WE WERE closing in on the western side of the desert when spasmodic, light, misty rain started to fall. When we arrived at Dalhousie, South Australia, the weather was decidedly cool and overcast, and there were a few spits of rain.
That evening we arrived at the oasis of Mt Dare and were greeted by Graham and Sandra Scott, the owners and operators of this fine establishment. As we were one of the first across the desert for the 2021 season (after a very poor 2020 year because of you-know-what) and the only ones at the hotel at the time, we had plenty of time to chat and catch up on previous travels and to find out the latest gossip in the area.
But there was a word of warning amongst the gaiety with the knowledge that rain – heavy rain – was on its way. The next hour was spent poring over BOM weather maps on the satellite-fed internet and trying to judge when the rain would hit the lonely outpost.
“You’ll want to get out of here in the morning I reckon, otherwise you’ll be staying here for a week or more,” Graham advised.
With those words of advice, all of us and our party of eight vehicles were packed, refuelled and on the road early, heading out over the flood levy banks at Mt Dare as a still misty rain – now near continuous – was falling.
We were the last of our group to head off, along with two others who had come to join us and Moon Tours at Mt Dare for a west-to-east crossing which, with the rain around, was not to be. The rest of that second group of adventurers we had advised to stop at Kulgera and we would join them there. How glad we made that decision – but there was a lot more drama as we headed to the planned meeting point.
By the time we got to the low lying country around the old telegraph station at Charlotte Waters, NT, water was pooling across the road and all over the pans and flood plains. Three of the last four vehicles were towing off-road trailers and in the slippery conditions we had them slithering and sliding all over the place, with some losing traction at times and needing a snatch to get moving again.
Even my rig, which was trailer-less but fitted with only fairly mild Cooper AT3 XLT tyres was finding it hard to gain traction, especially when trying to help someone else. When one vehicle slipped off the road it sank in the soft mud and somehow the hours flew by as we recovered it and others, using MaxTrax and even a winch on one occasion, as we struggled on.
It was 5.30pm when we pulled up outside Finke (Aputula) to find the road still open, so with hardly a stop to phone home (it has Telstra mobile) we turned west for the 170km dash to the bitumen. By now the rain was steady and heavier and as darkness descended, we were coming on frequent long-flooded areas of the road which we splashed through and deeper sections where floodways were now running strongly but still relatively shallow, across the road.
It was near 9pm when we pulled into Kulgera after a 12-hour drive and a mere 270km from Mt Dare. Now, I’ve been to this tiny Stuart Highway hamlet more times than I care to recount but I gotta say, I’ve never been more pleased to get there!
Ten days later we travelled some of the same roads we had travelled on that ‘Escape from Mt Dare’ episode and I was pleased and relieved to find that there was no visible damage done by our escapade. But the road was badly scoured for hundreds of metres in places by running water, there were numerous erosion gullies across the road and down any slight rise or hill, with sloppy mud occasionally laying across the track in low-lying places.
Every vehicle – every one of the eight – needed brake-pad replacements at the end of this little jaunt, testifying to the abrasion level of outback mud!
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