Bibbulmun Track - Murray to Dookanelly
Start - Murray Campsite
Finish - Dookanelly Campsite
Campsite - Deep South
Distance - 17.7km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 374m
Time - 4-6 hours
Date Hiked - 4th June 2018
The Hike - Day Three of the week between Dwellingup and Collie and a slightly warmer night (only slightly) meant I'd had enough sleep to tackle the easy 17.6km ahead of us. Being the last day of the long weekend meant we were losing two of our members at Driver Rd with Aron and myself pushing on to the finish line in Collie.
A typically beautiful misty morning greeted me as I escaped the warmth of my sleeping bag in the shelter and made my way down to the river to take it all in. This is a favourite place of mine and not just because I look after this section as a maintenance volunteer. Having the campsite only 20-30m away from the river and being able to wake up to the magical scenes of the river being swept up in thick mist is a great pleasure and one I look forward to seeing on every visit. With the others awake we went about the morning routine of brews, breakfast and trying to keep warm. I decided it was time to have a proper breakfast so broke out the muesli and powdered milk (#luxury) and it was actually quite good compared to my regular offering.
The muesli was a vegan brand that Caris got for free and I only brought it because my usual muesli was past expiry. The cacao turned the milk powder into something resembling chocolate milk so this is now a trail favourite of mine. Setting off a bit before 8:30am we exited camp and onto the overgrown trail leading south (can confirm the trail south is now in much better condition). The first kilometre runs parallel with the Murray River although you never really get to see much of it, a common theme for the day and a missed opportunity for the Bibbulmun in this section.
Granted the regrowth has been off the charts in the past year so what was previously burnt out from the bush fires a few years ago is now rapidly turning into a tunnel of undergrowth. We reached the Murray River Fireline, meaning we were leaving the Sanctuary of Py and onto the first hill of the day that took us up into the lovely mist. It's not a big hill but just enough to warm the blood a little and then it's onto hiking along the ridgeline with its towering forest and rocky features. This whole section had a "Gorilla in the Mist" vibe to it with the fog rolling through the valley and only the occasional glimpse of a horizon, you could be mistaken for thinking you were roaming the Ugandan mountains (imagination is a wonderful thing). With zero chance of spotting a silverback in the wild (or any animal in this thick growth) I instead enjoyed the lovely walking through the lush Jarrah forest.
Riding the contours of the landscape, this was one of the highlights of the day and once again there was a section facing east (see previous days post for explanation), albeit briefly, that really perked me up. This is also an area containing some of the worst overgrown sections but I'm sure that has been dealt with by the time you read this. I know the vollies for this section have spent a lot of time here this year trying to control the regrowth, sometimes spending over an hour to clear 100m of track (can confirm this is how much effort it takes sometimes) so if it's still overgrown when you pass through just bear that in mind before saying anything. During one section of tough trekking we passed an end to ender going the other way that we later found out was double hutting that day, hence the early encounter. Turns out I had been following her on Instagram and not realised until after I finished and saw her posting about those days.
Descending down the hill to the Murray River Fireline was made more entertaining by some wooden steps and a series of stepping stones/logs that doubled as great photo opportunities. The trail continues on the flat for a little bit until you reach the fireline again, this time encountering some big puddles we had been warned about the previous day by a hiker who'd taken the wrong side and been scratched up by some blackberry bushes. Successfully avoiding a mauling I was excited to continue on after we navigated through some more undergrowth and heard what sounded like rapids. With minimal exposure to the Murray River so far today I was hoping for a section that walked right next to it like on the Warren River Loop Trail but this was just a tease. You could hear the rapids but accessing them required walking down the fireline and probably to a spot cleared away by illegal car campers.
Having made great pace all morning, the next section was a continuation of this with a relatively flat landscape following the river but not really connecting with it. I'm afraid the next few kilometres were fairly uninspiring and where I felt a great amount of sadness. At one point you could hear the drone of the mining trucks (unfortunately something you can't really escape between Murray and Yourdamung) along with the barking of the pig hunting dogs and the vehicles of their moronic owners. My thoughts pondered on what we are doing to these forests and the empty feeling that the mining companies are given license to do destroy everything they want and the pig hunters know they are never going to get caught so roam these areas without a care in the world. I would love to live in a society that values these places more than the complete disrespect we show them now but the outlook is very bleak on that subject. Enjoy it while you can is all I'm going to say.
To drown out the unwanted noise on my nature walk through a designated nature reserve I popped the headphones in and got on with the days walking. We had spaced out as a group at this point with Sruthy leading out front, spurred on by one simple word, dumplings. The earlier we got to the car, the quicker Sruthy could get home and enjoy a proper meal that she had decided was dumplings. With my end meal off the track being five days away I kept my headphones in and looked out for the details of the track I always enjoy. Fungi, interesting moss, the way the trail is framed by the trees. The devil is in the detail if you keep an eye out for it. Sruthy found a fairly sizable mushroom that looks a lot bigger than it shows in the picture and a large gathering of tall ferns made for an interesting spot to photograph.
I had previously told the group that the car was 17km from the campsite so was pacing our breaks accordingly (it was actually only 14km thanks to my excellent memory) and with the easy hiking we were experiencing I decided to keep going until we reached a suitable rest spot for lunch. Passing a large boulder collection that popped out of nowhere we kept going and through a section that reminded me a lot of one particular area of the Munday Brook Walk Trail. A thick growth of young Jarrah trees lined the trail like walls closing in either side and rising up into the sky. Stopping for lunch at just over the 12km mark, Sruthy and Jen commented the same thing about Munday Brook so there you go. Thinking we still had 5km of hiking to go until Driver Rd we sat down on the trail and tucked into what we all packed for the midday snack (only a Clif bar for me this time). Halfway through our break we heard a few voices coming along the track and it was the group we had been at Swamp Oak and Murray campsites with.
