Sun 30th Dec: Palgarup
I drive down to Dad’s place, we have lunch, and then we both drive out to Donnelly River Village (about 30 minutes away). I leave the Subaru there and dad takes me back to his place. Tomorrow I will catch the coach to Balingup.
Mon 31st Dec (Day 22): Balingup to Blackwood River
I catch the coach at 9:22am. Palgorup to Balingup is $10, which seems pretty reasonable. The seats have a usb port so I finish charging the tablet as we go. The coach loops through Greenbushes, although I am not sure why since it doesn’t stop. I never realised how big Greenbushes was – much bigger than Balingup, with two nice old pubs even though the highway doesn’t go through. The houses are a mix of early 20th century and fairly smart modern stuff. The tin mine is still active (which makes me think of ancient Cheshire mines and tommyknockers). Also the guide says they are one of the largest producers of lithium and tantalum in the world. I don’t know what tantalum is used for but lithium is used in the batteries in all those devices we carry around.
Getting off the coach my water bladder falls off my pack and I guess I didn’t have the top locked down properly because I tip about a cup of water over the driver. Awkward.
I head down to the business formerly known as the magic mushroom cafe and buy a remarkably expensive eccles cake for my morning tea. Then back to the South end of town and head towards the Golden Valley Park. Soon I spot my first superb blue wren. No photo sorry: too small, too fast, too distant.
I enter the park. For those unfamiliar with the Golden Valley Park this is an arboretum showcasing trees from around the world.
Including, as it happens, the common mulberry. Yum.
I leave the park and head up the hill on Old Padbury Rd, with pine plantations on either side. It is hot but there is a little wind and the road is mostly shaded. I pass the reservoir which supplies water to Balingup. It isn’t particularly impressive actually, just a small dam.
At the top of the hill I turn and follow the railway line for a while, which is blessedly level. Then turn and follow a trail which is also part of the Greenbushes loop. After about 2km I reach a lookout point with views over farmland. Someone has kindly placed a seat here so I decide to have lunch. I don’t feel inclined to eat salami and apples so I have my expensive eccles cake instead. It is actually pretty good.
More jarrah regrowth for about 3km then an unnamed dam. It is pretty impressive for a dam with no name and the guide doesn’t say anything about drinking water so I decide I would like to swim. It looks like it might be deeper further around so I keep following the trail which promptly heads uphill. Lots of red-tailed cockatoos here but very hard to photograph. After a while the Greenbushes loop veers off towards the dam wall while the Bibbulmun heads over the hill. Of course the bank is very steep at the wall and not really suitable for swimming. So I backtrack all the way back and go for a swim where I first encountered the dam.
It is amazing. Gravel base with just enough mud that it doesn’t hurt my feet. The top six inches is warm like a bath while down about 4 or 5 feet deep it is deliciously chilled. It is really deep in the middle. The water is crystal clear except when I touch the bottom and there are little fishes everywhere, probably gambusia. Note: In spite of rumours I did not go skinny-dipping with two Swedish lesbian girls. I had the whole dam to myself.
Getting out I sit on a log to put my shoes on but it promptly rolls over and drops my socks in the water. They were saturated with sweat anyway so no big deal. Since I am getting clean socks out I grab a clean shirt too and rinse out the old socks and shirt, which I hang on the back of my pack to dry. All up the swim cost me at least an hour but worth every second. I resolve that I will never miss an opportunity to swim, weather and conditions permitting, as long as I have walked at least 10km (about halfway between campsites). There is seldom any swimming close to the campsites, probably deliberately.
Back up the hill, cross Spring Gully Rd, more bush, Spring Gully Rd again, more bush and back to Spring Gully Rd again as it emerges from the bush to travel through pasture land. 2.5km and I am drenched in sweat again.
This might be the most unlikely-looking wildflower I have ever seen:
I follow SG Rd until it meets Southampton Rd, after which the track heads uphill through private property.
After passing through a grove of trees the track heads up a steepish hill with no trees, no shade and hardly any grass. It turns out to be one of those hellish hills with an ever-receding horizon and by the time I reach the top I am practically delirious.
I exit the private property and collapse in the modest shade of a young pine plantation. I have only 2km left but I am wrecked. I have to stop and rest twice more before I arrive at Blackwood campsite. Also the wind has died and I discover along the way that my water bladder is empty. Guess I should have topped it up after the coach incident.
Blackwood campsite is not on the Blackwood river but on the top of the ridge overlooking the Blackwood valley. It is pretty exposed but that isn’t such a bad thing at this time of year. I am pleased to see that there are no trees within a stone’s throw of the hut. Especially when I see smoke from the prescribed burning around Manjimup.
Beef bourguignon for dinner. This is the second half of a pack I opened about 18 months ago, but I re-sealed it and the use-by date says Feb 2021 so it should be okay, right? I put too much water in the casserole so I spoon most of the casserole over the potatoes and drink the rest as a soup. It is pretty good as long as you don’t expect it to taste like beef bourguignon.
Tue 1st Jan (Day 23): Blackwood to Gregory Brook
Happy new year!
I wake at about 5am after an okay night. I woke during the night and must have lain awake for about 2hrs but I didn’t check the time because I was afraid it might say 11pm. I breakfast on instant porridge sachets but they are way too sweet. The honey flavour isn’t too bad but the berry flavours are vile. Maybe I will try making my own instant porridge mix next time.
Made the unpleasant discovery that my water bladder has puncture holes. I must have dropped the pack on something sharp when I was collapsing with exhaustion yesterday. The holes are just above the 1.5L mark, so if I keep the pack upright and don’t squeeze the bladder then I should be okay. I have nothing to patch it with. I should put some elastoplast in the first aid kit.
