White Horse Hills to Mt Wells
Start - White Horse Hills Campsite
Finish - Mt Wells Campsite
Campsite - Three Roomed Hut
Distance - 15.5km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 400m
Time - 4-6 hours
Date Hiked - 13th September 2019
The Hike - Day Two of my four day adventure between North Bannister and Dwellingup and it was an early start thanks to the spring sun now rising at 6am. The two gentlemen I was sharing the campsite with were up well before me packing away gear and brewing their morning beverages so I eventually joined them after pretending to be a warm, toasty burrito for a little longer.
It was actually quite a pleasant morning with the temperature warm enough to be comfortable in my hiking gear and jacket so I went about brewing up a coffee. As I was doing this the light show of the sun rising through the Jarrah forest was simply epic. A very light mist had enveloped, causing the light refraction to put on a pretty good display. At one point I got a glorious beam of golden light streaming through the trees and managed to get a semi-decent picture of it. Cliff, the S-N end to ender was off quite early so Stephen and I bid him farewell and continued faffing about packing our own things away.
Given the very short distances over the next couple of days, I wasn't too keen to be setting off super early and arriving at camp around midday. As much as I took my time getting ready I was still ready to go before 8am and so was Stephen. Stephen had started his end to end with his wife but she had to pull out at Brookton due to a viral issue that required an ambulance trip to the hospital. Given Stephen was on his own now and I've come to enjoy a bit of company on my hikes, I thought it would be a nice idea to hike relatively close together for the day. Long time readers of the website will know I am quite often alone on these longer trips with a few sections going by without seeing many other hikers so it was a nice change to have someone on the same schedule. With everything ready to go we departed White Horse Hills and began the journey south to the highest campsite on the Bibbulmun Track, the infamous Mt Wells (more on the infamous bit later).
Unfortunately what I didn't do while I was packing up was change my camera settings back from the sunrise shoot to my usual shooting mode so every shot was on a much slower shutter speed than it should have been. As I hiked up the hill to the highest point of the morning, every shot I took was sub-optimal, either very blurry or too overexposed to recover. I was lucky that a few were taken with a very steady hand or could be recovered thanks to some Lightroom trickery but on the whole there were a lot of blurry photos taken that had to be discarded. Making it worse, the scenery leading away from camp was lovely with a good amount of wildflowers on the lower slopes and granite platforms complete with Wandoo trees as you get higher and higher. After looking back at a photo to see if I had the focus right, I realised that my settings were all off and quickly made the correction (after kicking myself several times). It would have been nice to capture the whole day in the right mode but I guess I have to be thankful that I wasn't shooting in the wrong mode for longer.
While I had made the decision to hike with Stephen, early on I was more often than not ahead of him on the track, still getting used to his pace and hiking style. Taking the time to slow down myself, I took extra moments to admire the wildflowers, of which there were plenty, and just breathed in the morning air. Coming out onto an open expanse of granite, I spotted the first of the bigger droseras for the day just hiding in plain sight among the moss. After the closed in undergrowth of the first little section it was nice to be out in the open, examining the path forward as it wound up the hill. Patches of grass trees filled gaps in the boulder strewn slopes and with no sign of Stephen behind me I decided to press on and begin the short climb to the highest point of the morning. With the forecast predicting temperatures in the low 20s, I wasn't expecting the morning mist to hang around for very long so it was a pleasant surprise as I the entered the forest once again and you saw muted views of the valley below.
There are a couple of spots where the views open out and you look north towards Boonering Hill and the forests you walked through on the previous day. With the bite of the sun now starting to get a little stronger I could see the mist burning away down in the valley. Facing north meant the photos were very washed out so I only took a few and instead enjoyed the views first hand. Around this time I found an unwanted traveller had attached itself to me and this was the beginning of a bit of paranoia for this section. I scratched at my neck and found a small bump that I thought was just a bit of dirt or tree debris. After a bit of tugging to remove it, I had a look and unfortunately it was a tick. It wasn't something that was on my mind but given the warm weather we'd experienced over the last week, it wasn't totally unexpected. Slightly annoyed because tick bites take forever to heal for me, I was in a constant state of vigilance from then on every time I felt something on my skin, not a nice feeling to have for three more days.
At the top of the hill I was cheered up by the sight of something that sparked an "oh yeah" moment in me. The balancing rock and split in the granite was something I remember from Donovan's post about this section so a smile was brought back to my face as I saw this interesting geological feature. I had a bit of a sit on the granite after taking many photos and decided to wait for Stephen. While I did, I thought I'd have a bit of fun just casually posing against the boulder while my camera magically took a photo (it likes to do that). Stephen appeared not long after so I got off the rock so he could take a clean picture. A bit further up the track is the summit and a lovely granite platform that provides some sweeping vistas to the east, south and west. A big feature here is the gnamma pool that provides a cool foreground object to include in your photographs, as well as being something fun to observe (look out for tadpoles and bugs in the water). I was happy to see another of the bonsai trees here growing in a shallow soil deposit on the granite, much like the one on the south side of Mt Cooke.
