How And Why We Dashed Across The Simpson Desert In A Week From Melbourne With A Haval H9 And Great Wall Steed. This week we look at another of our companions.

OUR CONVOY SIZE was a friendly and nimble four – you know we took a Haval H9 and a Great Wall Steed, and the pre-Christmas update introduced J in her Triton. The fourth member of our group was Michael, in his Ford Everest. I asked him the same questions as J, and if you have any more feel free to ask in the comments.

Why did you want to do this trip? 

“I have been a keen four-wheel driver for nearly three decades and have driven almost every kind of terrain you can from dirt to rocks to mud to snow. The one elusive substance that I never had the opportunity to drive was desert sand. My first memories of seeing the Simpson Desert were on TV while watching people driving their well-equipped vehicles through the many dunes. It instantly etched its way onto my bucket list of places I needed to go. The big problem was the obvious; it’s so bloody far from everything. Of course that was also one of its biggest attractions as well but with a young family it might as well been in Africa.”

“When Robert mentioned he had a plan to tackle the desert in less than 10 days and it was going to be over a long holiday weekend where I was only going to miss a few days from work I was on board!  I had just completed the build of my Ford Everest and was eager for the challenge.” 

Michael watching a sunset in the desert. It’s always good as the horizon is uncluttered of trees, there’s no light pollution and the reddish sand lends a special hue to the soft evening light. Add in the gentle, quite ambience with a sense of remoteness and you have a moment where you feel peaceful, awed, content and lucky. It’s why we bother to drive all this way into apparent nothingness, because nothingness is something.

What did you expect from the crossing?

“From the many photos and videos I saw of the Simpson Desert I expected it to be all sand dunes, like what you see in Saudi Arabia. I expected to be churning though the hot desert sand keeping a sharp eye on the GPS so as to not lose my way on the unformed desert tracks. I bought a bunch of sand pegs for my tent as I thought we would be camping on loose desert sand.”

Typical Simpson dune, as distinct from say the Sahara which in many cases has no vegetation at all and no marked tracks.

How different was the crossing to what you expected?

“The most obvious surprise to this trip was the lack of sand. Most of the trip was spent on clay pan and other solid ground that was between what started out as small, narrow sand dunes only a few meters tall and wide. So much less sand churning than I thought. The dunes were very easy to cross with just a little momentum to carry the Everest over. Camping was also on solid ground so I had to ditch the sand pegs and locate my normal ground pegs to keep the tent from blowing away.”

“Of course, as we headed east, the dunes grew larger and more challenging and there were times when the space between the dunes was filled in with sand so I felt completely surrounded by the yellow grit but that was short lived. I really thought this was going to be a serious challenge to get through only to find that it was actually a fairly easy crossing with only one sand bog as I misjudged a dune crest that high centered my vehicle. A few quick shovels of sand from under the Everest and I was away again. I didn’t even need to break out the Maxtrax or winch.”

“Navigation was also much easier than I suspected as the tracks were very well formed and limited in options. I really did not need the three GPS devices I was using but they were valuable as they had points of interest to see.”

There’s more dirt-road driving like this on any remote desert trip than actual rough-terrain work. But don’t be deceived..high speed dirt roads often place more stress on a car than low-speed, low-range terrain.

What were you glad you prepared?

“I had a pretty well built vehicle before this trip but I felt I needed to do a few more things before embarking on the mighty Simpson Desert.”

“Firstly I needed to locate a long rang fuel tank to increase the Ford’s meager 80 litre one. Fortunately Brown Davis just made one for the Everest and they were able to get the first production one installed on my Everest a week before the trip. That gave me 120 litres of fuel in the tank but I felt the need for a bit more so I knew I would be adding another 40 to the roof rack. That brought up another issue. The roof rack platform I was using is known for slipping forward and backward on the slippery rails that Ford uses on the Everest, so I set out to add a third set of feet to the rack and enhanced it with the additional security of rivet bolting the feet to the Everest rail directly. I was not going to lose my rack on this trip!”

“I also wanted my water to be low and out of the way so I picked up a 60 litre water bladder that fit in the footwell behind the drivers seat. That had the added benefit of using space that was otherwise hard to use, and as I used the water, the bladder shrank in size instead of having to find room for empty water jerries.”

What didn’t you need?

“I technically didn’t need the extra 40 litres of diesel and most of the water I bought although I would still bring it again. You never know what might happen in the desert. I am told if it rains you could be stranded for days out there and I would feel better having the water and fuel insurance. Otherwise I used almost everything I packed. On that note, I did put everything I wanted to bring on this trip on the floor of my garage a week before the trip. I slowly whittled out stuff that I really did not need or did not live up to the multiple use rule, which means every item has to have at least two different uses, and for important tasks there’s two.” [ Ed: this is the pretty much same approach Robert used to pack the Haval H9 – read more here ].

The Everest runs AdBlue, like many new 4X4s. Michael filled up his tank as we left Adelaide. That’s a good idea for anyone doing the same – in theory AdBlue may last a long time, but why not top it up anyway? Consumption will increase as the going gets harder.

What are three things you’d tell someone else who is doing it?

1. “It is not nearly as difficult as many say it is. The difficulty of the Simpson is not the desert itself but the remoteness of it. It is a long tedious drive just getting there. You must be prepared to be able to stay conscious for those days just trying to get to and from the desert. I recommend audio books and stopping as often as you can for a stretch. Having a co-driver would be a wise move.” [ Ed: he forgets my excellent lateral thinking puzzles! ]

2. “Plenty of fuel, food and water, or course. It is a long desert crossing between Mt Dare and Birdsville in offroad conditions. Prepare for much higher fuel use than normal. The trip only takes 2-3 days to go across but if it rains many tracks can be impassable and you will have to wait for them to dry out. And don’t count on others, we only came across three other vehicles for the entire crossing, although we did cross in early November when few others try.”

3. “Communication! No Telstra out there. We brought a satellite phone and I had a distress beacon. As I said earlier, there may be no one who will come across you if you are stranded so you must be able to fix it yourself, or send for help if the going gets bleak.” 



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