Dog Pool to Mt Chance
Start - Dog Pool Campsite
Finish - Mt Chance Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 20.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 361m
Time - 4-6 hours
Date Hiked - 4th June 2019
The Hike - My first night alone for the trip and it was a pretty uneventful evening with another toasty sleep in the new rammed earth shelter of Dog Pool. Awaking as the sun rose, I had decided to have a bit of a sleep in because I had another fairly easy day today with 20km to cover and most of that on the infamous 4x4 tracks of this area. Eventually finding the motivation to get out of my sleeping bag to brew myself a coffee, the chilly morning air put a certain hurry up in my step. With a fresh coffee now warming me up I had a bit of a wander around the Dog Pool area, checking out the different lighting from the bridge and admiring the Karri forest in the morning glow.
The urge to have a morning dip eluded me so I headed back to the shelter for some dry granola and to begin the slow process of packing everything away for the day's adventure. Ahead of me today was a section I was actually looking forward to despite the ranting and raving of my podcast partner about how boring and unnecessary the slog down Marron Rd and then Pingerup Rd was. I was mentally prepared for the first 13km to be nothing but 4x4 track and I had told myself that I was going to find it wonderful and show Donovan that with the right headspace it could be an enjoyable walk. That being said, I think it was a definite advantage knowing about this section well before hiking it so I can fully understand why Donovan found it to be a terrible stretch of walking (like I found Dog Rd on the previous day to be a terrible way to get into camp). With my pack containing all of my possessions for the week and fresh top-up of fluids I set off. One nice touch to the day was I finally figured out the anti-gravity system of my new Osprey pack and with all the right straps tightened correctly, I was looking forward to not arriving at camp with very tense shoulders like I had the previous three afternoons.
The walk over the bridge and out of camp takes you back onto Dog Rd and into a very thick section of Karri forest towards Marron Rd. Enjoy the beauty of the Karri forest while you can as it won't last long today, coming every now and then but nothing like the previous three days. I reached the turnoff for Marron Rd pretty quickly and had a big smile on my face when I saw one of the lovely white road signs stating "Marron Rd" very clearly. I stopped to take a photo with it complete with a big thumbs up so I could send it to Donovan later on but unfortunately it didn't turn out so the regular shot will have to do. Finally beginning what is a 9.7km stretch of continuous 4x4 track (yes you read that correctly), I was enjoying the recovering Karri forest as it towered above the track. I think Karri forest is best suited to 4x4 tracks as you get to appreciate the scale of the trees better so in this regard I think Marron Rd the best option here.
I had another laugh as I spotted a bush chook lying on the floor (the bogan choice of beer, not the emu variety) and wondered if I would come across any vehicles on my journey today. The Karri forest started to thin out and transition to Jarrah, thick at first and then thinning out to what you would expect from the sandier soils of the area. A strategy I had for dealing with what is a pretty long and boring stretch of the Bibbulmun (just think, 1% of the whole track is this one road) was to find things to photograph along the way so I wouldn't have endless photos of 4x4 track leading into the distance. This would keep me both interested in the landscape around me and give me a chance of seeing something I might not have seen if I just decided to power along at 5-6kmph to get it over with. This worked a treat as there was plenty to keep me entertained, from fox tails in the sand to purple trigger plants in the low lying areas to the brilliant colours of the Marri trees.
After about 4km of enjoyable walking in the morning sunshine I came across the bridge that crosses a tributary of the Shannon River. With a nice wooden platform to rest on I decided to sun myself on the now disused bridge (the road now goes around it) and take a break. One thing I had planned for the day was to get a shot for International Naked Hikers Day that was coming up (21st of June) and with the sun out I decided this would be the spot. It was highly unlikely I would come across a hiker from the other direction this early in the day and the wooden platform gave me a nice spot to rest my camera to put it on the timer. Stripping down I had a couple of attempts at it and it was a very liberating feeling so I can see why people enjoy the sensation. The results have already been published on my Instagram stories (sorry) so you'll have to follow me and wait until next years effort.
With a good break and a few bare shots in the bag I put my hiking gear back on (did think twice about it) and started off again. Being near a water source there was a thicker forest supported here but as I headed away it transitioned back to the stunted stuff you'd expect from the sandy soils. I still kept busy looking for interesting features and a lovely Drosera, some random granite and a new favourite of mine, the Swamp Bottlebrush. While the stunted landscape wasn't the most stimulating to walk through, especially with such a wide vehicle track, I at least knew it was coming and could get into a rhythm while I endured this section. Luckily I had something good to listen to and this made the time go very quickly.
