Mt Wells to Chadoora
Start - Mt Wells Campsite
Finish - Chadoora Campsite
Campsite - Deep South
Distance - 16.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 183m
Time - 4-6 hours
Date Hiked - 14th September 2019
The Hike - After an uneventful sleep where ghost witches and demons didn't haunt me where I slept (they may have but I'm a heavy sleeper), I woke up to a lovely fog that had formed over Mt Wells. My immediate instinct was to grab my camera and rush out for photos so that's exactly what I did. It wasn't a super thick fog as you could still make out blue sky behind the fire tower but as the morning progressed it kept changing between light and medium cover as the winds swirled around the hill. Stephen was already up packing his hear away and brewing a beverage so I joined him at the table. The sun hadn't quite risen so I made a coffee and took it up to the fire tower to take in the sunrise. With the fog lingering around I was either in for a really nice golden light show or a grey and muted disappointment. What I ended up with was a mix of both.
The sun initially rose behind one of the taller trees creating a cool silhouette and then started to brighten up as it ascended higher. One fun result of this was the banksia trees around the tent sites being bathed in this golden light that I really enjoyed photographing. With another short day between campsites and no hills to climb today, there was absolutely no rush to get going. With the added effort of packing up the tent, at least it wasn't raining (the light drizzle overnight didn't last very long). With most of my gear ready to be stuffed into my pack I had a bit of a wander around camp to see what was what. I had shown Stephen what a Snottygobble was the previous day and noticed a couple of really mature examples to the south of the hut. On closer inspection I saw they had fruit on them and knew they edible. I picked a few and went to see Stephen as he finished packing up his tent to see if he wanted to join me in a spot of bush tucker for second breakfast. The flesh was quite nice once you got through the skin but as it's mostly seed, there isn't much flesh to enjoy.
With one last climb up the fire tower to enjoy the much clearer views, I was hoping that the partly cloudy conditions would remain with us for most of the day as it usually means great lighting for the photos. Packing up the last of my things, we were ready to depart just after 8am and begin the long downhill from Mt Wells. My prayers were answered and the clouds stuck around for the morning, meaning the Jarrah forest heading down Mt Wells was looking superb. A mix of really old trees covered in moss, a winding path, wildflowers and unbeknownst to me until the editing stage, a drosera vine that had captured a few mosquitoes. It didn't take long for Stephen to get well ahead of me as I kept stopping to photograph a flower or weird moss pattern on an old tree but then I'd soon catch up when he stopped to note something down. We played a game of spotting reference trees and if he missed one, I'd stop him and point it out.
The Jarrah forest continued to be really good quality all the way down the hill until the trail started to flatten out a bit. Occasionally you'd get glimpses through the treeline and spot the tailings dam for Boddington Gold Mine, which gave that pulling back of the curtain feeling but all in all it still felt like you were in the middle of nowhere enjoying some mature forest. The descent lasts for over a quarter of the day as you scrub off almost 300m of elevation so you're looking at just under a 10% gradient the whole time. I think I'm correct in writing but if you were to do this section in a S-N direction, this would be the biggest incline in terms of bottom to top on the whole track. The forest here doesn't really change too much, which is great if you enjoy Jarrah like I do, it just has subtle changes to the make-up of the undergrowth. Different wildflowers come and go, you see different plants and the width and quantity of the trees changes.
As we weren't in a rush there was always time to stop and admire where the loggers had previously come in and felled a tree and it became a bit of a thing to point out where this had happened and how the tree had responded. Most of the time it created what I call the crown effect where a lot of new limbs sprout out from the bottom and form a crown like structure but others didn't have this phenomenon. We spotted another Snottygobble and Stephen recognised it easily now after sampling its fruit at Mt Wells. I had good fun seeing the Couch Honeypot, a new favourite of mine ever since I really started to notice them around Gringer Creek. We eventually reached the bottom of the hill and saw a roadworks style sign telling us that trucks might be in the area. This was the first of a few crossing for man made interference that broke up the day. This particular road was for the gold mine and as we stood in the middle of the road you could look east and see part of the open cut mining operations. Zoom out on the map and change it to satellite view and you'll see how close the track gets and how big the mine actually is.
I never like crossing these wider roads or power line sections as it draws me out of my head space that had been firmly planted in the forest. While Stephen took more pictures I kept going and checked out the water tank on an old wooden frame that was hidden in the trees. Most likely another forestry tank to sustain the workers out here as they spent weeks felling trees back in the day, it's another little slice of history on the track. After crossing another road 100m past the first one, we were finally back in the bush and the scenery changed to reveal a different undergrowth. As far as the eye could see were Bracken Ferns, signalling a transition to the wetter Jarrah forest that Dwellingup in known for. I love this type of forest for different reasons to what you get between Monadnocks and Mt Wells and it's always nice to see the forest change as you walk further south. Some say it's much the same between Kalamunda and Balingup but there is a subtlety to it that I really enjoy.
Along a dry creek there was a solid clumping of Grass Trees and Wandoo to break up the forest but soon we were back among the tall Jarrah and ferns. The track follows an old 4x4 track through the forest and you get to appreciate how much bigger the trees grow here compared to the drier forest you had been walking through for the past 4-5 days. It certainly felt thicker and more enclosed and more importantly, the wildflowers continued to be excellent. It was easy to tell that this area had been through a burn in recent times, it looked to be a fairly cool burn as the blackened trunks only went up so far. With the elevation now flattening out we were in good rhythm as we approached another man made distraction, the crossing of a set of large power lines. Interestingly there was a small sign saying we were entering a dieback free area and on the other side was a sign for walkers going the other way telling them they were entering a dieback affected area.
