Mt Chance to Woolbales
Start - Mt Chance Campsite
Finish - Woolbales Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 23.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 386m
Time - 5-8 hours
Date Hiked - 5th June 2019
The Hike - After a pretty cool sunset on top of Mt Chance I enjoyed a restful sleep that night apart from the moment a branch crashed down on top of the shelter (who thought burning extensively around the shelter with tall trees would be a safe practice?).
I woke up at first light and scrambled out of my tent inner because all around was an amazing pre-dawn light show that I didn't want to miss. Impressed with the colours from within the cover of the shelter area I scrambled up the side of the granite hill leading up to the summit of Mt Chance to get the full 360 degree experience. This was by far and away the best sunrise of the whole trip with fairy floss skies all around flashing a range of colours from pink to yellow to blue, all in vivid contrast to each other. If the sunset turned out to be a bit muted because of the haze from more burnoffs then then more than made up for it. With a fairly warm morning for this time of year I was able to perch myself up on the summit and stay there for the entire show.
Looking out towards where I'd come from the previous day and then on towards my planned route for the day, I was loving being high up and imagining the track winding through the Pingerup Plains. Despite purchasing a new memory card before the trip that would allow me over 4000 shots during the trip I was at danger of exceeding that so had to show some restraint. I couldn't stop taking photos as the colours changed and the sun began to peak out over the horizon. The lone peak to the east was Mt Frankland and I was hoping to get the sun rising over the small prominence in the distance but it wasn't to be.
Eventually the first rays of light broke out over the landscape and it was a worthy finale to what had been a very enjoyable morning. Usually the sky dims down as the sun appears over the horizon and today was no different as the fairy floss skies turned to a deep yellow and orange, dulling out to reveal the blue skies that would dominate the first half of the day. With a good 23km of track to get through and all my possessions still waiting to be packed up I headed back down the granite to begin my morning ritual of breakfast, slowly packing everything away and enjoying my last moments in the campsite. As I descended the intense glow coming from behind the burnt out trees around the campsite put the unnecessary burns into focus and made me a little bit sad that I didn't get this campsite anywhere near its best (I've been told the BTF gave the local DBCA office a bit of grief over the burn).
I had good intentions to pack up quickly and get out on the much hyped Pingerup Plains section but my usual relaxed attitude to getting everything together got in the way. Brewing up an excellent coffee on my GSI Outdoors Java Drip, I found a spot to munch away at my dry granola and enjoy the sound of Donovan and Ben wax lyrical on the Real Trail Talk episode of this section about how good this next day to Woolbales was. Eventually I got my shiz together and was ready to tackle the adventure ahead (not before some parting shots of the campsite looking back at Mt Chance).
Leaving via the same 4x4 track I came in on, I located the correct turn and begun what I thought would be a lovely morning to Mt Pingerup. It didn't take long for my dreams to be shattered as the burnt area that started on the latter part of the previous day and around the campsite continued on today. The first part of the morning wasn't too bad with some wide open sections leading to and from the forest islands looking quite spectacular in the morning light. This is what I was expecting a lot more of during the day as the map had the "Pingerup Plains" writing on this part of the track. It wasn't to be though as soon I was into the scrappy forest that was horribly burnt all the way up to the canopy. In the back of my mind I had memories of a ridiculously long diversion DBCA had put in last year where they closed this area and made hikers walk along public roads to Fernhook Falls and a Munda Biddi shelter (a 60km diversion) so they could torch an area the size of a small European country.
In an area so remote this was just excessive and reeked of burning large tracts of land to reach the arbitrary quotas they set each year. The fact they put their propaganda signs up at each shelter in the area stating what a great job they are doing by burning is just maddening because they fail to explain how they go about it, which is to burn a perimeter and then drop hellfire from the sky to burn everything in sight, hoping that it doesn't get out of control (which surprisingly it does a lot of the time). Imagine being a small creature living in the area and trying to escape the sort of fire that is hot enough to burn right up to the canopy and completely wipe out thick fallen logs, I'd be surprised if they don't wipe out large populations of native animals in the process. This has not gone unnoticed by interstate and international hikers as there were a lot of comments in all the log books about the burning and why it was deemed necessary given the remoteness of the area. We really do love to go out of our way to provide a great visitor experience in WA.
At one point I wondered if I'd taken a wrong turn as I didn't see a waugyl for several kilometres. Trusting my navigation skills and just assuming they'd burnt them all in the process I continued on. During this time I came up with a new slogan for DBCA that I think they should adopt from now on - "DBCA - We'll set your world on fire" (adding to the Sparks and Wildlife moniker they are given by most hikers in the state). Eventually I came across a burnt waugyl that was just left silver from the extensive burns and knew I was on the right path. The goal for the morning (Mt Pingerup) came into sight every now and then and I was looking forward to a break from all the burnt scrappy forest. I was wondering when I was going to come across the cover shot that I remembered from Donovan's post and it wasn't until I was editing the photos that I found something similar (bottom right photo from the above gallery). That shows the stark difference in what it was like before and what they've done to the area.
