Days 11 to 16: Dwellingup to Collie

This blog entry is being posted a month after my return so I expect it will be much abridged compared to previous entries since my memories are now pretty blurry. I am seriously thinking of taking my tablet next time so that I can write the entries daily. It is a little heavy but much more useful than my phone for accessing the web (email is almost but not quite impossible to read on my phone). The tablet takes a really good photo too. And it doubles as my reading material. Although it does use a lot more battery, obviously. So many decisions…

Thu Oct 19 (Day 11): Dwellingup to Island Pool

Dwellingup to Collie is a six-nighter, so it took some time before I was able to arrange both the time off and transport. In the end mum runs me out to Dwellingup on the Thursday afternoon, and then we have a beer at the very pleasant Dwellingup pub, so it is about 3pm by the time I get going. That gave me about 3.5hrs to sunset, which should be doable.

The track goes right past the pub, through the town, and enters the forest just after the primary school. Medium-light jarrah forest, good wildflower display. Pass a few sweet houses tucked away in the forest and get occasional glimpses of nice rolling pastures through the trees.

The track crosses a bridal path several times before I finally get my wish and descend into a pine plantation.

I know it is not politically correct to like pine plantations but they have always held a fascination for me. Very Narnia. The smell is hard to describe – slightly chemical and not at all Christmas. All I can say that it smells cold, although the weather was pretty warm. The only plant that thrives here, apart from the radiata pines, is blackberry.

Emerging from the pine forest I reach the diversion point. I knew that Swamp Oak campsite was closed for prescribed burning so I wasn’t concerned.

As with previous diversions the diversion track runs along roads, but these are through the Lane Cove National Park so it is a pretty attractive walk. It is 13.7km from Dwellingup to Swamp Oak, which should have been doable in 3.5hrs, but it seems the temporary campsite is a bit further because it is pitch dark by the time I arrive. Not really a problem because I am walking along a good road with little traffic.

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As it turns out the temporary campsite is the Island Pool picnic site, which is a very nice spot on the Murray river with a landing for canoeists. Normally you aren’t allowed to camp here. Since the picnic site already has public toilets the only addition required for bibbulmun walkers is water, which is provided in two jerry cans.

You are not supposed to light campfires here, but then again you aren’t supposed to camp here either so I assume that doesn’t apply to me since I have bought sausages for my first night and they won’t keep. I make a very small, well shielded fire in the sand next to the river. I cook my instant mash and dried peas in my cookpot over the flames, managing to melt the handle in the process. I impale the sausages on a green stick and cook them over the embers. It isn’t particularly successful and it turns out the sausages aren’t all that good anyway, but it is edible. I drink both my beers to compensate for the uninspiring meal.

Since there is no shelter at temporary campsites this will be the first time I use my bivvy bag, which is basically a waterproof bag with a bit of a tent over your head. It takes a while to work out how to fit the poles and I am glad it is not raining while I am doing this. You don’t really climb into it like a tent, what you do is assemble the tent bit, unzip the bivvy, then make up your bed in the bag and unzip the sleeping bag. Then climb into the sleeping bag, zip it up and then zip up the bivvy. Would be pretty trick in heavy rain.

I looked around for somewhere fairly level to set up and decided that a picnic table was pretty similar in size to a bed. I put the foam mattresses on the table, under the bivvy. The thermarest goes into the bivvy. It works out surprisingly well.

Fri Oct 20 (Day 12): Island Pool to Murray

I sleep reasonably well in the bivvy. No rain, so I am able to keep the vent above my face open. Otherwise it would have been unpleasantly hot and stuffy. In the morning the sleeping bag is pretty damp from condensation, but I expected that and I can hang it out to dry when I get to the Murray campsite. It could be a problem if I ever need to use the bivvy two nights in a row without anywhere to dry it out.

I wander back down to the water and take a few photos now that I have some light. It really is a very pretty spot.

I fill my spare drink bottle from the jerry cans and head off.

The diversion largely follows a rail formation so it is fairly easy going. After rejoining the main track it gets steeper. At one point I stop for a breather and I hear some rustling in the leaves just off the track. On investigation I discover a bungarra, about 1.3m long. He makes a slow getaway, cautious but not really threatened by me. Quite rightly of course – there is no way I am going to get near enough for him to get his claws into me.

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It soon got even steeper. Nice country but hard work. I stop for lunch where the track crosses a small stream on a steel bridge. This is when I discover that I have lost my drink bottle. It was nearly empty but it means that now I have only my spare 1.25L bottle. At least I still have that, and I filled it this morning at the temporary campsite. Unfortunately when I take a swig it tastes foul and I spit it straight out. They have put some sort of treatment in the water and there is no way I am going to drink it.

I remove my boots and soak my feet in the creak. Heaven…

I have another 5.2km to the Murray campsite, which doesn’t sound too bad. After climbing up out of the valley the track skirts the Murray river although it never actually descends to the river. It is a rather narrow, pretty trail through lush greenery but I am pretty dehydrated at this point and am in some distress. As you get dehydrated you get physically weak and start to get a little irrational. I really don’t want to stop because I am afraid I won’t be able to get up again. If I can just make it to the campsite I can fill up from the water tanks.

Eventually I give up, dump my pack and collapse on it. Then I drink that horrible water. After about 10min I feel a bit better and I get going again. Soon enough I arrive at Murray campsite.

Very few of the campsites are located close to water. Murray is a lovely spot looking straight down onto the river. It is suitable for swimming although the riverbed is pretty slippery. The water is cold but no way am I going to pass up the opportunity to get clean.

I hang my sleeping bag out to dry then collect my dirty cloths and wade out into the river to wash them, including the ones I am wearing. So it is a good thing I had the camp to myself. You aren’t supposed to use soap or detergent close to a water supply so I just rinse the clothing (and myself). I hang everything out to dry on the rails in front of the camp.

I really don’t feel hungry. I eat some apple, cheese and salami for dinner. Then I make a cup of tea and wander back down to the river to poke at baby marron. I promptly slip on the bank, landing on my bum in the mud and slipping my foot into the river. Now it looks like I have shat in my longjohns and my socks are wet. I put my cup down so that my hands will be free and continue along the river. Coming back I can’t find my cup.

I wash my longjohns and hang them out with the socks before retiring. My hip is pretty sore from rubbing on the pack belt.

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Sat Oct 21 (Day 13): Murray to Dookanelly

In the morning I make two passes along the river, looking for my lost cup (which is also my saucepan). No dice. I reckon the potkoorok stole it.

I depart Murray at about 9am, being sure to fill my remaining water bottle. For most of this leg of the track it follows the Murray river, usually about 50m above and never descending to the water. The track is pretty attractive, although seldom more than 10m from the Murray River Fireline road you would never know it – the track makes for good walking but is too narrow to allow vehicle access.

Soon after leaving Murray camp I encounter large areas of moss with unusually large, rusty-coloured sporophytes.

