2013 Diary of a Canning Walker

Day 8 - I want to be a Hero

Day 8

Day 8 - walking the dune

Day 8, 7 June 2013

Photo's - Solo Walk - Billiluna to Kunawarritji 657km

My next drop is a couple of kilometres past the intersection to Well 50. Saying my good byes to the desert oak, I enjoy the fleeting feeling that I can run all day, my backpack is so light from my having eaten all the food. For the first time in the week that I started this walk, I really understand the difference between travelling light with 25kg and staggering along under 35kg plus. The damp sand has hardened, making for easy walking, but the area around the supply drop is Spartan and unwelcoming. The decision to stop early at the desert oak and luxuriate in a rest day under that beautiful old tree, proved to be a good one. There is no protection from the elements here at this drop.

In the supply drop I find a delicious ready to eat meal of lamb shank from Happy Camper Gourmet. The shank is beautifully dressed on the bone, but at 450g, the lamb shank is the heaviest of all my HCG meals. In my preparations I’d focused on accumulating calories, paying little consideration to weight, believing that with supply drops spaced roughly 21km apart, it was an  unnecessary consideration. I had expected to be carrying a maximum of two days of food at any one time and I mean really, how much of a difference would 450g make to my pack weight? The answer is, when you are exhausted and stressed - HUGE!!! The placement of a single item weighing 450g in my pack had the presence of a lead brick.

This first week was really tough on many levels as I got my priorities straightened out. Getting rid of excess weight was high on my list. With that in mind I pulled out the Trangia cooker and heated the meat, eating it on the spot. No way was I carrying the extra weight of a bone!

Then it was time for the familiar ritual of burning rubbish which I usually did in the hole after extracting my supplies. This was to keep the fire contained in the omnipresent wind, the resinous spinifex requiring little more than an ember to set it off racing wild downwind.

Yesterday’s rain however, had left everything damp. In the struggle to burn the rubbish I resort to pouring meths over everything. Page by page, Bob Cooper’s Outback Survival Guide is consumed by lethargic flames, together with the meaty traces of Happy Camper Gourmet packaging and bone. I feel both guilty and saddened treating a book in such a manner, burning the Snowden family’s message written on the inside of the cover is particularly guilt ridden. For a brief moment I consider keeping the front cover as a memento, my connection to people who cared about me, but all excess must go. As I watched the flames eat slowly through the cover, I could only hope that both Bob and Dave would understand the desperate need to rid myself of non-essential weight. The book has served its purpose as a source of information. I’d read it from cover to cover, burning page by page, day by day for the past week, the information which was to serve me sooner than later, absorbed.

My backpack water bladder and drinking bottle are already full with rain water and I have plenty to spare. Chores done, the luxury of washing my body in extra water is enjoyed. The pride some adventurers take in ignoring hygiene and almost never washing, for weeks, is something I have never understood. For me it is a priority. It may not always be easy to have a thorough all over wash, but I can clean up in half a litre of water. Contracting a friction sore or rash or other infection, is an unnecessary burden I can avoid with awareness and cleanliness. My feet always get extra special care. The thought of contracting blood poisoning from a dirty blister and having to keep walking, is something I do not need to experience. Wiping myself down each morning and night has a certain calming ritual as I enjoy the desert views.

Feeling strong after my meaty meal and rest, I leave the track for about 18km, walking along the crest of a sand dune, Lawrence of Arabia style. These are the first sand dunes and I love the view from these ridges burned free of growth. When wild fire ravages the land, the ever present wind shifts the sands on top of these dunes, making it hard for growth to re-establish itself. Camel prints along the crests indicate they use these ridges regularly when an east-west direction is desired and I come to refer to the dunes as camel highways. The CSR track usually follows a north-east south-west direction, crossing hundreds of these east-west dunes. Camels make regular use of both the vehicle track and the burned dune crests to avoid walking through the spinifex and bush.  They probably enjoy the view too!

Reunited with the track and yet another drop, I wash most of my clothes and burn the rubbish. This supply drop is different to the others. It comes with an important decision I must make, one that would make me a hero in my own mind, or a bloody idiot in everyone else’s.


Hero or Idiot?

It is here at supply drop Number 79 that I must decide whether to leave the track and walk a straight line cross country behind Breaden Hills to supply drop Number 76, and in doing so, save myself a day and a half of walking by cutting out the loop that would take me around the west face of Breaden Hills, via Wells 49 and 48. My concern is that the crossing would take longer than a day and I did not feel comfortable about camping in no-man’s land so far from the relative safety of the track in case some misfortune befell me during the night.

This first week had been a struggle to walk 21km a day and the crossing was more like 30km. Whilst the growth may be sparse where I was now, there was no telling what it would be like two sand dunes in. I could find myself closed in and fighting my way through spinifex and bush, my water levels quickly dropping with the increased energy expenditure.

My back was also hurting again (looking for excuses) and I was surviving on a double dose of Celebrex anti-inflammatories and painkillers. What if the muscle spasms caused the vertebra to go out of alignment? Or worse, the weight of my backpack put too much pressure on the 50% that was left of the L2 vertebra, causing it to collapse resulting in nerve damage? I had to consider that I might not be able to continue walking across this trackless desert. Incapacitated and off track, in a place no-one would dream I would walk, the only recourse would be to push the SPOT emergency button thereby activating GEOS Alliance Search and Rescue. That would be embarrassing. And ultimately perhaps ineffectual. The Canning Stock Route is an isolated area, the rescue party easily taking two days, probably more, to get to me. Add being way off track to that and the odds of a successful rescue diminishes. Would I last long enough with limited water supplies? I was scared to be so daring.

During the supply run, I’d realised I might need a day or two to think about this decision and had placed extra food and water at this drop. If I did decide to go, I would rest up and leave in the cool of the dawn. Looking out into the dunes and scrub of a land I knew nothing about, I imagined all the things that could go wrong … and alternatively the sweet liberating feeling of success. A long admirer of the achievement of first CSR walkers, I wanted to experience a little of what they did, taking direct lines between the wells, leaving the track on occasion, but my instinct for survival and taking the safer option was stronger than my need to be a hero. I was on my own. I could not afford to make a mistake. Caution must be exercised. Facing my first real test of daring on the Canning, I failed to rise to the occasion. That feeling sucks.

CSR Survival Tips

We have a saying in paragliding: It is better to be on the ground wishing you were up there, than up there wishing you were on the ground.

Alone, off track, you cannot afford to make mistakes. A twisted ankle can be fatal.
How do you get back to the track without support, carry enough food, water and kit, in order to survive a few days until a vehicle comes by?

Map Notes

Those lines on the Eotopo Map are real sand dunes as can be seen by my track. Very useful in plotting a course. I did not have this mapping software in 2013.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 March 2018 21:17

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