Boarding House to Beavis
Start - Boarding House Campsite
Finish - Beavis Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Length - 19.7km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 608m
Time - 5-8 hours
Date Hiked - 20th June 2017
The Hike - Day Three on the Bibbulmun and this is the one I had been looking forward to. Nicknamed the "Donnelly River Rollercoaster", today was going to feature some of the hardest hiking on the whole track with plenty of steep hills dotting the elevation profile. Having entered into a good trail rhythm I was up as the sun was rising and laid in my sleeping bag like a toasty burrito for a bit. Bag packed, blisters taped up again and drinks bladder full of powdered PowerAde (say that five times), I set off from camp fully motivated to tackle a challenging day’s hike. Before I made my way off towards the Beavis campsite, 20km into the distance, I wanted to backtrack and take some morning shots of Boarding House Bridge. I wasn't sure if my photos from the previous day were going to turn out in the afternoon sun and with it being so close to the 4x4 track, I decided to drop my bag and head down for one last look. I think the morning photos are closer to how I wanted them, perhaps with a colder morning and an earlier start I could have seen fog or mist rolling off Donnelly River.
With some different photos now in the bag I climbed back up the stairs to retrieve my pack and set off properly. Having looked at the map before leaving I knew the first hour or so was a fairly gentle incline so put some relaxing music on the speakers and got into a rhythm. The skies were very grey as I hiked along the fairly wide trail that showed recent activity of trail bike riders. I reached Palings Rd in no time at all and reflected on how bleak it looked. Normally I love grey and overcast skies but with the road cutting a large opening into the forest and power lines nearby it didn't feel very nice so I moved on and followed the trusty waugyl into the bush on the other side.
The gentle incline isn't the most interesting part of the day but you can make good pace here and walking among the Karri trees is never a bad thing. Occasionally I came across a cool fungi or three but for the most part I was zenned out listening to music and breathing it all in. About 5km in you come to the first of the hilly parts with a descent down to a real surprise, Wirraway Bridge. Much like Boarding House Bridge, it is built from a single Karri tree with chicken wire and steel rods for support. Unlike Boarding House, this one kind of pops out of nowhere as you descend down the steep hill on switchbacks, finally getting a good glimpse from above as you round a corner.
The extensive mosses and the thick forest took me back to a similar Indiana Jones style bridge I crossed in the jungles of Costa Rica, although that was a rickety old swing bridge. With many photos and a big smile on my face I headed up the other side and some more switchbacks up another of the small hills on this section. More closed in Karri forest awaits you until you reach an area that is littered with fallen giants. When Don and Alissa did this section last year they had arrived just after some big storms that had felled some of the larger Karri trees over the track. Thankfully the bigger trees had been cleared but there is still one left where the track has been dug out for hikers to climb under the massive trunk. I had the image of Alissa lying in a perfectly natural hiking pose when I saw it and if my mini tripod wasn't buried deep in my pack I probably would have recreated it.
It's then not a long distance to the first marked milestone of the day, the bridge over Donnelly River on Lease Rd. Having not received any signal at the highest point of the morning, this might be where I would see another human being for the first time in a day but I don’t think this is a busy road and nobody drove past. At 9km in with some of the tougher sections still to go I decided it was too early for lunch but stayed for a longer break. Even with the low water levels in the river I still had fun dropping leaves off the bridge and watching them float off in the current (I'm a simple man) while I rested the legs. With no cars using Lease Rd at that moment I decided to get a move on and get stuck into yet another hill and to the lunch stop in the next valley.
Between me and that valley though was 3km of consistent climbing through nondescript Karri regrowth forest, something I actually quite enjoy with the dense and closed in feel. Apart from a few fallen trees on the side of the track there isn't much here to distinguish the landscape, which is probably why I couldn't really remember much about it. I do however remember being confronted all of a sudden by the steepness of the downhill to my lunch stop. As happens with these things, the pictures do not show the gradient like you experience in real life but it was steep. Looking at my elevation profile, the switchbacks and makeshift stairs average a 20% gradient so it's definitely one of the steepest sections of the Bibbulmun.
