Karlamilyi (Rudall River) NP - The Yandagooge Mysteries Revealed (To Darlsen Pinnacle from the west)

Tuesday, Nov 04, 2014 at 08:55


Thursday 11th July
Yandagooge Gap
Karlamilyi (Rudall River) NP

Our mission today was to scout into the Yandagooge Gap, that rugged gorge that slashes its way through the Throssell Ranges. Waiting for us less than four kilometres to the north-east lay Darlsen Pinnacle yet between us and it lay difficult, unexplored country that would test us and was capable of punishing the careless or inattentive. This would be an adventure indeed.

Why take the quads you ask? Quite simply this is not country you'd want to walk through. While beautiful to behold, it is harsh, uneven ground that’s challenging to negotiate and unforgiving to the unwary. Previous experience in the nearby Broadhurst Ranges, had taught both Alan and I just how unforgiving the environment can be. The maze of gorges and ravines easily confuse while the rocky country soon saps the strength of even the hardiest of adventurers. Every step requires concentration. The quads provide a fantastic, low impact platform for exploration giving the ability to cover distance, carry supplies and support sophisticated navigation equipment. Their use is not without risk but six years of use in this type of environment has taught us to value their ability to provide rapid movement through tough environments.

Despite its wide, flat opening in the region of our camp, the Yandagooge Gap soon becomes a maze of hills, gorges and gullies. Picking our way over the first of the hills, the country became more challenging as we probed deeper. In many places, exposed ridges of jagged sandstone blocked our path. Whilst we attempted to avoid the worst of these, in many cases there was simply no choice but to tackle them head on exploited gaps in the rocky ridges that were often only just wide enough for the quads.

Laid down nearly a billion years ago, the sedimentary provenance of the Throssels was written upon the rocky cliff faces around us.Sandstone, conglomerate, siltstone, shale and veins of quartz in a multitude of sedimentary layers and colours. Red’s and whites dominate the colour palate with plates of red sandstone and sharp silicate schist protruding at all angles. In the deepest areas of the gorge, the deep clay soils are exposed with layers of shale and siltstone forming the bases of the creeks and long, shallow rock holes. The softer sediments often white, have been eroded at a faster rate than the harder sandstone forming caves and caverns. Where these layers have undermined the bluffs, huge slabs of sandstone have fallen, slamming down into the gorge leaving a trail of destruction behind them. In the high regions, areas of conglomerate are shot through with veins of quartz that rise out of the ground to form walls metres high, appearing almost man made at times as they marched across the hills.

Spinifex is the master of the flora out in the rocky soil, the prickly coverage often hiding the coarse nature of the underlying country. Along the creeks, acacia thrives, choking the water courses. The white trunked snappy gums also manage a foothold making some areas appear like a park. We weren’t fooled though. The landscape can change quickly with tumultuous weather events scouring deep gorges. It’s a timeless land but one that is in flux even now.

Much caution was needed in negotiating steep descents or traversing across treacherous slabs of schist. In many places, plates of schist protruded like rows of jagged teeth, waiting to tear at our tyres or an unfortunate rider. A roll over in this country would almost certainly result in serious injury or worse. We were simply amazing at just what obstacles the quads would climb although the confidence of the rider was did not always extend to the pillion. In many instances they were required to alight and walk down the obstacles, providing guidance from the ground where they could. At times, even the riders were forced to dismount and examine the route ahead to identify the safest route.

Over the years of pushing our quads through punishing environments, we have identified issues and spent a lot of time developing and perfecting protection solutions for the more vulnerable areas of the machines, in particular, the rubber CV boots, radiators and drive belts. We had manufactured purpose built guards which fitted over the suspension arms and protect the exposed pair of CV boots on each axle. These guards and the under body protection were taking an absolute pounding in this country though.

At one narrow pinch point in the gorge, we investigated the nearby creek. In a sheltered position nestled against a high cliff, we found magnificent pools of water. Our priority remained pushing through the interior of the gap so we didn't linger. The majority of the watershed of the Yandagooge gap flows to the north-east funnelling into a single main tributary called the Yandagooge Creek. Spilling out of the Throssells through a narrow, jagged gash, the creek rolls past Darlsen Pinnacle and flows out across the broad valley. For the next 31 kilometres it etches itself into the sandy country, its wide bed splitting the Throssell and Broadhurst ranges and joining the Coolbro Creek at the base of Pirkil Bluff. Only a few short kilometres later, any runoff that makes it this far is soon absorbed by the thirsty sands of the Great Sandy Desert.