The Dookanelly and surrounds is also closed for prescribed burning, which I was expecting. The diversion starts about 16km out of Murray camp and 3.6km shy of the Dookanelly campsite. Unfortunately the temporary camp is awful – right next to the Driver road bridge, which gets a fair amount of traffic, with no separation between the road and the campsite so that any 4WDs boring down the road and night would have you right in their headlights as they approach the bridge. Check out the photo – that really is where we are supposed to camp, next to the temporary dunny. You can see the road continuing over the bridge on the left. There are two jerry cans of water next to the dunny. I have a taste and sure enough the water is foul. I don’t contaminate my water bottle, figuring I would rather drink river water. As it turns out the river water here is pretty saline, probably not safe to drink, but I didn’t know that at the time.

There is a nice enough spot just over the bridge but a couple of bogan 4WDs have moved in, with eskis and stereos etc so I don’t fancy pitching my bivvy here. Besides, it is still only 2pm – plenty of time to put some km behind me. If I am going to camp anyway I might as well knock a bit off tomorrow’s walk, especially since the diversion adds a few km to the leg.

Normally the track runs east of the river, skirting a number of plantations. Having crossed the river at Driver road the diversion follows the Captain Fawcett 4WD track along the west side of the river. I am hoping it will descend to the river at some point so I can find a nice spot to camp, but the track stays clear of the river and the bush is pretty dense on either side. I am pretty hot and wrecked by now and just about out of water so I decide to follow another vehicle track which seems to head towards the river. It does lead to a fairly nice spot although a bit steep for camping. I remove my boots and soak my feet in the river. Very cold!

While sitting here resting my feet a guy wanders down the bank with his two boys. They are doing a bit of a reconnaissance trip, looking for somewhere good to camp. They left their 4WD about 100m back and walked down. I am somewhat surprised because from the look of the track it hadn’t seen much use. We have a bit of a chat and he offers to leave me some water, for which I am most grateful. I head up the bank and pick up the water – two 600mL bottles, nicely chilled. Those 4WD guys do it tough…

I still have about 3hrs of light so I decide to push on. There was a sign shortly after the bridge which said that the 4WD track was closed to vehicles because it is unsafe, but I am passed by several 4WDs. They really chew up the track something terrible.

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I pass a couple of guys going the other way. They had planned to cross at the new footbridge and stay at Dookanelly. Not only is Dookanelly closed but the bridge was taped up because that is the other end of the diversion. They were a bit annoyed because the bibbulmun foundation has been trumpeting about the new bridge and encouraging everyone to come and check it out. I warned them about the dodgy temporary site.

It is about 5pm so I decide to take the next track that heads down to the river. It does go down to the river, but the river is a bit swampy and gloomy at this point (think “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees”).

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There is a good level campsite about 100m from the river, however, so that will do. The forecast is for storms overnight so I try to pick a spot that won’t turn into a gully if it rains. I am just setting up when I realise I am almost on top of a sergeant ant’s nest. These guys are really stroppy – most ants are oblivious of anything my size unless I stomp around but this guy can obviously see me and stands up on his back legs, ready to take me on. For those who have never had the pleasure of interacting with a sergeant ant, they are about 20mm long and their bite feels a bit like a bee sting, maybe a little worse, although the swelling and pain usually passes after about half an hour. I decide maybe I will find another spot to pitch my bivvy.

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Since I am expecting rain I am not going to be able to leave the top vent in the bivvy open to the sky, but it is really quite hot. So I rig up a bit of a construction using my poncho as a tarpaulin and my hiking sticks as tent poles. This means I can open the vents up but will be protected from rain. It seems to work okay. I make myself dinner – ready-to-eat green chicken curry with instant rice. It looks gross but tastes pretty good really.

I get into bed and even with the vents open it is still hot and uncomfortable. I can’t open the bivvy up any more without letting the mozzies in. Imagine sleeping in a garbage bag on a hot, humid night with a tiny tent pitched over your head which leaves you with about 2 inches between your nose and the roof of the tent. Still no sign of rain. Eventually I get some sleep.

Sun Oct 22 (Day 14): Dookanelly to Possum Springs

The storm arrives at dawn. I wake to the distant sound of thunder at about 5:30am. Still no rain. The thunder gradually gets closer until it is following pretty hard on the lightning. At this point it occurs to me that I should probably have put a little thought into what I am camping under. They are young jarrah with smallish branches pointing upwards at a good angle so probably pretty safe.

The rain arrives about 6am and falls pretty hard for about half an hour. The bivvy works a treat.

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Once the rain stops I am able to make some breakfast and chai. I can’t really make coffee because I only have one pot so I have nothing to strain it into. Even so I am in pretty good spirits because of the success of the bivvy. I pack up and return to the track.

The track continues to follow the 4WD route. I have decided I hate 4WDrivers. I used to think that at least they were getting out in the bush and experiencing nature, but I hadn’t realised just how much damage they do. Every km or so there is another muddy pond where a succession of vehicles have bellied out on the mud. The undergrowth around the track tends to be fairly dense because of the extra sun, so I have the option of either bulling my way through prickle bushes or wading through the puddles. I find that the puddles are shallower in the middle and usually I can wade through without going over the top of my boot, although a couple of times I get my feet wet.

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The track meets the river several times and the river is more attractive at this point. On the other side of the river I can see the plantations being laid to waste. At this point I discover that the river water is saline. I drink the last of the water the 4WD guy gave me yesterday.

The diversion meets the original track, but continues to follow the 4WD track for a bit. The track crosses a creek on a culvert. The water looks pretty good so I decide to fill my water bottles. I descend to the creek and my boots start to sink in the mud. The water looks really clean and I fill one 600mL bottle and drink it straight off before refilling it. I decide one bottle is enough and retreat before I lose my boots completely.

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Climbing back out of the creek I meet the two hikers I met yesterday. They said got to Driver Rd and the 4WD camp was turning into a party so they weren’t going to camp there. Since the forecast was for storms they decided there was no way the prescribed burn was going to go ahead today so they stayed in the Dookanelly campsite and then returned down the West side of the river this morning. I can’t fault their logic but the idea of being caught out on the track during a burn gives me the horrors.

They are returning to their vehicle on the Harvey-Quindanning Rd to the south. I follow behind and, since they are walking somewhat faster than I am, they soon disappear.

The 4WD track terminates at what was a pine plantation but was razed in bushfires in 2015. Low vegetation is making a good comeback but not much in the way of trees. Plenty of nice wildflowers though.

I have heard the rumbling of the Worsley Conveyor all morning and now I start to catch glimpses of it in the distance. I cross the Harvey-Quindanning Rd. Just to the east of here was the old Long Gully Bridge. This impressive timber railway bridge was where the bibbulmun used to cross the Murray. It was completely destroyed in the 2015 bushfires. The crossing is now at the new pedestrian bridge (which I still haven’t seen because I diverted around it). I decide not to go and look at a bunch of blackened stumps and instead I cross the road and ascend a steep hill in the shadow of the conveyor. The noise is incredible as I suppose you would expect if you transport thousands of tons of rock on a high-speed conveyor belt. Of course it is a complete abomination to find something like this out in the bush but I can’t help being impressed by the sheer engineering bollocks of the project. I pass under the conveyor and continue to the crest of the hill.

