Canning Stock Route - Defeated by the desert and our retreat to Well 45.

Thursday, Jun 11, 2009 at 00:00


Thursday the 11th June
Well 45 - CSR
20 47 36.86 126 10 29.68

Well if this isn’t a day that was one of the most interesting in my travelling experience. It had the best and worst of everything. It’s just after 4 pm and camp is set up at well 45. That’s right, not in the wilds of the Great Sandy Desert as expected. We attempted and we were turned back, not by the savageness of the conditions, but by the inability of a vehicle to cope with conditions of cross country travel.

I awoke having had a restless night tossing up whether to leave the group and do my own thing. Having done countless risk assessments in my head, every fibre of my being, as well as common sense, was dictating that I pull out. Never the less I climbed from the tent this morning intending to head on. The end reason being, that If I wasn’t there, it would be Mr Magic who was shouldering the burden of supporting both The Captain and any others who may have the misfortune to suffer a mishap (God Help anyone relying on my mechanical aptitude though!).

On the positive side, the washing was nearly dry, the dry desert air sucking the moisture from the clothing despite the cold overnight temperature. After breakfast a round bonnet meeting was suggested before departure to discuss fire drill and evacuation calls and procedures nutted out. We also established that it would be a group decision as to emergency egress or turnaround due to the specific triggers for such an occurrence, like tyres. It was an interesting exercise that led to a few uneasy minutes that we could have done without but they were concerns that had to be voiced. Unfortunately there are a rare few who walk amongst us that always see the need to turn legitimate concerns, into some form of personal attack. Never the less, after the finer points of emergency response were nutted out between those of us who remained, hand held radios distributed and we mounted up and headed off after The Captain.

We headed south from 46 for a couple of kilometres before turning off track to commence the trip west. The scrubby country was thick with spinifex, acacia and very soft under tyre but still we wove on. We got into some more open country and on several occasions G & M in the second vehicle lost the Captains tracks as he was getting too far ahead. We again had issues as the Captain tried to get over the very first dune, a small 4 metre mound. This forced a re think and we moved further west along the swale to a point where John had identified a gap in the dunes to facilitate an easier crossing. At one point we scared up a couple of bustards (Plains Turkey) that John stalked and I filmed as they finally took flight.

After 2 hours and 16 kilometres, we were pushing our way through thick spinifex and acacia when the lead vehicle overheated . It wasn’t what I call tough country at 8 to 12 kph. It was pretty easy going really. Now I say that from the back of the field where I had wheel tracks to follow but I base it on plenty of experience driving the country of the western deserts.

While the Captains car cooled down, I set up the awning to provide some shade and we all had a bit of lunch in “the Spinifex Hilton”. Michael produced some smoked chicken drumsticks which made a great lunch. In an hour or so , we reversed our -course sticking to the swale and back east towards the non-lake lake area. We made a different track that we had made when heading west as all the vegetation had been pushed in that direction greatly heightening the risk of taking a stake in the tyre or radiator. At one point it was suggested that we beat to the south east as this would take us around the bottom of the lake and onto the canning again in a lesser distance than retracing our route to Well 46. This was agreed to and on reaching the end of the dunes, we found ourselves in an elevated position with a panoramic vista to the east. I managed to spot some dust a few kilometres distant that I took to be a vehicle travelling north on the Canning. With The Captain leading again we punched on through soft sand acacia country and then crossed a few limestone outcrops and a grassy lakeside plain and hit the CSR once again.

There had been some vehicles passing to the north and on doing a radio check to ensure we were all upon Channel 40, they ended up being people who knew Suzette and John. Talk about a small world. Once on the track I think there was a collective sigh of relief. The rest of the short trip south to well 45 involved a twisting turning track across small sand ridges that was largely free of corrugations and a pleasure to drive. We collected a bit of wood on the way, my axe coming in very handy once again.

Well 45 sits amongst a small stand of pleasant gums. We have spread ourselves out and enjoyed a sensational fire. The sunset bought flocks of budgies to the nearby spinifex. I trotted over to the nearest sand ridge to capture the sunset finding myriad tracks in the dune tops including a roo, the first roo tracks I’ve seen out here. Heaps of bustards, lizards, camel, cats and dingo prints as well.

Dinner of steak and veg with apple jaffles with custard for dessert by a roaring fire. The moon rise turned the narrow bands of cloud into silver ribbons in a fantastic display. A lovely evening.

(Video edited Nov 10)

''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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