Arriving at a higher point on the track towards the end of Marron Rd I found a lovely section of really mature forest. Having expected bleak, stunted scenes the whole way along I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the finish and was starting to wonder what Donovan found so offensive about this road. Having said that I do think that with a bit of effort it could be diverted into the forest a bit more given the map shows some interesting features off track that would be nice to explore. With little fanfare and a bit of relief I reached the end of Marron Rd a better person than when I started. Given this was the halfway point of the day I found a spot in the shade to settle down and enjoyed resting on my pack observing the surrounding trees, birds and sky.
As I was enjoying the peace and quiet I heard another set of footsteps approach so I turned around to find Matt, a guy from Queensland on an E2E approaching. We had a bit of a chat about where we'd come from, Osprey packs and I warned him about the lackluster second half of his day. He was keen to continue on into camp and I too was at the end of my break so put my pack back on to continue my day. While Marron Rd hadn't been as bad as what I was expecting, I wasn't too enthusiastic about walking for another long stretch along Pingerup Rd. Walking north-east for the entire time, I was mainly shooting into the sun so the photos didn't look very nice. I limited myself to a handful because in the end there wasn't much to see apart from some nondescript forest (although still quite lovely) and a couple of sections of open plains including a very tiny lake just off the track. I think at this stage I was just waiting for the scenery to change and get off the 4x4 track.
That moment came quicker than expected when I spotted a red cross in the distance and it peaked my interest. With my bad eyesight I wasn't sure what it was but as I got closer I saw it was a Bibbulmun Track sign pointing me into the forest. Relieved and excited I happily joined the single track having conquered some 13km of continuous 4x4 tracks on the day (18km if you stretch that back to the entry into Dog Pool). I may have let out an excited squee as I walked through the tiny forest section leading towards the first of a couple of really stunning open plains. Different to what I'd seen over the fist few days, the plants/grasses were at ankle height instead of hip or shoulder height so you got a much better sense of scale and wonder from the surrounding landscape. The seemingly endless horizon really cemented home the feeling of isolation that I was expecting to feel at times along this section so was happy to finally get a really good taste of it.
Some nice examples of Kingia Australis could occasionally be spotted just off track and although not as ancient as the ones near Deeside Coast Rd, they were still nice to see. With perfect weather once again I was thoroughly enjoying walking in the proper Pingerup Plains area so slowed my pace right down to soak it all in. I rounded a corner and over the tiniest of inclines where it once again opened up into a wide plain, stopping only at another of the forested islands that dot the landscape. This was by far the highlight of the day (not saying much after 13km of 4x4 bashing) and really made up for the expedient walking to get here. Arriving at the edge of the forest island, the track skirts around the outside where it became apparent that this area was the scene of a recent prescribed burn. The further I got, the more evidence I saw and so began a not very nice finish to the day as I walked through burnt and recovering forest that was stunted to begin with.
Entering the forest properly, this would mark the final stage of the day and a good 3-4 kilometres of really mixed scenes, ranging from severely burnt to acceptable levels of recovery forest. I did enjoy seeing a Snottygobble, something of a happy omen for me in the northern sections of the track so that perked me up a little but then I would come across some really burnt bits and my mood dropped back down. I was hoping that this was just an isolated burn as sometimes happens on the Bibbulmun (getting ever more frequent in the last couple of years) so continued to soldier on through the terrain. The one good thing about this area was the occasional sighting of granite, whether it be a small platform or just a series of rocks dotted along the track.
Also catching my eye were a series of fungi, while nothing I hadn't seen over the past few days, I'm always interested in seeing them grow in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways. I reached the edge of the forest where it opens up into another plain and I caught sight of a granite dome poking out from behind the tree line. It could only have been Mt Chance given my kilometres for the day were getting close to the 20km mark so it was a relief to know another fantastic campsite wasn't too far away. Crossing the last of the plain sections, I had fun taking panoramas of the landscape before my final push into camp. At the end of the plain there was an out of place dumping of orange rocks that I assume was placed there to repair a troublesome section of the path. It was weird to walk over and as I said, looked completely alien to the sandy soils of the surrounding area.
The journey to the campsite takes longer than you think as you are so close, it seems like around every corner you could expect to see the campsite sign. Eventually you catch sight of it and it was a happy moment because Mt Chance had been highly rated by Ben and Donovan so I was keen to see why in person. Unfortunately I arrived at something that was not very pleasing to the eye, the whole place had been recently burnt, right up to the shelter and was in a sorry state. I know a large area (the size of a small European country) was closed off in Spring 2018 for prescribed burns causing a 60km diversion for Bibbulmun Track walkers, I was just hoping DBCA would be burning away from the track. Apparently in all their wisdom they decided to burn right around a truly stunning and lush campsite instead of leaving it as a beacon of niceness for hikers coming through. To see what the campsite looked like in 2017 check out Donovan's post, I think you'll find it much more pleasing to the eye.