It is another 6km to the Possum Springs campsite and I arrive about 4pm, having covered about about 25km. Possum Springs is a rammed-earth structure. I think the original timber building was lost in the 2015 fires. At any rate it is huge and I have it all to myself. I take the opportunity to have a bucket bath, using a drysac full of water as my bucket. It isn’t entirely successful but I feel much better. My hip is looking worse though.

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I also wash my clothes – stuffing them into a drysac with water and pumping them up and down to rinse them out. It is reasonably successful but there isn’t enough sun left for them to dry. I hang them up in the hut overnight but they are still damp in the morning.

Mon Oct 23 (Day 15): Possum Springs to Harris Dam

Most of the country I am walking this morning was badly affected by bushfire in 2015. This makes for good wildflowers but not a lot of shade.

Also more of our mystery fewmets. Whatever it is that is doing these dumps has been eating zamia fruit, which doesn’t seem very smart since they obviously go straight through. I remember someone telling my when I was a kid that birds will eat the zamia fruit but they are poisonous to humans. It occurs to me that the mystery creature could be an emu – they are big enough to down a zamia fruit, the dumps are about the right size, and they are stupid enough to eat just about anything. Only I haven’t seen an emu anywhere on the track since I started.

Around midday I start to cross the Harris River flats – slightly swampy, flat heath. Not the most interesting country but pretty easy walking.

Something is bothering me, and as I approach Yourdamung campsite I realise the problem – it is Monday and I am supposed to be on a Coach out of Collie on Tuesday evening. That means I am going to have to double-hut either today or tomorrow. Or I suppose I could do another half leg today and camp between huts. I am a bit wrecked and was really hanging out for a rest so the idea of pushing on is unappealing.

I arrive at Yourdamung campsite. It isn’t particularly interesting and there is an old guy there who arrived earlier. I discuss my problem and he encourages me to continue to Harris Dam campsite, which is another 15km. He says it is pretty flat and a young guy like me shouldn’t have any trouble. I suspect he just wants to camp to himself but I decide to push on.

The going is pretty easy, mostly along old railway formations. Just shy of the Harris Dam campsite I pass the remains of an old wooden railway built by timber loggers. Not just the sleepers, but the actual rails were made of wood. The guidebook doesn’t say what ran on the rails but I suspect the wagons would have been pulled by horses because I doubt the rails would have supported an engine. Apparently the rails were restored in 1999 but were damaged by vandals. There isn’t much left to see.

I arrive at Harris Dam campsite, completely wrecked, just after sunset. Today I have walked 33.6km. Already at the camp are an older couple and two younger European girls. I have another semi-shower behind the hut, this time using my water bottle instead of a bucket. Dinner is satay chicken. This is the first time I have shared a camp since Dwellingup. It makes for poor sleep.

Tue Oct 24 (Day 16): Harris Dam to Collie

The older couple are up around 5:30 so I get up too. I end up being the first out on the track at 6:30, which is a bit of a record – usually it ends up closer to 9am before I get going.

The first few km of track are a pleasant descent into the Harris River valley. Before reaching the dam I pass a rather odd phenomenon – an extended village of gnomes. Apparently there is a tradition among walkers of adding to the community. No doubt this would give the bibbulmun foundation conniptions but it is pretty funny.

A little further on I pass the wall of Harris Dam. There is a good bridge here and boardwalk. Also carpark, picnic area and short day-walks marked. It seems like a nice place for a picnic and the town of Collie obviously maintain the facilities well. The pool below the dam wall would be a nice place for a swim. I seem to think about swimming a lot, but opportunities seldom come up at the right time.

From the picnic area the track continues towards Collie, overlapping with other marked tracks, including the munda biddie. I stop for morning tea on a bridge over a nice little stream at about 9:30am.

More wildflowers…

An hour later I cross a railway line and I am back in farming country. Nice country it is too – green with plenty of water and enough slope to be interesting while making for viable pasture.

I cross a major road. When I left the Collie spur was closed for burning but obviously burning is complete and the track has been reopened. From now on I am walking through freshly burned forest. It is a little surreal.

Finally I arrive on the outskirts of Collie town. Walking along the footpath, with my backpack and poles, I feel a little out of place. A passing car gives me a honk and a wave and I feel better. Passing the local motel I hear what at first I take to be a school carnival, but then the yelling seems a bit agro. Peering over the fence I see about a dozen people facing off and yelling at each other in the reception centre carpark. I guess that wedding was a bit of a bust. A bit further along the road a police car passes me. Then another with the lights and sirens going. Welcome to Collie!

I arrive at the tourist centre at midday, with the whole afternoon to kill before my coach leaves at 5pm. The people at the centre let me leave my pack in their back room so I don’t have to haul it around the place.

Outside the centre is a display with several engines I am no trainspotter but it is a pretty interesting display, especially when I get to the story of F398:

The F class heavy freight locomotives were introduced in 1902 and later superheated to an Fs-class.

The locomotive before you will best be remembered for its part in a fatal accident at Swan View in 1942.

Number 97 goods train left Perth for Northam at 9:15pm on the 4th November 1942 with four crew on board. The train, powered by F398 (F class) and L251 (L class) locomotives, made its way via Midland and soon commenced the demanding climb towards the Swan View Tunnel. Inside the tunnel the train struck a dislodged chaff bale which had fallen off the previous train resulting in the train being stalled. The usual restart procedures were tried to no avail and within minutes the crew members were overcome with hot choking fumes from the engines of both locomotives.

One of the last acts of driver Thomas Beer was to put the train into reverse which resulted in the train gathering speed down the hill with an unconscious crew on board. The train crashed into granite boulders at the end of the dead end siding specifically built for runaway trains. The cab of engine F398 took most of the impact and that was where Thomas Beer lost his life.

The remaining crew survived. Engine F398 was rebuilt and superheated in December 1949 and renumbered Fs 452. It saw out the end of steam on the Western Australian Government Railways, finally being written off in June 1971.

I wander around town which is bigger than I expected with several pubs and both a coles and a woolworths. I have a really good pie for lunch (I recommend Forest French Hot Bread bakery) and hang out in the park. I pick up my pack from the tourist centre before they close at 4pm then buy a pizza from dominos and a beer from the bottleshop, which I consume while waiting for my coach.

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When the coach arrives it is not quite what I was expecting – it is just a coaster bus. 4 or 5 people get off and then I board and we head off since I am the only passenger. It takes about half an hour to get to Bunbury and drops me at the bus port. Half an hour later I get on a proper coach which makes good time into Perth, dropping me at Cockburn station about 8pm. Ness picks me up and makes me wind the window down. Apparently I smell bad. When I strip for my shower I find that my merino longjohns have stuck to the sore on my hip, ripping it open. Sore, but it heals cleanly.

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The theory is that you should carry all the weight of your pack on your hips, but this requires that you actually have hips. In my case I have to cinch the belt really tight to stop it sliding down and the belt then rubs on my skin. On the last day I tried taking part of the weight on my shoulders and that seems to help, especially if I adjust the straps regularly to move the load around.

