A Tip Top Proposal
When friends Amanda and Glen invited me to join their Cape York trip
I hesitated, after all it would be my six or seventh time. The first was
well before the barge over the Jardine in a time when it was unusual
to meet fellow travellers so you stopped and chatted, in a time when
there was no Peninsular Development Road and the only way was
the Telegraph line, in a time when the Telegraph line was still operating
and maintained by Wayne and Ralph. (And I note in passing that the
log bridge before Nolan's Brook seems to no longer be called the
Wayne and Ralph bridge.) It was a time when crossing the Jardine
involved several days preparation before even attempting the crossing.
Anyway times have changed and I did hesitate. But their enthusiasm
was infectious and my interest increased sharply when they outlined their
Proposal, a route that included the CREB track from Mossman, the Zigzag track over the Bloomfield river, the Starke track from Cooktown and on to the Telegraph road via the Frenchman track over the Pascoe and Wenlock rivers. Not a route for the faint hearted I thought, should be fun. So I signed up and set about getting the car ready, a task mainly involving water proofing since the last time I had been to the Pascoe it had been nearly two metres deep (no, we did not cross that time!). I figured that if they could get through the Bloomfield and the Pascoe then Nolan's Brook should be a breeze.
Now Amanda and Glen are not your average couple, for one minimalist is not a word in their vocabulary. And secondly they have "His and Hers" Nissans. Their idea of a fun weekend was to see who get the furtherest before getting bogged on some marginal track around the Brisbane area where we all lived. I of course have grown up and merely like to watch such shennanigans ! His Nissan was a GU Patrol tray back fitted with Micky Thompson Baja Claws, a 9000 lb winch, a mild lift and after market turbo and inter cooler. Her Nissan was a GU Patrol wagon fitted with Hankook Dyna Pro tyres, a 9000 lb winch, a mild lift, chipped with a Torqit chip and exhaust system and a roof top camper. Both came armed with enough Led lighting to illuminate a night game for the Broncos. As you may guess fitting out their 4WD's was their passion. I hesitate to mention that my car was another brand, pretty much stock standard, so the sight of not one but two winches was reassuring. Did I mention that his Nissan was set up to carry the two dirt bikes so that they could take a relaxing spin between obstacles/rivers/mountains? And three fridges, one for drinks, one for frozen meat and one for essential food items, dips, blue vein, olives etc.
Vehicle Nissan GU Patrol wagon Nissan Patrol GU tray back
Model 2D30 TD42i
Turbo Factory Garret GT 28
Bars TJM front, custom rear, rock sliders TJM front and rear
and custom bush
Tyres Hankook Dyna Pro 285/75 Baja Claws 315/70
Suspension TJM XGS 2” lift Donaldson 2” lift
Lights Britax Hid, Led rear floods Britax Hid
Winch Warn 12,000 lb XTM 12,000 lb
Extras Black Widow Custom drawers HiFlo Custom s/s air box
Black Widow cargo barrier PWR alloy radiator
MSA drop slide fridge Thermo fans
Rhino rack Bike loaders
Hannibal roof top camper Side storage lockers
I did warn you that they were not minimalist.
The big day arrived and we assembled at Mossman ready to forge the Daintree and tackle the CREB. The crossing was OK and not too deep so we emerged dripping and triumphant, a titillating start to their adventure. The CREB was a disappointment, dry as a bone and an easy drive apart from the traffic, so some three hours later we were ready for the Zigzag. For the last hour it had been raining steadily so we called it a day and set up camp for the night at the foot of a peak called Mt. Misery by Capt. Cook. While the rain made it uncomfortable for us I guess Cook had it tougher since he had just struck a reef off Cape Tribulation to our east and was in real trouble as he staggered across Weary Bay pumping for dear life and seeking shelter. No wonder he called it Mt. Misery !
The morning dawned overcast and bleak but no actual rain. The track of course was now an ice rink with every hollow a challenge. Ignominiously I was the first to miscalculate and slide off the track into a bottomless ditch, oh well a chance to see if those winches were ornaments or of some use. One hill in particular gave us a great deal of trouble with the lead Nissan (Amanda) having finally to winch. So we struggled on to finally be confronted by the open crossing of the Bloomfield.
