Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Forests, plains and ocean - Pemberton to Walpole

Pemberton was where it all began. Back in 1987 on a visit to the south west with my brother I'd first heard about the Bibbulman Track and it only took 29 years....

Didn't do much there on my rest day besides laundry, food shopping, eating and blogging and then it was time to get back on the track.

Day 37 - Pemberton to Warren

The track heads out of Pemberton to the Gloucester Tree, an old fire lookout tower at the top of a very tall Karri tree. Since I'd climbed it back in 1987, I just took a photo from the bottom. Some things don't need doing twice..

From the Gloucester Tree, it was away from roads and civilisation and back into the Karri forests. The track bypassed The Cascades, so I dropped the backpack and took the detour for a few nice shots of the river. Walking back up the hill was a breeze without the weight!

Back on the track it began to rain, though not enough to be cold or warrant putting on a raincoat. Then around a corner I found a little blue gnome!

Richard and I had met in Balingup, and had gone up to the Kirup Tavern for a meal, and then we'd met up again in Pemberton at, yep you guessed it, the pub. We were now on the same walking schedule and would be sharing the same huts from now on.

At Warren we also caught up with Lee again.

Day 38 - Warren to Shafer (21.2 km)

After waking up to a magnificent bird concert, it was farewell to Lee who was heading off fishing down the Warren for red perch and then walking in to camp near Northcliffe for his bus home the next morning. Richard and I, however, were merely walking through to Shafer campsite. The track followed the Warren most of the day, past small rapids and large wide pools.

There were numerous small creek crossings, often over custom made plank bridges. One bridge ended abruptly where a swamp casuarina had fallen onto it, the trunk appearing to have exploded.

That's because a huge Karri had fallen down on top of it, and to continue along the track required climbing over it.

Shafer campsite is situated right on the edge of a dam, with a small swimming area roped off. I had a little wash, and then spent the afternoon luring marron with a little corn couscous tied up in the toe of some pantyhose. Marron are freshwater crayfish, and quite delicious if one can manage to coax them into a pot of boiling water!

Day 39 - Shafer to Gardner (29.2 km)

It was another early start, leaving at 7 am for the 14 km walk in to Northcliffe. I walked faster than usual, but still stopped to take photos of some hammer orchids.

Coming up a hill I felt a dreadful pain in my dodgy left knee, and had to slow down. Oh no!! Was my walk over? Would I have to rest up in Northcliffe? Or even give up the walk altogether? I walked slower and the pain went away. My body was giving me a not too subtle message not to push it too much.

On average I am walking at about 3.5 km per hour. Sometimes I'm slower, sometimes faster, but today I'd been walking more like 4.5 km per hour. My knee didn't like that pace, and told me so. Noted! So in the end I got in to Northcliffe at 10:40 after having to slow down to almost a crawl. The knee was no longer hurting, was no more swollen than usual, and I was on schedule for making it through to Gardner before dark.

In Northcliffe I signed in at the register, picked up my food drop, sent home excess maps and other sundry items, and treated myself to a coffee and huge hamburger. Surprisingly, that took an hour and a half, but I was back on the track by 12:15.

There's a very good pioneer museum at Northcliffe and a sculpture garden at the Tourist Information Centre, but I had time for neither. Walking out of town on the disused rail line I saw a forest mantis orchid. it isn't hard to guess how it got its name....

South of Northcliffe the dense Karri forest recedes as the sand hills begin. Much of this area had been severely burned in a bushfire in 2015 also destroying a number of shelters, but the flowers and orchids were out in force.

Walking on soft sandy tracks is hard work, and as we were following alongside the Gardner River, the track went up and down as small creeks flowed in to the river. At last the new rammed earth shelter was in sight, though it only had walls. No platform or roof had been installed yet, as the longer than usual wet weather had made it impossible for the construction crew to get in to finish off. The large toilet, designed for wheelchair access (possible at Brookton campsite further north but not anywhere else), was roomy enough for at least a couple of people to sleep in, and it had a roof.

Richard took the toilet option, but I erected my tarp and slept in my bivy bag. Joining us was Hugh, track name Quo Vadis, who was back walking the track after having pulled out at North Bannister for medical reasons. Hugh had left Kalamunda a day before I started, and Bill and I had been disappointed to hear about him pulling out. We'd met him in Dwellingup picking up his food drops, and after reorganising his diet (he'd not been eating enough calories and had lost an excessive amount of weight) had recommenced his walk on his original schedule and was walking from Pemberton to Albany. He planned to fill in the missing section next autumn.

