Rudall River - Broadhurst Range Death March Part 2

Monday, Jul 06, 2009 at 05:00


Preface; In my trip planning for my sojourn into the western deserts this year, I spent a fair bit of time puddling around on Google Earth. I capture GE images and convert many into maps for use on my track ranger and Ozi programs. One of the benefits of Google Earth is that it gives you the opportunity to more thoroughly investigate terrain and gain a level of detail that is often not available from a paper or digital map. It also allows a view of areas that have simply not been explored or mapped and where many features remain unyet discovered or reported. It was this close examination that led me to several anomalies within the low resolution GE images of the Broadhurst Ranges south of the Desert Queen Baths. I could find no information on these features from any source so resolved to make one of the key objectives of this years trip, to go and find out just what they were. Having picked up my travel companion Al Kennedy at Port Hedland a week earlier, we arrived in Rudall River on the 4th July and set up at the DQB campsite on the 5th. Our outward journey south was covered in Part 1. For the return, read on....

Departing circular cliffs rock hole, the climb back out of the creek was a bit daunting and the leather riggers gloves were a definite must in clambering over the very rough rocks to the top of the falls. From here we crossed the upper creek and headed off to the north-west across the pound area. Rather than tackle the maze of shrub choked gullies we had negotiated on our outwards journey, we spied a ridge heading to the west and hoping this would be an easier route up to the plains, ventured forth. The best laid plans of mice and men.....or so the saying goes! With nearly every step being influenced by the varying terrain, even this route saw us clawing our way through a scrub choked gullies, and crossing shallow valleys before we reached the gibber plain.

Our return track was on a line somewhat west of our inward journey but I kept a close eye on both trails on the GPS ensuring that we met our original footprints as we reached the highest point of the plateau. Once we crested the highpoint, we could see the distant tree line that indicated the top of the cliffs above the gorges that led into the Desert Queen Baths. Despite the temperature only being in the high 20’s, the sun was relentless and we found ourselves frequently resting in any shade we could locate. This gave us a breather and time to take a sip of water and check our bearings before tramping on. Looking back now, just how much a state my feet were in should be a distant memory but they were painful enough then to make me cringe from the recollection even now.

Unfortunately the easy going of the gibber plateau was short lived, the plain giving way to the rocky gully's and rills that were the beginnings of the creeks that drained the Broadhurst Ranges and would later etch the gorges of the Desert Queen’s Baths. Retracing our own footprints became moot as the rocky surfaces no longer held the prints. Eventually we dropped into the first of the larger gully's and began fighting our way back through the dense scrub. It seemed like a good place (after 1.5 hours of walking) to take a break and have a snack. I also took the opportunity to see just what damage the boots had done to my feet and try and cushion some of the worst rub areas with bandaids. We were both quite tired with Al remaining in better shape than me.

Gathering our stuff we were soon on our way north again, often retracing our steps in the sandy creek beds. It was often easier to walk along the rocky plains beside the creek rather than the creeks themselves as they were so choked with flora ,large boulders and rocks. At one spot I knew we could cut across a horseshoe bend in the water course and save a fair distance so we scrambled up the steep bank. As I clambered up, the loose edge gave way and I tumbled back into the creek bed. No harm done, we wandered further along the creek and found a better place to extract ourselves. Eventually plunging back into the main valley, we weaved in and out of the gullies and creek beds until reaching the point where two major creeks met. This was about 2 hours into the return journey and still a good way from the middle pool. Here I realised that I had dropped my video camera somewhere behind us. The feeling of dread accompanying the realisation that I would have to walk back was almost overwhelming. The last place I could remember seeing it was the rest location when we had first entered the maze of gullies from the plateau. This represented a round trip of at least an hour across some bloody rough country. Sh1t.....I was feeling like crap, we were running out of daylight and I had to trek back across some godforsaken rough country. Sh1t, Sh1t Sh1t! Handing my pack to Al with instructions for him to continue on to middle pool and wait there, I couldn’t help but feel a little like Mr Gibson heading back into the unknown (except I had a GPS and no horse lol). I was not looking forward to the unnecessary exertion that my stupidity had thrust upon me.

Heading back in the silence, a very weary Michael had only been walking for five minutes when I remembered the tumble I had taken on the steep creek bank only 10 minutes down the track. That was fortunate as I was almost going to try and cut that section of the creek off by going overland but on returning to this location, there at the bottom of the creek was my camera. Neither Al or I had seen it as I recovered my feet and headed on after the fall. Bloody hell I was happy and soon had it tucked away and was heading in the right direction once again, a trip of an hour being cut down to 20 minutes! Thank god!

