Palm Creek on the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) in Cape York is possibly the most technical crossing on the track and it’s only 4km from the start! Gunshot Creek and Nolan’s Brook are also names that demand high levels of respect, but Palm Creek has rapidly degraded in the past 5 years.
On our tours, we leave our trailer behind and take our guests up the track in our small Isuzu NPS300 tour truck to give them a taste of the OTT…by watching others that is! Over the years (and since I’ve lived in Cape York and done the track on my Suzuki DR650) we have photographed its’ change.
I’ve also noticed that when people first arrive, they are pretty confused on where to go and how to approach it. As I’m in a guiding uniform I often get asked what the options are. So, I thought I’d write this article to help people understand Palm Creek better, before they arrived.
Author intro: I have lived in Cape York (Bamaga, Coen and Cooktown) or Cairns most my life. Working all over Cape York as an ecologist, I drove some of the worst roads you’d never see on a normal run. Currently, I run a Cape York tour company and have learnt the intricacies of Cape York on many levels. In 2020, I also kayaked to Pajinka, the tip of Cape York. My aim is to help people see and enjoy my favourite place on earth, safely and respectfully.
As to be expected, over the years the tracks change due to heavy 4wd use and seasonal rain. It has been outstanding to watch Palm Creek change from 2013 to 2023. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from 2013 when the first set of tracks formed in the bush to the right of Exit 1, creating Exit 2 (I’ll explain the naming of Entries/Exits next). To the right are some images over the years of how it has changed though.
As an example of how much Palm Creek has changed, I did the originals (Entry 1 and Exit 1) on my thumper DR650 bike in 2015 with ease. In 2022, very few would consider doing it on even lighter bikes!
Compare 2015 (above) to 2022 (below) at the original entry to Palm Creek (Entry 1).
Exit 4, as you will see on the below map, is no longer used. This exit was originally very steep, but now trees have fallen over due to erosion and have fully blocked the track. In the background you can see Entry 2.
Perhaps the most significant change however, is Exit 5. In the early days it was a pretty simple climb out of the creek. Now it has been gauged into a long, deep channel with a steep exit.
Lets quickly look at the names. Entry 1 and Exit 1 are the originals, the rest is what you can call the ‘chicken tracks’. The tracks they say people take if they are ‘chicken’…or often smart! Entry tracks are on the south side of Palm Creek, and Exit tracks are on the north side. They are named Entry and Exit as most people run the track south to north and will get to the southern side first.
Please note that this can all change after the wet season, but this is accurate at the end of 2022.
As of the end of 2022, only Entry 1 and 2 are usable. Entry 3 was getting deeper and deeper and has now been rutted out and a large tree has become embedded in the track. These can be viewed in the below video about Palm Creek (use the chapters to skip through the Entries/Exits).
June, 2023 Update: Entry 3 is partly clear after the 2022/3 wet season, however a very deep mud pile sits at the end. Still rarely used.
Entry 1 is high risk and is now a steep drop off that requires a very controlled and straight drop-in. I would say this is now as bad as Gunshot, and has definitely claimed some vehicles. Weigh up the risks yourself, but definitely get a strap hooked up and ready to go if you need your nose pulled out forward.
June, 2023 Update: Is still steep and likely worse than gunshot. Slight RHS angle and not used much.
Entry 2 is a very easy slope into the creekbed. From here its exit is blocked (Exit 4), so you can either go left to Exits 1,2 and 3, or right to Exit 5.
June, 2023 Update: 2 tracks enter here and both are easily sloped. Progressively becoming more steep and mud holes forming at the bottom.
Going the wrong way up the entry. This bloke snapped a CV navigating Exit 1 or 2 and had to go back to Bramwell for repairs.
Exit 1 is the original exit and is very difficult. It will almost certainly require winching, although that’s likely for the other exits as well. It now has 2 steps in the exit, making it difficult to maintain momentum (see the video above).
June, 2023 Update: Is still the most challenging of the exits. The last year has created more challenges including platformed ruts and mudholes. Good fun and definitely get the winch ready!
Exit 2 has been flogged pretty hard and also will require winching. It normally features a nice mud hole at the bottom, also making it difficult to get momentum.
June, 2023 Update: Exit 2 has dried up and is sloped evenly now. A good option without (most) needing to winch out.
Exit 3 is pretty new, and at first was a reasonably easy exit, but now has also been rutted out. There is a good example of this changing within a month in the above video.
June, 2023 Update: In the year that this exit has existed it has grown by about 30m already. Currently, sloped well and a good exit without needing to winch out.
Exit 4 is blocked (see pics above).
Exit 5 is still challenging and fun, but is probably the safest and easiest option. I would recommend this option for anyone towing or anyone wanting to do the track but not push their vehicles to the limits.
June, 2023 Update: Wet in early part of season. Has one wheeler stopper bump on RHS wall exit. Likely a winch out exit.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Some may prefer to take the safer alternatives and there is nothing wrong with that. If this is you, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to do a track you don’t feel comfortable with. At the end of the day…you still have to drive that vehicle home! Others may be up to test their dream 4WD rig to the max and will avoid chicken tracks as much as possible. Either way, enjoy yourselves, be safe and take your rubbish (and a little extra) with you.
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