The Telegraph Track!
18 June 2012
It’s just gone 9 and I’m tired. It has been a huge day, a day that has certainly held highs and lows, and literally lots of twists and turns. We have ended it at a beautiful campsite overlooking a babbling river. I am sitting out in front of a fire listening to the flowing water and the hum of the surrounding night life, but it all could have been very different!
Today was always going to be a big day for me, it was one that had been long imagined, and we were finally here, the start of the Telegraph Track. That may not mean much to some, but for an Aussie, esp one that likes 4wdriving the Telegraph Track is an iconic track running up the remote spine of Cape York in far north Queensland. I was excited and a little apprehensive at what was ahead, the track traces the route of a historic telegraph line that runs right up to the cape, it was the only road link in this area for many years and is a narrow track with many creek crossings, impassible for much of the year during the wet season.
The tension built as we waited for fuel at Bramwell Roadhouse at the start of the track, and we learned that the hardest crossing this year so far was Palm Creek, the first main creek on the track only 4k’s in. This was good, because if we could get past this obstacle then we should make it with no problems up the rest of the track (so I thought!). We set off on the track a few minutes after a group of about 5 or so utes, I was keen to catch them up at the first obstacle so there would be someone around if we needed a bit of help. We soon caught them up at the first little gully, they were attacking the boggeyest steepest part they could find, and having fun winching out, we skirted around them on an easier path, thinking to ourselves if that was as hard as it got then we were home dry. We soon came across a few cars parked further along at what was Palm Creek proper, and realised that things were going to get tricky. It turned out that most of the people there were spectators, and just watching the fun. As we walked up to the creek we could see a 2 metre drop off down a wet clay bank to the creek with a more gradual but hummocky ramp up the other side. Nobody that day had got up this ramp without a winch, so we (not having a winch) were a bit scuppered and had to wait for another vehicle to go through that could tow us up the final section. Lots of deliberating between the spectators (including a couple who were stranded after spiking a radiator and looked as though they would be there for about a week waiting for a replacement) and a couple of other travellers saw a vehicle attempt the crossing and after winching itself up the far bank it was through, opening the gates for others like us who didn’t have winches. It came to our attempt and with great trepidation I set off and with Lisa recording the moment for prosperity slowly nudged and slid my way down the bank into the creek, the next section was tough and after clearing the first big hummock I floored Landy as we continued up the slope, it was close and the front wheels peaked out onto the top of the bank, but we couldn’t quite make it, with wheels slipping and tyres smoking there was no way forward. I stood hard on the brake and my left leg shook on the clutch as the adrenaline rushed through. We got a tow up the last couple of metres, even an old standard Landy can still go fairly well!
When we both thought about the trip along the Telegraph I suppose we just concentrated on the 4wdrive aspect of it, the wading through streams and rough washouts, but now we were taken aback by the landscape that the track passes through. At this time of year the narrow track passes through deep green grasslands and scrubby forests. After blasting along hundreds of kilometres of corrigated dirt development roads to get here it was so nice to be travelling slower with little dust, anbending able to take in the scenery as you drive, it allows you to see and start to appreciate the amazing place this is.
We stopped for lunch and ate while paddling in the clear waters of Dulhunty River, the creeks are all so pristine up here. Everything was going so well. Soon after we set off we heard the dreaded hissing of air from a tyre and had to make a quick stop and swap it over for the spare, a bit of a pain, but no biggy. We soon got it changed and were on our way again, the next main obstacle being Gunshot Creek, a famously hard crossing, but has recently had an easier “chicken track” made across it, so it shouldn’t have been a problem. The problem wasn’t Gunshot Creek, it was me. I chose a bit of a harder route that should have been no worries, but a little more exciting. Lisa jumped out with the camera and I picked up the video camera thinking I would video as I went through. All went well down the very steep drop off heading towards the creek, until I got to the bottom (a muddy waterlogged sandy bit) and put my foot on the accelerator only for Landy to stall. Shit, what was going on there? I tried reversing a little to get as much of a run as I could, and stalled again. Too busy bloody videoing to notice I had only thought about changing into low range and not actually done it! By the time I changed down it was too late, Landy was down to the axels in wet glugy sand, this was not good. I gingerly got out and sank straight into the goo, nearly loosing both thongs (flip flops!) which were flung in discust onto the bank. I looked up and across at Lisa who was not impressed to say the least. This was not good.
Out came the shovel but trying to dig the goo was difficult, slipping the shovel in was easy, trying to lift any of the slop out was another matter. The saturated sand and mud mixture held tightly onto the shovel and came out with a squeltch as the divet dug soon filled in with water and sand again. I did not like to think how tightly it held onto Landy. We tried digging out infront of the wheels, Lisa with the shovel, and me desperately with my hands. Putting the sand ladders under them was practically impossible as we could not hold back the flowing mass from englfing the wheels again. Each attempt to get out saw the wheels spin and Landy go nowhere apart from possibly a little deeper down. As we scrambled to try to set her free we wallowed in places up to our knees in the sludge. Next thing to try was the hand winch, not the easiest thing to set up and get going, those few hundred dollars saved over an electric winch didn’t seem so good right now. Lisa and I had both realised, but not wanted to bring up the fact to each other, that it was late in the day and we were more than likely going to be stuck here for the night before another soul came across us. It was going to be a long night.
Lisa’s ears pricked up and she leapt up out of the sludge while shouting to me that she could hear an engine, she raced up the bank in the direction of the heavenly sound. Soon a vehicle was purring above me at the top of the bank, with a beaming Lisa next to it, what a happy, happy moment! Our saviours jumped out and had a look, they took the other route down to the creek and after a few attempts (where I held my breath) Landy inched forwards, one more big pull saw us pop up out of the mud and move a few metres to safety. What a relief! The young trio who helped us out opened a can of beer and promptly showed us how it should be done and swung around to come down the way we had got stuck. They sailed passed us as we collected and cleaned all our strewn gear and with a cheery good bye went on their way as if it was nothing. It certainly wasn’t nothing to us. We spent a fair while packing up, tired, muddy and myself pissed off for making such a mistake and getting stuck in the first place. We were very lucky help arrived that night.
We drove on in silence, me chastising myself and not wanting to know what Lisa was thinking. We had planned to head along the track a fair bit further today, but that was thrown out of the window now. We trundled along and a couple of crossings later came up to Cockatoo Creek and decided that this is where we would have to make camp. We found a fairly shabby spot by the track that I was trying to make the best of. A little scouting around, desperately trying to turn the mood and the day around, lead to me luckily finding a great spot to set up camp overlooking the creek. It was a saviour of a spot and as we set up our spirits began to lift again. We went down to the river togther so one could look out while the other quickly collected water for the shower in the croc infested waters (in our paranoid minds, anyway). After washing off the mud, getting a fire going, and cracking open a cold beer that tasted out of this world things seemed so much better, especially when we thought where we could have been.
Tired, full and very thankful is where you find me now, a good ending to a day that could have turned out very different. Bog camping can wait!