The Pilbara - Hamersley Ranges - An amazing (and frightening) quad ride on the catwalks of Bee Gorge

Monday, Jul 05, 2010 at 00:00


"Take this as a warning, you are more likely to die doing these catwalks than of asbestos related diseases!!!! The Bee Gorge route is via the western catwalk. This is still fairly hairy and the track may not last many more wet seasons. Extreme care and caution is required. The Eastern catwalk should not be undertaken. This is bloody dangerous and the risk of death here is high!"

From the Mudmaps WA - Website ;

(I wish I'd seen this BEFORE we went!)

Authors Note; The two new videos were added on 16/01/2013.

Monday 5th July, 2010
Roadside camp near Wodgina
Great Northern Hwy
(21° 7'0.19"S 118°42'42.45"E)

This morning bought a cool day with broken clouds and a blue sky peeking through. After an extremely hearty cooked breakfast, we unloaded the quads from their trailers after decided on some ATV exploration of the surrounding gorge country. Once fuelled and prepared, we headed out following the creek bed south across the stony expanse of the wide gorge floor. Scott had the trusty computer running TrackRanger mounted up front of his quad. At 3 kilometres or so south of camp we located a side track that zigzagged its way up the western wall of the gorge. It was more "goat track" like than a proper road and we determined it to be “The western catwalk” in that it zigzagged up the western side of the gorge. The track had not been maintained for many decades now and as a result, erosion has occurred in many places. Some areas are also choked with vegetation. The views became more impressive as we wound our way ever higher up the gorge wall. The temptation as always to stop and have a look but a flat and safe place to park was often very hard to come by on the steep goat track. We were able to make our way to the top where once into the spinifex clad high country, the track conditions improved no end.

Initially our path skirted the cliff tops to the south. On several occasions we had to pull off the track and proceed cautiously over to the gorge edge to take in the astonishing vistas to the north and east. At times we were atop sheer cliffs of 100 metres or more in height providing spectacular views of the rugged gorges and the scalloped hills and mountains of the high country. In other inland areas, the wind had carved the loose conglomerate iron stone into weird and wonderful shapes. Fire had swept through much of the upper tableland in the recent past so much of the eucalypt trees and flora were just beginning to regenerate.

Our path took us on a wide, circular route, often meeting intersections with other tracks that were signposted with cryptic letters and numbers painted onto markers and arrows. Again this country has seen little use since the closure of the mining operations but the NatMap 250K maps still showed what had been the original roads. As a result we were able to navigate ourselves in a circuitacueous route to the very (southern) end of Bee Gorge. Here the track continued south to eventually meet Karijini in the vicinity of Weano Gorge. We were just beginning to make our turn to the north when we came across a couple of vehicles heading cautiously down a steeply eroded section of the Weano-Wittenoom Road. They had indeed come through from the National Park and had been hoping to get through to Wittenoom. We advised them that there was no way a vehicle would be able to descend the western catwalk. As they had UHF communications, we offered to provide them with information regarding the “Eastern Catwalk” once we had located and assessed it for which they were very grateful.

Heading south, we encountered the main track leading back down to the east and Wittenoom Gorge. It was locked and plastered with warning sings outlining the danger of vehicle access. This was the western end of the track that had defeated us on our vehicular expedition to the west yesterday. Continuing on, our track eventually began to closely skirt the eastern wall of Bee Gorge. Again we stopped to marvel at spectacular views along the length of the gorge. The southern end is nothing more than a vicious slash into the surrounding rock a hundred metres wide and equally that or more in depth.

Well it didn’t take us long to realise that the Eastern Catwalk was not going to be a cake walk! Once the track began to angle downwards, the erosion began and it was significant let me assure you. It almost immediately precluded any large vehicle from using the track, a fact we radioed back to our new friends. They were advised to return the way they had come. Just how quickly the road deteriorated from track to walking path to Goat track was astonishing. There was not even sufficient room to turn the ATV’s around forcing us to cautiously pick our way down. There was one particularly precarious crossing where we were forced to mount the edge of the hillside and ride on an angle with the noses pointing upwards and all four wheels clawing the loose shale upwards as well as along. Only centimetres to our left being a precipitous drop into the abyss. It had a high “Sphincter factor” associated with it for sure.

This more or less set the tone for the descent to the valley floor. Precarious crossings and cautious negotiation. We used every trick in the book including using passengers as counter weights to provide extra stability. I also managed to rub Scotty through a few bushes as he hung sailor like off the right hand corner of the quad. I was that nervous on some tranches that I unplugged my communications cable from my helmet not wanting anything to catch should I be forced to hastily abandon the quad! The last third of the track saw us negotiating a steep decent where erosion had reduced the track to a giant stone staircase. Again the 4 wheel drive, low ratio and diff locks of the Arctic Cat machines came into their element. We simply idled down. It was hard work though as the diff locks do make the steering harder. We stopped for a break here and there to spell both man and machine. Eventually after a good hour or more we reached the wide rocky floor of Bee Gorge to high fives all round. The grins at completing the descent alive were as wide as our bums had been tight on the trip down! Wow. As very experienced quad riders, Scott and Gaby still maintain that this days ride had been the best they had ever done. Me I was just glad to survive!

The trip back along the gorge took no time at all and we were soon passing camp and Michael J who rocketed to attention and provided the GDEC salute to the returning quads. In our absence he’d done a bit of cleaning, showered and generally made himself presentable. On filling him in about our journey, he alluded by being startled by a large metallic “clang” that had echoed down the gorge over an hour ago. It seems as it might have been the thunderclap of backsides slamming shut in fear lol.

It took a little while to get the quads and gear stowed back onto the trailers before we negotiated our way out of the gorge and back onto the main road for the 45 kilometre haul east to the Auski Roadhouse. Here we grabbed an ice cream before hitting the bitumen north on the Northern Highway. Late in the day saw us about 160 km closer to Hedland. We managed to locate a small campsite some distance off the road in the general vicinity of the Wodgina Mine. The order of the evening was showers and a hearty feed of devilled snags and mash accompanied by a lusty glass of red. The rumbling of huge trucks and trains passing just a few kilometres away (the train line is two kilometres east, the Northern Highway a kilometre west and a hall road to a satellite mine camp 300 metres south) provided an interesting aside. Michael J had some bad news from home and must return south. He’ll leave in the morning. A very sad evening for our little team.

''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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