Stopping my momentum was difficult at times so I sometimes just resorted to running down where I could, which definitely could have gone wrong. Making it a bit more slippery was the constant drizzle that started about half way between Lease Rd and here. I survived though and was happy to reach what is an unassuming bridge over a stream that feeds Donnelly River. I put my bag under the bridge next to the sleeping troll so it was dry and sat myself in the middle to enjoy a Clif bar and the gentle pitter patter of rain on my jacket hood. Life was good here and it marked the half way point of my five day journey, a bittersweet moment as I was feeling at peace and was enjoying the solitude. At this point I conveniently dropped my camera while I was posing naturally and wouldn't you know it, it fell perfectly on the button that takes the photos and I got a picture of me in deep thought on the bridge.
With a totally natural self-timer shot, I retrieved my pack from under the bridge (cue Red Hot Chili Peppers music) and psyched myself up for the toughest hill of the day. Like the crazy downhill, this one also boasted a 20% gradient but for a longer distance. I usually love my climbing and this was no different but every now and I had to stop and take a photo of the angles the track made below me, which served as a nice opportunity to take a breather. Like all things in life, the hill ended (deep I know) and you arrive at a very surprising change of scenery. Gone is the damp, leaf littered Karri forest, to be replaced with sandy Jarrah forest that I was not expecting to see. It makes sense though as this area is right on top of the hill with a different soil type and would lose a lot of the rainfall to run off thus making it not suitable for the incredible thirst of the Karri trees.
Waiting until I was at the highest point of the day (240m ASL), I checked my phone at the intersection of Beaver Rd (these animal names...) thinking this was my best chance of getting phone reception. It wasn't so I abandoned checking my phone until somewhere more likely on the following day. Putting a podcast on, I continued on to the final descent of the day back down to the Donnelly River. This was no picnic either with a 13% gradient and many switchbacks but at this stage I did not worry as it was still good fun and I knew it was the last of the rollercoaster section that I had to do. At the bottom of the hill you are rewarded with a Donnelly River reunion and the final section before camp. You loosely follow the gentle meanders of the river for the final 3km until one last little climb takes you up to the beauty of the Beavis Campsite and an opportunity to take your boots off.
The campsite is another well positioned affair in the Karri forest with a more open Nornalup style shelter providing plenty of space to spread out if you don't have any company like I did. While the water for my coffee was boiling I explored the campsite again, looking at the excellent outhouse and paths leading to the tent sites. The big feature at Beavis is the small swimming hole right in front of the shelter but unfortunately as it had been a dry start to the winter it was more hole than swimming (not that I was going for a dip anyway). I did explore the big fallen Karri just above the hole and had a bit of fun slipping and sliding along it while trying to maintain my balance. I thought about a fire tonight but with only me there it would be a waste so I cooked up some dinner (All Sorts Pasta Bolognese) and read some of my book before settling in for the night in front of a movie.
Final Thoughts - So....The rollercoaster section certainly lived up to its name but all in all it wasn't an overly difficult day from a fitness standpoint. The hills were tough but they were short enough that the fatigue could be stretched out over the relative flat stuff.
Certainly in terms of vertical distance covered over the same distance, this is comparable to Mundaring Weir to Helena or Sullivan Rock to Mt Cooke but in terms of the tough gradient, this has both of those sections beaten. This of course is made a lot easier by stopping frequently, enjoying your time out on the Bibb and mentally preparing yourself that it will be a tough day.
Unfortunately my shoes were letting me down big time and any hope of the blisters hardened up were gone by the end of the day. I didn't let it affect me too much and thoroughly enjoyed the entire day, even the flatter more homogeneous sections thanks to a bit of music.
The campsite is a treat and although the water levels probably didn't make it look as good as it did when The Long Way's Better were here, I enjoy this style of shelter more than the bunk style found in the northern sections. Again I wasn't joined by any other hikers and I think this was my first campsite where the pages from the infamous red pen of Jason were still there.
This was probably my second favourite day of the trip but the relative lack of highlights compared to the following two days kept it from being the favourite.
Get out there and experience it!
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