Bibbulmun Track - Dookanelly to Possum Springs
Start - Dookanelly Campsite
Finish - Possum Springs Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 22.7km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 455m
Time - 5-8 hours
Date Hiked - 5th June 2018
The Hike - With severe weather warnings in place for overnight and leading into the day, I was surprised to wake up at dawn and find a calm Dookanelly Campsite in front of me. I'd only woken during the night to answer nature's call and again when something had hit the water tank. With conditions fine for hiking and only light drizzle around, Aron and I made the decision over brews and breakfast to continue on as planned.
Before we left the weather forecast was showing 20-40mm of rain expected but you don't go hiking expecting perfect weather so we were mentally prepared. Someone had left a small pack in the shelter when we arrived at Dookanelly filled with lots of first aid gear, buckles, a blanket and a rain jacket. Having left the bag mostly unopened overnight just in case someone returned, the rain jacket had been used by everyone during the night to venture outside and we all agreed it was a useful addition. My guess is someone had ditched the pack here after realising that they didn't need to be carrying it although leaving the rain jacket was puzzling unless it was a spare.
I was carrying my own rain jacket but this one was a little bigger and had some interior pockets that would be useful for storing my camera when it did rain instead of burying it deep in my pack. If you left your pack here and want the rain jacket back then email me with the colour and brand and I will return it to you. We all said our goodbyes as everyone was heading in the opposite direction to us and at the bottom of the hill we parted ways. The day ahead of us was going to be the longest of our trip at over 22.5km and with soggy weather predicted we were about to test just how watertight all of our gear was.
To start with we followed the 4x4 tracks out of Dookanelly and through the light drizzle. I love hiking in the rain so was enjoying the pitter patter of the raindrops on the hood of my jacket while traversing through the forest. Not long into the day you encounter the blue gum plantations that are still very young. While I prefer this to the clear felling of our native forests, it certainly disrupts your experience seeing patches of open land and scraggly eucalypts that clearly aren't the same as the surrounding forest. Looking at the now dated satellite photos it used to be pine so I suppose blue gum is an improvement of sorts. Leaving the 4x4 tracks you are pointed into the forest for some lovely single track walking. We were making great pace at this stage, mainly because the scenery hadn't been that enticing to photograph and it had been all downhill since the campsite.
The reason for the downhill became obvious as we saw peaking through the undergrowth a glimpse of the new Bilya Djena Bidi (pronounced beel-ya jenabidi) structure that replaced the old Long Gully Bridge that sadly burnt down in the 2015 bushfires. Translated to swinging river foot bridge, I like the traditional name a bit better but the sentiment is the same. The 92m long swing bridge towers over the landscape but thanks to the natural rusting process applied to the steel still manages to blend into the landscape somewhat. Visiting this bridge was something I was looking forward to ever since fundraising started and again when it was completed in 2017. While it would have been very cool to see the old Long Gully Bridge still standing, I think this swing bridge arrangement certainly packs a wow factor into the one and only crossing of the Murray River.
Aron and I had a good amount of fun taking photos and bouncing up and down on the bridge before settling on the other side and admiring the Bilya Djena Bidi for the last time. In a few more years I think it will be a great spot once the area surrounding the installation has had a chance to grow and accept the bridge. After crossing the Murray, you certainly aren't done with it and instead follow the course of the river as it meanders through the landscape towards Harvey Quindanning Rd. With the rain now setting in for the day we were bunkered down in our wet weather gear for better or worse. Switching back to 4x4 tracks, the forest along here is spectacular with a decent canopy for Jarrah forest and a pleasant undergrowth including the occasional fern that always adds to the fertile feels.
An issue we would face on this long section of 4x4 walking was avoiding the giant puddles, something that would get more entertaining as the rain bucketed more water into them throughout the day. I jokingly created a class system for the puddles with Class 1 puddles being no bigger than a pothole and Class 6 being the "no way am I getting past without getting seriously soggy". To start with we encountered a lot of Class 2 & 3 puddles so it wasn't too bad and it was just after the Bilya Djena Bidi that I spotted my first (and only) emus of the trip. I rounded a corner and there were three large bush chooks standing there. Before I had a chance to retrieve my camera from inside my jacket they had run off into the bush and unfortunately weren't captured on camera. With my track record at encountering wildlife I am not surprised that the only day with multiple sightings was when it was raining a lot and the camera wasn't out. Later on we saw emu tracks in the mud filled with water and scenes from Jurassic Park flooded into my head. Lucky they are no T-Rex so we were safe.