Disillusioned by how we treat our natural areas, I just put my head down and powered on through to Mt Pingerup, tired of seeing burnt forest and hoping it would end soon. After almost 8km of burnt landscapes I was happy to see the road leading up to Mt Pingerup. You can turn off the highway onto the road, park at the gates and walk along the 4x4 track if you want to experience Mt Pingerup as a day hike, something I might add to the website at a later date. I reached the signs for the side trip up to the summit and noticed the 4x4 track leading up the hill was also looking worse for wear after the burns. Hoping they hadn't burnt all the way to the summit I dropped my pack, had a drink and started my journey to the summit. With a spring to my step thanks to ditching 13kg off my back, I was very happy to see lush forest again as the upper reaches of the hill had escaped extensive burning.
Like many of the granite domes around the area, this was home to a pocket of Karri forest, sustained by the run-off created by the granite. After hitting the turbo button to get here I was rather hot and sweaty so it was a great relief to walk through the cooling air of a wet Karri forest. Slowing down to enjoy the experience and take it all in I was a happy camper again. Spotting fungi on the fallen logs (habitat for flora and fauna alike when they are left alone), this was a lovely walk through the forest. For a relatively remote area that I didn't realise could be done as a day hike so easily, the quality of the trail was impressive with a couple of sets of stairs, both wooden and stone making for an easier path up the modest hill. Eventually things flatten out and you cross a mossy patch of granite that I think is actually the summit but provides no views.
Coming out onto another granite platform on the edge of the Karri forest below you are treated to some much better views looking west towards the Broke Inlet. While not as extensive as the views from Mt Chance, the towering Karri trees and the granite boulders more than make up for this. I had good fun exploring this area, taking photos, having a look around the mossy bits (careful not to step on it) and climbing the boulders to get the better views. After the disappointment of the morning hike I was loving this spot and finally had something to enjoy. Resting on top of one of the boulders I took a few deep breaths and soaked in this lovely area. After a decent rest here I found the track again and headed down the hill, savouring the forest green as I knew the next section was in the same burnt state as the first 8km of the day.
Arriving back at the trail junction I put my pack back on and started a podcast to keep me distracted from the continuation of the burnt section ahead. I've not included a lot of photos from the galleries (I've been quite restrained with the amount of photos in this post believe it or not) but this bit was not very memorable or aesthetically pleasing. Add in evidence of dirt bikes riding along the trail and I think you get the picture of what type of mood I was in. Eventually though I reached an open plain that I enjoyed quite a lot. This is what I was expecting of the first half of the day and to find a section with unburnt trees in the distance made me smile.
This odd clumping of fairly mature yet stunted trees reminded me of the slivers of trees you see along the roads of country WA where they conceded that clearing every last bit of natural vegetation for farming was maybe a touch too far. Happily the trail takes you right next to them and this made for some nice photos and a welcome shady spot if you were hiking through here on a hot day. Beyond the fence of trees is an open view stretching out towards more burnt forest so I walked a little slower here to appreciate the plains in all their glory. I had said to myself that the next nice patch of forest I came across would be my lunch stop and I was happy to reach Broke Inlet Rd and see that on the other side was a green paradise of lovely forest in all it's unburnt wonderfulness. Finding a tree that had been chopped up after falling over the track I enjoyed a Clif bar and a drink in the cool forest, hoping this would be the end of the burning.
My prayers were answered as once I'd finished lunch I enjoyed a lovely walk through a dense forest, spotting the occasional tall Kingia in the thick undergrowth. Leaving the forest I arrived at some lovely plains that at one point had a very grassy floor, something very distinct from the typically sandy path that I'd experienced in the past few days. A splash of colour was a welcome sight with more Swamp Bottlebrushes and Banksia flowers dotting the landscape. Back to my happy mindset, the day was beginning to redeem itself with a great deal of variety and some new types of scenes I'd not seen in the past four days. A return to the Jarrah forest was a much different sight to other Jarrah sections of this seven day stretch with a thick undergrowth and a thick canopy present.
It was like walking through the section leading into Donnelly River from Gregory Brook, something I can say I wasn't expecting, it was that good. Spotting Grevillea's, my first flame pea of the trip and a really cool carpet of spider web that still had morning dew clinging to it, this was a pretty cool spectacle. I'd had a look at the map at lunch and was delighted to see that I was heading into pockets of "Karri Occurance", a real joy on any section of the Bibb where they live. Reaching the most expansive pocket was like an oasis in the desert after the morning of terrible walking. With large Karri trees everywhere it was a lovely experience as I hiked through the green undergrowth. Any chance to walk among these giants is always appreciated, even in small pockets like this one.
Exiting the forest you are once again thrown into a sandy plain of low lying undergrowth, it always amazes me along here the stark contrast between the areas. There is no transition, one moment you are in Karri forest and the next minute you are out in the open wondering how it could be such a rapid change. At this point you are aware of how close you are to South Western Highway as the sound of cars and trucks can be heard quite easily. Reaching Broke Inlet River, there is a wooden bridge over the water that was a peaceful place to stop and have a break. Even after such a dry start to the year the river contained a fair amount of water. I imagine after a few wet months that this entire area would be flooded and a challenge to hike through.
