The Kimberley - A helicopter flight over the Drysdale & Carson Escarpments

Saturday, Jul 24, 2010 at 00:00

Mick O

July 24th, 2010
Barking Owl Camp – Drysdale River
The Kimberley WA


The morning bought the opportunity to view our immediate surroundings. While the sandy surface around us was water scoured, it remained one of the few areas with enough open space to set up a few individual camps relatively close to each other. We found ourselves atop a high sandy bank overlooking an arm of the main river. The actual river was a couple of hundred metres further off across a small shrubby island. At this point, the Drysdale is several hundred metres wide, the vast majority of this being a wide stretch of sand. On its western bank the rocky ramparts of the Drysdale Escarpment jutted skyward. The river proper was only about 25 metres wide and only 30 centimeters deep. Shallow and sandy. 400 metres or so to the north, the river moves from this shallow sandy bottomed stream to a mighty pool 150 metres wide and many kilometres long. The deep still waters ais teraming with fish and snapping turtles and quite a few fresh water crocs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the odd salty were about as well.


It was a magic spot. We were largely satisfied with vehicle positions so I got to setting up the awning on the tuck truck and unpacking a few of the creature comforts like a table and chairs. There was a camp meeting with Joc to explain the rundown and what they are doing. Interesting but we are not getting as involved with search of art as thought, more like we are here to support him in his endeavors to explore inland. We also found out that Joc is catering dinners for us. Whilst against our wishes and with fridges and freezers recently stocked with fresh food, this has put us at somewhat of a dilemma.



Joc outlined that he had organised a helicopter from Theda to assist with the logistics of his planned walk. The chopper would be used to run supplies into a fixed point on the Carson Escarpment and there may well be an opportunity for others to take a flight around the local area and to Solea falls. This was a great opportunity. At the appointed time we used the three quads to ferry everyone and the hikers supplies up to a clearing several hundred meters away and awaited the arrival of the chopper.




A little after 2:00 p.m. a Robinson 440 appeared and landed in the clearing. The machine was piloted by Butch Maher of Fitzroy areal services based in Derby. Joc and his crew departed with the hike gear and returned 40 minutes later. I got an opportunity to fly. Joc had asked Butch to fly us over the Carson to identify a point where he might be able to climb up the craggy cliffs. Unbeknown to us, this flight took twice as long meaning that the remainder of the group missed out. It was somewhat disappointing for the crew and I’d have been more than happy to have satisfied myself with a flight to the Solea falls alone.



Flight description,


Clearing the surrounding scrub and climbing the the south east, It became apparent just how mighty this river can be with the flow lines indicating that the river would be a kilometers or more wide during the wet. Butch followed the meandering path of the Drysdale deep into the plateau before dropping into the time etched gorge of the Drysdale. The river is a series of interconnected pools of varying size. In some areas, patches of rock block the river bed and in others, the river maintains a wide, sandy bed bordered by rocky cliffs. In one large waterhole I spotted the distinctive shape of a large croc. Indicating this to butch, he spun the chopper about and dived down to provide a second look for everybody, Suzettes squeals of enjoyment as the chopper turned and dipped proof of the excitement.








Solera (horseshoe in Spanish) falls are a horseshoe shaped set of falls that drop some 15 meters into a large pool. There was a reasonable flow tumbling over the falls as we circled them but they would be positively spectacular in the wet. After a couple of circles, Butch headed off on a course to the south west and the vicinity of Old Theda Station and the Carson Escarpment. Thundering across the top of the escarpment, it was easy to gain an appreciation of just how rugged this country is. It would be difficult to cross by sticking to the ridge tops and high areas and yet gorges and streambeds offering sufficient size to walk along were also rare. The rains seem to etch thin narrow gullies choked with boulders and vegetation. I can see the wisdom in aerial reconnaissance of a route through this wilderness as it was extremely harsh terrain.




We followed one broad gorge that cut across the escarp in roughly the same direction as our flight. I believe that this is the route that Joc and the others will take as the rocky floor of the gorge is broad enough to provide decent hiking terrain and it also supported pools of water every now and then. This will be essential for them. On either side of this gorge, weathered caverns and caves no doubt provided many a canvas for Gwion and later art.


Reaching the western flank of the Carson escarpment, it was amazing to fly out over the rocky cliffs and watch the earth plummet away. Flying a wide, lazy semicircle, we located two possible climb locations on the wall and flew in close to investigate. It’d be no good recommending a route involving a two hour climb if the last 20 meters is a sheer wall you can’t manage to scale.





Heading back Butch, who is intimately familiar with the area having grown up at Old Theda, tried to track the route of the original road from Old Theda Station to Carson River and Bulldust Yard. Flying at only a 100 meters height, we disturbed many groups of wild cattle from under the trees below us. Butches GPS led us faithfully to our landing site and the rest of the group sheltering in the shade of the neighboring trees. We also spotted some visitors arriving nearby, a white coloured ute following out tracks into the Drysdale.


The late afternoon was spent finding a way to the main pool to our north and locating a spot to launch Ross and Joc’s tinnies. We loaded Ross’s ute with firewood on the return journey spending the evening around the communal fire finding out more about our fellow companions here on the Drysdale.



''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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