Mount Dale to Brookton
The Hike - With my sectional end to end planned for completion in 2019, I had a few gaps to plug in the Darling Range section that required an overnighter or two. With a car required at each end to make it work I roped in Deputy Regional Assistant Logistics and Trails Coordinator, Aron (aka 1A1R), to come along for the journey. As Aron's vehicle is no longer operational we were joined by Jen and Sruthy who would be making their official debut on the website after previously being included on group hike photos on various other hikes. The sections we would be covering off that I hadn't done before included from about 5km south of the Mt Dale Campsite to Brookton Hwy and from Canning Campsite to Monadnocks Campsite. Over the years I'd hiked around Mt Dale and Abyssinia Rock but it was logistically easier to knock out the two uncompleted sections as an overnighter. Plus it was a good excuse to spend a whole weekend hiking.
Having first visited Mt Dale after the devastating 2015 bushfires, I was keen to see how well the area had recovered as it had been a sea of burnt reds, oranges and blacks on my last visit. Arriving at Sullivan Rock to drop off my car, I was annoyed to find my camera was playing up and wasn't playing ball when it came to the auto focus. On the drive to Mt Dale I tried to fix the issue but cleaning the lens and adjusting various settings but it didn't do a thing so I guess I would be manually focusing for every shot this trip. Slightly miffed at this situation it didn't take long for me to adjust to the manual focus for everything and beginning a two day, 45km adventure out in nature certainly helped that. Heading down Omeo Rd from the Mt Dale parking area, I was excited to see how the forest looked after four years of recovery. The group quickly left me for dead (Jen and Sruthy were only carrying day packs as they were heading back from Brookton Campsite after lunch) as I stopped frequently to take photos and also to check on the screen that they were in focus. Entering the forest that I know had been burnt, it wasn't easy to tell the difference between the areas that had survived the fires and those that were burnt quite severely. Being in a relatively high area and away from large water sources meant the quick growing species like Soapbush aren't going to be a problem after fires and the undergrowth looked quite settled.
The blackened trunks of the Jarrah remained and the epicormic resprouting was quite obvious but I was encouraged that this was going to be a pleasant walk through an area I have quite fond memories of. We stopped in for a quick visit to the Mt Dale Campsite where there is a nice collection of ancient Kingia plants towering over the area before moving on towards the Brookton Campsite. Happy to be at the back of the group snapping away, it was nice to get glimpses of Mt Dale as you made your way along the trail. While not a very big "mountain", I find its presence soothing and it's a nice feature in the landscape that you'll get to look back on from the top of Mt Cuthbert, Mt Vincent and Mt Cooke. After a record breaking month of rain during June it was lovely to see some wildflowers popping up occasionally, a bit later than usual after a very dry autumn. Reaching the 4x4 track that heads away from Mt Dale, this is where I had some of the more striking photos from my previous visit of a red and orange tunnel leading into the distance. The area has now recovered somewhat but this is where you can really notice that a major bushfire has come through. The area was fairly bare compared to the forests closer to Mt Dale and so the space between trees is more noticeable, along with the large green jumpers of the Jarrah trees (epicormic resprouting).
While fairly similar to other areas of the Darling Range, it is by no means a bad environment to walk through. Towards the end of the 1.2km stretch of 4x4 walking you start to see lovely Wandoo trees that have done a much better job of shedding any evidence of being burnt than the Jarrah has. A Wandoo on any walk is always a delight and even made up for seeing the lack of respect some bogans had shown to an open moss and granite space by driving right through it and ripping up the sensitive moss. Making a turn to the west, I remember this next 4x4 track to contain some lovely open woodlands and a good number of grass trees. My memory served me correctly and it was very pleasant walking until the next turn, Aron and I even spotted a big kangaroo hiding among the grass trees. Reaching the next turn, this was where I headed back on my first day hike out here (there was a diversion here anyway) so from here on out I would be experiencing this section of the track for the first time. After another stretch of 4x4 walking you turn off onto single track for the first time since leaving the Mt Dale Campsite and this was the type of Jarrah forest that I really enjoy. A mix of Jarrah and She-Oak, it feels like home and despite the blackened trunks, it was very enjoyable to find a rhythm and just walk for the fun of it. One highlight along this single track section leading all the way to Brookton are a couple of very nice areas of open space filled with masses of grass trees. It's a nice break from the Jarrah forest and amazing to walk through so it was a pleasant surprise.
Near a lovely section of She-Oaks, Sruthy broke out the vegan brownies that she made and we enjoyed a snack in the middle of the forest (thank you again Sruthy). With a downhill run all the way into the Brookton Campsite, the forest got a little thicker and I spotted some lovely fungi hiding in the cooler spots. Arriving at the campsite, I was keen to check it out after hearing various comments about it not being the best campsite on the track and one that tends to get skipped. The original shelter has since been replaced after being destroyed in the 2015 fires (it wasn't as lucky as Mt Dale or Canning) and was one of the first rammed earth replacements (2015 was a brutal year for the Bibbulmun Track shelters). I think they are slowly growing into their surroundings and in the winter sunshine I found the campsite to be very pleasant. The issue for Brookton that many people have noted is the easy access from Brookton Hwy for vehicles and that causes problems for hikers expecting to only see hikers. This isn't a Brookton only problem but I'd love to see more of these Disease Risk Areas completely shut off to vehicles to protect the environment (along with working dieback stations for hikers). This was the turnaround point for Jen and Sruthy so we all sat down and enjoyed some lunch, reading the entries from other hikers in the log book and eating lollies.