[Heh, blog entry turned out pretty long after all]

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Days 8-10: Albany Hwy to Inglehope Siding

Tue Oct 03 (Day 8): Albany Highway to White Horse Hills Campsite

Stuffup #1. I am packing on Monday afternoon and I realise that guidebook 1 finishes at Albany Highway and I need guidebook 2 for the next leg. I didn’t buy book 2 earlier because it was out of print since they were about to bring out a new edition. So it is 3pm and the bibbulmun foundation (above Mountain Designs in West Perth) closes at 4pm. I phone the Map and Chart Shop in Freo and Mainpeak in Cottesloe. They both carry the guidebooks but don’t have book 2. No one else carries them. I phone the foundation and ask if I can pay over the phone and have them leave it at Mountain Designs, which closes at 5pm. No dice. Then I remember I had an old guidebook which covered the whole North end of the track but I threw it out thinking I wouldn’t need it. I go ratting through the recycling and find it (rubbish goes out on Tuesdays). It was published in 2002 but it will have to do.

Stuffup #2. We are about 20km from the drop off and I realise I have left my hat behind. No worries,  I  will make a sort of bandanna. That will protect my head and neck but not my face, and I don’t have sunscreen. Oh well, turn around and drive back to Armadale for a new hat and sunscreen. So I get started at 10am instead of 8:30.

To explain my route I need a map:

North Bannister Diversion

Normally the track goes from Mt Cooke to Nerang campsite, then down to Gringer Creek campsite near North Bannister, then to White Horse Hills campsite. But the area around North Bannister is closed for prescribed burning and there is a 27km diversion from Nerang to White Horse Hills. This is why I chose to finish the last stage at Powerline Rd between Mt Cooke and Nerang. What I have decided to do this time is continue South along Powerline Rd for about 4km until I connect up with the diversion and continue to White Horse Hills campsite. I will have to do an overnight through Nerang and Gringer Creek at some point later on. I really wanted to do the whole track North to South in sequence but this diversion messed me around.

I head up/down Powerline Rd and connect with the diversion as planned. There is a lot of crap dumped along here: tyres, a tv etc. Seems a long way to go just to dump some rubbish but presumably you can get some fresh air and connect with nature at the same time so I guess that is pretty efficient. At one point a 4WD bores past me heading South. Did I mention that this area is dieback quarantined?

A track crosses Powerline Rd and there is a track marker peg but some fucker has pulled it out of the ground. At least I assume so since the bottom 200mm show signs of having been buried but the peg is lying on the ground and there is no sign of the hole it came from. Eventually I work out it must have been pointing ahead down Powerline Rd so I continue and then I notice the footprints ahead of me. Duh.

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After a while the 4WD returns so I get off the track and give them a wave. They pull over and I have a chat with two young guys. They say they have to head back for fuel but there is an old concrete water tank up ahead somewhere that is a pretty cool place to stop. I say I saw something similar near Mt Dale but it is dieback quarantined. One of the lads says that is okay because he never gets out of the car. I just look at him, and then look at the tyres. He says “oh yeah, the tyres”. I had assumed 4WDrivers in the quarantine area just didn’t give a shit but maybe they are just stupid…

The diversion trail sticks with Powerline Rd for about 5.5km and then swings SE following vehicle tracks and some gravel roads which are clearly in use though I am not sure what for. The forestry guys haven’t been particularly generous with the markers – I am used to track markers every few hundred metres but the diversion markers are mostly placed at road intersections, which can be kilometres apart.

The forest around here is mostly smallish jarrah regrowth with light understory, the soil mostly gravel. Pleasant enough but not particularly interesting and slogging along the straight gravel roads is fairly dull.

I reach the end of the diversion about 2:30 and have some lunch next to a stream running over a gravel ford.

Following the track southwards is a bit of a revelation: the forest is exactly the same but this little narrow path meanders through it, only wide enough to walk single file. The experience is entirely different. Suddenly the forest is almost magical and I notice flowers and birds that I hadn’t seen while walking along the road. Unfortunately there are signs that a couple of trailbikes have passed along the track recently.

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As I near the campsite the ground starts to rise and there are a few granite outcrops. On one granite shelf just off the track I see small animals scuttling around. At first I take them to be some sort of small marsupial but on closer inspection they turn out to be little dragons about 200mm long.

Further up the hill I traverse a large granite dome with views to the North and West.

Finally, footsore and weary after a hike of about 21km, I arrive at the White Horse Hills campsite. Two guys have arrived ahead of me and the camp fire is going so I am able to toss a tomato and a few sausages on the plate to cook while I boil some dried peas. I give the peas 3 minutes and then add the instant potato mash. This works really well: I think dried peas may actually taste better than frozen although I did buy the expensive brand because the packet said they cook in 3min while the coles brand said 10min. I crack a can of beer and dig in. I think my fellow campers are much impressed with my culinary skills. Just as the sun is setting two ladies join us – they were delayed waiting for a provision delivery on Albany Highway. We are all travelling South so it seems we will be together for a few days although Anthony is thinking of double-hutting tomorrow.

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For this section I have bought a foam mat as well as the thermarest. It is full length so my feet don’t freeze and with the extra padding I am actually fairly comfortable.  Even so I sleep poorly, lying awake for hours. Eventually I give up and read for a while.

Wed Oct 04 (Day 9): White Horse Hills Campsite to Chadoora

I am awake when dawn arrives. I don’t want to wake my camp mates so I lie in bed another hour before someone else starts to make getting up noises.

Breakfast is a flavoured porridge sachet, no milk. Pretty good actually. Also a sausage and half a tomato left over from dinner so I am well fuelled up.

Anthony is off first and I follow about half an hour later. The leg from White Horse Hills to Mt Wells campsite goes over a bit of a ridge and then down the other side, then is mostly fairly level until the approach to Mt Wells. The ridge has some pretty cool rock formations. I am tempted to give the balancing rock a shove but decide that would be unkind to the hikers behind me (visions of Indiana Jones).

From the top of the ridge you can see some great views. The large scar to the South is the Boddington gold mine.

Between White Horse Hills and Mt Wells is mostly more jarrah regrowth. I notice that a lot of trees have termite. I suspect that they are weakened by dieback and then the termite move in.

I pass the water tank that the 4WD guys mentioned. It seems like a good place to stop but as soon as I do I am mobbed by large mosquitoes. A glance in the tank shows that there is about 300mm of water in the bottom – a perfect mozzie farm.

The last couple of kilometres approaching Mt Wells are pretty hard going but the campsite is pretty interesting with 360° views. This was an old fire lookout tower and associated accommodation for the warders. Apart from bibbulmun hikers the site is now mostly used as a mobile phone tower.

Unlike other camp sites on the bibbulmun the hut predates the track. It actually has doors and windows, so although it is very cold on top of the hill the hut is well protected from the weather. It is about 1:30pm when I arrive and Anthony is still here. He is pushing on to Chadoora campsite, and after looking around I decide to follow him. There is something slightly depressing about the fibro building. Anthony heads off and I eat my lunch and depart soon after. Heading down the hill I pass a group of 17 youths plus minders who are planning to stay at Mt Wells (although they will be in tents). Good call to move on.

