Six weeks ago I had a late lunch with Jeremy before I left Mount Isa. The day before I met with Meng in order to have dinner together. She’s the rural dentist and drives to the communities around North-Western Queensland for this government service. As nobody else wants to do that, she’s pretty good working conditions and can travel a lot. She speaks really good Russian and is addicted to that language. Meng is always going for a longer solo trip each year, and has already visited more countries than I did. Her plans, yes she loves to make plans, are already set for the next three years. So we had a very long conversation of our various travel experiences. Mount Isa is good for a stopover, but the whole town is about mining. Hence, almost all people are working either directly or indirectly for the mines. After I left Isa I went first to a nearby lookout just a few kilometres out of town. Then I took the Kajabbi road, a shortcut to the north, along the Leichhardt river. In fact it’s a gravel road but in very good conditions and just recently graded. This is due to that fact, I guess, that the mine has another operation on that road. So there was more traffic then I expected. I just stayed a few kilometres before Kajabbi next to the road. When I was preparing my dinner another car stopped and asked, if everything was ok. It seemed that this couple came from their neighbours and was already a bit drunken. I was a bit worried, if they would push me on, as it was on a pastoral lease, where I stayed, but in the end they didn’t take care about that.
Wednesday morning six weeks ago I passed the big white phosphate hill mine and went to Mount Bruce for bouldering. I got a bit of trouble to access the crag as it turned out that the access road from the Chatsworth Phosphat Road is nowadays just an overgrown 3km track. Even as I have a 4WD I decided not to take this time consuming drive. Instead I drove to the mining town “The Monument” and took the first gravel road to the right. This is the same road as before, just from the other side, but it’s graded for the first km or so until a gate. From a technical point of view it’s not allowed to drive there, but in the end I just parked my car nearby and walked the last few metres cross country to the boulders. Nobody complained about that, even as some drivers with mining cars have seen me. As there’re only mining cars, I must have been obvious, that I’m not really part of the game here.
Luckily, as I was a bit late at the boulders due to the approach, they were still in the shade for the whole morning. I approached a nice “Golden Arete” V3 boulder, but without spotting or a crash pad, I didn’t want to give it a serious try, as it was a bit overhanging and you just had some slopers. Just to warm up I did the other three easier routes at the “Golden Area”. At “Fossil wall” I did the Sunset boulder, which was rated just as V1, but drove my adrenaline level higher, as it felt harder, than the V2 I did before. As I couldn’t find the other routes, I did two new first ascents in the “Gully” area. But the rocks are really bad there, and we’re heavily affected by loose rocks. Even one step broke off, while I was using it. That was definitely not a nice feeling. As it started to get warmer I stopped bouldering afterwards at late morning.
I stopped in Dajarra for a lunch break and was surprised that there was a railway just until 1993. And by accident I had my lunch at the former railway station. I arrived in the late afternoon in Mount Isa. The driving was easygoing as it was a sealed road, but only with one sealed lane in the middle. So, when there is oncoming traffic all cars dodge to the left, and drive with the left wheels on the bank. That’s not the case for road trains. They don’t care about that, they don’t care about anything. In the end you’ve to make an emergency stop on the bank and make space for them. In the evening I met my host Jeremy and we prepared a steak with mashed potatoes together. Definitely better than all the canned food together.
Tuesday six weeks ago I stopped in Bedourie for a late morning coffee and then headed further north to Boulia. In the visitor centre I got some information about the so called Min Min light, which is typically seen around the town. In the end it’s not a miracle, but related to density gradients in the air, caused by temperature gradients, which in essence led to travel the light along these “tubes” of could air. Well maybe some optical expert can give a more pronounced explanation. Earlier this year in there was a lot of rainfall, which caused severely flooding of the river. The last great rainfall was back in 2011, as they told me in the visitor centre. So the local people are very happy about the water. The last section of today was straight north through different cattle stations of pastoral land. The area was covered with much more grass and trees along the creeks and is called Mitchell grass land, contrary to the morning, where there were only stones around the countryside. During the driving in the late afternoon I saw not only various cattle herds, but also a lot of kangaroos, which completely disappeared the week before during the drive through the desert. These kangaroos were pretty big and definitely fast, some of them jumped along the car with a speed of 50-60 km/h. It was a lovely drive, as the road was pretty good and not really corrrugated. There were no other cars on that gravel road. I just camped two kilometres before the Phosphate mine, which was basically again in the middle of nowhere. But due to that, I had even mobile reception there.