We looked in awe as the water rushed past, deep and fast. Did not look promising but then back tracking did not look like a viable alternative either. After a good look and several walks across we took the plunge so to speak. The Nissan pair handled it like seals, the extra six inches or so of lift paid off. My turn, not so easy with the water over the bonnet but despite wet carpets we emerged safely. The Bloomfield was beaten.
We spent the rest of the day struggling through a very slippery and boggy track, winching where necessary. Some of the downhill sections proved the most challenging with the steep and tractionless descents turning into roller coaster rides as you needed to keep accelerating to maintain any semblence of steerage. But eventually we were out and time to set up camp for the night, once again in the rain - the Zigzag punishing us for intruding !
After a few lazy days at Archer Point it is on to Cookstown for fuel and supplies for the next section, the Starky track. Now the Starky is well travelled these days and as long as it was dry it would be an easy run. We did however intend to make a detour to a remote section of the Starky River. This 'detour' did prove to be a challenge since the recent cyclone had brought down a large number of trees over what was a seldom used track anyway. What with washouts, detours and chainsawing, the twenty odd kilometers took us most of the day, but it was worth it ! Crystal clear tranquil pools shaded by ghost gums and teeming with fish, no need for the rods, one quick throw with the cast net provides everyone with fish for dinner. After a tranquil couple of days it was back to the main road via Lakefield.
We push on north and take the Lockhart River road to pick up the eastern end of the Frenchman Track. Before heading off down the Frenchman we duck off to have a look at the Operation Blowdown blast site. In 1963 the Vietnam war was rapidly escalating and the North Vietnamese use of the rain forest as cover was a problem for the US. The Australian and US military decided to carry out a simulated atomic blast to determine if it was a feasible method to remove the jungle cover. The result was Operation Blowdown with 60 tons or so of explosive put on a tower in the heavy rain forest of Iron Range, and, as per the Chinese fire works instructions, they then 'light blue paper and run away'. The resulting bang complete with mushroom cloud knocked down a perfect circle of rain forest still clearly visible today. In fact the three kilometer circle still has almost no vegetation and is covered only in coarse grass quite unlike the fertile rain forest areas. We can only assume that the blast removed the top soil as well. Few if any visit this site despite the fact that it is just off the road.
We refuel at Lockhart and set off for the Frenchman Track which runs through the Iron Range rain forest to emerge on the Development road just south of Moreton Telegraph Station. We have two major crossings, the Pascoe and the Wenlock rivers plus some smaller creek crossings. The tough one will be the first, the Pascoe, the one I have not crossed since it was two metres deep last time I was there. That time I was on the western side, this time I will try again from the eastern side. The climb up the range before we drop down into the Pascoe is just magnificent, gorges and sink holes with the country changing from rain forest to wet desert and back again. The wet deserts of Cape York are arid areas with relatively high rainfall with the desert like vegetation being the result of soil deficiencies - it also results in a large variety of carnivorous plants as they get their nutrient from the wild life rather than the soil. Truly a bewildering land !
After winding our way down to the Pascoe crossing we come across a couple of vehicles with their occupants sitting on the bank regarding the Pascoe with evident dismay. The female members are seemingly in some dispute with their male companions about the crossing. I must admit that on first sight it does not look promising, the water is quite deep and flowing hard, but at least it was not the two metre torrent witnessed at my last visit. We walk across a few times and chose a useable route which we carefully mark. Our preparations are watched with interest by the other group who tell us they are waiting to see how far down stream we will be swept before our cars go under. With this encouragement ringing in our ears we set out, straps attached and sitting on the bonnets. It is deep but the bottom is rocky with the major drama being climbing over the submerged boulders. My young companions show true aplomb as they resist the urge to put the foot down and just putter slowly across, climbing gently over the submerged obstacles. We emerge dripping and triumphant. Our voyeuristic onlookers wade across and say somewhat disappointedly - That seemed very easy.
Our recently acquired friends are obviously anxious for us to wait while they cross, and they assure us that they watched the line we took very carefully. So we wait until they emerge from the Pascoe somewhat shaken, since, while they stuck to our line they could not resist going twice as fast as required. The vehicles rearing like horses as they struck each submerged boulder provided us with the mornings entertainment, but they were happy so all was well.