With a lot of 4x4 walking to get through between kilometres 5 & 11, I was actually glad when it really started to pour down. While walking along the river valley was nice at times with sweeping views of the surroundings hills livening things up, most of the 4x4 track is through run of the mill forest. Again it's something I enjoy so it was nice to listen to the sounds of the rain and soak it all in (which my pants were also doing to the rain). Dodging puddles every now and then, along with second guessing if we'd missed a turn-off somehow as the waugyls were few and far between here, we were making pretty good time despite the heavy rain. A brief expedition onto single track paths provided a nice break but it didn't last long and we were back to navigating the edges of puddles that were getting increasingly bigger. On one of the last of the Class 5 puddles Aron slipped a little and his left leg succumbed to the orange ocean below, saying goodbye to any chance of dry socks for the rest of the day.
Mercifully as we hit the end of the 4x4 track and into the gloomy looking area containing pine and blue gum plantations, the rain ceased and became a soft drizzle. Being able to take off the hood and expand your field of vision was a joy and this also meant the camera came back out from it's hidey pocket. Not that the area was terrible interesting to photograph as it was wide 4x4 track and one that was quite popular over the long weekend. Michelle and Eric had mentioned passing large groups of 4WDs, motor homes and dirt bikes on this stretch and we saw the remnants of their exploits. Eric had said he saw the dirt bike group leaving and as they departed they threw all their aerosol cans onto the fire they had created. Not the smartest lot or the most respectful. We passed a still smoking log, incredible given the rain we'd had all day and of course the usual smattering of rubbish strewn everywhere by these thoughtless idiots. You carry it in, you carry it out!!
Trying to not let it affect me too much, I focused on the positives and found some with a couple of well established trees in the middle of the muddy tracks that provided a good photo opportunity. Eventually we left the open expanses and onto single track through regrowth tunnel vegetation that reminded me of the area closer to the Murray Campsite. You could see that the dirt bikes use this track but given it was a Tuesday I wasn't expecting any today. Knowing Harvey Quindanning Rd was just up ahead we got excited when we heard a 4x4 passing by but instead of popping out onto the gravel road we were sweeping back towards the river and the track seemed to keep going. Would we ever hit Harvey Quindanning Rd? After another 800m or so of excellent single track and a quick side trip to the river's edge, we were spat out onto the open expanse of HQ Rd.
With clear skies, or at least no rain, we used this landmark as a spot to have a little break and regroup on what was ahead. With 14.5km of hiking behind us, it was only another 8km or so before we could put our feet up and enjoy the campsite. I really thought the bad weather was over at this stage and with socks that were still dry-ish, I was hopeful that it would only be a couple of hours hiking to get us to Possum Springs. Entering the forest again, what looked like more 4x4 walking quickly diverted onto lovely single track and one of the more enjoyable sections of the day. We had entered a much hillier section of the track compared with the first half of the day and I was enjoying the challenge that walking up a hill provides. The scenery was also catching my eye with the rain clouds moving away and revealing rolling hills to the east. Here I spooked a kangaroo but it went and hid in the bushes so didn't get a photograph (story of the day).
Halfway up the hill you get to see the infamous conveyor belt and it's a visual reminder of what is going on where you can't see. Take a look at the satellite view of Google Maps around Jarrahdale and Dwellingup and you'll see the extent of bauxite mining. Right as we arrived at the bit where you pass under the conveyor it started to pour down so I rushed to see if the conveyor could provide temporary shelter but unsurprisingly it didn't. Aron caught up and we decided to continue on, over the first tarmac road we'd seen since leaving Dwellingup and past the propaganda signs erected by the mining companies about how they love the environment and regrowth Jarrah is exactly the same as what they rip out (it isn't). Continuing up the hill I remember thinking they could shove their signs up their bauxite holes and stop patronising the public. At this stage we just so happened to get the heaviest downpour of the day with sheets of rain drenching everything in sight. To this point I'd managed to keep relatively dry with only damp hiking pants and almost dry socks but this was the end of that.