Conversation started and we mentioned that there was still an hour or so to go before Driver Rd (their end point too) and they were surprised at this information. Armed with preloaded maps on their phones, they showed us that it was only 2km away so immediately Sruthy and Jen packed away their gear and bolted off into the distance. To say that the next kilometre was the fastest of the day wasn't far off as the chant of "dumplings, dumplings, dumplings" was filling the air. Walking as a big group we soon spread out and let them go ahead as 2km is still 20-30 mins of hiking with a full pack. This allowed me to admire the moss covering the blackened trunks of certain trees that had an iridescent green glow that reminded me of the tiles in the hallways of the Department of Mysteries in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (look it up). The photos don't really capture it but again it's the devil in the detail that keeps me entertained.
The forest leading towards Driver Rd was actually some of the nicest of the day but I felt rushed as the excitement to get to the car was at an all time high. A cool set of stone stairs close to Driver Rd added another great feature to photograph and soon we were on the openness of the 4x4 track. We parked a little way down the 4x4 track but once at the car it was nice to drop the packs and change shirt/socks for the first time in three days plus have a Coke and a smile. The other group hadn't quite planned their numbers right for the drive back so two of them joined Sruthy and Jen as they headed back to Dwellingup. Aron and I had loaded up with food for the next four days on the trail along with fresh clothes and new fuel canisters. From here on out we were alone and with the end of the long weekend there was a possibility we wouldn't see anyone until Collie.
Making our way back to the trail it would be a 3.5km stroll to Dookanelly Campsite and a well earned rest before the forecast weather hit us that night. Between us and Dookanelly though was the biggest hill of the day and 1.5km of continuous climbing in the unusually muggy conditions. The climb is mostly on a 4x4 track with not much to look at besides open Jarrah forest so of course I enjoyed it. Aron and I chatted all things basketball and life on the slow ascent and before long we had reached the downhill section into Dookanelly. The final kilometre didn't seem to drag as much as other days but it had been a fairly short day with a long break just recently. As we reached the final 100m from the turnoff to the campsite I spotted another hiker and a voice boomed out "is this the Bibbulmun?"
Worried that someone was lost on the track with no camping gear and no way of contacting someone to get them out I rushed down to clarify what was being said. The hiker in question was Optimistic Michelle and she was trying to locate the track out of camp as the plan was to double hut to Murray. Given it was already past 2pm and it had taken us five hours to reach Dookanelly she reasoned that if it took two young and fit (sort of) guys that long to reach here then she wasn't going to reach Murray in the daylight. With a severe weather warning in place for that afternoon she decided not to risk it and made Dookanelly home for the evening. I always enjoying meeting new people at the campsites and Michelle mentioned there was a good chance we would be joined by a father/daughter E2E combo (Pete and Lexi) along with a guy hiking a solo E2E (Eric). As the afternoon rolled on they all came flooding in and we swapped stories and laughs on how our experiences had been that day. Michelle, Pete, Lexi and Eric had been in the same area for a few days now so were familiar with each other and talked like old friends.
I love that about the Bibbulmun and as we all setup our sleeping gear in the shelter (Eric in his tent), we were told about the RAC weather warnings for the next 24 hours. I was expecting rain the next day but the warnings were about the winds, something that turns hiking into a potentially life threatening ordeal in the forest. With plans B, C, D and Z made we decided to wait out the night as planned and see what the weather was actually like. If it was very windy then we would hike back towards Driver Rd and borrow a Telstra phone to call someone to pick us up. Not to spoil things for the next post but the weather was relatively calm overnight with a bit of rain and winds that were nowhere near the 90kmph that was predicted. I enjoyed a Chris Hemsworth movie based around the writing of Moby Dick and a very restful sleep. Another day on the Bibb and another 17.6km crossed off the sectional E2E total.
Final Thoughts - This was not my most enjoyable day of the trip, not by a long shot but that's not to say it wasn't still a good day. Being the long weekend probably amplified everything that is wrong with this area in terms of unwanted visitors so I'm sure if I picked another date then it wouldn't have been as bad.
In terms of wow moments and highlights, this section is lacking quite a bit compared to most days on the Bibbulmun. There is no one spot that you can point to and say "yes, this is what to look out for today". As I've already said, I think the track has missed a trick by not following the river more closely and connecting you with a pretty major waterway and landscape feature of the area.
If you didn't see the map or catch very brief glimpses here and there, you would be hard pressed to know there was a river so close to the track. If there was more walking along the river then this day would be a lot better but I guess there must be issues with rising water levels as a reason why it doesn't go closer. Given the Murray River Fireline runs parallel with the track, I don't see why it couldn't be used as a diversion if the river ever inundates the track.
I digress. Walking through the forest (with headphones in along here) is always much better than a day in the office or sitting on the couch at home. If you love the forest then this will be an enjoyable experience for you.
Meeting fellow hikers at the campsite and falling asleep to the sound of rain on the shelter roof perked me up quite a bit from the melancholy I felt in the morning. Life on the track has a way of doing that and it doesn't help to dwell on such things for too long.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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