Lat 127°20’ Long according to Carnegie and I had calculated that they were about 45 kilometres south south east of Hickey Hills and about 70 kilometres north of the Abandoned Gunbarrel Highway. I had selected about 16 possible positions from GoogleEarth. No one had found these before so these calcs were all speculative on my part.

We headed southerly from the Bedfords until we came across the western portion of the track that Mick and Gaby found yesterday.

We then followed this track until it reached the Wanarn to Patjarr Track and we went north on this until the Gunbarrel Highway. West along the Gunbarrel and then we stopped for a bite to eat and to restock up on some water at the rainwater tanks at the intersection of Patjarr Road.

We then headed north on the Patjarr Road and stopped again where Tikatika Rockholes were supposed to be adjacent to the track. They were not to be found. AK, then myself, Mick and Gaby took the Quads for a recon in the immediate area - still no rockholes.

Here we went off the track to head for the "Deep Rockholes". We headed initially in a NNE direction.

The country was fairly easy to begin with however thick belts of scrub soon impeded our progress. There was the occasional sandridge too just to make it interesting.

Now our party will split up. The main convoy of 4wd's will head to the calculated most likely position of the rockholes.

The 3 quads, ridden by John, AK and Gaby will turn to the north west alone for about 18 kilometres to look at the westernmost possible location for the rockholes before turning to the east about 20 kilometres to rejoin the main party.

The main party had to travel through very thick scrub and the progress was slow. We eventually made it to the calculated position only to find that the area was a cleared area atop a sandridge. 16 down 15 to go!!!!

We camped a few hundred metres to the south amongst some Desert Oaks and awaited the arrival of the quads. They arrived shortly before sunrise with the same disappointing news.

In the morning I noticed a grasshopper on a tree and was amazed at its camofluage. Mick and myself took off on two quads and our goal was to try and visit some of the potential areas that may contain a rockhole. We headed for our first target which was about 6 kilometres to the west north west. The country was a mixture of sandridges and gravelly areas.

Upon reaching our destination we were met with failure, and the same at our next target 3 kilometres to the north east. It wasn't long after we started heading for our next target to the east that I noticed a steep rocky rise to the immediate north. I pointed it out to Mick and we rode to check it out. The rocky rise turned out to be the southern portion of a huge conglomerate covering 10 or 12 acres. I soon noticed a depression on a sloping portion of rocky surface and identified it as a rockhole. It was almost filled in and a quick flick through the soil indicated good promise of depth.

We decided to had a look around the area and Mick found this smooth rock which may have been an ancient native symbol. We then decided to head back to camp for lunch. We raced back taking turns at the lead and I was glad I didn't hit an anthill.

Now after lunch John & Suzette, Scott and myself took the quads to visit another 3 targets. The first was particularly interesting as it was a long slope with many potential places for a rockhole amongst the trees on it. I don't think it fit to well with Carnegies descriptions so we moved on. At the third target there were deep channels cut into the surface covering a good area. We tried to with potential rockholes however we were running out of light very quickly so had to go back to camp, and were guided in by a swinging torch atop a ridge.

We talked over dinner and decided that tomorrow the 4WD's and AK on a quad would revisit the last area that the quads were at this afternoon before moving camp to the rockhole we found. Scott, Gaby and John would take the other quads and visit another 4 targets. These were to the east of here and they would travel about 40 kilometres if all went to plan.

When we revisited the target we first started searching from a central point around on foot. Soon we were doing line searches looking for the rockholes; to no avail.

We then proceeded to the rockhole. We looked nearby for a place to camp and found one amongst the mulga by the western slope.

We all had a look at the rockhole and started to dig it up. It went down two foot and we thought we were onto a good thing. About this time it was noticed that there was a possibility of another maybe more, rockholes filled in by debris immediately adjacent. These also felt the shovel.

The group on the quads came back with some sunlight to spare after a great day out. They reported slopes and open thickets, however no rockholes.

The first rockhole went down a further two feet and water started to pool at the base. The second rockhole had very moist soil. These two were the only serviceable rockholes there. These rockholes are a good find however I do not think they are the ones we were looking for as they were not deep enough.

