Simpson Desert: - French Line, Knolls Track and the WAA Line to Erebena (Damn these dunes!)

Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 00:00

Mick O

Thursday 24th May, 2007
2 km west of Erabena Track on the WAA Line,
Simpson Desert
S 26.19.501 E 137.19.806

"It seems like we’ve been traversing these damnable dunes for ever. At any time the flies descend like a plague of the old testament crawling into every unprotected orifice. The last of the camels has died and we were forced to spend 3 days roasting it in the Cobb. We’re running low on coke. If fate doesn’t smile upon us soon we’ll be forced to drink our scotch with water. What will we bath in? Damn this desert!"


It was in fact a day of hardship driving wise at least. I had no feeling in both hands by early afternoon and was hunching noticeably but it was just such fascinating country, like nothing else. Not the Canning, Goog’s Track, anything. The Simpson is unique.

The day started early, but not too early. A dry night, as you would imagine in one of the worlds driest places. The atmosphere has little moisture to give up in the way of dew but it was cold…really cold! The pristine night sky was mesmerizing during the long night, as seen by myself having he 3 o’clock sprinkle. Even with no moon, the glow from the stars was enough to see by. I think Hugh is getting a realisation as to why I like these desert regions so much.

Breakfast was a no frills, snappy affair of cereal and a couple of cups of tea. Hugh is the master of having a Dingo’s breakfast, ie; a scratch, a bleep and a quick look round. You have to force food into the bastard. Scotch and wine, no worries but food, no bloody hope. It’s like trying to get rid of a pork chop at the synagogue BBQ! Well we were packed early-ish. I’d trotted about having a good look this morning and was fascinated to see the ancient root systems of long dead trees, calcified and exposed by erosion. It almost appeared if the land had veins. Weird and fascinating.

Sometime after eight, I heard my name being called on the airwaves and we trotted the several hundred metres back to the Poeppel Corner site to meet Pat and Kev, the blokes who had carried our lost bag back to us. Grateful as we were, we couldn’t force as bottle of scotch onto them by way of thanks. We had a chat and Pat ended up being “In the job” in NSW having done a tour in Timor with Furso (Neil Fursden). We bade them farewell and hit the track sometime short of nine.

We crossed the expansive saltpan in good time and didn’t it go to bleep e from there. It was slow and often gruelling going across the dunes of the French Line. Hummocky dunes with deep blowouts and tortuous twists and turns through wind eroded bowls. The dunes were often soft topped with hidden twists and rutted run-ups of soft sand. Without fail there would be an axle breaking hillock just at the base of the hill to prevent any attempt to have sufficient momentum to propel the vehicle up. It is all about gear selection here and in good time. Generally in 2nd but where there hill is particularly rutted, you’ve got to be back in first.Build the momentum and idle up ensuring that all momentum is gone at the top as you often have several heart wrenching moments of both weightlessness (as the nose of the vehicle drops over a sudden blowout) and waiting in anticipation to see just where the track goes. This requires the bonnet to drop sufficiently for you to see in front of you once again but leaves bugger all reaction time if you suddenly find yourself heading into a hole! Thankfully the deep sand as well as being a hindrance and obstacle to be overcome, helps here in a sudden sticky situation as once you drop the power off, it is like dropping into quicksand. It does take a drop to low range to break its embrace though once you find the right track.

We were in fact stopped (I use the generic “We” there) by one monster early on. Not too high but bloody steep and deeeeeeep sand! More a poor choice of track than anything else. I soon mastered it though and only had one near miss with a deep, no I mean really deep, blow lout on the back side of one big hill. All this driving is done at approximately 15 kph tops! I kid you not. We were in fact going so slowly that the bloody flies would swarm in the open windows. Talk about damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Hard to drive with flys crawling into your ears and eyes but too damn hot in the car if you close the windows. We actually had to put the air-con on with the windows shut and this largely solved the problem.

We had morning tea some 28.4 km west of Poeppels or two and a bit hours of traversing the dunes. Our bag of firewood had managed to shift somewhat so that amused us for 5 minutes retying it in place. We reached the Lindsay Junction at 11.45 a.m. and then headed south off the French line down the Knolls Track. It was only four km to the Approdinna Attora Knolls, two slight rises of gypseous limestone that were first discovered by David Lindsay in 1883, and then named by Ted Colson in 1936 They are the remnants of ancient high dunes. All I can say is that it’s bloody obvious your in a place that is a whole lot of nothing if you can make an attraction out of this geological feature. Even the dingo caves at Birdsville were more impressive! Never the less we made the trek to the top. While there a convoy of 5 terrorists arrived from the west. By the matching sand flags, the scintillating radio banter and the age of the vehicle occupants, it reeked of “Tag along” tour. Are we there yet Ken? Yes Beryl. Have you taken your meds? You get my drift.

Kev and Pat caught up with us again at this point so we had lunch together under a gidgee tree within sight of the knolls. Those most travelled tins of sardines have finally been eaten. Jeez they were delicious. We departed for points further south at 1:00 p.m.

The road south basically followed the dunes, traversing them occasionally and on more than one occasion, running along the ridges themselves. Different driving and a welcome relief except for the two km of severe corrugations between kilometres points 16 and 18. That was a test of your dentists skill. The track was indeed less arduous and often skirted long saltpans and clay flats.

We reached Jilly’s Corner, the intersection of the WAA track at 2:15 p.m. and after a short stop, again headed west on the WAA Line and a different sort of track again. The dunes were not as high as the French line but were closer together. It was hard to determine which provided the more difficult driving. The landscapes remained fascinating. Repetitive and different. Quite often we were driving through the most desolate of places. Sand and dry desolation for kilometres. There was no greenery whatsoever, the withered skeletons of long dead trees standing as stark testament to the harshness of this place. Then, within the space of two dunes, it was a verdant green with long grass, spinifex, succulents, Gidgee and acacia in abundance. Talk about schizophrenic.

We were both exhausted by 3:40 pm so started looking for a camp site. We made only 30 km in our more than two hours on the WAA. We have pulled into a small swale area between the dunes with plenty of dead wood about. It was such a relief to have the rear wheel bag back, the shower hoses in particular. A bloke was forced to have a hot shower to celebrate. Dinner was a sensational porterhouse with heaps of fire roasted veggies and a fine 2001 St Mary’s Shiraz as provided by King Baz of Coonawarra. Had to ring him on the Satphone and share the joy.

It was another amazing evening as the sun set behind the dunes. A ring if golden fire on the horizon grading upwards thru shades of blue to purple and then black. The stars are blazing as is the fire.

(Rabbits and the tracks of wildlife in the dunes. Cats, native hopping marsupials. Signs of camel and dingo all day. Gidgee in blossom)
''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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