Karlamilyi (Rudall River) NP - Near Disaster at Quicksand Creek (or how we nearly lost "the Dingo")

Tuesday, Jul 09, 2013 at 06:00


Monday 8th July, 2013
Tjarra Pool – Watrarra Creek
Karlamilyi (Rudall River)

A cool breeze sprang up during the night and one or two drops of rain fell. I emerged from the Roof Top Taj (RTT) into a gloomy, overcast day with showers falling in the distance. After breakfast we prepared for the days activities, a voyage of discovery east along the Rudall. At a point some 25 kilometres east of camp, we intended to cross the river and follow a minor tributary deep into the hills of the Rudall Valley in search of a waterhole. The satellite images indicated this water hole had a deep, rocky surround and was likely to be semi-permanent.

Larry had opted to have a day in camp as his back was giving him grief. With John and Suzette on their quad, Outback Al or ”Ballast” and I headed east down the Tjarra access track and crossed the Watrarra Creek following the rough winding track out to the main Rudall North-South Road. Crossing one of the many washaways we disturbed a mob of 30 camels. Camera shy, they didn’t hang around for a photo opportunity! Heading south towards the main river crossing, we found there were two good size pools of water to be negotiating as we crossed the Rudall and heading up onto the plains. (In order to make things easier to follow, navigation wise, I will use the main Rudall River crossing as a reference point for distances and places along our journey)

At the old airstrip (500 metres south of crossing) we veered to the left heading east across the quartzite plains, disturbing a dozen or so bustards grazing in the one patch. Only a short distance on a second squadron was startled into the air. The sight of nearly 30 large birds in the air was amazing. We headed east through the low rolling quartzite hills. The track is easy to follow but has suffered from erosion and has thick scrub hemming it in at times. The recent abundance of water will no doubt promote an explosion of growth and affect the driveability particularly around the creeks and washaways which are usually the first to become choked with flora.

About four kilometres east of the main Rudall crossing, a significant track branches off north towards the river. This provides access to Kalkan Kalkan Soak, a beautiful stretch of water with a nice sandy bank, a great place for camping. Previously, this stretch of river has been dry, but this year, the amount of water in the river bed was simply phenomenal.

Heading back out to the main track we met an on coming vehicle. The driver had been trying to get to Talbot soak but was forced back by the conditions. Our encounter with him was fortuitous as his roof mounted jerry cans had worked loose and were about to come skittering down his windscreen. Luckily he had pulled up when he noticed us heading towards him and we were able to point out the near disaster. We continued on through a country highlighted with the brilliant green of fresh growth, accentuated by the reds of the ranges and the brilliant white of the quartz.

Roughly 15 kilometres east of the crossing we reached our turn point and headed north across the quartzite plain to the rivers edge. The river here is made of many braids, twisting through tall eucalypt and choked with dense scrub. It was a very rough crossing for both rider and passenger with Suze deciding that it might be more comfortable to walk for a while. I had to throw “Ballast” off to make the going easier for myself. We finally negotiated the rough patches and made it into the wide, sandy bed of the river. This we followed east for several hundred metres before finding the mouth of our creek. We were astounded to find the creek full of water forcing us to navigate boat like along the bed as the steep banks provided no exit points. We crossed many long pools quietly hoping not to encounter an unseen hole before finally finding a place to climb out of the creek and continue overland. keeping the creek line in sight was often difficult because of the large number of minor tributaries flowing in along the way. Often nothing more than a deep eroded slash, they provided a degree of difficulty in negotiating a path across them forcing a detour along their length until we could locate a suitable point to cross.

It was hard going at times with outcrops of exposed schist and many rivulets. The sheer number of pools of standing water indicate the wealth of water that has fallen in recent times. We arrived at a point where the creek cut a small range and found an amazing stretch of water. It was sheltered on the eastern side by sheer rocky walls. We had to pick our way along the western side of the creek and onto a narrow grassy bank wedged between the rocky walls and the water itself. The grass, a phalaris look alike, was 1.2 metres high and hid all manner of obstacles including deep holes, sharp drop offs, rocks and logs. It was tight going but we made it down and negotiated our way along the gap to a point where we were able to ford the creek. The water was quite deep but we made it across with little drama and completed the last kilometre to the location of the pool.