We were now about 60 kilometres north east of Patjarr and our target was Hickey Hills to the north. We would be heading even further into very remote country. We left the rockholes mid-morning, and set out as a fairly well tuned convoy. We started heading slightly west of north to avoid a lot of sandridges ahead of us. The country here was typical of the area, gravelly sections interwoven with sand. The scrub was dense, though there was usual clear sections apparent. At one stage I got ahead of the pack far enough to stop and repair a puncture before anyone even noticed.
The sand and and ridges disappeared and we ended up driving over large gravelly slopes.

To the north hills were seen including one that we thought may have been Ryan Buttes and looked remarkably like Mount Connor in the Northern Territory. The country certainly appeared to be opening up.

To the west we saw huge open areas inter spotted with rocky ridges and isolated hills. None of us were aware of these hills existence and the area demanded another look at in the future some time. These hills and associated ridges were in an area of approximately 400 square kilometres to our west.
We continued to head north as we would prefer to make it to Hickey Hills for camp. We came across some fuel drums and we figured we had come across an old helicopter pad the purpose we could not figure out. In was adjacent to a nice winding dry creek with many large gum trees growing in it. Now we had another 8 kilometres to go and only 40 minutes of sunlight however we made the decision to push on. A couple of kilometres short of our target the creek systems of the approaching hills started to get thick and the last one was not passable and the destruction of one of my tyres on the approach to the creek lay testament to that. We camped right beside the creek and the first couple of hours we were all at it attending to various tyre repairs.

Morning came and we started to head westerly to bypass the obstruction that was before us. We were on a plateau and access to the lower ground was difficult when we reached the edge so John on his quad did a recon to the west and found an accessible path down which we all followed.

Once we were all down the traveling was much easier. We had sighted a small pinnacle like hill and another adjacent hill to head towards. Soon we reached a creek and also a very old track following its southern bank. We followed the track ignoring a southern fork before crossing the creek. The track did not head towards our targets so we soon left it.

The pinnacle formation ahead was very prominent in the distance now and we headed toward it John leading the way in the quad. We reached it and we all climbed to the top and admired the hills that were the Hickey Hills and the prominent hill in the distance. We were right out there now and this pinnacle would mark a turning point in our journey, as we decided to now turn towards the west and Nipper Pinnacle 70 kilometres away before coming out on the Gary Highway some 120 kilometres to the north west from there.

So we left just after 11:00am and we backtracked to the creek. Now our way west was fairly clear so we roughly headed that way. We a passed a pretty group of dark brown boulders and I quickly had a look. There was a long creek marked on our maps however we crossed the dry, barely visible waterway without incident. Not too further along though, I penetrated a thick enough patch of vegetative terrain to swing around in an arc and warn the others of it. I had to be mindful that 3 of the vehicles were towing trailers and I had to be try and allow for their larger turning circles.

The general outlook and surrounding countryside was open, and there were many smalls hill and rises to the west. I was looking for a nice outcrop to stop for lunch near when I saw that the radiator temperature was slightly above the normal reading. I stopped and thought that it would only be a matter of cleaning the buildup of seeds from the radiator as I hadn't cleaned it for a few days - However this was not the case!!!
Water was then seen dripping from the area of the radiator and we all realised it was probably a hole. With many hands at work the radiator was taken out and inspected. 4 cores were ruptured. Some Nead it, putty like substance was applied and then we had lunch. After pressure testing with a compressor and soapy water a leak was detected to our disappointment.

As it was now over 2 and a half hours since we had stopped we decided to continue on to a suitable campsite. Mick had identified a nice cleared area between some hills so we all headed that way; I though had to endure being towed by Micheal J who did a great job whilst I contemplated happier times in the past when I could drive unassisted.

We arrived at the camp which was only 10 kilometres from this mornings pinnacle and settled in. The view from an adjacent hill was superb and it was great once again to see a different area of the Gibson Desert. Mick nicknamed this area Radiator Range, due to the problems with my radiator. Some different Nead it putty was applied again, after a try of soldering and clamping. The radiator survived the pressure test and was reinstalled. I was grateful there were so many helpful hands around, the job would have taken a lot longer by myself.

