Gibson Desert - Through the crazy sandpit & another mechanical disaster (and some bush mechanicing)

Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 00:00

Mick O


Nipper Pinnacle (just)



It was clear but cold morning to emerge to with a bit of a breeze up. The fire was roaring though and a cup of tea and a couple of jaffles restored the inner warmth. I climbed a nearby hill to take a few photos in a much better light than the gloom offered yesterday afternoon. This range beggars better inspection at a later date I think. I managed to stack up a little cairn on the hill top. Back at the camp , John was supervising the instillation of the repaired radiator to the Fair Maid, Scotty was patching a tyre and generally everyone was taking care of repairs and chores.


It was with over sixty kilometres travel to the west to reach Nipper Pinnacle that we departed that morning, carefully negotiating our way passed the last of the Radiator range and into the open sand country beyond. I was riding on the Natmap 250K maps at this point and our immediate travel future showed a few challenges with an interesting sandpit about 30 kilometres to the west. It defied description and was a real departure from the standard east-west running dunes we expect of our deserts. This was a real crazy gods sand pit. What fun would we have today?


The initial kilometres provided sandy expanses and relatively easy going. The wide flats were punctuated by the odd rocky outcrop, a stand of Desert oaks and an occasional low sand ridge. It was a bit lumpy but afforded good going for the vehicles and quads. Such was the extent of the mornings travel until after a couple of hours, the dunes became more frequent and somewhat irregular. Well that’s probably an understatement. Our route became a torturous twisting thing as we tried to exploit every Gap or “gate” we could find between the dunes. The quads came into their element here with them darting ahead to scout a possible route or discount one as too hard. Interestingly, the flora began to thicken and we found ourselves travelling through a lot of Desert Oak Nurseries. Occasionally, a slightly bigger depression between the dunes would show signs of having held water and it was here that we had to push through thickets of dry scrub.


We stopped for lunch about halfway into the this tumbled expanse of dunes pulling up in the shade of a couple of large desert oaks. Because the dunes formed bowls rather than ridges, there was very little view to be had and even a stroll to the nearest dune top provided a very limited outlook. We were operating purely on line of site and the forward reach of the quads. The twisting route and deep sand was certainly taking its toll on our speed and fuel consumption.


The afternoon session saw more of the same. One or two vehicles got hung up on particularly soft dune crossings. Again that need to twist and turn soon bled forward momentum as you climbed dunes. It all made for interesting video. After 3 hours and around 8 kilometres, the dunes began to take on some order and we emerged into the familiar lineal confines of parallel dunes once again. The dune fields eventually gave way to higher spinifex grasslands that had been gently eroded over time forming valley like depressions. They took a little bit of negotiating in avoiding the deepest of the gullies but otherwise provided much easier going. Stopping on one high ridge, we were able to spot Nipper Pinnacle still some 16 kilometres off to our west. and if this country held, we thought we could still make it there without breaking Mick O’s rule number 1.


Nipper Pinnacle was named after "Nipper", an aboriginal guide with E. Kidson's party which traversed the Canning Stock Route in 1914. The pinnacle is more of a large lump of well weathered sandstone and conglomerate that stands 20 meters above the surrounding plain. It is surrounded to the north east and east by a rocky ridge that the pinnacle was no doubt a part of eons ago. All went well on our journey west until a point approximately five kilometers from the pinnacle. Al McCall stopped to investigate a knocking noise in his front end and found that the drivers side coil spring had snapped in half right at it’s centre. It also appeared that both shocks had gone despite being only 12 months old and of a reputable brand (well I wouldn’t touch them but that’s my choice). There was very little to be done in this open country so we decided to scout on ahead and find a route into Nipper while Al followed cautiously on behind with Suze and John riding shotgun.


The final climb up the rise that shelters Nipper from the east required negotiating a fair bit of scrub and then locating a route down into the depression on the other side. This depression has separated from the main ridge through erosion leaving Nipper standing alone in the middle of it. The ridge forms a horse shoe shaped bluff around the pinnacle so it takes a little negotiating to get down off it. To the east of the pinnacle and stretching away from it is a good sized gibber flat that makes a great camp location and thus the wagons were formed into the circle with Nipper immediately tour west. Al limped in without further incident and once camp was established, the GDEC pit crew swung into preliminary negotiations about the best way forward. MJ assumed the role of chief mediator and final arbitrator. It was quite funny to see Scott and JW discussing tactics at a rapid fire pace that almost no one would follow. Then, and almost miraculously, they’d reach a point and fall totally silent, both heads turning towards MJ their faces imploring decision. MJ would scratch his chin pensively and then nod once. The banter would begin in earnest once again. We quite observers off in the stands were bleep ing ourselves laughing at each consultation of the oracle!


With the sun setting rapidly, the boys got to work dropping the front arm and removing both sections of spring. Thankfully we had some Nickel welding rods on board so out came my bush welding kit and three of the vehicle batteries. Jaydub’s genie and grinder made short work of the tidy up. One of the c-purlins I’d been using as trailer ramps was co-opted as a jig and away we went. The issue of coil over length was solved by moi! Not much of a claim but suffering mechanical retardation as I do, I was impressed by my sudden insight which was, rotating the coils inside each other until the required length was met. This also allowed for added welding length along the coil as well. We were to learn much later that you shouldn’t weld a coil spring. What the…? Well given our remote location, we decided it was the best and only option.




The following hours were true bush mechanicing at it’s best. The well oiled machine of John, Scotty and Michael J swung into action ably assisted with advice and provision of suitable beverages (tea) by the rest of us. With my limited technical vocabulary, heres roughly what happened. The sway-bar was removed, and the shock absorber disconnected. Two jacks, a hilift and hydraulic jack were used to lift the body high enough to allow the lower arm to drop sufficiently to allow the coil to be removed from the turret. The broken ends of the spring were cleaned up and once the alignment of the coil determined, the edges of the coil were flattened with the grinder to give a better surface for welding. The coil was preheated and then welded with the nickel rods, being quenched with near boiling water frequently. Good penetration was achieved during the welding. Despite the jig, the spring was not of the same alignment when fully welded so we had to rotate the upper spring locater to facilitate aligning the spring back in the turret. The process was reversed and there you had it. The Fair Maid was ready for action on the morrow. A million dollar job considering the conditions and the location.

Dirty but elated, the crew retired to the fire for a yarn and a beverage more suited to a celebration.










''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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