With the route from Mt Pingerup being mostly downhill I had made good time so enjoyed a much longer break here, soaking in the warm sun and laying on the bridge staring up into the cloudy sky. With only a hop, skip and a jump to go (3km) until the campsite I put the pack on for the final stretch into camp. Another great open plain greeted me over the river before reaching thicker and slightly overgrown scrub. It wasn't "lose the trail" overgrown and was actually good fun to walk through, although on a wet day or dewy morning I don't think I would have appreciated having all my clothes drenched after brushing past it. While you are following an old marked road, long since grown over, the track does a little detour into the forest before you reach the campsite. While adding extra distance to the day I'm happy they have aligned it this way as it's a good way to break up the scenery and the forest is very pleasant too.
After passing through the thick forest you pop out and are presented with the views of the hill where the campsite is located. With one last plains section to cross before reaching the campsite I slowed up to appreciate the Swamp Bottlebrushes and the golden light of the afternoon sun. It had started to cloud over a bit more along with getting a little more hazy thanks to my friend, prescribed burns, making the light diffuse on the warmer side of the spectrum. With the shortest of climbs I skirted on the edge of the forest as it rounded back to the west and popping out from the undergrowth was my first view of Woolbales Campsite. Set on the edge of the hill in the Jarrah forest, it's a cosy shelter in the Nornalup style that I quite enjoy. Especially enjoyable in the afternoon sun was the front wall that provides a nice space to sit as you fill in the log book and enjoy a cup of tea.
Much like Mt Chance, there is a side trail located to the right of the shelter that leads all the way up to a granite dome that provides great views of the surrounding hills and out to Broke Inlet. With all my things unpacked and my sleeping gear all setup I took a trip up there in the late afternoon to enjoy the views and take a million pictures. By the time sunset had rolled around I had the feeling that the blanketing clouds along with the thick haze weren't going to make for a great sunset. Taking my dinner up there just in case, my suspicions were correct and it was a fairly muted affair. I did enjoy the glow of Broke Inlet as the golden light illuminated the waters but that was about as good as it got for me. After finishing dinner and enjoying an exploration of the grooved surface of the granite I headed back down the path ready to retire for the night.
Having spent the last couple of nights alone and with no one rocking up to camp before sunset I thought it would be another lonesome night until I saw flashes appearing from the path leading into camp. Around 6:30pm a couple of ladies from NSW had arrived after hiking in from Mt Clare. Wendy and Leonie were on a tight schedule so were hiking big distances to finish before they had to fly home. Happy to have the company we had a good chat as they wearily setup their gear in the dark and started prepping their dinner. I went up to the top of the hill one more time to see if I could capture the Milky Way but the haze and clouds were too much. Wendy and Leonie were fairly beat after another long day so after they'd set everything up and had something to eat they were more than happy to head to bed. Having apologised before falling asleep for their early wake-up the next day I told them I was a heavy sleeper and not to worry. Finishing my movie off, it wasn't long before I too was asleep after what was a mixed day of hiking.
Final Thoughts - A day dominated by prescribed burns, disappointment and then finally redeemed with some of the walking I was expecting all throughout the day.
Having written this after walking the Wiilman Bilya Trail, my annoyance at the scorched earth policy we've implemented here in WA is even greater. Why we value the mass burning of our landscapes for the sake of quotas and to say we've done everything we can if a bushfire ever comes along over a more scientific approach is beyond me.
Yes prescribed burns have their uses and should be carried out but the way it is currently done is heavy handed and to the detriment of the state. If they were done properly and actually controlled (they used to be called controlled burns but even DBCA had the sense to change it because to prescribed so they couldn't be blamed when they got out of control) then they would be able to avoid burning large sections of any recreational trail.
What we present to any visitor, whether they be from interstate, overseas or a local just wanting to hike a trail is an abomination sometimes. Their comments say it all and guaranteed they will return home and say the same thing to anyone who wants to know about their experience.
We continue to do it though under the guise of asset protection, protecting lives and biodiversity reasons, often forgetting the tourism consequences. No one wants to hike through burnt forest all the time and it seems that most of the track that isn't in the Karri forest will have been burnt or will be burned in the next year or two at this rate. I believe we focus too much on burning in WA and not enough on dealing with fires when they occur via water bombers and on the ground protection of assets like mobile sprinkler systems around key areas.
There are positives to counter the negatives and they go some part in redeeming this section. The top of Mt Pingerup is very lovely and the views are worth the side trip up there. Past Broke Inlet Rd was a return to form and what the track should aim to look like for the entire day.
It was a pleasure to walk through a variety of landscapes, enjoying each one for the unique beauty it holds and not have to think "in five years this will look good again".
Although the weather conditions were not right for me at Woolbales, by all accounts it is spectacular in clear conditions with a beautiful night sky and an amazing sunset.
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