I leave camp at 6:25 and started descending cardiac hill. Certainly glad to be going down not up. There are a couple of long flights of stone stairs – someone must have put a lot of work into this stretch of track.
At the base of the hill the track leads through private property, skirting the edge of the Blackwood river. I spot the remains of the original Southampton homestead which was destroyed by bushfire in 2013. I could be wrong but it looks like the owners are living in a building cobbled together from sea containers.
I meet Dobbin1 and Dobbin2 (I can’t think of any other name for a shire horse). They are very sweet.
Still following the river I leave the Southampton homestead and enter another private property. The sky is overcast and there is no wind so it is pretty muggy but not too hot. Another couple of km of this and then I cross the river on a steel traffic bridge. I pass a car going the other way. This is the only person I will see all day.
I follow the river along the road for a couple of km then head uphill on a service road for the Millstream dam. The sky has cleared and there is a bit of a breeze. The road climbs steadily for another 2km, which is tough but not as tough as climbing cardiac hill. I reach the dam which is pretty impressive and would be a lovely place for a swim but this is the water supply for Bridgetown and nobody wants to be drinking my crotch sweat so sadly I continue on the walking trail over the hill.
The forest is jarrah which has been burnt about a year ago and has dense understorey. The wind has stopped but at least the track is shady. It occurs to me that the lack of wind is probably the reason the fire danger has been downgraded so I shouldn’t complain.
I continue through the forest which gradually becomes less shady. Maybe the fire burnt hotter here because a lot of the mature trees have died. The track mostly follows old rail formations, including some fairly impressive cuttings. I wonder what sort of men would have come out here in the middle of nowhere to do this sort of hard manual labour, and what their lives were like.
Eventually the track descends and follows a logging road briefly before veering off on a side track and crossing a stream. I am at the 14km mark and really I should have taken a break a few km back, but there hasn’t been much shade or anything to sit on that wasn’t charcoal. The stream makes a chuckling sound and I would dearly like to soak my feet but it is choking with rushes and there is no way to access the water. I sit on the bridge where I can at least hear it and eat my 11am lunch. The salami is a bit sweaty and maybe a bit zingy. Note to self: never buy salami that is wrapped in plastic, buy the dry cacciatore from the deli section instead.
Another climb, another descent, cross a couple of dry creeks and I arrive at Gregory Brook campsite right on 12:00, after walking 18km in about 5.5hrs. The water ran out about 2km before the end.
It is hot and still so I wander down to the brook to see if there is enough water to soak my feet. No luck. Instead I improvise a bucket bath. Feeling much less disgusting I doze for an hour or so and then write up my journal.
Dinner is venison stir fry with rice noodles, accompanied by a fine watered green ginger wine. It is really good. I hope the venison isn’t costing the manufacturer more than beef because I can’t tell the difference.
Damage so far:
- No pain in the knees. Actually I haven’t had knee pain since before Collie.
- My left shoulder is a bit sore, probably bruised. I will adjust the straps tomorrow to shift some weight to the right shoulder.
- Hips chafed fairly badly. This in spite of loosening the waist band so that all the weight is on the shoulders. The skin will probably break tomorrow.
- My little toes are pretty sore where they have a ridge of skin that folds under the next toe.
- Bladder problems
Wed 2nd Jan (Day 24): Gregory Brook to Donnelly River Village
Awake at around 5am. Actually awake several times before that but it doesn’t count if it is still dark. Although the mozzies weren’t a problem yesterday or during the night they are ferocious this morning. I am covered in insecticide but the noise is driving me nuts so I get up. Usual *gag* porridge for breakfast. I dissect a bandaid and use it to patch the water bladder. It still leaks pretty badly but at least it isn’t spurting like a severed artery.
Somehow it is 6:50 before I break camp. Oh well.
After climbing away from the creek I follow the track through jarrah forest for about 4km before encountering my first karri trees at Karri Gully, which is a picnic spot on Brockman Hwy. The track shadows the highway for a km before crossing and a return to jarrah forest for a few km and then back to karri. A long, gradual descent on rail formations under karri trees with dense understorey – it doesn’t get much better than that.
At the 9.8km mark I reach Willow Springs. This was once a settlement but there is nothing left but a few concrete footings and a bunch of exotic trees. It is now a rather nice picnic spot and I take a break and chat with a guy who is camping overnight with his family en route to Walpole. They have a very nice camper-trailer rig.
The track follows a creek line with a mix of karri, jarrah and river banksia. At the 13km mark I pass a sign informing me that I am leaving Blackwood and entering the Donnelly region. For the next 5km I pass through jarrah forest along tracks that have been graded but don’t seem to see much vehicle traffic. I cross the Donnelly River, which is a bit disappointing – you would think a “river” might have some actual water. The weather has been overcast all day with occasional pricks of precipitation, not enough to qualify as rain.
Arriving at Donnelly River Village my feet are pretty sore and I am hobbling a bit but my hips are no worse – this morning I extended the shoulder straps so that the waist band runs across my hips instead of above. Pretty sad if that was all it needed all this time. For the record: that advice about carrying some portion of the pack’s weight on the hips? Does not apply if you have a Y chromosome.
DRV is an old milling town which has been converted to accommodation. The mill is still (mostly) standing and the houses are now chalets plus a general store, a free hut for hikers and a $25/night bunkhouse for those who fancy the luxury of a kitchen, shower and a real bed. The wildlife is not tame, exactly, but is mostly fearless. Apparently you have to take care to protect your food from kangaroos and emus during the day and the depredations of possums at night. It is also generally considered to be the halfway point on the track, although the exact halfway point shifts every time it gets realigned. The original plan was to complete the walk before my 51st birthday. At this rate I will be 53 by the time I reach Albany.