In the morning we continued to the west and we hoped we would make Nipper Pinnacle by camp. The terrain was very flat and sandridge free in the first period. We came though, to a 7 kilometre long area full of irregular sandridges which slowed our progress. We had to twist and turn as we made our way forward.

We stopped for lunch there amongst the ridges and Oak trees. I checked to see how the radiator was coping and it was fine.

Eventually we came out of the maze and came into a swale and the sandridges were running more or less parallel to our bearing so the going was good.

We came onto some higher ground and the lower depressions spanning out to the horizon were impressive. We stopped on top of a ridge and admired the view; We could see Nipper Pinnacle from here about 16 kilometres away to the west and we thought we could still make it during daylight.

About 5 kilometres away from the Pinnacle I felt a strange knocking coming from under the bonnet. I stopped and looked and my front right coil spring had snapped near the middle. This must have been due to fatigue as it was easy flat country. We decided to limp to Nipper Pinnacle to camp, and I followed the groups track being at the rear so the path was smoother for me.

Nipper Pinnacle was 70 kilometres east of the Gary Highway at its closest point. I had visions of limping to Kunawaratji and trucking the Fair Maid back to Perth. It was to be Ok however. Mick had a welding gun and 3 batteries were connected together and John ended up welding the spring.

It was a lengthy process and went well past dark. The two front shock absorbers were also found to have progressively failed yet they were only 14 months old. The failure of the shockies could have impacted on the broken spring.

I had a look atop the pinnacle and the message I left there in 2007 was still sealed and intact; it would appear no one has visited since.

In the morning the spring was reinstalled and I took it for a test drive along the flats adjacent to the pinnacle.

We all went up to the top and took a few photos and admired the view. We left a cache in a hole with my original message along with a new one from our present group. Now we will head towards Patience Well and Hideous Rockhole 80 kilometres to the north west and I hoped things go well as I have both a mended radiator and a mended front spring and have hardly any front shockies.

We left again into the bush, the first few kilometres were hard going - it soon became smoother however. 10 kilometres to the west of Nipper Pinnacle I had noticed on GoogleEarth a strange circular patch, and we we heading there to have a look. It was only a dead patch of spinifex - we all had our different hypothesis about how the patch was formed.

Not long after we moved on the front spring once again snapped and several hours delay resulted with the spring having to be reinforced and rewelded. We moved again with just 3 hours of sunlight left, headed to the north across open country.

The country was made up of open plains and wide valleys of spinifex and sand, the spinifex being of the smallish variety - good country. Upon peaks of the land there were isolated clumps of mulga and atop one of these we camped. This particular night was quite still and it was a great night around the campfire.

When morning came we headed north for about 15 kilometres where we came upon a breakaway formation and a huge low lying valley. We explored one section of it and had lunch as well. The composition of the surrounding rocks made me think that there could be a water hole or two around. We found a couple of likely areas with some leafy green plants within however no water.

We followed the valley west and tried to swing north out of the valley. The country was too unforgiving and we could make no further progress in that direction so we swung around in an arc and continued until the head of the valley and went out that way. The country was spread out and was fairly easy going for the convoy. We came to Hideous Rockhole, another 30 kilometres north and to our surprise and satisfaction there was water.

We spent a while at the rockhole - we dug out a fair bit of dirt, though not completely, as we wished to leave water at the rockhole, and as we had also found a live frog there. We still had time to get to Patience Well before sunset so we headed east and made our way there only interrupted by the familiar sound of the front end of the vehicle bouncing on a broken spring.

Patience Well was only a few kilometres away so we continued on to the well.
Here at the well, John and his ever reliable team of mechanics went to work on repairing the spring again and completed the job just after 9pm - There appeared to be ancient signs of ringbarking of many trees in the precienct. Others appeared to have been here more recently. There was a decomposing cat at the well.

In the morning we left Patience Well and made for the Gary Highway. We crossed the last remaining patch of virgin bush, before coming onto a shotline that took us about 25 kilometres, all the way to the highway.

We had now all successfully crossed a substantial section of the Gibson Desert through some of the back country which sees few visitors. Another adventure complete.

Alan McCall


Looking for adventure.
In whatever comes our way.

<<- CSR

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