The camera had been shoved into the jacket and now it was just a matter of waiting it out while trying fruitlessly to keep the feet dry. This was made harder by the track turning into a raging torrent and soon I gave up pretending to dodge the cascades and just walked straight through it. It was a shame to receive heavy rain at this point as the scenery was actually quite nice with rolling hills and lovely Jarrah forest. I had put a bit of distance between myself and Aron trying to move as fast as possible to keep warm and after a while I thought about putting the afterburners on to reach camp quicker. I ran the mental maths through my head and figured 30-40 minutes of 6-7kmph would do the trick but I grossly underestimated how long we had left. A check of my phone when the rain slowed down told me we had at least 5-6 more kilometres so I stopped near a log and waited for my buddy. With the rain now subsiding and everything feeling soggy and clingy, it was now a matter of getting to camp and hoping stuff would dry out.
Between where I waited for Aron and the campsite was a very hilly section that just happened to be overgrown so every time you thought your pants were drying, you would brush a plant and they would be drenched again. Descending down to Bell Brook brought back happy memories as this was the sight of my first volunteer field day and my introduction to what the terrain out here looked like. I remember thinking at the time that this felt like the middle of nowhere and I would enjoy hiking through here on an E2E and just soak everything in without a care in the world. While the rain had put a dampener on things, this is exactly how it turned out (although not a full E2E) and I was enjoying having nothing to do but walking through the forest on to the next campsite. The goal for that field day was to transport the metal frame for the new bridge over Bell Brook so it was nice to finally see it assembled. At the top of the hill leading away from Bell Brook I was doing the thing I hate most on a hike, checking my phone for distances and trying to figure out how long we had to go.
One of Aron's pet hates when hiking with me is the updates of "only about 1km to go" because more often than not the distance I expect and the distance we have left are wildly off. This turned out to be one of those days and being the longest of the trip, I don't think he was impressed when I kept saying "it shouldn't be too much longer" or "this looks like where it should be" and then finding out there is no shelter in sight. While this was going on I was still having a blast, picking eucalyptus leaves and crunching them up to enjoy their scent (not very leave no trace but I figure there are a lot of leaves out here). After passing several spots that looked like entry points to the shelter (I've heard 4x4 entry to the shelter is a problem), I finally spotted a marker that had the campsite symbol on it and let out one of the biggest yells of my life. I wasn't particularly tired or sore, just glad to have found it after so many aborted moments of hope. We walked up the hill and clapped eyes on the first of the rammed earth style shelters I'd seen on the track.
Quickly getting out of our soggy hiking gear we strung it all up on the railing and got into our dry camp clothes before making a well earned brew. We spent the afternoon listening to tunes, setting up our sleeping gear and reading through the red & green log books. As luck would have it, the rain and clouds disappeared and we got a glorious sunset so we had to have a laugh at that bit of fortune. It also meant we were likely in for another cold night and our stuff would not be drying as much as we thought. At least we had the whole place to ourselves to string everything up and the Nornalup style of shelter is much better for this. The new rammed earth style is also a little breezier than the wooden shelters but that didn't help with the drying process given the cold. I actually don't mind the rammed earth shelters, they are a lot less gloomy than some of the wooden shelters and although the walls are a bit crumbly, I hope they stand the test of time and the ravages of bushfire. The toilet blocks are a bit of overkill and feel more like a disabled bathroom but it does provide a place to change if the shelter is crowded.
Final Thoughts - Despite the weather (or maybe because of it) this was one of my most enjoyable days on the track. Perhaps it was the variety of landscapes or that is was slightly longer than the previous three days but I felt like we were on a proper wilderness walk (ignoring the conveyor belt and bogan sites).
Sure it would have been nice to enjoy some dry weather and photograph the whole section (my camera was away for the last 2.5 hours of the day) but it would be silly to expect the start of winter to be like that. I think the rain definitely added to the experience and as Aron pointed out in an Instagram post, if your only worries for the day are walking, eating and sleeping then life is pretty good.
In terms of the track today, the Bilya Djena Bidi was definitely the highlight of the day and making it a swing bridge certainly adds a bit to the only crossing of the Murray River. I liked the variety of trail types and seeing it in various stages of the forest lifecycle (burnt, recovering, settled) and I think we were fortunate that we had our heads down on the long 4x4 section thanks to the rain.
Dodging puddles was fun and despite arriving at camp very soggy, our spirits were anything but. As I've experienced with Aron before, nothing really fazes him too much (except for my end of day distance predictions) and he is quite a pleasure to walk with in all conditions.
All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable day with great company and great scenery.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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