Given how pretty much every dieback cleaning station along the track has been vandalised and is now completely useless, I sort of understand why there isn't a station there. The dilemma though is if you know an area has dieback and hikers have just walked through, what are the supposed to do as they enter the dieback free area? I do not know any hikers that carry spray bottles of methylated spirit mix for such occasions and being right near a 4x4 track, I don't see why it couldn't be easily installed/serviced. Moving on, we crossed under the power lines and headed into the dieback free area, that was not terribly different from the previous couple of kilometres but did feel a bit more lush. Through here we observed some rusty old remnants of the forestry industry with what we guessed was on old boiler or something hydraulic to help cut or transport logs. Along the open 4x4 track we spotted plenty of orchids including a patch of Cowslips and Pink Fairies, along with a decent smattering of other wildflowers. As we approached another road crossing at Pindalup Rd I saw the burn notice sign that are a bit of a joke around the Perth Hills because a) most are in areas where you don't get phone reception so how are you meant to call the number and b) most are left up permanently so lose the element of potential danger as they aren't relevant.
Given my visit to this area had been delayed earlier in 2019 because of the massive burns they carried out in this area I knew the sign wasn't relevant. What was amusing was a diversion notice that was still up from 2017 telling hikers that the Forest Products Commission were coming in to pillage the state forest in the area (our tax dollars hard at work here). Given the large area they had burnt out (the smoke cloud was very large as I was flying back from Tassie), I had my doubts about how well controlled they were. To start with everything seemed alright but this would have been the perimeter of the burn they do on the ground so the undergrowth was beginning to return and the trees were only burnt up to a certain height. As we ventured further in to the bit that was burnt via dropping ignition from the air, it showed what a diabolical mess they had made of these burns. Entire trees were black and the canopy missing, indicating it was a very hot burn, large logs that would have been habitat for a number of creatures were reduced to lines of white ash and worst of all, a covering of dry leaf litter all over the ground from the scorched canopy that was the whole point of burning in the first place. What a waste and just par for the course regarding the lack of common sense from Sparks and Wildlife.
The further we walked, the worse it got and I couldn't stop pointing everything out to Stephen as we hiked along. Eventually Stephen started pointing it out too and it was really hard not to get frustrated at what has happened here. Given this is five months after the burn happened and a winter full of rains, there were long patches where there was no regrowth at all except for the Grass Trees. I really wasn't interested after a while and given there was a diversion around Chadoora for a month after the burns, I was expecting this all the way into camp so just put my head down until we arrived. The tunnel of Banksia would be cool if there were elements of green but with it all burnt out it had a really sad look. We arrived at Chadoora and I was really surprised to see the burn go pretty much up to the shelter, it's a miracle they didn't burn the whole thing down. I'm guessing they came in here first and did a little hand burning so maybe I should give them a little credit.
With no one in camp we started setting up our gear and unwinding for the afternoon. Soon after we heard another hiker and a young guy rolled into camp after doubling from White Horse Hills. A fair effort given the time of day and he was pretty shattered. He refilled his water bottles after setting up his tent and that was the last we saw of him for the afternoon (we think he had a really long nap). With a bit of time to enjoy the campsite, I went for a bit of a wander because I read in one of the log books that there was a resident echidna here. First I went to check out the Old Well that is a short walk from the front of the shelter. It's pretty much a hole in the ground with a metal grid over the top so nothing special but a bit of history if you are interested in that kind of thing. I returned to the shelter after an unsuccessful time searching for the echidna and we were joined by three young girls (Mita, Jess and Monika) doing an end to end together. They had also doubled in from White Horse Hills and were feeling the effects of a 30km day.
This would be my busiest campsite south of Albany Hwy on the track since Aron and I ran into four end to enders going the other way at Dookanelly. The girls seemed in good spirits after a long day and it was funny to watch the system they had with regards to cooking duties, filling up water bottles and setting up sleeping gear. We all had a good chat as dinner was prepared about the track, our experiences and what we were eat in Dwellingup tomorrow. While I couldn't locate the echidna on my second wander around the campsite area, I came back to find the larger spider that had joined Stephen and myself earlier was now missing. Everyone made a note to check their shoes in the morning before departing just in case. It was an early night for everyone and given how tired the girls were and the close quarters sleeping arrangement in the shelter, I watched one episode of Dark Crystal before switching to some music. Another enjoyable day in the Jarrah forest despite the depressing finish to the section.
Final Thoughts - Bit of a mixed day with the first 11km or so being lovely walking through Jarrah forest and then the last stretch into camp a bit disheartening to see.
As I've said before, I am all for prescribed burning if done correctly but the current scorched earth approach where they burn a perimeter and then drop ignition in the middle is just the stupidest way of going about it. They burn hot, which not only burns habitat logs but then leaves the canopy empty, exposing the ground to the heat and as you can see in the pictures, it leaves a mass of dry leaf litter. Given it will look like this over another dry, hot summer, I wouldn't be surprised if the area wasn't immune to another fire.
To draw on the positives, it was nice to see the transition from the drier Jarrah forest to the fern filled Jarrah forest as you reach the bottom of Mt Wells. It means the wetter forests of Lane Poole Reserve are close and it's what makes the area around Dwellingup so enjoyable.
Chadoora has the potential to be a lovely campsite but I caught it at the wrong time. It will probably be another 2-5 years before the area returns to being a green paradise but at least the albino Cowslip orchids at the front of the shelter were in bloom while I there. I think the echidna heard I was coming so I'm still on the lookout for my first WA sighting.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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