A relatively short rock hop later and I was back on the rocky heights above the middle pool where I found Alan reclined on the sun drenched rocks enjoying a nap. The small rectangular shaped pool here provided a great source of clear, sweet water and we drank our fill. Lamenting his rude awakening, Alan and I replenished our water bottles and set off, picking our way carefully down the walls around the pool and into the main gorge

From this point we knew we were at least two hours away from the head of the gorge at DQB. We were bloody tired, I had some major blisters and we had some hard climbing ahead of us. No sooking though as we both realised that it was simply a matter of getting on with it, one foot in front of the other. Thus it was as we retraced our steps along the gorge, following the creek bed through sand and stones until a distinctive overhanging tree we had noted on our outbound journey, indicated it was time for us to clamber out of the creek and begin our cross country journey along the top of the DQB gorge. Another small issue developed here in that the GPS “trail file” became full. on saving it and clearing the memory, I was unable to retrace our old journey and had to rely on memory and sight. Certainly the Waypoints were accessible but my only reference point for these final few kilometres was the DQB campground some kilometres distant.

Our problem became apparent when we realised that we kept too close to the main gorge rather than head further to the east as we had done on our outward journey. This meant that we had to climb three major ridge lines wasting 30-40 minutes in the exercise before we found ourselves on teh gorge rim high above the main (No 1) pool of DQB. This unnecessary climbing really took its toll on two weary explorers and I for one had to have a good rest before I felt I had the sufficient level of concentration amd strength required to negotiate the steep decent into the DQB gorge on sore feet and weary legs. I’m not kidding when I say that the slightest slip here would have been fatal.

As if by some perverse logic, I always knew that the last kilometres of rock hopping along the DQB gorge to the main camp area would be the hardest. By now my feet were truly a mess. My progress was painfully slow and I was feeling quite ill as I limped past Pool No 2 (Kangaroo Pool) and finally reached Three Goanna Pool. The final hundred metres into camp was agony. We were both totally exhausted having covered 25 km in 9 hours over some of the most inhospitable and rough terrain you could find. I felt physically ill. Sipping water and orange juice I finally mustered enough energy to clamber up the ladder and into the roof top taj where I was soon unconscious. Alan crawled into his tent for a nap and all at DQB was silent! Alan was the first to awake about 7.30 p.m. and immediately got the fire going. Like any good nurse, he soon had some water on the go for my battered feet and got the dinner prepared. By unanimous agreement it was “can night” and soon enough, two cans of hearty soup produced a revival of energy and spirits. A good soak of the feet for both of us in hot water and Dettol helped ease the pain.

(And the last words from Alan)

The country we crossed could only be described as spectacular tending towards otherworldly. From deep gullies, to rocky outcrops and jagged ravines, creeks choked with small young gums, magnificent water holes, full and dry, soaks, pounds and a variety of vistas.
The crescent shadow the inquisitive Michael located on Google Earth turned out to be a truly wonderful dry waterfall with a large pool, sandy beach and a backdrop of large gums. Icy cold. We even considered sleeping there using out emergency space blankets but decided to return.
The second waterfall was on another level altogether and we both felt it was a place where few white men had ever been. We were too tired to hike into the gorge to see it up close, but there is always next time. From the top of the final waterfall we could see out into the next valley and it’s distant bordering ranges. Next time….two days!

The next day was a rest day. We didn’t do much, couldn’t do much but soak up the memories of a truly remarkable adventure across the Broadhurst Ranges to find rock holes and waterfalls that we could confidently say have been seen by very few (white) people. It was an adventure that will live in our memories for a lifetime.

What we learnt from the trip.

• If you reckon it’s a two day trip in the first place then it is a two day trip. Don’t underestimate it and cut it short.
• NEVER underestimate the outback environment, particularly the Pilbara! Its harshness has a potential to rear up and bite you on the backside no matter how prepared or experienced you think you are!
• If you reckon you’ll need three litres of water, you’ll need twice that amount!
• Appropriate footwear is crucial. Refer to my point about the harshness of the environment. What was I thinking and I am relatively experienced. Ankle support is crucial as gibber and boulder strewn plains will make short work of an unsupported ankle!
• Pace yourself. It's tough country and mistakes will leave you in a very remote area with the possibility of rescue taking days!
• Plan your trip and make sure you take waypoints or marks in a small notebook or mark trees with bright markers (tape) at key points. (Making sure you collect them on the way back). It’s good to have someone reliable along as a partner as you need to be both self-reliant and work together to do it in a day.
• Google earth images are a guide only. There remains a certain degree of difficulty in reconciling the image to the ground based reality. Where distance is concerned, Unless it's a billiard table like plain, add 50% to your distance calculations. My reckoning - 16.5 km. The reality - 24.5km and that was straight line distance. It didn't take elevation into consideration.

Thanks again Al. We're both richer for the experience. You earnt your stripes fella!

Link to Part 1 of the saga;Broadhurst Range death march - Part 1

''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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