To rub salt into the wound, DBCA have erected propaganda signs within the shelter to tell everyone about all the great work they are doing with prescribed burns and how if they haven't torched every small mammal in the area, they love returning to feed on new grasses etc etc. I'm not against prescribed burning if done properly but it was completely unnecessary to ruin the campsite like they have, I was really surprised they didn't burn it down given they burnt all the way into the canopy. While it was burnt around nine months ago, the risk of widow makers falling down on hikers is much greater with the burn reaching so high, something that hit home as I slept that night and heard a branch fall on the shelter roof with a big bang. The full extent of the damage could be seen from one of my many trips that afternoon up to the top of Mt Chance. The side trail is right outside the shelter and reminded me of the climb up Frenchman Peak given the steep granite. The views from the top offer a 360 degree outlook over the Pingerup Plains, the Broke Inlet and further afield to Mount Frankland, where they were doing more prescribed burns and creating a haze that would get thicker as the afternoon progressed.
From the summit I stared out from the direction I had come and noticed that the forest hugging the edges of the granite dome were in their epicormic regrowth stage, not the prettiest look for such a majestic forest type like the Karri forest. The cover photo we used for the Northcliffe to Walpole episode of the podcast was from this spot when it wasn't burnt and I was starting to doubt if this was the right location. In the end I realised that it was and accepted that this was how it was. As the afternoon wound down I went up and down the granite dome several times to check out the changing lighting and try and get signal. A log book entry from King Jarrah suggested that if you are with Vodafone and you put your phone on the old metal brace at the top you could get roaming reception. It worked so I sent a quick message to Caris to let her know I was alive and well.
With sunset arriving I took my dinner and a hot chocolate up to the summit with my camera (not an easy feat) with the aim of staying up there for quite a while to enjoy the show. With a balmy winter evening I perched myself on the rocky seat and enjoyed my dinner (another Mung Bean Fettuccine with Roasted Pepper Pesto, Cashews and Basil) while watching as the sky changed from blue to yellow to orange to red. I had also brought my small speakers up and the playlist I had on was pumping out some really good tunes on random that perked me up a fair bit. The haze had well and truly set in by the time the sun fell towards the horizon and I was hoping this would make for an epic sunset but in the end it was too thick. As the sun set over the horizon it did create a Lion King style black silhouette of the tree line against the orange sky that was quite cool.
Normally the after sunset light show produces some really spectacular colours so I stuck around to see what would happen. Unfortunately nothing eventuated but I did get a really moody shot of the summit silhouetted against the deep blue sky and light orange of the long gone sun. This wouldn't be my last trip up that evening as I let the sky grow darker while watching a movie and then around 7pm I went back up the dome for some astrophotography. After my nice results from Lake Maringup I decided to up the anty and insert myself in the picture due to the lack of foreground objects to include. Hoping that the haze wasn't too bad, I set the timer and put on my head torch to get the beam of light searching out towards the heavens. You can see a bit of haze but the end result was pretty cool. With the photography fun over I just sat on the rocky seat again and sat there for a while in the silence just soaking it all in. If you stay here and have a clear night then I highly recommend coming up here after dark and experiencing the wonder of a million stars overhead. I imagine with a full moon the views would look very special.
Final Thoughts - A day I had marked from the very start as one to look out for but for much different reasons than you'd expect. The dreaded Marron/Pingerup Rd double is not an enjoyable way from getting from A to B but with the right mindset (and some pleasant weather) it can be more than bearable.
The last third of the day is easily the most enjoyable part and seeing the vastness of the Pingerup Plains and the forest islands is worth the slog along the 4x4 tracks. Some people may not agree and I can see why, I think I was lucky to have a warning beforehand and a sunny disposition going into the day.
Mt Chance as a campsite had been talked up so much as a potential Top 5 for some hikers and so it was heartbreaking to arrive and find it all horribly burnt. Again I'm not sure why they felt the need to burn right up to the shelter but perhaps in a few years it might feel nice again.
One positive was the 360 degree views aren't going anywhere and watching the sunset from the top of the dome is a pretty magical experience. Add in a beautiful starry night and this is one of the reasons we carry 15kg on our backs through the wilderness with no showers for a week or longer.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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