Day 40 - Gardner to Lake Maringup (16.1 km plus another 5 or more km)

At Gardner campsite was a sign telling us a diversion was in place. The walk in to Lake Maringup was closed due to inundation from the long wet winter and spring we've been having. The area is part of a huge wetland that flows in to Broke Inlet and is almost all isolated National Park. Instead of going to Lake Maringup, we needed to walk 7.7km along a gravel road to where the track recrossed the road on it's way to the next campsite at Dog Pool. Gardner to Dog Pool via the diversion was 32 km, so a temporary campsite with water and a toilet had been installed along the track at the 21 km mark. Most people were walking right through to Dog Pool, so it was going to be a long hard day.

Richard left first, then Hugh, then Hee. Hee is a diminutive 68 year old Korean lady who had been camping at Gardner 2 nights but didn't declare her presence until the morning. She was walking from Balingup to Albany having completed the northern section 3 years ago. She was also the lady Dong Hyuen had met in a backpackers hostel in Queensland, who had inspired him to walk the track!!

As is usual, I left last. I soon overtook Hee, whose bag is far too heavy for her, both in design and contents, as not only is it not a hiker's backpack, she is carrying clothes for her holiday in Esperance at the end of her walk. The track is scrubby heath, with fragrant peppermint trees lining the numerous creeks flowing in to the river. At Gardner River bridge I caught up with Hugh taking his 2 hour food break.

I usually walk 4 hours in the morning without breaks, stop for lunch, then walk on until the campsite. I find my muscles and joints get stiff very quickly once I stop, so it's less painful to keep walking than to rest. I'm not fatigued by this routine, and am rarely hungry before about 11:15, when I start looking for a suitable log or rock to lunch upon.

The turnoff to Lake Maringup didn't have a diversion sign on it, which I said to Hugh was a bit slack. I contemplated heading down it anyway, but I had no idea how deep the inundation was. Apparently it had been waist deep at one stage!! I decided to stick with the diversion and began marching up the road. It was a boring gravel road lined with Karri, so I increased my pace without knee pain, and made good time. I was almost at the end of the diversion when I heard a car come up behind me and stop next to me.

The vehicle belonged to DPaW (Dept of Parks and Wildlife) and sitting next to the driver was Mee. Hugh was in the trayback behind. The DPaW worker had just been in to Gardner campsite to remove the diversion sign, and was heading to Dog Pool, with Hee and Hugh, to do the same there. The walk in to Lake Maringup was open again!! Yesterday they'd cleared any obstacles across the path, removed the diversion signs and the temporary campsite, but hadn't had time to remove the signs from the campsites either side. And we were just in time to find out! Richard, having left earlier than us, missed out..

I asked if the driver could possibly drive me back to Gardner River Bridge, so I could walk the reopened track. Hugh and Hee decided to join me, so I jumped in the trayback with Hugh, and back down the gravel road we went. We thanked the DPaW worker and headed in. What joy to be able to walk the real track.

There is still water across the track in a few places. Most there is a small bridge or a way to walk around, but three require wading through. As I don't have leather boots that would take days to dry out, I don't need to remove my boots and just wade on through. The deepest is only just above my knees. I arrive at the hut a good hour before the others as a result.

Lake Maringup is a pristine freshwater lake in the middle of a National Park. The only access is by foot. It is a spectacular setting, and worth a quick swim. Hugh gets a nice fire going and I try to dry my shoes and socks.

Day 41 - Lake Maringup to Dog Pool (25.6 km)

There is abundant bird life by the lake, but the morning chorus is ruinously spoiled by Hee, who rises daily at 4:30am and noisily gets herself ready for an early departure. Over the next few days I am plotting how I can get my schedule out of synch with hers, because if I had to share campsites with her all the way to Albany there just might be a murder committed. Aside from this aberrant behaviour, she is a wonderful camping and hiking companion, and has led a fascinatingly interesting life. But I prefer nature to wake me up, not a noisy fellow camper.

The day starts out warm and sunny, but by 10:30 rain sets in and I put on my poncho. Karri forest changes to sandy heath with thousands of wildflowers, but it's raining too hard for photographs, so it's head down and march through the rain to the campsite.