From the Google Earth image, the pool was sighted at the confluence of the main creek and a lesser tributary joining from the west. The northern end appeared to have a high rocky wall against it enabling it to hold a good depth of water. The southern end appeared to be sandy bank of the creek bed itself. Imagine our surprise when we found the hole to be totally full of water and over 70 metres in length. The water was dark and foreboding and there was simply no way to effectively judge the depth but I would hazard a guess and put it at more than 4 metres given that probing with a long stick produced no bottom. An oddity was the profusion of large melons lying about the place. These were long and oval in shape and very reminiscent of water melons but quite green and distinctly different from the ‘Paddy’ melons we were all familiar with. We decided to break one open to satisfy our curiosity and had the devils own time about it. The skin was incredibly thick and the interior more fibrous than a standard melon. We could not actually ‘break’ one in half for love or money, split one yes but ‘break’ one, no way! I’ll have to do a bit of botanical research I think. We opted to have morning tea at this location but on producing the thermos of hot water, I found that the manservant had neglected to pack any teabags. I’ll have him soundly flogged!

Our plan from here had been to find our way to Explosion Pool only a few kilometres to the North east.Explosion Pool is a large rock hole nestled in against the steep, southern ramparts of the Broadhurst Range. It was a pool that Al and I had only seen from a height discovering it on our ill fated ‘death march’ of 2009. There were a lot of rocky hills and minor ranges between us and it and these proved to be an insurmountable barrier in the time we had remaining. Hemmed in by rugged ridge lines we were forced north west, eventually reaching a choke point where the steep range pushed us against the side of a shallow gorge. Dismounting we climbed to find a view of a beautiful creek lined with eucalypt stretching away to the north and northwest. It was a very inviting location but we could not identify a path through to. In dry times, we could have used the creek bed itself but that was not an option this year. After several failed attempts to push our way over the surrounding hills, we decided that there was nothing for it but to retrace our route back to the Rudall and the main east-west track.

Successfully negotiating the path back to the Graphite Valley Road (east-west), we began our return, pausing for a late lunch by a shallow pool east of the Kalkan Kalkan turnoff. Here we nearly lost both John and Al to a patch of quicksand. John’s quad disappeared past the floor pan and it was only his light weight and quick reflexes that saved him. Watching how far Al slid in on foot, I doubt very much whether we’d have been able to recover John’s beast had he not had that little extra momentum that propelled his quad’s front wheels close to firmer soil. I had never seen anything like it, with the sand having a fluid consistency immediately below a thin surface crust. It would have been deadly stuff for any animal large enough to break the surface….like our ‘Outback Al’! I’m led to believe that this phenomena can occur when an underground basin that would normally hold a good deal of water fills with loose packed sand. Following rain, the sand remains in suspension until enough water evaporates to allow it to compact. That wasn’t going to happen any time soon as the heavens opened forcing us to seek shelter where we could. The peels of thunder were amazing as was the lightening show. One bolt let go immediately above us and the pressure wave from the crack of the thunder was palpable. It was frightening yet fascinating stuff.

We completed the rest of the trip back to camp at Tjarra Pool, dodging showers here and there but still succeeding in getting thoroughly soaked during one heavy downpour. We met three other vehicles carefully picking their way east from Tjarra and it appeared from their radio chatter that they had come in from the west via The Oakover and Hanging Rock. What an unexpected sight four bedraggled quad expeditioners must have been. Fatigue set in along the way so the first order of business on reaching camp was to recuperated with a nana nap in the RTT before a hot shower and a fine dinner of steak, spuds and cabbage with bacon, yum. A bit of time was spent in the early evening planning the next days route. The RTT was a welcome retreat from the intermittent showers and strong wind that set in during the evening. The rain is falling on the canvas as I type.

Photos - Mick, Suzette & John, Outback Al (@ "The Dingo")

''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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