Monday morning six weeks ago I continued driving on the QAA line. I order to cross one of the two arms of the Eyre creek, I needed to make a detour. Not due to the crossing itself, as the water level was already pretty low, but because someone digged itself in the western bank of the creek and made a big large whole, so driving up and down there is now nearly impossible, at least I was scared of hitting my car underneath over such a large step. After several dunes, I finally reached the last dune…the Big Red one was infront of me. I switch to the L3 gear and in the end, it wasn’t a problem, just a small patch in between the engine was at full power in a patch of soft sand. But the recovered the speed fine with the help of the high torque diesel engine and eventually brought me to the crest. Again it wasn’t possible to take the direct approach from the western slope due to the steep lee side, but driving just a few metres to the left the crossing wasn’t a problem. From the eastern side you can take several tracks down the western slope and play a bit in the sand, but none of them seem to be suitable for driving up. There too steep and the wind takes a lot of soft sand onto them. Afterwards I drove at a graded road the last few kilometres to Birdsville. I was pretty impressed of the desert, especially how many vegetation has adopted to this dry conditions and still survives. Additionally, there’re much more animals living in the desert, as I anticipated, and I’m not talking about just flies, which are everywhere 😆. There’re no kangaroos in the desert. I just saw some of them north of Birdsville. In Birdsville I returned the satellite phone, which I didn’t use at all, to the visitor centre and had the first time mobile reception after about a week. In the pub I enjoyed a cold beer and a burger. I got some fuel for a reasonable price (fuel consumption in the desert increased by about 50% compared to the highway), and had a shower in the caravan park. After watching some birds at Pelican point (well was nothing special, I’ve to admit) I headed out of this small town to the north, and stayed near the Cacoory ruins for the night.
Sunday morning six weeks ago I drove to the Approdinna Attora Knolls which were just a few kilometres to the north. These two limestone hills are made from bacteria some time ago. On top of the hills two Eagles were looking for prey, these are with almost 3m(?) wingspan the largest eagles in the world. Then I drove along the French line to the Poeppel corner, the border of South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. The French line was similar to the WAA line, but more cars were driving it, as one could see on the remaining tracks. At some sand dunes, several opportunities for crossing it exists. Just for fun I tried sometimes the direct, steeper ones. At one sand dune I almost made it, but in the end got stuck twice…just on the crest. So in the end, I didn’t want to utilise too much time, and I eventually choose the easier or normal approach. The problem was mainly, that the western slopes are leewards. Hence, all the loose sand is on the western slopes, whereas on the eastern slopes the sand is more compact. In essence, it’s a similar behaviour than for snow and ice on a mountain ridge. Additionally, there’s a drop of several decimeters at the crest of the sand dune in Westerly direction. So, driving up the western slope, is in that circumstances harder than the eastern slopes. On the other hand the eastern slopes are in general steeper. After the Poeppel corner the French line ends and connects with the QAA line with a 15km to the north along a salt lake. This was really easy going, as the salt lake was dry, one could directly drive on it. If you use the track next to the shore of the salt lake, then you encounter a heavily corrugated drive. The QAA line is much easier to drive. It’s dunes are further apart and not as steep and bumpy as the WAA and French line. Hence, I never needed the 2nd gear the whole time. I also tried some direct approaches, which worked fine, except the last dune of the National Park. I already saw the exit sign of the national park, but due to the gradient, you hardly see anything on the crest for a few seconds. So, I haven’t seen a blow out hole, which is again similar to the ones in the snow, where the wind erodes soft sand around a more stabilised part, and digs therefore a deep large hole. I got suddenly stuck, no chance to react, as the engine immediately shut off. In essence, I had just a lot of luck as the left side of the car didn’t hit the hard sand by 5cm. Now I needed my foldable shovel. Nevertheless, I was pretty relaxed, as I new even in the worst case if I couldn’t get out by myself, there will be someone coming here sooner or later. I was lucky that I got stuck on top of the dune, so after shovelling a bit at the front left and on the rear right wheel, I could free myself after just a moment. On my way along the QAA line I met a Swiss couple with their Mitsubishi Challenger at the beginning, and three other cars came opposite to me afterwards. I had a quick chat with the Swiss couple, as they seemed to have some problems as their bonnet was open. But apparently everything was fine. One of the other cars seemed to have difficulties getting up the eastern slopes of the sand dunes, as there were a lot of new spinning holes. So just one single car with the wrong tyre pressure or driving technique can harm the track severely. In the evening I arrived at Eyre creek, which still was filled up with some billabongs, due to the rain earlier this year…after 8 years of drought. And once there’s some water all the flowers in that perticular valley went for blooming and the trees have green leafs. Nevertheless, you could already see that the peak of water was already over.