Directions - We started on Wearne Rd, a 1.5 hour drive from Perth along Albany Hwy. Turn off on Wearne Rd, about 1km before North Bannister and drive along until you see the Bibbulmun Track markers on either side of the road.
The Hike - After a summer of unpredictable and weird weather, the autumn of 2017 is proving to be a bit of an Indian summer with temperatures consistently in the mid to high 20s and not a rain cloud in sight. The wettest February on record has been followed up by one of the driest autumns on record and the start of the hiking season hasn't felt like it has arrived yet (I was out snorkelling in board shorts the previous day). After a warm Anzac Day hike out at Sullivan Rock (in stark contrast to the previous year where it was raining the whole day), I had my sights set on some more granite hills along Albany Hwy so assembled the Puma Bait Squad for an early pre-dawn departure one fine Sunday morning.
Our target on another pristine sunny Sunday was a day hike to Boonering Hill, a granite dome unsighted as you drive past on Albany Hwy but one that provides some of the most spectacular views you will find in the Darling Range section of the Bibbulmun Track. The drive out to the starting point was very familiar, having taken this route countless times before heading to Sullivan Rock but this time we were going a little further to where the Bibbulmun Track crosses Albany Hwy. Our actual starting point would be where the track crosses Wearne Rd after doubling back on itself to visit the Gringer Creek campsite. There is a 4x4 track on the south side of the highway where the big red Bibbulmun sign is located that you can probably park at but I was happy with our start point, which added just under 3km to the trip. Upon arriving the car was saying it was a brisk 4C and showing this by sporting a snowflake symbol next to the temperature gauge.
Given we had left Fremantle with balmy 14C air, it was a shock to the system to exit the car and breath in some very fresh forest air. Having only packed a thin jumper I was keen to get the body warmed up so we laced the boots and headed into the bush towards the Albany Hwy crossing. This first section is actually quite enjoyable as I had not heard great things about the stretch between Mt Cooke and crossing Albany Hwy. Open Jarrah and Wandoo forest dominates the landscape with a relatively thick canopy and a very open undergrowth. Given that large stretches of the Darling Range and Dwellingup sections are now recovering from bushfires/burn-offs, it was nice to be amongst some mature forest. Golden Banksia flowers dotted the forest floor, gleaming in the morning sunshine and we even spotted a couple of kangaroos in the distance. The open forest floor takes a detour through a weird patch of thick parrot bush before popping you out on the other side for more Wandoo goodness.
Eventually we reached the noise of Albany Hwy and weirdly the track has you walk on the side of the highway for 200m before you reach the large red Bibbulmun sign and head back into the bush. Surely it would have been easy to simply keep the northern part of the track running parallel with the highway until it needed to be crossed. I can imagine this 200m stretch would not be pleasant to an end to ender in the rain with passing trucks kicking up spray at 110kmph.With Albany Hwy now safely crossed we headed along the 4x4 track that would be home for the next few kilometres. Being dead straight and very flat, there is nothing particularly interesting about this section apart from a granite clearing about half way down. My advice would be to look right as the track follows the edge of a blue gum plantation made up of uniform rows of new eucalyptus trees. Although thankfully not another gloomy pine plantation, the uniformity of the trees was off-putting so instead I chose to look ahead or into the Dwellingup State Forest to the right.
Tom and I were leading out front and kept experiencing rapid changes in temperature. All of a sudden it would be super cold and then 2m later it was a very pleasant temperature with my camera also fogging up. This happened a couple of times and with no wind around we figured this was either ghosts or pockets of air not mixing due to different densities. Would love to know if someone has a scientific explanation of the phenomenon as it was like descending down into a valley very quickly but without any elevation change. We soldiered on and with the temperature settling on the warmer side we removed all jumpers and continued on the straight track. I was starting to wonder if Boonering Hill was actually in the distance until we came across a clearing in the plantation and the peak of the granite dome was hovering just above the tree tops. With confirmation that we were within range, we spurred on and soon reached the end of the blue gum plantation. Leaving the 4x4 track and continuing on lovely single trails, this is where the serious hill climbing begins and the hamstrings, quads and glutes all start firing at the same time.