I have walked 16km so far and it is another 15.6km to Chadoora – a hard march but the track is pretty flat from the base of Mt Wells onwards.

At the foot of Mt Wells I cross a well-kept gravel road which leads to the Boddington gold mine. This is a huge enterprise and for the next few hours I can hear the rumbling of heavy machinery in the background.

More light jarrah regrowth, although interspersed with some larger trees. I can’t help thinking about the boards that they could yield. Still lots of dieback and termite.

A few more kilometres and I cross our old friend Powerline Rd, although it is now called Muja Northern Terminal Transmission Line. This is also the official boundary of the dieback quarantine area, although I didn’t notice any improvement in the health of the trees on the other side of the road.

For the next 4 or 5km there are the remains of old steel machinery scattered about the place, presumably from mining operations (or maybe logging?).

Funny I was thinking about milling some of the larger trees – crossing Pindalup Form Rd I encounter a sign warning of logging operations to the right of the track.

The last couple of km pass through slightly swampy country and then follow the Swamp Oak Brook although, frustratingly, the brook is never actually visible. Right on sunset I arrive at Chadoora campsite. It looks like Anthony and I will have it to ourselves tonight, which is nice.

I sleep even worse than the previous night. I wonder how many sleepless nights it would take before I finally sleep though the night.

Thu Oct 05 (Day 10): Chadoora Camp to Inglehope Siding

I have arranged with mum to be picked up at Inglehope Siding, which is an easy 8.8km from Chadoora and 11.9km shy of Dwellingup. In retrospect I should have continued to Dwellingup since it would make for a better point of departure for the next leg. I head off ahead of Anthony and arrive at 11:30am. Anthony arrives soon after and continues on to Dwellingup while I remain at Inglehope for my ride, which should be here about 2:30pm.

Inglehope Siding is a disused logging railway. The track from here to Dwellingup follows the railway. I had expected the siding to be visible from the Pinjarra-Williams Rd but it is about 100m off the road and poorly signed. The track from here to Dwellingup follows the railway.

Mum arrives early so I am sitting in the shade as I watch her drive right past and continue towards Williams. I manage to send off a text (phone coverage is very patchy) but it is about half an hour before she picks it up and comes back for me.

The drive home is a good hour and a half. I would like to work out a way of getting to the track and home afterwards without needing someone to give up over 3hrs of their time at each end but from Dwellingup to Collie is over 130km through national park so I will need a ride for at least one end of the trip.

Day 6/7: Brookton Hwy to Mt Cooke Plantation

 

Sep 27: Brookton Hwy to Monadnocks (24.9km)

As you may recall, we left our hero as he was being picked up from the corner of Powerline Rd and Brookton Hwy by his mother. Two weeks later we see him deposited at the same location by his adoring wife.

The strategy for this section is tricky – it is 8.6km to Canning campsite, which is a good distance for an afternoon drop off. Then 16.3km to Monadnocks, which is a comfortable day walk. Then 13.6km to Mt Cooke campsite plus 13.4km to Nerang campsite – a gruelling double hut march of 27km. Then 19.1km to where the track crosses Albany Hwy, or a little less if instead I take the spur to North Bannister. A total of three nights.

As far as I can tell North Bannister consists of a roadhouse which has been closed for renovations for about 9 months and nobody knows when it will reopen. This is a shame because I was thinking of leaving the car or my bike there. The coach that runs between Perth and Albany stops in North Bannister, so that was another option. However it was not to be – Wednesday night it occurs to me that I should check for diversions and I discover that a large section of track after Nerang, including everything around North Bannister, is closed for prescribed burning. After playing the numbers for a bit I decide that I will do two almost-double-hut marches and rejoin Albany Highway between Mt Cooke and Nerang, with a single night at Monadnocks.

So Ness dropped me off at Brookton Hwy at about 10am. Forecast was for storms and it started to get wet pretty soon although I would rate it as heavy drizzle, certainly not a storm. Not heavy enough to justify putting on my raincoat since I would just end up soaked with sweat instead of rain.

For about 4km the trail wanders through the forest, a pleasant walk but not spectacular,  although the wildflowers were in excellent form so plenty of photos of unnamed flowers:

At 4.6km I arrive at Abyssinia Rock, which is an extraordinarily beautiful spot. This is a huge sheet of granite which is impressive in its own right and offers extensive views but what really hooked me was a small stream that skirts the edge of the rock before crossing the trail. In case anyone doesn’t already know this I am a bit of a Sméagol creature  – you can have your wild peaks and noble deserts, give me a cool, dark, muddy creek bank every time.

 

I had morning tea here and poked around for a bit before heading off. The track crosses a couple of creeks, passes a boot-cleaning station and then heads through a swampy bit on an old railway formation which forms a causeway through the swamp. The water on either side was teeming with tadpoles. I took a bit of a video but wordpress doesn’t allow video for free sites – I may upload it to youtube at some point. Oddly enough I didn’t hear a single frog. Ness says the tiger snakes probably eat them as soon as they emerge from the water.

After the swamp another opportunity to clean my boots then about 2km of casuarina forest before arriving at Canning campsite, a timber hut. I ate my lunch here before moving on – another 16.3km to Monadnocks.

Out of the casuarinas and into another swamp, nice paperbarks. Then some forest with, allegedly, small stands of virgin jarrah. I didn’t see a lot of old-growth trees but I saw some really big stumps. Descending through rocky scrub I hear music and shouting. Proceeding with caution I meet four young guys heading North. They did turn off the stereo when they saw me. They are heading for Canning hut which is 8km behind me now. I am really glad I decided to push on to Monadnocks.

Shortly after this encounter I cross the Canning river on a really stout pedestrian bridge. The water is deep and it would be a lovely spot for a swim except that you aren’t supposed to because we are in the water catchment region. I would be tempted anyway but I still have 8km to go.

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Pass over a series of small streams on plank bridges and through another stand of Dr Seuss blackboys, which I now know are kingias (a different species from the usual balgas – thank you guide book).

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Cross Randall Rd then ascend along a gravel track for about 2km, but these are those strangely elongated kilometres and it feels like at least 6. Nothing to see here and everything is ugly. My feet hurt. My back hurts. My hips hurt. My left knee is starting to twinge but not too bad. I did see a bunch of red-tailed cockatoos carrying on like galahs. Glorious but very hard to photograph, especially with my phone. Plus you need to catch them in flight to see the colours. What I really need is to set up the photo and then get someone to chuck rocks at them until they take off…

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Finally left the road and followed the trail a few hundred metres to arrive a Monadnocks hut about 5:30pm. Allowing half an hour at Abyssinia Rock and half an hour for lunch that is an average of about 3.8km/hour – not bad considering the terrain.

At the hut I meet a young couple Sophie and Neil. They did the track end-to-end a few years back. This time Sophie is doing the track end-to-end in one run and Neil is joining her when work permits. Also Leo, who is in his late 60’s and is also doing the track end-to-end for the second time. They are both heading South. I could do with a wash but this isn’t practical with other people about so I crack a beer  and make myself a leisurely meal of RTE palak paneer with instant mashed potatoes. Not exactly gourmet but acceptable.

