Stranded …

A story that was recently in the news is worth a review.

You can read it at PerthNow where you can also watch a film clip. To summarise, a couple travelling on the Canning Stock Route, one of Australia’s more demanding 4WD tracks in remote Western Australia got bogged and weren’t able to get their vehicle out.

So they reached for their satellite phone, well no they didn’t, no mention of a satellite phone. So they separated and set off walking. Worked well enough for the girlfriend, she walked into a campsite where she was able to raise the alarm. The search started on Friday morning, the boyfriend was found on Sunday …

The Perth man who almost perished in the WA outback has credited skills he learnt on Bear Grylls TV shows for his survival.

Anthony Collis says he ate flowers and bugs during the three days he spent lost in the Pilbara.

The press run this sort of story every chance they get, if I’m ever rescued from the bush I am going to say I survived by eating spiders. It raises the game to a whole new level. He didn’t survive by eating bugs and flowers, he survived despite eating bugs and flowers. Going without food is very uncomfortable but it would take him three or four weeks to die from starvation. He was intending to travel quite a distance up the track, there are no McDonalds on the route so surely there was food in the ute.

How long you can last without water is another issue. It could be just a few hours of heavy exercise in the hot sun, probably three days in shade rigged by the ute, a week at room temperature in comfortable surroundings. And, surely there was more water in the ute than he could carry.

It is winter and it was difficult to keep warm. So Mr Collis buried himself in the sand just like Bear Grylls did in his show. An unexpected side effect of that was to make him invisible to the heat seeking device the police, in their helicopter, were using to locate him.

As always the starting point for the search was the car. Had he been there it would have been a very short search. He wasn’t there. He was three kilometres away. What is the point of being three kilometres away?

You can bury yourself just as well at the car, we know the sand was soft, the car was bogged in it. Three days, three kilometres. It defies logical explanation.

Good preparation for a 4WD trip includes a means of communication, some self rescue equipment, water and food. Both of these people are lucky to have escaped with little damage. Caroline Grossmueller wasn’t so lucky.

It’s a pity that Bear Grylls didn’t tell them to stay with the vehicle, I guess that doesn’t make for spectacular TV.

McGee  … not bogged

Thought for fuel …

The last thing you need on a holiday is anxiety.

If you plan well then the trip is likely to go well. If  you have considered what might go wrong and you have a strategy ready it may not seem so bad if it happens.

How much fuel will you need to cross the Simpson?

Oodnadatta to Birdsville via the French Line measured on the odometer was 640 km. We had reckoned on 750 km for the trip to Mungerannie via the Warburton Track. You need to factor in the effect of low speeds, low gear and slipping tyres. You also need to allow for side trips and diversions.

We had a petrol and a diesel vehicle in our little convoy. This meant we couldn’t share our reserve fuel but it also meant that we could compare the two. We set off from the Pink Roadhouse with full tanks plus 40 litres each in jerry cans. There was no need for anxiety regarding fuel. Both vehicles arrived in Birdsville more than half full.

Usage …

  • Toyota FJ Cruiser                        petrol    108 litres     = 17 litres/100km
  • Toyota Landcruiser series 70    diesel      82 litres     = 13 litres/100km

The difference in economy is nowhere near as great on the open road. Diesel is clearly better in the desert. (But I still love my Cruiser.)

We transferred the reserve as soon as we reasonably could. Corrugated roads are hard on containers, the last thing you need is your reserve fuel leaking into the sand.

UTFR …

We had crossed the Simpson Desert. I would do it again at the drop of a hat. It was right up there with any place I have ever been.

Is it for you?

Yes it is … provided you can tick these boxes :-

  • You have a reliable high clearance 4WD vehicle and some experience using it
  • A companion vehicle
  • Maps
  • Satellite phone (or HF Radio)
  • Dune Flag
  • Shovel
  • Winch
  • Radio
  • Snatch strap
  • Fuel
  • Water
  • Food and
  • A sense of humour

I hope to see you out there but I have a favour to ask. UTFR.

This stands for Use The Radio.

I have a pilots licence and a Marine Radio Operators Licence, I have absolutely no fear of public speaking. Give me the radio and I will give you a lecture. It’s easy for me. If you find it daunting remember they can’t see you … that’s the whole point.

On the track you will hear chatter between vehicles. Some of it is so inane you will wonder what on earth the speakers have between their ears. But you will know they are there. They are on the same one lane track as you and they may be coming toward you on the other side of the very next dune. Say hi, say where you are and which way you’re going, express an interest in where they are and which way they’re going. Don’t be shy. And if they ask, please reply.

Big Red
Big Red

Some people do it really well. I use this photo again because you see a little convoy on the right of the picture. From the top of the dune they had broadcast this …

Convoy of three vehicles departing Big Red, west bound, now.

Thank you party of three, safe journey.

Channel 10 is the channel to use in the Simpson.

The technology is not perfect. UHF is essentially line of sight and dunes do interfere with reception. If the aerial set up is different between stations it is possible that you may hear them but for them to be unable to hear you. So a dune flag and a sharp lookout are also essential. Motor bikes are not required to fly a flag and are unlikely to be using radio.

