Blackwood to Gregory Brook
Start - Blackwood Campsite
Finish - Gregory Brook Campsite
Campsite - Standard
Distance - 18.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 470m
Time - 4-7 hours
Date Hiked - 20th September 2018
The Hike - The penultimate day of my seven day trek between Collie and Donnelly River and I was treated to a gloriously foggy morning as I awoke from my slumber. This was not entirely unexpected as I'd woken up the previous night to find a beautifully moonlit fog rolling in through the Blackwood River Valley. Given I only had a leisurely 18km to hike today I wasn't too fussed about getting up early, and being up on the hill the photos of the surrounding landscape wouldn't contain very much landscape. I put on some stirring music to match the moody surroundings and enjoyed being snuggled up in my warm sleeping bag. The morning was spent slowly getting my things packed and savouring a jaffa hot chocolate (magic stuff and you should buy some for your next long hike).
Eventually around 9am the fog started to lift and there was just a wispy twirl rolling through the valley. I enjoyed this show for longer than I should have and it was getting on past 10am before I decided to leave but I was surprised by a fellow hiker that had just rocked up to the campsite. An older gentleman, he had hiked in the 17.5km from Balingup after a very early start and I don't think he planned on getting here so quickly. We had a bit of a chat and I figured I wouldn't be alone at Gregory Brook that night as lounging around at Blackwood for almost an entire day might get a bit boring for him. He said he would rest for an hour and decide after that but he must have found something to do as I didn't see him at Gregory Brook that night. I said my goodbyes and started the hiking for the day with a short walk towards what is dubbed "Cardiac Hill" by seasoned Bibbulmun Track walkers. For those travelling S-N this is a fun finish to the day as you climb over 150m in about a kilometre and is billed as one of the toughest climbs in this area. As I was during the reverse journey today I just had to worry about getting down and with my bruised feet not yet warmed up, it was a little uncomfortable.
Making it better was a slew of wildflowers dotted on the hill framing the surrounding farmland with a little colour. I reached the bottom in one piece and joined up with an access road to Southampton Homestead, one of the private property that the track passes through. I was greeted with a variety of farm animals included a large chicken coop and a couple of horses. The real treat was yet to come and as I passed through one of the gates (please remember to shut them properly) I heard a flurry of borking from up on the hill and spotted two fluffy puppas thundering down the hill to check me out. Having checked me out and given their tick of approval I was allowed pats, something I had missed after being separated from my own silly muppets for a week. With a big smile on my face I had one final play with the two guard dogs (apparently there are four of them on the property) and continued on.
With the Blackwood River on my right and having spotted it at the bottom of Cardiac Hill, I was looking forward to some relaxing river walking as the sun was quite fierce today. Unfortunately though the river is mostly blocked by vegetation or deviates away so I was left a little bemused. I'd heard the Blackwood River was a lovely snaking feature of the South West and given this is the only interaction with it for Bibbulmun Track walkers, I was expecting a bit more. Much like the walking along the Murray River, the track has missed a trick here. I understand the complexity of walking right on a relative flat river valley but some stretches of being able to wander down to the river and enjoy it wouldn't have been too much to accomplish.
Your only real opportunity to visit the Blackwood River up close is at the concrete traffic bridge where Southampton Rd crosses the river. This is where I dunked my hat in the river and sat on the rocks for a while watching the world go by. With the easy part of the day over it was time to get into the lengthy climb that would be your friend for quite a while. Over the next 8km you'd be ascending 240m vertically to the highest point of the trip so not difficult terrain but still a gradual uphill none the less. A gentle stroll on Southampton Rd along the Blackwood River for about a kilometre leads you to the turnoff and the beginning of the climbing.
Taking a 4x4 track that is used to access the nearby Millstream Dam, you rise up a hairpin bend until your course straightens up and rounds the contours of the hill. This bit I found quite relaxing as you can see what you're up against as the trees seem to tower even higher above you from the lower vantage point. With a late start I was hiking this section in the heat of the day and was looking forward to seeing what Millstream Dam was all about and possibly enjoying another hat dunk in the water. My thoughts kept wandering to my time in the Pilbara exploring Millstream Chichester NP given the shared name so this brought back some happy memories.
