Rudall River NP - Quad bike expedition into Yandagooge Gap - Day 3 (Discovering Camel Valley)

Saturday, Jul 19, 2008 at 00:00


Saturday 19th July, 2008
Large gorge, western side of Yandagooge Gap
(22°22'2.24"S 121°51'26.22"E)

I awoke several times during the night to the sound of tumbling rocks and scurrying beasts., most probably kangaroos using paths along the high slopes slopes above us. I also thought I heard the telltale cracking of timber and grumbling of camels nearby but couldn’t see anything when I got out to look. The wind rose overnight but our position in the narrow valley provided us some shelter. I awoke early and on making my way into the next gorge for the morning ablutions, found fresh scrapes and pits where a mob of camels had hunkered down for the night, obviously the ones I had in the small hours last night. It looked like six or seven had gone to ground with their backs into the wind.

After breakfast we exited the gorge and headed back out onto the wide spinifex floor of the gap. The country was often cluttered with brush and large tracts of acacia. Not too far out we found the mob of camels who had camped near us in one such patch of scrub. The hard going forced us closer to the edge of the valley walls where the shrubbery was thinner and the going easier. In the distance we also saw a good sized herd of donkey who were very skittish and despite the distance between us, galloped off at speed.

I decided to explore one of the many gorges that split the ridge to the east as I could see a narrow high walled area deep in its recesses. On walking in we spied several large caves high on our left. The narrow pinch of the gorge held an ephemeral rock pool that whilst dry, obviously held water for a good time after rains. On walking out of the gorge, we climbed the rocky walls to the cave and found the telltale signs of past human habitation immediately. The floor sported the remnants of charcoal from ancient campfires and the roof was correspondingly smoke blackened. Looking around we found a well faded drawing in ochre on one of the only smooth surfaces of the cave. From the mouth you had a commanding view of both this small gorge and out across the main valley. Obviously a place of shelter from the driving winds for nomadic groups moving in concert with the ebb and flow of known water and the availability of food.

Moving our way slowly along the eastern hills we came across three sets of recent motorcycle tracks, obviously the group we had nearly skittled at the Rudall crossing some days previously. We were to encounter these tracks on occasion throughout the rest of the day. Further east, the gorge became narrower and I realised we were getting close to the valley we had viewed from our vantage point high to the north several days past. As the valley narrowed, the walls became steeper and more rugged. We investigated one area where giant slabs of rock had slid away from the valley wall allowing the wind had to carve caverns from the white, chalky substrate underneath. On arriving it appeared as if one such cavern was guarded by ancient statues of lions, the termite mounds making a convincing facsimile that didn’t require much imagination. (22°25'49.88"S, 121°57'49.39"E )

Once again we continued our way along the eastern wall of the valley as both sides continued to converge. The valley walls formed a narrow pinch where the only flat ground became the narrow creek winding its way along the valley floor. Either side became a mass of gullies, rills and wash-aways. What became glaringly obvious to us was that many camel paths from the main valley converged on this narrow pinch and merged to form a single track. So well worn was this path that it seemed to have been made for the express purpose of hikers. Rather, it was a migratory path through this narrow, winding valley allowing access from one valley to the next. It was even more incredible when considering that the camel has always been a beast of the open plains and desert. You never imagine them making a precarious climb along narrow rocky valleys and passes.

It didn’t take long for us to reach a point where the confines and nature of the terrain meant that ATV’s could go no further. Here we were forced to leave them and with the GPS in hand, continue along the camel path on foot. The track continued along the gorge and climbed its high sides leaving the creek bed below. I took the opportunity to walk the creek bed finding numerous large, dry rock holes. About a kilometre along the gorge, we reached an obvious high spot on the trail and were able to look down in both directions. Here we climbed the steep walls to the east and on reaching the summit of the range, gained a magnificent vista across the next valley. This valley extended to the south where it opened out onto the vast plains that would eventually reach the Watrara Creek and its semi-ephemeral pools. To the north it tapered and led off into many narrow gorges and chasms all of which would lead to other such valleys, one of which we knew held the pinnacle. In various places across the width of the valley, you could see Camels foraging amongst the sparse vegetation. It was a fantastic place and we were very reluctant to climb down again. I built a very small cairn (not visible from below) on a GPS mark (22°26'3.47"S, 121°58'47.41"E). It was very tempting to continue on along the path but we had little in the way of water and food with us so we decided to head back to the quads. On arrival there, we used the quads to shelter from the wind and had lunch.

At the point where the valley constricted to create this gorge, we found the remains of a circular fire pit and some very old cans. This would probably have been left by the initial survey teams from the 70’s and early 80’s. No signs of any recent campers. Heading back into the expanse of the main valley, I opted to head across to the southern side to see if we could identify a way through to the 3 Sisters Hills. Time being what it was, and with the wind howling, we decided to tuck into the western side and find a sheltered location to spend the night.

We made good time initially crossing areas where fire within the past few years had left the spinifex smaller and the bush less dense. In one location we found what I assumed to be a single boot print. It appeared very old but with little detail in the way of treads remaining, but definitely a boot imprint remaining in the earth. It astounded us because despite looking, we could find no further trace of a vehicle, person or further prints anywhere nearby. A mystery that was answered the next day.

The path I chose took us towards the western wall. It was a mixed bag of conditions as we headed northwest. The going was often tough with some areas not having suffered the ravages of fire in quite a while. The spinifex was old, thick and high making the going slow. On other occasions we wound our way up and over talus slopes at the base of the western range negotiating small valleys and gullies. Come four o’clock, I started looking for a location to camp and seek a bit of shelter from the wind. The wind was blowing in the same direction as we were travelling and was being funnelled up the gap hence our dust was often passing us. You get a bit sick of it after a while!

As we proceeded on a near northerly track along the western wall, we found another large rift branching off to the north west. The dividing range jutted out into the main valley. Steering in over white, quartz covered hills, we found a suitable camp site amongst the spinifex under some small eucalypts. It offered some respite from the wind. The walls opposite us were impressive with cliffs rising up to 35 meters above the scree slopes. The earth was very dry and once you broke through the initial light crust, you found a fine powdery dust about five centimetres deep. Dinner was cans by the fire and again the Coolgardie safe method of cooling was used to provide a chilled Baileys as a night cap.

Go to the Exploroz "Place" page for Camel Valley

''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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