Swamp Oak to Murray
Start - Swamp Oak Campsite
Finish - Murray Campsite
Campsite - Deep South
Distance - 18.8km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 461m
Time - 4-7 Hours
Date Hiked - 3rd June 2018
The Hike - After a great first day of hiking between Dwellingup and Swamp Oak, today would be the first full day on the track for the trip. Despite the cold night (overnight temp was 0C at Dwellingup) we were in good spirits and raring to head out and warm the bodies up with some good old fashioned movement. A breakfast consisting of a Clif Bar and coffee was enough as we had a bit of a lazy start packing things away and checking out the shelter we didn't see the afternoon before. Setting off a bit before 9am we were all rugged up with jackets and beanies trying to ward off the frosty morning air. The section leading out of camp is through open Jarrah forest on single track with several large specimens towering into the light mist.
There is something about walking east into a winter's sunrise that I enjoy, not sure if it's to do with the warming effect on my face or the thought of setting off into the endless expanse of the unknown but I love the feeling and today was no different. Rising up a small hill got the blood flowing some more and although the beanie stayed on, the temperature was much more bearable as we started to descend down towards Swamp Oak Rd. In our way was a recently fallen tree that added a bit of fun to the morning and soon we reached the first of the 4x4 tracks of the day. Normally I am not a fan of 4x4 hiking, especially through spindly Jarrah forest but Swamp Oak Rd is a delight to walk along thanks to a nearby creek providing enough water for a thick coverage of forest. It felt like walking through a forest you hear described in fantasy novels and as if a horse drawn carriage was just around the corner loaded heading off to the local village. Passing another of the wooden seats that have been installed, we stopped for photos and had a small debate about whether the distance figures carved into the seat were a good thing or not (Aron was pro, I was not).
The discussion also raged on about whether we were still on the Bibb as we hadn't seen a waugyl in quite a while but I assured everyone that any turn away from a 4x4 track would be well signed. A few minutes after that statement we came across the turn that takes you up another 4x4 track and onto one of the two big climbs for the day. As I said it would be well marked and we counted six waugyls in various locations so the turn would be pretty hard to miss. From the bottom it is a 120m vertical climb to the summit over the next 1.5km so not a super steep hill but a sustained climb none the less. With full packs and a climb to tackle, things were quiet, something that was unusual for one member of our party (looking at you Jen). We all had a good chuckle that maybe we should climb more hills so we could enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest (kidding of course but not really). At this stage we were passed by another group that had stayed at Swamp Oak the night before and we all spread out over the hill going at our own pace.
Towards the top of the climb the scenery changed from nice Jarrah forest to burnt She-Oak (I love the She-Oak forest) and back to scrappy Jarrah. Being the leeward side of the hill explains why this area was so much drier and sparser than what we would come across later but the trade-off was some great views looking back towards the east. At the summit we found the other group having a rest and thought that was a good idea so wandered a bit further on and found a fallen tree to take a break on. Everyone else found out they had mobile reception so enjoyed connecting to the outside world while we snacked. I am with Vodafone so wasn't so lucky and instead enjoyed an energy bar and posed for photos. Coming up was the descent down to the Yarragil Form access point and one of the highlights of the day for me. In stark contrast to the climb up the hill, the windward side of the hill was a lush paradise full of towering Jarrah trees, ferns, fungi and dense undergrowth. The wonderful climb down into the green valley is a bit of a steep one but that just means taking it slower and enjoying the scenery, something made easier by the seat named Venturer's View.
Towards the bottom on the hill we were passed by a trail runner that would be staying at Murray that night and that sparked more conversation about what was in his small pack given he would need sleeping supplies and food. We soon reached Yarragil Form and crossed River Rd and on towards the bridge. Unfortunately there was no water flowing when we were there but this area would come alive in the spring so maybe a return visit might be in order. Having descended into a valley, the track takes you on the second and last big climb of the day. Filled with Zamia Palms and more noticeable fire damage to the Jarrah trees, this area was slightly overgrown to the point of questioning whether or not this was still the official track. I found out after my trip that this section had not been looked at in two years so that explains the overgrown feel. I have been assured that it is now in better shape. Just to make sure the group hadn't decided to take another path or turn back to Yarragil Form I stopped off at a nice viewing spot and waited for them to catch up. Sruthy arrived first and despite feeling slightly under the weather, was enjoying the day's hiking.
