Beraking to Mount Dale
The Hike - With Beraking being the last of the Helena Valley campsites, make sure you catch the sunrise as the valley fills up with sunshine (and if you're lucky, a bit of morning mist). With the wide open space in front of the shelter and a fairly flat elevation it can get chilly there, especially if the morning easterly is blowing. Luckily the shelter is perfectly positioned to provide a barrier as you brew a morning coffee and prepare for the day. Leaving the campsite you are straight out onto the 4x4 track you walked in on for some pleasant forest hiking. The area leading away from the campsite is far from mature forest and has a bit of a scrappy look to it in places, more so since they've recently burnt the area to protect the small patches of pine plantation.
This is a hint of the "mixed use" day to come with the forestry tracks once providing access for the logging of the Jarrah forest and now used to maintain the pine plantations that litter the area. In winter and spring everything is not lost with an explosion of wildflower colour making the forest come alive. As you wind around along the 4x4 track for a couple of kilometres eventually you will reach the first of the pine plantations for the day. A brief dalliance, your encounter with the plantation ends and you are on some lovely single track that brings you closer to nature and is a good opportunity to spot some wildlife. On various visits I've seen kangaroos, black cockatoos, various small finches and a good array of insects. Having been mostly a flat hike up until this point you begin to descend down into the valley that feeds the outer edges of Lake CY O'Connor via the Darkin River (more of a seasonal stream). Halfway down the climb you arrive out onto another 4x4 track that borders a much larger pine plantation. This is the scene of a pretty cool shot as the steepness of the climb partnered with the hill rising up from the bottom allows you to look down and see nothing but pines and native forest in the shot. I may have looked back at Aron climbing up the hill on one trip and seen him huffing and puffing, it made for a nice shot.
At the bottom of the hill you turn left and follow the 4x4 track briefly before turning right and into more pine plantation. The more mature pines in this area make for better hiking (they were still mature in 2017). This is the point of an almost 400m vertical ascent over the next 7km so mentally prepare yourself to begin what is the most sustained climb of the track so far. Leaving the 4x4 track very quickly you re-join a welcome single track into the forest as the climbing begins. A short climb leading up to a small plateau, it's a nice introduction to the hike up towards the highest point on the track so far, Mt Dale. Popping out at the top you are presented with a crossroads of many 4x4 tracks and an old concrete water tank, similar to the one you see before the Helena Campsite. To the east is large network of more pine plantation that at the time of my visit in 2017 had been harvested extensively, leaving a big scar on the landscape. It would be nice not to be presented with this and it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I wouldn't mind a bit of a hillier hike if the track was realigned further to the west and away from the activities of the Forest Products Commission.
Luckily one of the best sections of the day is right up ahead as you start climbing again, first on 4x4 tracks and then on fantastic single track through the Wandoo. It is always a delight to see these golden trunked trees and here is no exception. In spring this little rise and S-Bend is carpeted in Karri Hazel, wildflowers and general greenery. On a clear day as you round the bend and start heading west you can see the hills of Mt Dale to the south west. You still have a sustained climb all the way up to Mt Dale but being in the Jarrah forest makes it so much better than the first 5km of the day. There are a few moments where the incline gets a bit steeper but for the most part it doesn't feel like too much of a climb. The best bit of the section heading west are the views across the valley to the granite patches. Every time I pass them I wish the track took you there to explore them. After a couple of kilometres the track swings south and you begin the hike up to the base of Mt Dale. On my first visit here in 2015 it was just after the natural bushfires that swept through this area leaving the place a blackened mess. It was here I captured one of my favourite photos of the early website with pink leaves contrasted against the blue skies and the new growth of the green shoots coming up. After another couple of kilometres weaving between she-oaks, grass trees and the black trunks of burnt Jarrah you reach the intersection of the Bibbulmun and the Mount Dale Circuit.
A short loop around the summit of Mt Dale, it's a great way to experience the fantastic views without walking up the 4x4 track that leads all the way up to the summit. I highly recommend taking this side trip (follow the black boot markers) as you've done a fair bit of climbing today and to not get the reward of the views would be a shame. As you loop around the summit you can see further south and off towards the Monadnocks you climb over in a couple of days time. If you're really keen and up early at the Mount Dale Campsite then I can highly recommend backtracking the 3km and viewing the sunrise from the summit. Once you've completed the circuit head down from the picnic area towards the intersection of Dale Rd and Omeo Rd (look for the dream catcher memorial site). The final push towards the campsite is all downhill from here so you can relax for the last 2km. Initially walking along Omeo Rd, enjoy the views across the granite patches before turning off onto a single track through the forest. My only visit here was in 2015 just after the fires so I had a unique visual experience but I look forward to returning to see the mixed forest recovered somewhat. The campsite is located after a short side trail and remarkably was unharmed during the 2015 fires. I quite like the campsite as it sits in the shadows of Mt Dale and although it lacks the views of the previous three shelters, it has a certain "rustic buried in the forest" charm.