Leo is zipped into his bivvy the moment the sun goes down and Sophie and Neil are in bed soon after. I sit next to the fire with a second beer – Ghosts of Eyre Pale Ale, very nice. I think it might actually be better out of a can, although maybe walking 25km with at least 20kg on your back (including 1kg of beer) makes it seem better. Soon enough the rain starts to belt down and I retire to bed myself.

I sleep really badly. Just can’t seem to get comfortable on the thermarest and my feet and lower legs are freezing because the thermarest is a ¾ and the heat is sucked out of my feet through the plywood floor. It really is surprising how much difference a bit of insulation makes. I guess the heat tends to flow downwards because the down sleeping bag is compressed underneath me. Eventually I stuffed Ness’s puffer jacket down to the bottom of the sleeping bag and wrapped it around my legs. Much better, but I still couldn’t get comfortable. Then in the wee small hours I needed to get up and wee. Guess I shouldn’t have had the second beer. I thought morning would never come.

Sep 28: Monadnocks to Mt Cooke plantation (21.4km)

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Leo is up at first light and I arise soon after. Its cold but it isn’t like I am getting any sleep so I may as well be up. Breakfast is porridge – a flavoured sachet, no milk. Not bad actually. Also black coffee. I can’t stand the taste of instant milk. Leo is just about packed at this point and I comment on his heavy duty garters. He says last time he hiked out of Nerang he left them in his pack and then managed to startle a Joe Blake on the track which stood up and wanted to have a go at him, so now he wears them every day. He says snakes are pretty rare around here especially at this time of year. Neil and Sophie agree – on their previous trip they didn’t see one snake until they reached Pemberton and then they saw hundreds. I ordered a pair of garters via ebay as soon as I got home.

Leo heads off to Mt Cooke, says he may push on to Nerang depending on how he feels when he gets there. I head off about half an hour later leaving Neil and Sophie to follow.

The first couple of km are a pleasant descent through casuarina forest. Casuarina makes for nice walking – the needles reduce the impact of your boots, suppress undergrowth and reduce erosion. Casuarina forests tend to be quiet and slightly gloomy. There is something a bit mythical about them, makes me think of a pine forest in Europe. Or Middle Earth or Narnia.

I reach the base of Mt Cuthbert. A big bushfire went through here in 2003 with flames 30m high. It got so hot that most of the old growth timber was destroyed, so most of the trees are little more than saplings. At this rate it will be at least another decade before we have a proper forest. The understorey has bounced back pretty well though.

Towards the summit of Mt Cuthbert is a large exposed granite dome with pretty amazing views North and West and then South and East. The descent on the South face is pretty steep but not too extreme. The track descends into Darling Range ghost gums as it follows the saddle to Mt Vincent with more of those breathtaking views. I wonder how many hikers suffocate up here.

The guide says to take careful note of the trail because it is easy to wander off and become “geographically embarrassed”. Another great term to be filed along with “bonus kilometres”.

Descending into the forest I reach a boot cleaning station and shortly after pass the spur to Sullivan’s Rock, a picnic area on Albany Hwy. Although I am only 7.4km from Monadnocks It has been pretty hard work and I briefly consider calling Ness and having her pick me up here. Summoning courage I continue and pass a couple with two daughters about 8-10 years old. They are making a day trip from Sullivan’s Rock to Mt Cooke and back, which is a pretty challenging walk and puts me to shame.

I follow a gravel road for a couple of km before crossing a fairly substantial stream on a sturdy steel pedestrian bridge

Country is fairly open, with signs of the logging railway, although the tracks are long gone. Crossing another bridge the track follows a raised rail formation through a swamp.

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Pulley – probably used to load logs onto railway carriages

The track reaches a stream (possibly the stream I crossed two bridges back) with nice rapids and gravel-floored pools. I am pretty hot and very much tempted to have a dip (in spite of the water catchment thing) but I know that the family with the two girls are only about 10min behind me and I think it could be scarring for them to encounter a naked 50 year old man lounging in the water next to the trail.

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The track veers uphill from here without crossing the stream and soon I am back in Casuarina forest. After about 2km I cross Cooke Rd. This is another decision point for me – I could follow Cooke Rd, which runs around the edge of the pine plantation and emerges on Albany Hwy just shy of my pick up location. Or I could continue upwards to the Mt Cooke campsite and then over Mt Cooke. I decide I will check out the campsite at least.

There are actually two Mt Cooke Campsites – just after Cooke Rd I pass the group site which is a new initiative designed to cater to school and youth groups. It has toilets and a covered area for food preparation and dining but no sleeping huts. About a kilometre beyond is the main campsite. The original campsite was destroyed in the 2003 bushfire and the hut was rebuilt. I eat lunch here and log into the track book, noting that Leo has passed through and is continuing on to Nerang. The family group arrive soon after. At this point I have walked 13.6km.

Now I have another decision to make: I could return to Cooke Rd or follow the track over the mountain. There isn’t much difference in the total distance but the second option goes over Mt Cooke, the highest point in the Darling Range. I chose the second option, obviously. I must be some sort of masochist.

When you read off the distance on a map only the horizontal distance counts. If you climb up a 20m rock face with a 1:10 slope you have only travelled 2m. It doesn’t seem fair really.

The track crosses a couple of creeks with a small wetland area between them before winding around a large natural amphitheatre then up a steep scramble to the Mt Cooke ridge. The climb is steep but short enough. Lots of big boulders scattered around. Odd rock formations are to be the theme today. Who knows? Could be a nargun amongst them. Could be a bloody herd of nargun. Best not to make too much noise.

More amazing views yadda yadda yadda. Less inspiring are the signs of bauxite strip mining. Somewhere around the peak I managed to become geographically embarrassed but I pushed through a couple of hundred metres of bush and managed to rediscover the track. The problem is that the peak is covered in false trails where people wander about trying to find the best view and there are few proper trees to nail the markers to.

The track descends across large, fairly steep granite shelves which could be deadly when wet. They are pretty scary even when dry. The poles are a little unreliable on flat granite surfaces – sometimes they can skid a bit. There are no trees and not even any small rocks to make cairns from so the track markers have been fixed to little metal A-frames and glued to the rock, which seems to work well.

At the base of the granite slope the track descends through light forest. This was obviously burnt out in the 2003 fires but the trees are in little clusters of two or three and it looks like they have come back from the roots. As a result the trees are about twice the size of the saplings on the North side of the mountain.

After a kilometre or so I emerge from the forest onto our old friend, Powerline Rd. Yep, the same road I started out on yesterday, which means I have travelled due South overall.