Dog Pool campsite is set on a lovely stretch of the Shannon River, and the bridge across it and shelter were destroyed by fire in 2015. There's a perfectly good gravel road all the way in to the campsite, but the roof still isn't on. The sun has come out for a few hours, so I erect my tarp where I think I'll be safe from the rain, and get the fire going. When Hugh and Hee arrive Hee puts up her tent and Hugh uses the toilet for shelter. It rains on and off all evening and night so we all retire to bed early. I stay dry and warm in my snug shelter.

Day 42 - Dog Pool to Mt Chance (19.4 km)

The day dawns clear, giving me a chance to dry out the tarp a bit before packing up for today's walk. The first half is along another boring gravel road with bushfire regenerating forest on each side. But if you look really closely in the sandy patches by the road, you find more hammer orchids.

Then suddenly this sign leads away from the road and in to Paradise.

I had never heard of the Pingerup Plains until Mike (an American I'd met at the Pemberton backpackers) kept talking about them. They are an area of boggy wetland, interspersed with forest clad granite outcrops, that extend south to within Cooee of the south coast. Lake Mangerup is part of this vast wetland and it is a profusion of colour and biodiversity. I don't even think my pictures do justice to just how spectacular this region is.

Mt Chance campsite is built on one such granite outcrop. The views from the top are stunning.

Day 43 - Mt Chance to Woolbales (22.8 km)

Another sunny day on the Pingerup Plains all day. The track goes from outcrop to outcrop, interspersed with areas of boggy heath. I took the detour up to the top of Mt Pingerup and enjoyed lunch sunbaking on the rocks.

Each outcrop seems to support a different ecosystem dependent on the soil types. Some were sandy, others gravelly, so there were Jarrah/Marri forests, mature Karri forests, grass trees, banksias, swamps, great granite boulders, and mud.

Just before arriving at Woolbales I saw a large flock of black cockatoos feasting on the banksia nuts. Further north I hadn't seen a flock larger than 5 or 6, this one was more like 15!

Around Woolbales were lots of spider and pansy orchids, and the summit behind the hut was an awesome spot to drink my cup of tea and catch some late afternoon rays.

Day 44 - Woolbales to Long Point (18.5 km)

Another lovely sunny day as the track left the Pingerup Plains over a series of rocky outcrops and entered the south coast dunes.

The flowers here were different, but wildly abundant.

And then suddenly the coast appeared, and soon I was at Mandalay Beach. 

Named after a shipwreck, the long beach needed to be traversed before heading back in to the dunes.

Walking the dunes was tough. It was hot, and the flies were out in force, but with a broad brimmed hat, a fly net and a sea breeze, the buggers had no chance to crawl into my eyes and nose. But the walking sure was arduous, and by the time I reached the hut I was internally swearing vengeance at the person who had drawn the map, because 2.5km walking up and down sand hills seems more like 5!!

Day 45 - Long Point to Mt Clare (13.3 km)

I farewelled Hee and Hugh this morning, who left at 6am to walk all the way to Walpole. I had always planned to only single hut to Mt Clare, and the opportunity to have a shelter to myself for the first time in my end to end trip was an opportunity not to be missed. I suspected Hee would continue to keep Hugh's schedule, putting them at least a day ahead of me from now on, so my early mornings would belong to nature again.

After packing up I popped down to the lookout behind the shelter, a 10 minute walk down to a spot overlooking the ocean. Very spectacular.

The walk to Mt Clare involved a few more climbs up and down big dunes, and the weather was even warmer than yesterday. I decided that leaving earlier than 8am might be a good idea now the weather was warming up. At around the 8km mark the track headed inland, joining the Nuyts Wilderness Trail and then entering the forest again. A suspension bridge across the Deep River brought me to the base of Mt Clare.

The climb was brutal, but at the top was the hut, and time for lunch and a lazy afternoon reading and enjoying the solitude. I was now in a mixed forest of Karri and red Tingle, and if I thought Karri were big trees, Tingles are giants!

Day 46 - Mt Clare to Walpole (10.2 km)

It was a wild night in the hut, as it was quite windy a hundred feet up at the top of the trees, and branches were falling with loud bangs onto the roof of the shelter. Although it was calm down on the ground! I was happy not to be in a tent in the forest.

I rose early, mindful of it being a hot day, and left for the short walk in to Walpole at 6:15 am, arriving at 9am. I had coffee and cake and checked in to the backpackers, had a shower and did my laundry, then went out for lunch. The town was engulfed in smoke from a bushfire near the area I'd walked through this morning! Lucky I'd left early.

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