The Kimberley - A quad expedition along the remote Drysdale and Carson Escarpments

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2010 at 00:00


Tuesday 27th July 2010
Drysdale River The Kimberley

Today was a fully fledged quad expedition along the Drysdale and Carson Escarpments and rivers. The object of the mission was to scout a route into the area around Old Theda Station. Once there we were to check possible climbing routes for the hikers to enable them to to access the Carson Plateau. Given that the majority of the escarp are a series of ragged cliffs 120 metres high (or more), there are precious few opportunities to climb so this expedition was critical to find both a route for the hikers, and to establish a route through country that hadn't seen too much vehicular access in many years.

Old Theda is owned by Myers family (Dunkeld Pastoral Company) and is gradually being de-stocked. The current base of operations is Theda Station some 25 (straight line) kilometres to the west of Old Theda beside the Kalumburu Road. Like Carson River Station, there has been no human presence at the station buildings in many years. As a result, the station tracks are fast disappearing. From conversations around the fire and on the tracks, it’s believed that the owners wish to return the area to its natural state before white settlement and cattle grazing. While they appear to be winning, there were still mobs of feral cattle thundering across the many grassy plains as we rode through.

Leaving the camp at 9:00 a.m. we were well provisioned and watered for a hot and dusty ride. Scotty was recording our journey on TrackRanger while John and I backed up with a Garmin GPS each. Heading back out our own tracks we reached bulldust yard where we turned to the south west and headed into the Pandanus and grass lands working our way round the basalt hill we have nicknamed “the big dome” (Mt Connelly at 205 m) and into the flat country between the Drysdale and Carson escarpments.

The track was wraith like and at times we used a variety of methods to help us navigate, much of it in blind faith. In the stories of the old WWII carrier pilots following the bioluminescent trails left in the churning wake of their ship, we noticed that for some strange reason, the grass that grew on the tracks appeared a different colour to those of the surrounding plains. Whether this was an actual physiological anomaly within the plants, or that they simply reflected light differently, by simply staring intently, in many areas you could actually distinguish the course of the old track by the differences in the tall waving grass. Personally, I think it must have been something to do with the light as the sensation was accentuated if you were wearing polarized sun glasses. A strange phenomenon indeed. In other situations we picked what looked like a gap in the trees that was wider than we might have expected naturally or a stretch of clearing that appeared to symmetrical and ordered.

In some areas the rains of the tumultuous Kimberley wet had turned the tracks into a serious of deep washaways. Easy to follow but hard to negotiate, even on a quad. The easiest method was when you were able to pick up the heaped gravel verge left by the graders many years past. The entire countryside was covered in thick grass and there were many fat cattle roaming about their coats rippling in the sun. They were in great condition with so much feed and water about. Many had their nuts still attached so there was a lot of bellowing and the occasional posturing as we encroached on their patch. They usually didn’t hang around long though. Wild cattle soon get smart enabling them to stay wild for longer!

It’s one of the hazards of outback travel, that tracks are not the only things hidden under the grass! We were always on the lookout for hidden obstacles but one slipped through Scotties guard. Ridding several metres behind his quad I was amazed to see the quad lurch into the air and Gaby launch skywards well clear of the seat. Thankfully her forward momentum meant when gravity took hold, she landed on the quad again, just not at the same place she’d been sitting. I was genuinely concerned that the quad might roll but thankfully Scotty kept it under control and bought it to a halt. I was able to swerve around the obstruction that spat out from under the wheels. It was in fact a large ant hill that they had struck. The damage was immediately noticeable with the front right rim severely bent . Thankfully, the tyre although flat, had not sustained any damage. We had a bit of an issue replacing the wheel with our limited supply of tools. Not having a jack with us, we used the remains of the ant hill and a large branch as a lever. The quality of the timber being what it was, we didn’t have much luck with this approach so John and I simply lifted the front of the quad manually while Scott swapped out the wheels.

It didn’t take us long to resume our trek across the countryside. Rounding a promontory of the Carson escarpment saw us in the shadow of the rugged cliffs and some amazing country. We managed to locate the gate posts to Old Theda which stood alone, the fencing having been removed. Many of the tracks and been washed away and this saw us negotiating our fair share of creeks and washaways. Finally, on the edge of a wide grassy plain, we encountered a treated pine log sign proclaiming “Drysdale River National Park”. Tracks being what they were, we were left wondering just how many people would actually get to gaze upon this sign out in the middle of nowhere. It made a good backdrop for a photo though.

From here it wasn’t far to the area on the Carson that was marked on our maps as “the ford”. This crossing was three kilometres north of the junction of the Carson and Morgan Rivers with Old Theda Station still some 9 kilometres to the south west. It is in the vicinity of what was the old Boomerang Yards. A large slab of basalt like rock led down to the creek. Across the narrow band of water, high banks of white sand climbed upwards to tangles of grass and tea tree. To the east, large Paperbarks had a hold further along the southern bank. The shade offered by the trees provided a suitable invitation to rest, cool down and have a spot of lunch. We dropped our water bottles into the depths of the waterhole to cool them down and soon followed them in. While keeping a wary eye for crocs, the water was filled with smaller fish. Archers, sooty grunters and an even smaller variety that went for Vik’s toe nail polish. It was a great place to cool off and needed as it was stinking hot by this stage of the early afternoon.

After lunch we headed back to the swamp area behind the national park sign to identify a route through to the escarpment for Joc and the crew. It was very rough going, even on the quads. This whole plain would be a wetland during the rains so the surface was well rutted and cracked when dry. We opted to retrace our route out until we reached a higher area where large sheets of rock were exposed. Tracing to the east along this rocky rise we had success in tracking a route through to the escarpment at a suitable location for a drop off. It took us a little while longer to find our track back out and strangely we found two rims and tyres in great condition. These were moved to the main track as a marker.

It was a long and dusty trip home through the grasslands. Leading, I managed to hit a well camouflaged termite mound as well giving both Vik and I a fright but doing no damage. We also located a couple of long abandoned station vehicles on our way home and stopped to investigate. We were tired, hot, dusty and saddle sore by the time we reached camp in the late afternoon. A refreshing wash in the creek, and a chilled beverage soon had us rejuvenated. Dinner was a chicken concoction round the communal fire. Being thoroughly exhausted, we weren’t out of bed for very long.
''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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