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The track follows Powerline Rd for about 700m before swinging SE towards Nerang campsite. I don’t really want to go to Nerang at the moment because the diversion due to prescribed burning means I would then have to turn around and follow a less interesting trail back down to Albany Hwy. Instead I continue along Powerline Rd, which forms a causeway through swampy terrain, for another 1.5km until it reaches Albany Hwy. This is where I am to meet Ness. It is now 3:45pm and I have walked about 21.4km in about 7hrs (allowing for lunch) – about 3km/hr on average. Ness hasn’t arrived yet and I am really filthy and hot and sweaty so I stash the pack in the bushes and return a few hundred metres to the point where the swamp drains via a culvert under the road making a bit of a pool, and have myself a bath. The water is pretty cold. My feet love me but other parts of my anatomy are less impressed. I share the water with some fat tadpoles but no leaches that I can see. I am halfway back to the highway when Ness calls to say she has arrived, so pretty amazing timing once again.

The following day (Saturday) I was pretty sore. I have bruising and grazes on my hips from the pack, slight bruising on my left shoulder, bruising in the small of my back and my feet hurt all over. My left knee was tender but not really painful. I briefly toyed with the idea of heading out on the next stage on Sunday but decided that was a dumb idea. The current plan is to head off first thing on Tuesday morning. I will need at least three nights to make it to the next vehicle access point so I really want to get this stage behind me during the school holidays.

Day 5: Mt Dale to Brookton Highway

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As you might have guessed from the lack of activity in this blog life has been interfering with my bibbulmun ambitions and it has been very hard to get away, however on Saturday I managed a nice little day walk. Leaving the car in the picnic area at Mt Dale where the previous blog left off I headed down the “mountain” (actually a very gentle gradient). I passed the spur for the Mt Dale campsite but didn’t check it out.

I noticed that a lot of the the balgas in this area are a bit different from the usual creatures. They are taller and skinny, both in the trunk and in the head. Instead of a single spear they have a bunch of smaller protrusions. They looked a bit Dr Seuss to me.

The soil in this stretch of the track is mostly sand or gravel, so well drained but lacking in active streams. I crossed several creeks but they were mostly dry, or just a trickle at best.  The wildflowers were pretty fabulous: lots of yellow pompoms, bacon-and-egg bushes etc. Okay, I never claimed to be a naturalist.

After a while the forest falls away to be replaced by a series of clearings in scrubby bush. At one point something had left its business lying in the middle of the path and I am still scratching my head trying to work out what creature this comes from. I have seen something like this before. It isn’t kangaroo (photo of kangaroo business provided for comparison) and it seems too big for anything that comes to mind. I would guess wombat, except I don’t think we have wombats here. Actually it looks like a small cowpat.

A chocolate frog to the scatologist who can help me out…

2.6km shy of the Brookton Highway I come across the Brookton campsite. This was another hut that was lost to bushfire and this one was rebuilt using rammed earth with steel roof framing – mild steel which has been allowed to rust. I am not sure of the logic of using steel framing actually – if the fire was close enough to ignite timber roof members then it would certainly cause the steel to expand and distort beyond repair. But the walls are stout, the bush has been cleared around the hut and the roof overhangs protect the walls from water damage so I am fairly optimistic that this building will outlast me

I had not met a single person between Mt Dale and the campsite, but arriving here I found a group of 5 had arrived from Brookton Highway. I asked them how far they were going and they said this was it – they were staying the night and then heading back tomorrow. A 2.6km hike – and I thought I was taking it easy.

I ate lunch and just before I left another couple arrived.

A 1.8km stroll and I arrived at Powerline Road. You guessed it – this is the service road for the power lines and runs straight as a die 20km from Pickering Brook to Brookton Highway, where it kinks a bit and then heads South to Albany Highway and beyond. At this point is it pretty much a causeway through some marshy sort of country. Puddles on either side with some really big tadpoles. I didn’t try to catch them this time.

I met mum just as she was pulling off the Brookton Highway, much to her surprise since she had arrived half an hour ahead of our scheduled meeting to be on the safe side. She then drove me back to Mt Dale to pick up the car – that is really quite a long drive up Brookton Hwy then along Ashendon Rd then up Dale Rd and then all the way back again.

All up the walk took about 3.5hrs including the stop for lunch. At the end of which I had a little pinching in my toes but no pain at all in my knees, which normally start to complain after about 10km. I wore knee supports but I am not really sure whether they made a difference since the terrain was really very gentle with no steep sections, in fact the 2.6km between Brookton campsite and Brookton Highway is rated for the mobility impaired.

Day 4: Beraking to Mt Dale

Pretty much the first thing I noticed upon waking was that my knees hurt. I took some ibuprofen and applied some voltaren gel and walked around for a bit and they seemed to loosen up. Admired the view, ate a little trail mix, packed up my gear and set off for Mt Dale: a distance of 9.2km (assuming I don’t add any bonus kilometres).

The trail continues along the vehicle track for a kilometre or two before emerging on the edge of the Darkin River valley among pine plantations. I have always found pine plantations fascinating – I know they are a monoculture and considered a bit of a blight on the landscape but to me there has always been something magical about them. It might be the smell, the darkness, the regularity of the planting, the quiet. I saw a documentary once about a painter, I think it might have been Robert Juniper, and he said that if white Australians have a dreamtime it is a European dream. Or maybe it is just that it feels like I have wandered into Narnia. At any rate these are young pines but presumably I will encounter plantations of larger trees as I get further South. It would be nice to hike through a plantation but I guess they are mostly on private land.

Looking up the valley I am looking East and for the first time I am seeing the far side of the darling ranges. Somewhere in the distance I can hear trail bikes ripping the place up.

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I cross the Darkin at a bridge and head up a modest ridge before descending again to an old concrete tank which used to store water for fighting fires but is now empty. At this point I meet Tim, who is heading North from Mt Dale and planning on overnighting at Waalegh. He asks me if there are any gas canisters at Beraking or Waalegh (sometimes people leave half-empty canisters – there were three canisters at Helena). I tell him there are definitely no canisters at Beraking and I am pretty sure there weren’t any at Waalegh either. He looks a bit glum – he is out of gas and is facing the prospect of a hard march followed by no tea and instant mashed potatoes made with cold water. I offer him my canister since I will be home tonight. He looks a lot more cheerful and gives me some money for it. Of course, I have to pull my pack apart completely to find the canister. As I am packing up three 4WDs come through on the road below. They are obviously recreational vehicles and shouldn’t be out here since the whole area is dieback quarantine. I say my goodbyes to Tim and head down the track, crossing a small creek which has been torn up by the 4WDs. After the creek I leave the vehicle track and head up the hill on a narrow trail with concrete and stone steps to reduce erosion. The trail is very steep  for a few hundred metres and then settles down to a more sustainable climb which continues for another 2km. I pass two more hikers going the other way.

After crossing a couple of small creeks I am on the lower slopes of Mt Dale. I pass another hiker. At first I think he is talking to me and then I realise he is on the phone. The Mt Dale circuit walk joins the track and I pass another pair of hikers. It certainly is excellent weather to be out in the bush. For the first time I am walking on sand instead of granite, coffee rock, gravel and clay. I give Ness a call to let her know I am going to be early.

I cross Dale Rd. There is a carpark here on the corner of Omeo Rd (which is gated to prevent vehicle access). I wander a short way down Omeo to check out the views at a huge granite ledge before wandering back to the picnic grounds on Dale Rd.

