14-Jul-2016 -- After four successful CP visits in Oct 2012, we decided it was time to attempt the CP that eluded us back then. 24S 129E lies on the border between Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The closest track to it is the Sandy Blight Junction Road (SBJR) which twice loops to within some 18.5 km of the CP as the crow flies. The SBJR was created by Len Beadell in 1960 and amounts to no more than wheel tracks passing through some of the most remote and beautiful desert country in Australia, if not the world. It runs some 340 km between the aboriginal community of Kintore on the Gary Junction Road in the north, and the Great Central Road in the south. Please see the Wikipedia entry for more detail.
Our previous attempt in 2012 was thwarted by thick vegetation, and temperatures over 40 degrees. For this attempt, we decided to go by vehicle as far as we could, and then if necessary, do the rest on foot. Conditions were much milder, and we had time up our sleeve.
After earlier visiting Lake Mackay to the north, twelve of us had travelled down the SBJR and camped just south of the Mu Hills in a region with high dunes and a forest of desert oaks. Overnight, temperatures were below freezing. Seven of us set off early for our departure point from the SBJR about half an hour's drive back to the north.
At this point the vegetation was more sparse than where we had launched our previous foray. Despite this, we were constantly driving around shrubs and trees, trying to find the path of least resistance. In places where the trees thinned out the ground was covered with low shrubs and spinifex. We were aware that the main threats to the vehicle's progress were tyre stakes on the dry sticks of the shrubs and trees, and spinifex fires where seeds and stems built up around the exhaust system. Spinifex contains an oil and burns very vigorously.
Our progress was good and we felt optimistic as we ran southeast, parallel to a rocky outcrop forming part of the Mu Hills. The country opened up into a wide spinifex plain before we came to a series of interdigitating dunes which we were able to drive around. Pretty soon we had no alternative but to drive up and over the dunes. These became quite large, averaging about ten metres in height, and required the use of low range and the diff locker. Our tyres were already deflated to 20 psi. After a while we encountered a plain of small rocky outcrops, and then the trees thickened up again. Branches scraping along the side of the car makes a nasty sound, and leave plenty of scratches.
After some three hours "off road" we drove over the last dune with about 100 metres to run. The CP was located in a wide open swale with low vegetation.
Photographs were taken, and we reflected how our departed mate (and father of three in our group) Damian McMahon would have been thrilled to be with us. 'Damo' had wanted to visit this CP in 2011 but we ran out of time. We used the satphone to let the others back at the base camp know we had made it.
On the way back with just a few kilometres to run, events took a turn for the worse. We smelled smoke, and on stopping in a clear patch of sand, smoke billowed from underneath the car. A quick inspection showed flames had enveloped clumps of spinifex caught around the catalytic converters on both sides. A plastic panel below the engine was also ablaze, and flames licked up between the engine and the radiator. Luckily, by crawling under the car with water bottles and removing burning spinifex with sticks, Ian and I extinguished the fires under the car, while the others put out spinifex spot fires over the last 50 metres. Luckily, we controlled a situation that might have ruined the whole day. On a hotter day it may have been a different story.
Coordinator's Note: Please note that access is restricted and a permit is required, before any visit is made active you will need to provide a copy.