Once I reached Millstream Dam I realised that my hopes would be dashed and any chances for a closer visit were out of the question. The track skirts the bottom of the dam wall (it's a small dam so nothing impressive) and then takes you onto a single track up the side of the hill. The thick undergrowth was a welcome change from exposed 4x4 tracks but the steeper gradient countered that. Eventually it starts to flatten out and you get a partially blocked view of Millstream Dam down below. As I continued on I was joined by some noisy neighbours as a flock of black cockatoos screeched overhead. I love seeing these guys in the forest as it reminds me that just maybe they aren't doomed and can find habitat trees in these pockets of state and national forest. I took a look at my Runkeeper and figured that the 9km mark was a good distance to have a break for lunch so found a large fallen log and took the pack off.
My feet issues were still hindering my progress but I'd gotten used to it by now and worked on massaging my feet to relieve some of the discomfort. Enjoying the cooling breeze I had my customary Clif bar before getting everything ready for the second half of the day. While not expecting super mega amazing forest, the walking along the old railway formation here is pretty uninspiring. Picking spring as my preferred time meant I had wildflowers to distract me and had more fun taking photos of them rather than taking in the entire landscape. I was particularly taken back by a patch of skeleton trees that had obviously been ravaged by a bushfire over the past five or so years and the forest was nowhere near partially recovered. This may be because by this point I was 350m above sea level and one of the highest points on the track since the Kingdom of Py, making it drier and more exposed than the surrounding forest.
Descending down a bit brought lusher forest and this is where you start to see the changes as the forest gets thicker and you transition into Karri country. While you won't see large tracts of Karri forest until the following day, if you know what's coming then this is an exciting time. I was stopped in my tracks when a daddy emu crossed my tracks followed by his younglings. I managed to snap a quick photo of the little cuties as they scurried off into the undergrowth while daddy emu bellowed his drum like chest calling to the others that had gone in the opposite direction. Not wanting to have them separated I stayed still until the last of the emu chicks had come back and daddy emu followed them into the forest.
The track joins the gravel road of Wetherley Rd for some more exposed walking before taking a smaller 4x4 track up and down some hills. It was still quite warm and I was surprised I hadn't seen a snake the whole trip given this was about the time of year they are starting to become more active. I did however see a bobtail lizard and proceeded to get a couple of snaps before it wiggled off into the undergrowth. The final stage of walking takes you off the 4x4 track and onto single track as you walk into Gregory Brook. With the sun now creeping below the canopy of the forest, this was lovely finish to the day.
Entering Gregory Brook Campsite, I was excited to see what I had heard was one of the nicer campsites in this area (which is saying a lot). I was not disappointed as it is set deep in a forest of tall trees with a lovely watercourse (Gregory Brook) a short walk away from the shelter. I setup my things and proceeded to spend a bit of time by the brook cooling off and just enjoying the sounds of the water and the forest. My plan that night was to watch a movie but my power bank went dead (too much use when I realised I had phone reception at Blackwood) so I played the fun game of shaking/warming it up and charging in tiny increments. With a full day of GPS tracking tomorrow I managed to get it from 50% up to 90% and decided that listening to some podcasts would be a more efficient way of entertaining myself that night. The older hiker from Blackwood never double-hutted so I was once again alone.
Final Thoughts - I'm going to be honest here, this wasn't the most interesting day I had on my week long hike from Collie to Donnelly River. Part of that can be put on the weather as I don't really enjoy Jarrah forest in bright, sunny conditions and being a bit warm also wasn't ideal.
The second factor is that there really isn't much to write home about with the scenery. What could be a lovely start to the day along the Blackwood River is a bit underwhelming and was saved by an encounter with the Southampton Homestead doggos.
From there it is pretty much just old rail formations and 4x4 tracks until you hit the nicer forest close to Gregory Brook.
This is not to say it wasn't an enjoyable day as any day in the forest is better than one spent in an office. Everything in life is comparative #wisdom
The real highlight of the day is Gregory Brook and it really sets up the following day nicely. Great location, lovely forest and although it is a variant of the standard shelter format (not my favourite style), I enjoyed my stay there.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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