Another feature that you can't escape here is the tailings dam of the Boddington Gold Mine and all the buildings around it. Looking like a distant oasis, the turquoise water looks like a nice feature from a distance and if you have no idea what it is before seeing it, you could be excused for thinking it was a pleasant inland lake. While mining has always had a tricky relationship with the Bibbulmun Track, at least the gold mine is somewhat unobtrusive in terms of size compared with the cancer of mining low grade bauxite and the devastation that has had on the Darling Scarp (not by much though). Stephen and I had a good discussion up here as we took a break and were briefly joined by an Ornate Crevice Dragon before it got alarmed and scurried off. Deciding it was time to move on, we found it would have been very easy to continue along the granite platform, thinking this was the correct route but the track takes a turn to the west near the gnamma pool and starts to head downhill. With the next hill on the agenda being the final climb up to Mt Wells, this would be the start of a very relaxing section of walking with not a big physical effort required.
Entering the thick undergrowth of the western side of the hill, there was a lovely thicket of parrot bush in bloom that made me smile along with a few really nice Jarrah trees. Chatting about various things with Stephen, the main topic along here was the Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT), which runs through the alpine areas of Victoria, NSW and the ACT. Stephen is from Victoria and has hiked a lot of the sections through there so recommended it as a place of interest for me. I mentioned it was on my radar but the logistics of walking/food dropping a 650km hike through alpine terrain without passing through a town meant it was a lot further down the list that other multi day hikes around Australia (plus I don't have the 5-8 weeks in leave to complete it). As we continued downhill we ran across a patch of Rose Coneflowers (the cone of bright purple/pink slivers) and it was a sight to behold. I love seeing these elaborate wildflowers and this has one of the more interesting shapes and colouring of the wildflowers found in WA.
The enjoyment continued as we reached a much flatter area and discovered a good colony of Kingia Australis stretching out near the track. I love these tall grass trees as there are some stunning examples in the Darling Scarp that are very ancient. Given they grow at 1-1.5cm per year, some of the examples we saw would have been 200-300 years old, stunning the think about when you take the time. The wildflowers through this section were fantastic so we were both stopping quite a lot to take photos and I discovered a little idiosyncrasy of Stephen in the process. He was following the guidebook and also taking photos for his own personal blog so every time he stopped for a photo or reached an important point on the track he would note down the time in a little pocket book and what it was. I didn't realise at the time that this was occurring so we got separated once again. Trying to amble along at a slower pace while Stephen caught up, I soon realised that wasn't going to happen so continued on at my own pace, which was still a fair bit slower than my regular pace given the short kilometres.
Putting on a podcast I followed the track as it wound its way through the very mature Jarrah forest. The sun was getting quite bright so I was praying that the photos would turn out right but given I was walking south, I at least had the favourable position if I shot in the direction I was walking. Doing the whole track as a N-S sectional end to end was a deliberate choice because of this reason, I don't think I could stand staring into the sun for most of the day if I walked S-N and the photos wouldn't look anywhere near as good if I shot it in the direction I was walking, more so in the winter when the sun is much lower in the sky. There was plenty to see along this long stretch of forest with a few iconic trees including one that had a lot of addition limbs growing out of its wide trunk that had been blackened by fire. I likened it to Sauron's helmet from the opening sequence of The Lord of the Rings as it had that dark, aggressive, twisted form to it.
Taking the time to enjoy this section because you never know when it might change for the worse (i.e burnt), I was happy that it was lasting for kilometre after kilometre. I spotted my first Cowslip Orchid of the trip, something I always enjoy seeing and it put me in an even better mood. With an excellent podcast on and mature Jarrah forest to walk through, this was turning out to be a very nice day. I had planned a stop for lunch at around the 7-8km mark so when I spotted a fallen log in the shade that looked perfect for a rest, I took off my pack and had a sit. Savouring my typical lunch of a Clif bar, Stephen wasn't too far behind and joined me for a lengthy break. It was here I introduced him to the delights of dehydrated strawberry and we had a chat about the last section and all the interesting things we stopped to photograph. While Stephen finished up his lunch I had a bit of an explore of the surrounding area and inspected all the little details around the log. I had another traveller join me, this time a harmless spider so I took a photo and then placed it back home on the log.