Love to hear from you.

Big Red …

Big Red is 40 km west of Birdsville, about 30 metres high and famed in legend and song. It is the focus of an annual concert and a car rally. Many a 4WD wannabe takes the run out there from Birdsville  to try out their truck. Coming from the west it is, by some counts, dune number 1113.  You first see the top of it over this ridge …

One dune away ...
One dune away …

and when you get closer it looks like this …

Big Red
Big Red

On that particular day the tracks on the left ended with steep churned up sections, the tracks further right were easier. The place to celebrate is on top …

McGee on the Real McCoy
McGee on the Real McCoy

and then 40 klicks further on …

p1100577

It was just another dune.

Eyre Creek …

There was a bit of a breeze and the next rain band wasn’t expected until the evening. There was nothing to gain by rushing off, better to let things dry out a little. We took the time to enjoy the locals enjoying their new lake …

photo- TLG
Crimson Chat (photo- TLG )

And we took our opportunity to smell the Gidgee Trees. I found them not as bad as their reputation. Their leaves though are poisonous to stock (and presumably people, don’t eat the Gidgee).

When we got to Eyre Creek there was practically no water in it. When it floods it’s because of heavy rain over a much wider area and the result can be a river up to 30 km wide that can take months to subside. That’s not to say there was no challenge, the flood plain was a quagmire especially on the western side. So we slipped and slid with many a sideways moment for several kilometres. We were thrilled to be on the eastern bank …

TLG

Big Red here we come …

 

A change in the weather …

There was a magnificent sunrise and no ice on the cars. Cloud had kept some warmth in.

We packed up and drove up the west side of Lake Poeppel, crossing the salt encrusted surface near the northern end. Light rain settled the dust.

Having made our northing we headed east along the QAA line towards the Queensland border. One desert but three states and three different regulatory authorities. In South Australia we’d travelled through the Witjira National Park and then a Regional Reserve, in the Northern Territory we appeared to be on vacant Crown Land. At the Queensland Border we entered the Munga-Thirri National Park.

The QAA line is initially similar to the French Line, rolling dunes. The dunes are quite high and the swales quite broad often with a clay surface. The amount of vegetation seemed to be slowly declining.

We had a decision to make regarding our camp site. Beyond Munga-Thirri lies Adria Station. After leaving the National Park there would be nowhere to camp until Eyre Creek. Off to our north-east lie the three major rivers of the channel country, the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper. Georgina joins with Burke and Hamilton to become the Eyre Creek, this is the driest of the three. Some years water flows down these channels into Lake Eyre, some years there is no flow at all. When we set off we knew that the Warburton was flooded and that Eyre Creek was dry.

lake_eyre_basin_map

We could smell the impending rain. The big question was would it be enough to bring us to a halt? There were three options

  • a mad dash for Birdsville
  • a longish day to the far side of Eyre Creek
  • short drive, camp in the park

One of the highlights of the trip was still ahead of us, the most famous dune in the universe – Big Red. We had no wish to rush this. The mad dash was rejected.

A camp in the park would be on sand. Wet sand is absolute luxury compared to mud. The black soil along the creek would only be fit for hippos after just a couple of millimeters of rain. And surely there would only be a couple of millimeters, big rain events are usually summer phenomena …

We camped just inside the park.

One of the locals was also happy to smell the roses ..

bobmcgee.live

By evening it was cold and raining heavily. Overnight there was a very impressive thunderstorm. My guesstimate is we had 25 mm of rain. We piled out of our tents in the morning to a landscape full of little lakes.

bobmcgee.live

photo -TLG
photo -TLG

We got the weather forecast by satellite phone. They’re was much more to come and the Eyre Creek flood plain ahead of us. This was going to be interesting.

 

Turning the corner …

Towards the eastern end of the French Line the dunes get higher and further apart. The swales are more likely to be clay and salt lakes make their appearance. This is Lake Tamblyn, named by Colson after his school teacher.

L Tamblyn

Before long we reached the intersection with the Knolls Track where there is even more obvious evidence of change … trees.

Gidgee

These are Gidgee trees, Acacia cambagei, said to emit an offensive odour when wet, variously described as like boiled cabbage or town gas. The weather this day was fine but we would have our chance to savour the smell before the trip was over.

At the intersection there is a rough and ready plaque celebrating the efforts of the surveyor David Lindsay who passed this way in January 1886. These days he would be fined up to $1000, the nanny state closes the desert for the summer.

Our next landmark was Poeppel Corner. Once just like any other spot in the desert but now a magnet because it is the entirely artificial place where South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory collide. Mal and Kelly and sundry others had preceded us and left an indication of their IQ …

Poeppel woz ereJust imagine, you could chip a golf ball from South Australia, through the Territory to a hole in Queensland and someone has been kind enough to provide the opportunity … but you need to be a left-hander.

photo TLG
photo TLG

Whilst there are three main routes across the desert they are by this stage reunited for the last push to Birdsville. To avoid a crowded campsite we took ourselves to the western side of Lake Poeppel for the night. Sunrises are so much better in the Northern Territory …

LP Sunrise