Jen and 1A1R finally showed up and we all finished the hill as a group before embarking on the long and flat section on the ridge. Filled with a mix of She-Oak and Jarrah, the walking here is much easier and you can relax a little after the previous two hills. We saw a few of the first wildflowers breaking through with some dashes of purple livening up the burnt landscape and dull colours of the fallen She-Oak needles. The track goes along long stretches of 4x4 track here but the area is not without charm given the tunnel like effect of the She-Oak's lining the track. I enjoy both walking through and photographing this effect so was enjoying this middle stretch of the day towards our eventual lunch stop. My plan had been to stop at around the 14km mark for lunch but in the glorious sunshine at the 13km mark we found a nice spot to park our cabooses and unload our heavy packs. On the menu for me was peanut butter tortillas and it was nice to soak in the sunshine on a log without a care in the world. I made friends with a bee that was landing on my pack but it was a one-sided friendship as it flew off and left me heartbroken. With everyone happy and contented after a break we moved on to finish the final 6km of the day.
After we descended down a little bit and crossed another inoffensive metal and wooden bridge we reached the first crossing of the Murray River Fireline and the entry to the "Sanctuary of Py". I recently took over this section of the Bibbulmun as a maintenance volunteer from a friend and with Donovan calling my other section in between Possum Springs and Yourdamung the "Kingdom of Py", I thought it would be fun to give this one a name. I don't claim to have ownership of this section so it's a bit of harmless fun. Having removed most of the Prickly Moses and overgrown bits from this first section earlier in the year with help from Aron, it was nice to just walk through from a hiker's perspective and enjoy the walk. Having spent a fair bit of time here checking on the place for the last year I knew what to expect, a bit of a hill and then some more ridge walking among the Jarrah trees. As stated in my Swamp Oak post, I love the open Jarrah forest where the landscape feels wide and you are immersed in the forest, not closed off by the undergrowth. With the others walking behind I stopped for a moment and just sat on a log listening to my music and singing along. Sruthy once again popped into view before Jen and 1A1R and we moved on to the second crossing of the Murray River Fireline.
Given the long weekend attracts plenty of traffic to Lane Poole Reserve, I was wary of 4x4s and dirt bikes screaming along the road so we kept to the side and instead eyed off the cans and bottles of beer that these idiots leave behind. The Bibb leaves the fireline again and heads up a small hill into more glorious open forest. This area has been burnt out and the trail can be a little hard to see so on my next visit I will be putting up more waugyls but hopefully the footmarks from other hikers have worn the trail a little bit more. I waited at the 4x4 track for everyone else to let them know I was going rogue for the rest of the day and would see them at the campsite later on that afternoon. With my hike your own hike plan in place I set off down the 4x4 track and admired the towering forest to the south and the collection of grass trees that have now lost their impressive golden flower spikes from last year. Crossing the Murray River Fireline for the last time, this is where you get the money shot of the Bibbulmun Track sign pointing you down towards to the Murray River and the first time you would glimpse the river if you were doing a N-S end to end. With a little bit of rainfall recently there was a good flow to the river but my eyes were drawn to the distance where the movement and noise of people illegally car camping caught my eye. Knowing this was a possibility, I was still annoyed as there is no shortage of camping spots within Lane Poole Reserve so having people just camp where they want (and leave their rubbish everywhere) really gets up my goat.
I made it to the track that leads from the fireline to the river that was previously closed off with a giant fallen tree but has since been removed and I tried to get a closer look to snap shots of number plates etc. As I was doing this I heard a voice behind me and one of the campers told me I could go down for a closer look if I wanted. I passed him to get back to the track and informed him that it was illegal to camp there but he cared not and kept walking down to the river. With my blood a little boiled I didn't really feel like taking photos of the last section to the campsite so put my head down and trudged off. Making it worse was the noise of a few 4x4s and dirt bikes ruining the peace and quiet. I made it to camp to find the trail runner that passed us earlier, another gentleman hiker and the group that we'd spent the day criss-crossing. Murray Campsite is one of the smaller campsites when it comes to tent sites so there was only one tent pad left when Sruthy, Jen and Aron arrived. Given there was room in the shelter I decided to let Jen take Aron's snoring for the night and that meant Sruthy got a tent to her own. I spent some time at my special place on the Murray River listening to the black cockatoos and being still in nature before we reconvened at the camp table to chat with the trail runner and other hiker while we cooked up dinner (all sorts pasta). It was another cold night but I slept well after another enjoyable day on the trail.
Final Thoughts - Illegal camping and bogan activity aside, this was a great day on the trail. Unfortunately you can't escape the drone of vehicles, bikes and mining trucks (there is a mine site 200m over the hill from the campsite) but that shouldn't detract too much from your experience if you pick a quieter time.
Leaving Swamp Oak gives you some great 4x4 walking and Jarrah forest and then either side of Yarragil Form is a delight to walk through. While you don't really get some of the great views of the Darling Range section and one of the highlights of the area, the Murray River, you only get a brief glimpse of for the final 2.5km, the forest walking here is more than worth it.
I may be slightly biased here because I'm a maintenance volunteer for the campsite and surrounding area but the Murray Campsite is one of the best campsites in this section. Judging by the comments in both campsite books other people agree so hopefully it is still there in the future for hikers to enjoy.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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