As we charted our course through the gap, we attempted to stick as close to the main creek as possible. As we got further north, the country became more severe and confining, the creek disappearing into a steep side gorge and forcing us away to the east. This meant we climbed through wide valleys where erosion was only beginning to do its work. High mesa like hills surrounded us. Much of the country on this eastern side of the gap had been affected by fire and was quite barren, the spinifex and other plant life yet to re-establish. It gave the whole place a mars like feel looking across the exposed plains of red, rocky soil. It also made the camel trails obvious, the paths worn by countless generations of dromedary moving from one valley to the next.

Two hours after leaving camp, we veered around a small knob and were rewarded with a magnificent view of Darlsen Pinnacle on the valley floor a few kilometres to the east. We were elated. Moving on we managed to climb up to a mesa top and in the shade of a single eucalypt, took a break for morning tea enjoying the panorama laid out before us, the reward for a hard mornings ride. In the excitement, the sat phone was broken out and Canada called. We took advantage of this high vantage point to survey a possible route down to Darlsen.

Heading down form our tea break eyrie, I latched onto a camel trail that headed towards our goal and following this, came to a rugged valley where the trail led down to the desert floor. Being so close to our goal, it took extra effort to keep focused as the descent was steep and required cautious navigation. There was a feeling of elation once I reached the sandy floor and could look back up to see Jaydub and Larry negotiating their way down behind me. Against all of our expectations, we had made it through.

Energised, we wasted no time in speeding across the sandy plains to the Pinnacle. The fires had swept the land clean, clearing the creeks of their choking scrub and promoting fresh growth with soft young spinifex re-establishing itself. Despite following the later stages of our 2010 route into the Pinnacle, we could find absolutely no trace of our passing. The nature of the creek running along the western edge of the pinnacle had also changed, tumultuous rains having scoured the entire creek, changing its course. What a glorious sight it was to find magnificent pools of water underneath the pinnacle. We would have killed for these conditions during our last major expedition here in 2010 when the area was still to emerge from a punishing drought.

Moving around the broad talus slope at the pinnacles base, we disturbed the resident roos who quickly bounded off into the sheltering rocks high on the slopes. At our old camp site, the cairn had been disturbed again with the jar removed and lying nearby. Those Dingos never give up. Opening our cache, we added a note to mark our passing before repositioning it and rebuilding the cairn. Taking some time to absorb the spirit of this magnificent place, we decided to check out the Donkey Hole and Bat Caves at the end of the eastern end of the Yandagooge Gap.

Speeding across the plains once again we found the way to the cave blocked by a huge waterhole at the mouth of the gorge. This basin had been nothing but parched earth on our previous visit. Our arrival disturbed a local dingo who did not hang around to enjoy our company. To access the gorge, we had to ride around to the western side of the creek and walk in on foot. Reaching Donkey Hole we found it absolutely brimming with dark water and paused on the overlooking rock shelves to have lunch. After this brief interlude we headed back out to the cave investigating the art and took a quick dip in the cool waters. It was a very hot day on the quads and the swim was a great way to refresh.

Invigorated, we negotiating our way back up the rocky valley and onto the plains above. The ride home was a thrill as we back tracked our course on the GPS. There was only one minor mishap and that occurred while negotiating a scrub choked creek bed. I had tried to squeeze the quad between a large sapling and rock but misjudged the gap, the left wheel running up the sapling and tipping the quad to the side. With the whole incident occurring at walking pace, and me standing on the foot plates, I was able to simply step off as the machine tilted sideways. Al, sitting in the elevated pillion seat behind, was a little less sophisticated in his departure and landed on his bum in the spinifex. Some say I may have done it deliberately but I refute this, that damn sapling was a lot more sturdy than it looked! Wedged on a 45 degree angle it made for dramatic photographs before I drove off the obstacle and continued on.

The hard work having been done on the trip out, our return journey through the gap only took an hour and a half, arriving back at camp just after 2:00 p.m. What was left of the afternoon was spent lazing under the shade tree, checking the quads for damage and plugging a tyre or two. It had been an amazing day exploring country that echoes infrequently with the sound of human presence. After an early dinner we rode out onto the plain in the moonless night to see what wildlife inhabited the nocturnal zone. A single roo was all we disturbed.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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