The Search for Shipka Pass

Shipka Pass is on the Gascoyne River. Its location was imprecise. In 2008, Jeff and I set about to determine its location.

We turned off the Gascoyne Junction Road near Winnemia and followed a fenceline till stopped by a creek.  Parking the 4WD under some shade, we had a quick look at the sun, a closer look at the map and determined that there was sufficient daylight to walk to the supposed location of the Pass and return before nightfall.

There had been plenty of rain in the area from a recent cyclone and local thunderstorms.   The fence we were following skirted a claypan full of water and we thought the map was in error as is showed the fence running through the middle of it. Cresting a dune we realised that the map was accurate.  It was only a short detour around the claypan and soon enough we came upon the Gascoyne River.  It was flowing in several channels.

The sands of the river bed are coarse and light brown in colour. The full width of the river was about 350 metres. A rock bar looked like a promising spot to cross the first channel.  Debris was everywhere, forced against the base of trees from an earlier river height.

We took off our boots and waded through the flowing water about knee deep. It was only a short walk across a pebbly bar to the next channel. This was a lot deeper and faster flowing.  All three of us had our feet nearly swept from under us a number of times during the 30 metre, waist deep crossing.

I put my boots back on and headed slightly upriver to find an easy entry into the next channel.  Stepping off the ait to the sand at the edge of the water I plunged straight down to thigh depth.  Not quite quicksand but not too unlike it either.  Two or three gluggy steps and I reached terra firma.

No point in removing the boots and socks to keep them dry.  This channel was only 15 metres across with fast flowing water.  Another short trek across another sandy/pebbly bar brought us to the last channel.  It was fairly deep with a slow flow and only 10 metres wide.

Now, which way to Shipka Pass?  It should be downriver.  Suitably shod we headed off across the elevated bank of the river. In less than a kilometre we reached the river’s confluence with Mooka Creek. The water in the creek travels through Shipka Pass as it joins the Gascoyne’s flow. The course of Mooka Creek as it forms Shipka Pass describes a gentle arc to the north east. We followed up this arc for a few hundred metres before the dipping sun indicated it was time to return.

The Pass is as described by Surveyor Carey on his traverse and correctly located ­ – unlike Khyber Pass which is just upriver from Shipka but shown in various different locations on different map editions.

There was not time to do a ground survey of Khyber Pass. We crossed the Gascoyne opposite Mooka Creek in a straight line and headed cross country to pick up the fence line, arriving back at the vehicle just before dark.

540 words
Two images.

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