Mt Dale Circuit + Bibbulmun Track
Start - Mt Dale Summit, End of Dale Rd
Length - 13.3km (Mt Dale Circuit is 3km)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 301m
Time - 3-4 hours
Signed - Yes, Markers and Bibbulmun Waugyls
Date Hiked - 25th July 2015
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Directions - Take Brookton Hwy east from Armadale until you reach the turnoff for Ashendon Rd. Follow this for 3-4km before making a right turn onto Dale Rd. This takes you all the way to the summit where there is a car park.
The Hike - From the top of Mt Cuthbert there is a hill to the north, way off into the distance that I kept promising myself I would find out if I could access it. I kept making that promise to myself but never followed through with research until my recent trip out there to do the 32km Sullivan Rock Double (to Monadnocks & back and then Mt Cooke & back). It didn't take long to figure out that the peak in the landscape I had gazed out upon was Mt Dale so when plans to go elsewhere with friends fell through I thought I would venture out and take a closer look.
With directions from the Trails WA website I set off before dawn and was soon on the Brookton Highway. Much like Mt Cooke, I had driven along this road as a kid coming back from camping trips without realising there was anything in the forest like this. The turnoff for Mt Dale is Ashendon Rd, which is well signposted and not far after the Munda Biddi Trail crosses Brookton Highway. Drive down the gravel road for a few kms and the turnoff for Dale Rd is the first big right turn. You can't miss it, even though it isn't signposted, as it's as large as a normal paved intersection. Follow this road all the way to either the Mt Dale picnic area or continue up to the summit. When I arrived I didn't realise you could drive all the way up to the summit but as I was already there, I parked at the top and decided I was going to climb back up anyway to finish. I got a pretty unfriendly stare down from a group of people already there that I guessed had stayed the night as they were blasting music/smoking and didn't look to be wearing appropriate hiking gear.
Lacing up my boots and putting on my pack I soldiered on and checked out the radio tower not far from the car park, figuring I could find the 2-3km loop trail up there. Sure enough there was a path leading into the bush towards the south and I took the clockwise route. The 2-3km Mt Dale Circuit is very narrow in places and slightly overgrown but that's all part of the fun. Eventually I rounded the trail and was below the car park/lookout where I could still hear the blaring music. The trail on the exposed granite section is not well marked and I ended up further downhill than I should have been. Being right below the lookout, unfortunately are plenty of smashed bottles and discarded rubbish by those with little respect, which is a shame because it's such a nice spot. I found the trail again by heading uphill and was soon at the Mt Dale picnic area that I passed on the drive up to the summit.
This is probably the best place to park if you are planning on doing the Mt Dale Circuit and there are plenty of places to sit down and enjoy lunch, along with some toilet facilities. As I didn't need any of those two I continued on and reached the intersection of the Bibbulmun Track on Omeo Rd. To continue along the Mt Dale Circuit turn right onto Omeo Rd and join the Bibbulmun Track on the other side of Dale Rd (I will pick this trail up later).
I didn't drive all the way out here to do a 3km loop of Mt Dale so decided to take the Bibbulmun Track south towards Brookton Highway. This meant taking a left onto Omeo Rd and following the 4x4 track down the hill for about 700m until I saw the familiar yellow Wagyl pointing me back into the bush. The green of the bush beckoned but pretty shortly the scene changed and instead of the deep greens and lights browns of the typical Bibbulmun scene, there was nothing but the blacks of scorched earth and the yellows/reds of dead vegetation.
Caused by the devastating bushfires in February 2015, this whole area was affected and by the looks of some parts of the trail, a bit of prevention burning was carried out to reduce the impact. In sections it was amazing to see one side of the trail completely green and unaffected while the other side was reduced to ashes and burnt tree trunks. It's a natural process in the bush thanks to the oils from the leaves of the Jarrahs and many species of plant can only seed properly when exposed to fire. Needless to say I snapped quite a few photos in this section as the colour contrast was amazing. Thankfully the Mt Dale campsite was untouched by the fires and is a short walk from the trail. Set in the shadows of Mt Dale, the campsite is typical Bibbulmun quality with a hut for sleeping, a water tank and a toilet that would put a lot of public facilities to shame. That's all thanks to the Bibbulmun volunteers and whoever looks after this section of the trail does a fantastic job. After a quick snack and a drink I was off again into the blackened bush listening to some Harry Potter (Half Blood Prince this time). The trail all the way from Mt Dale is a gradual downhill so the legs were feeling great as I strolled along the 4x4 track that was also affected by the bushfires. Soon the landscape changes and the untouched bush returns, albeit a little sparser as the land flattened out.
Soon I reached a fork in the road where the turn off would usually be for the Bibbulmun but a big yellow sign had been installed next to the trail. Due to the bushfires earlier in the year the Brookton campsite 6km down the trail was unsafe and the track was being diverted for the next 6-7kms. Deciding that I had already covered 6.5kms, the diversion was probably a less than thrilling 4x4 tracks and the return journey was all uphill, I sat down on a log for a snack and then turned back to Mt Dale. The return back to where I last left the Mt Dale Circuit was a relaxing way to spend a Saturday morning and passed without incident. The last hill up Omeo Rd was a killer but I was soon back at the junction with Dale Rd and where the Bibbulmun continues north. The Mt Dale Circuit follows the Bibbulmun Track for a short while and then turns off towards the east side of Mt Dale (look for the blue markers). This is where the climb begins and after the recent bushfires it can be a bit tricky to find the trail but it's fairly intuitive where you are meant to be headed. Your reward for the climb is some stunning views to the east as you crest over the final hill. From here the trail traverses the steep east side of Mt Dale and is quite tight in parts. I was lucky enough to spot a couple of kangaroos foraging in the new growth before returning to the radio tower on top of Mt Dale.
Final Thoughts – As far as the walk goes, the sections that have no access to human intervention besides walking on the trail are great. The east side of the Mt Dale Circuit is the best section with amazing views and any part of the Bibbulmun Track is a treat. If you can get out there while the bush is still regenerating then you are in for something special so pack your camera.
What spoils this trail is the lack of respect people have shown by leaving their rubbish everywhere, plastering graffiti all over the lookout and smashing bottles near the summit. It's a double edged sword having a gravel road leading all the way up to the summit. On one hand it's great that everyone can experience the great views without having to hike up steep trails but if this is the result then maybe spots like this should only be accessed by foot.
If you want the views but without the long drive on gravel and a much cleaner environment when you get there then give Mt Dale a miss and head to Sullivan Rock and hike to Mt Cooke or Monadnocks. Alternatively don't drive up to the summit and instead park at the picnic site, that way you don't necessarily have to visit the summit car park.
I'm an old man (at heart) and love my nature undisturbed so don't be too deterred by my ramblings. Adding in a section of the Bibbulmun Track makes the drive out there worth it and I will eventually return and do the northern section from Mt Dale.
Get out there and experience it!
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