Canning Stock Route - The track to Helena Spring (or lack thereof!)

Saturday, Jun 13, 2009 at 00:00


Saturday 13th June, 2009
Helena Spring Track, 20 km east of Canning Stock Route
21 23 2.00 S 126 01 24.48 E
od 207496

A most enjoyable day today that saw me exhausted and finding a magic camp site on my return journey to the CSR. The sunrise and sunset were both spectacular in different ways, as was every section of the track today. I sat with the cameras on top of a small dune near my camp and watched the sun set under ribbons of low cloud finishing the day with golden fire on the horizon and a warm breeze at my back. This is why I love it out here.

There were a few spots of rain during the night and the cloud cover kept the evening warm. I was awake early which gave me time to mull over the radiator issue and the spinifex problem. I emerged from the Roof Top Taj (RTT) to an overcast morning with rain showers falling in the distance around me. As it was only 5.45 a.m., the sun was a while from rising. I got the fire going and my first cup of tea underway when the eastern hoizon came alive in shades of red and orange. The first rays of the sun hit the falling rain showers to the east giving it an amazing aurora like effect while behind me, a rainbow formed. What an amazing way to start the day.

Breakfast was a cheese jaffle with the last of the bread and then a pack-up around camp before pulling the tools out and tacking the radiator issue. I removed the front grill and managed to sweep the majority of spinifex seed kernels from the protective flywire screen in front of the airconditioning radiator. The gap between this radiator and the vehicle radiator appeared fairly full of grass. The foam barriers designed to make a seal between the two had largly worn away. On closer examination under the car, I located two areas inside the front guards where the rubber shielding did not cover leaving a significant gap. It also appeared as if some grass seeds were being pushed up between the steering damper and the front bash plate and then pushed further forward by air escaping from the fan under the rear radiator shroud. Decisions, decisions. Do I pull the radiator out here and now or later? In the end, I loosened the top mounts and cleared the shroud giving me enough room to get my hand and a small brush in to get the majority of the grill clean. Then it was another hour sealing the holes and ingress points with what mesh I had and maximising the use of the existing shade cloth shroud positioned over the bullbar. An hour, and plenty of cable ties later, I was ready to hit the road. Three hours work, the judicious use of Gaffer tape and I was off on the track east at 10 o’clock.

The track started as a torturous twisting thing, hard to discern and in places gone altogether. It was like chasing a wraith but after 5 km or so, it schizophrenically improved no end allowing good time through burnt woodlands and long grassy dune slacks. In places it was almost like a normal track. About 9 km short of the spring, you hit an old cut line which then takes you up the eastern end of the swale that I had been traversing for some time. The vista that confronts you at the end of the swale is spectacular as you look down into the valley that no doubt holds Helena Sping. To the right there were rows of tight pressed sand dunes and to the left (north) a wide, valley like swale in the base of which sat a number of clay and salt pans. In the far distance to the east, huge dunes formed high peaks giving the impression that they were more than just sandhills. On driving the few short kilometres down into the valley, the track disintegtrated entirly. I did the last 3 km on a wing and a prayer and the last kilometre on the navigation points given on the Hema GDT NW sheet alone. This puts you in the vicinity but it took a lot of walking and driving around to find the actual spring site. The area is thick with Tee Tree scrub which makes it difficult to sight anything. I meandered between the dry saltpans until the GPS ping announcing I had arrived in the general vicinity of the spring.

That the site is a favoured location of the local camel population there can be no doubt. Their prints and dust bowls from their wallowing are everywhere. Aproaching one dried soak area, I took my shovel and dug down to find water and instead found a slab of hard rock at a depth of 25 cm. The whole area appears to be sitting upon a sheet of rock. The same thing occurred in every other location I dug within a several hundred metre radius. No wonder the area holds water after rain. The spring itself is choked with rushes making it very difficult to locate the plaque and signs indicating the location of Carnegies find. There is a plaque and shovel left at the location for those wishing to access the well which I did not. Having spent an hour or so looking around, I commenced my return journey nearly getting myself bamboozled in the process as the thick, dry tee tree like scrub easily conceals your tracks. It took me five minutes to locate my original track and then back-track to the high vista point. From there it was straight forward following my tracks west (well that’s not entirely true as they were very difficult to locate, especially those left across the samphire flats and soak areas).

Come 3.45 p.m. I found a beaut little place to camp nestled beneath the crest of a high dune. It's a sheltered spot and provides a great view west already being, halfway up the wall of the dune. With plenty of timber about, I had camp set up and the spaghetti boiling in no time. With ribbons of cloud on the horizon, I knew the sunset was going to be special so I took my chair to the top of the nearby sand ridge and settled in with the cameras. Overhead an east bound jet stood out like a silver meteor leaving a brilliant contrail in its wake. The sky was ablaze with golden fire, both amazing and captivating. Later by the fire, the last flushes of brilliance as the earths shadow finally caught up, left a ribbon of gold with verdant hues of blue above stretching upwards and darkening through to blackness and brilliant stars. A meal of pasta and meatballs, custard for desert and a scotch for's complete. The moon is rising late tonight so the sky is ablaze with stars as only a western desert night can be, the milky way simply shines. The bats are working overtime above the fire scooping up hapless moths. One of them is very large as he whirs overhead, an unseen, warm blooded bullet in the night sky. I’m going to spend the next hour lying on my back looking at the stars.

''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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