Googs Track SA - Bats, Mount Finke & musings on tackling the monster dunes!

Wednesday, Apr 12, 2006 at 00:00


Wednesday 12th April 2006
North end of Goog’s Track S.A.

It’s 8 o’clock in the evening, I’m sipping on a glass of 1996 Pfeiffer’s Merlot by the glowing embers of the fire. Time to reflect on just how refined life in the outback can be compared to only a few short years ago. Time also to reflect on a strenuous and at times fraught day of travel through the 300 plus Sandhill’s of Goog’s track.

The day didn’t start off that well with the drumbeat of rain upon the canvas just before 6 a.m. this morning. I was awake to hear it start and by my reckoning it only lasted 10 minutes and was barely enough to wet the dust. It did however send the flying nocturnal beasts into a frenzy. Do Bats drink? I think they must because they descended en-masse to sup upon the raindrops on the top and side of the tent. Where we roll the tent cover to the front of the trailer, the plastic must have held pools of water because you could here them lighting upon the material and scratching there furry little ways across it to the water. The frenzy subsided as the dawn light arrived.

A very leisurely start to the day as it was apparent very early that the rain clouds had blown on so we took it easy giving the canvas a chance to dry out. I was up at about 9 followed soon by Amanda. As the tank repair had held, we had a bush bath then breakfast and packed up before the march flies found interest in us. Once on the road at 10.30, it was out to the memorials again and then north along the track towards Mount Finke. It only took two kilometres of northward track for me to realise that today was going to be an entirely different set of driving circumstances to yesterday. The sand hills became bigger, the track narrower and sandier and the flora hemming in both sides of the road. There would be no idling along in two wheel drive today.

For a time the hills came in sets of three namely big, bigger, and biggest. The crests were always soft sand and with blowouts of some depth on their northern sides. It’s amazing how those fleeting moments of weightlessness as the front of your vehicle drops into the unknown can really drive fear into the heart! Plenty of corrugations and deep pitting on the lead up and higher approaches to the crests also making it interesting at all times. It was amazing to see the trailer follow you over the crest and snake crazily along through the blow-outs behind the ute.

There were two schools of thought in my mind as to tackling these monsters. The first was under full power in second gear maintaining the revs at near 4500 or just under red line and powering your way up the hill. It’s a slower speed and being under power at all times makes the going over corrugations and in the sand ruts hard going on both driver and vehicle (and other contents like the better half!). The risks are that you lose some front end control due to self steerage of the front wheels under drive (always wanting to go straight or in an offtrack direction, it was often a wing and a prayer to get them back on). Also, you run the risk of running out of puff before the top of the hill and find yourself risking a down change in deep sand. The other method was to go in fast and hard in third meaning you approach the dune at 50 to 60 kph and then let the power off at the appropriate moment letting the thick sand slow down your momentum in time to crest the dune at a reasonable 20 to 25 kph.

The faster approach gave you better control over corrugations and the big blow outs of the higher approaches near the crest as by then, you were generally “off” power but again judgement as to when to power off was critical and the speed causes a sacrifice in finer control round obstacles or tight bends on lead ups to and over the crests. It's a bit of being between the devil and the deep blue sea really. There were enough situations to use both methods and there was only one monster that caught me knapping…but more on that one later.

The driving was exceptionally fatiguing. Not only do you have to concentrate on the road ahead, judge the approaches, dodge obstacles and wrestle the vehicle down hill through deep sand, you also had to be on the constant lookout for protrusions, holes, and roots all of which could easily tear out a side wall in a tyre on reduced pressure. Very tiring and as you couldn’t often afford to let down your power, you got little time to take in anything to the side of the track. Did I mention the other crucial driver duty. Checking the track ahead for oncoming vehicles as you crested each hill. I’d have hated to meet one under speed at a hill top!

The country changed many times as we travelled further north. While the mallee scrub and spinifex predominated, there would often be open valleys of red sand and Sheoak with little of the spiny undergrowth to be seen. Very reminiscent of the red centre. Glades of native pine also and on the approach to Mount Finke, granite hills and patches of gibber like stone, the white of ancient limestone also showing through the red earth.

By 1:30 p.m. we had reached the turnoff to Mount Finke and gladly took the 7 km side trip to the west.Mount Finke is an impressive rise of 350 odd metres and comprises 3 summits with large rocky gullies between each rise. The approach is windy and sandy until the last two kilometres when the track becomes hard & stony. The main stone is granite and quartz like rocks. It’s really quite impressive, even more so in that it totally dominates the surrounding country.

The track ended in a cleared area a short way up the early rise of the mount. Lunch was taken here and then I went for a stroll further up, the hillside to explore and gain a higher vantage point for photos. I followed several well worn roo trails through the jumble of boulders and into one of the main gullies. After climbing upwards for several hundred metres I found small pools of water held by the hard granite. There would obviously be a lot more still hidden down between boulders and in cracks and crevasses. It was apparent that the area supported a lot of wildlife. After taking a few photos I carefully wound my way down and back to the vehicle and headed, reluctantly, back out to the main track.

Only 4 kilometres along the main track from where the Finke access road is, the track crosses a salt flat before again climbing into the sand. Here it was that I encountered “El Grande”, “The big red one”, “The beast”, “The heartbreaker” etc etc etc! It was a monster and she stopped me dead four times, each so tantalisingly close to the crest you could almost taste victory. The first stop was within Cooee of the top. A careful reverse and then, take two. Nowhere near it! Reverse and take three. Shift to low range and hit it hard in third. Down to the wheel hubs on the crest. Out came the shovel and onto the track went branches and sticks of all types. Tyre pressures came down to 15 psi up front and 18 psi down back. No go, just dug in even further. Reverse again and this time turned around at the base and managed to climb the southern side. I drove back several km to find a place to turn around and then went back north HARD. I had forgotten that the crest immediately before “El Beasto” had three large blowouts proir to the ascent. I couldn’t afford to sacrifice speed so we ended up airborne for two of them. By god we made it though, up and over and on to the next one. The next 10 km were more of the same, having to be taken hard due to their height and the depth of sand. I should add that if you were not towing a tonne of camper trailer, it would be a damn site easier although still challenging.

We made it through and onto the flat stuff just short of 4.00 p.m. I was knackered and the car, trailer and contents have all been mightily shaken. I pulled over then and there and we are camped among the pines and sheoaks. By 5.00 p.m., after camp set up and reinflating the tyres on the ute, I was sitting in the shade of a quandong tree with the first chilled Pepsi of the day. The shower as the sun set made me feel human again despite the vicious little bush mozzies wanting to make a meal out of me. Amanda cooked dinner tonight. Kievs and a bottle of red with an ice cream for desert. I’ll go on about the changes in camping over the years at some later stage. My neck and shoulder are killing me. Time for more of natures anti-inflammatory!

''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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