So that was it, thirty years after the first attempt I had finally conquered the Pascoe.
We camped that night on the banks of the Wenlock with the crossing ahead only shin deep. Our entre for the evening meal was red claw served on a bed of rice with hollandaise sauce. A far cry from the corn beef and tinned fruit of that trip many years before. I also recall catching Saratoga on the Wenlock lagoons nearby. Perhaps I will try in the morning. I sleep well, maybe there is something to this minimalist camping.
The next day we rejoin the Development road and head north to Bramwell Junction to tackle the Tele track. I do have a connection to the Telegraph line. In the early 1940’s my uncle was part of an Army team of engineers who updated the line and put in a “road” to maintain it, the road we now call the Telegraph track. Of course it was then the first line of communication if (when) the Japanese invaded. On my first Cape trip the Tele started at the Weipa turnoff and there was no development road, or for that matter no by-passes. The section from Coen to the Jardine took us about a week of very hard slogging and equally hard recoveries. We met no vehicles and spent two days on the south bank of the Jardine preparing for the crossing. The only persons we met on that trip were Wayne and Ralph who maintained the tele line from their camp at Mistake Creek – and built the original log bridge !
Now you have all read many accounts of struggles on the Tele, Palm Creek, Alice Creek, Delahunty, Gunshot, Cockatoo Creek and on to Eliot Falls for a rest day. Then Canal Creek, Sam, Mistake and Cannibal Creeks, each a mini challenge, some deep, some steep and some slippery. For some, like Palm, if you did not take the by-pass then the only way out was to winch. Suffice to say my young companions acquitted themselves well. The tougher it became the more they liked it. I was more interested in the wild life. On a layover at the Bertie I met a young thing who claimed to be a bikini model. She said she was on holiday and she probably was in that you do not wear your work clothes on holiday, and that was what she wore, nothing. We had a long conversation about life away from the big cities (she was from the north shore Sydney) and generally spent some time off and on chatting. So much so that my wife tartly referred to her thereafter as 'my bosom companion' and snidely suggests that she has had collagen nipple enhancement.
Eventually the last obstacle, Nolan's Brook, arrived.There were fewer vehicles now as most take the bypass to avoid Nolan's which has quite a fearsome reputation - justified as we later learn from the RACQ agent in Bamaga. This year he has recovered 47 vehicles from Nolan's that were subsequently written off, he was a bit annoyed because the write offs are simply shipped to Cairns so he only gets the recovery fees. Hardly worth the money to drag them out of that place he said. When the vehicles are repairable he gets a reasonable proportion of the repairs and makes good money on these. I gather about 50% of vehicles recovered are written off so he probably does OK even with the write-offs.
Modern computerised vehicles react very poorly to ingesting water into either the engine or the electronics, and given the depth it would be foolish indeed to tackle Nolan's without a snorkel (unless your vehicle is pre electronic injection). All the modern 4WD’s seem to have the air intake under the mud guard, not the right place if you wish to cross Nolan’s ! Once again we spend some time choosing our line and eventually idle across, for me the water creeps over the bonnet and up to the windscreen as deep as I would wish. We push on to the old Jardine crossing and as I look over to the far bank I wonder how the hell we drove across there some thirty years ago - but then there was no alternative. We camp that night at Wooronga Pt in Punsand Bay and look forward to heading up to the most northerly point on the Australian mainland tomorrow. With some satisfaction we sip our Chardonay – chilled perfectly - and watch the sun set over the waters of the Gulf.
We have run the gauntlet of the Tele track, Amanda leading the way and always trying the most difficult, the steepest or deepest route first, mostly with success sometimes not. Glen was the good Shepard and tail end Charlie recovering us as required. Me? I was piggy in the middle and just went where I was told, and had a great time !
The next day is clear and bright as we head out to the tip, all in high anticipation except the unsuspecting Amanda. We smuggle a bottle of champagne out to the tip where in the most traditional style Glen on one knee asks Amanda to marry him, much to the amusement and hilarity of the gathered crowd.
What a great trip, I am delighted that I came. And of course it ended with a Tip Top proposal. That is hard to beat.