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I remove my boots and make myself comfortable while I wait for Ness to pick me up and take me back to Mundaring so I can retrieve the Subaru. As it happens Ness got hopelessly lost so it was a couple of hours before she arrived. I amused myself making a bibbulmun version of the Jolly Roger.

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Aarrrrghh!

Day 3: Helena to Beraking

Saturday morning I woke up about 7am. Actually I woke several times before that but it was still dark. Because the Helena camp site faces East I had hoped for a spectacular sunrise but cloud cover obscured the sun at the critical moment. The view is still magnificent, and this is my favourite camp site so far (at time of writing I have seen six camps).

I have about 28km to traverse by Sunday afternoon when Ness will pick me up at Mt Dale. I can either do 9.6km to the next camp (Waalegh) today and then 18km on Sunday, or I can continue to Beraking camp (just over 18km) today and have a leisurely 9km hike on Sunday. I figured better to do the extra today and not worry about being late to meet Ness. My knees felt pretty good.

Josh and Dan were out of there about 8am, I hit the track about half an hour later. Because it is on the East side of the hill there is no phone coverage at Helena but there is some spotty 3G coverage at the top of the spur, enough at least for a few text messages to get through from last night.

The track between Helena and Waalegh is very pretty with some fabulous views but also very steep – views and steep mostly happen together. I rounded the shoulder of the hill over granite outcrops, and then descended into Chinaman Gully. This is an attractive area and I am following a good vehicle track so clearly I am not paying attention and 3.2km out of Helena camp I miss the marker where I should turn off the track. I continue on for some time and then I start to feel uneasy. I haven’t seen a marker for a while. I check the guidebook and I should have turned off the vehicle track 500m after I entered it. Surely it has been 500m? But what if I turn back now and it was just over the next rise? So I keep going for a while and I don’t see any markers and I know I have missed the turnoff. I turn around and head back, estimating the distance, and it is at least 1km back to the turnoff. Which means I have just added 2km to my 18km hike and I have barely started. It isn’t really that big a deal but I was a bit disheartened and it took the shine off the rest of the day to some extent.

When I got back to the turnoff I looked back and it was utterly obvious. Someone had even piled branches across the track to warn me but I guess I was having an ADHD moment.

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So the lesson here is to be especially vigilant and estimate distance when following a vehicle track if the next segment peels off to the side while the vehicle track continues straight ahead.

After crossing the creek the track heads up the other side of Chinaman Gully and it is brutally steep. I am wrecked and already my knees are starting to twinge. The poles really help on steep inclines – I set them short and crawl my way up the hill. I think maybe the whole upright stance thing might have been a bad call. Most of the other mammals have more sense.

I get a brief semi-level stroll at the ridge and then a steep descent down the other side before reaching the bridge over the Helena river. There is no water whatsoever in the Helena river so I am not sure why it needs such a good bridge. I take a break at the bridge and peering down into the waterless river I spot something colourful. After a while I realise it is one of those Mylar helium balloons. I always wondered where those things end up after some four year old lets go of the string.

After crossing the bridge I leave the vehicle track and head up the other side of the valley in a modestly steep ascent through wandoo forest with minimal understorey. This area has been subject to prescribed burning recently which further clears the understorey and it is interesting to see the vegetation coming back. Balgas (blackboys) seem to thrive on fire. The Zamia palms seem to come back from the heart, but I think an intense fire might kill them outright. Every now and then you see where a large fallen tree has burned away completely, leaving nothing behind but a pale while ghost of ash. It reminds me of the silhouettes of people after an atom bomb.

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Reaching the crest of the hill there are some granite outcrops with views back across the valley and towards the weir. I can see Helena camp site where I started three hours ago.

A difficult descent into another valley then a modestly steep but very long ascent up the other side brings me to Waalegh camp site. This site has the most amazing views to the North, West and South. You can see right to the weir wall and there is excellent phone coverage here so I give Ness a call. Waalegh was the first of the huts to be built using Dept of Justice labour in 1994 and has done well to survive the conditions up here. It was nearly lost during the 2005 Pickering Brook fire.

My knees are in a pretty bad way but I really want to get to Beraking for the night and I still have about 4 hours of daylight left. Also Waalegh might have the best views ever but that means it is completely exposed to the weather. I check the guidebook and it seems the 8.7km stretch to Beraking is not too tough so I decide to push on.

Just past Waalegh is a granite shelf with great views and also a large pile of rubbish, which seems to include a decomposing tent, tent pegs, a sleeping mat and various other items. It is a bit of a mystery to me why someone would work so hard to get out here for the view then dump crap like that here.

At this point something odd happened. The track I was walking didn’t seem to bear any resemblance to the notes in the guidebook. It was clearly marked but the landmarks didn’t match the descriptions as far as I can tell. Possibly the author has a different definition of “water course” from my own. Apparently a water course consists of a slight depression in the soil which might fill with water during heavy downpours once every couple of years. At any rate the going was relatively easy although often along vehicle tracks with limited views. About 4pm I cross a creek which is about 2km out from Beraking then something went wrong with the time. I figured it would take me around half an hour to get to the spur so I resisted looking at my phone until it felt like half an hour had elapsed and when I pull the phone out it says 4:08. Most strange…

Arrived at Beraking with about an hour of daylight left. Feeling very stiff and sore but decided I needed a bath and it needed to happen while I was still warm. I was definitely not warm by the time I had finished washing in about 1L of tank water.

The original Beraking hut burnt down during the 2005 fires and was rebuilt bigger and better than ever. Very nice site with beautiful views West across the valley and Northwest towards the weir. Also someone has kindly cut some firewood and since it wasn’t actually raining I lit my first fire on the bibbulmun. I made a pretty decent dinner and spent the rest of the evening watching the fire. Better than telly by a long stretch.

 

There was a dead balga (aka grasstree/blackboy/Xanthorrhoea) next to the campfire so I broke that in half and threw it in the fire as well. Then I noticed something really interesting. Between the leaf base blades which form the trunk of the tree is a small amount of resin, reddish in colour. When the trunk gets hot the resin melts and runs together, making great blobs of runny tar-like stuff which bubble up as it gets hotter. When the tar comes into contact with the flames it burns. Really well in fact. But as it burns it forms a dull black crust which seals off the rest of the tar and refuses to burn. So any penetrations in the trunk quickly fill with bubbles of tar covered in a fire-proof crust, providing insulation to the core of the trunk (the core is actually a collection of aerial roots as I have since discovered). Now I know why the balgas bounce back so quickly from a bushfire.

Okay, I bet many of you knew this already but I didn’t and I got a buzz from working it out from first principles. I wonder whether the idea for intumescent paint came from a similar natural phenomenon. I forgot to take photos, sorry. Maybe I will get another chance later.

The evening was punctuated with light showers of rain but I draped my raincoat over me and the fire kept me warm. After a couple of hours of fire watching and poking blackboy gum I went to bed, where I slept much better than the previous night (apparently the thermarest should be described as “partially self-inflating” – it works much better if you blow it up a bit). During the night there was some really heavy rain but no great wind.

Since I left Josh & Dan after breakfast I had not seen a single human.