The Bibbulmun of Py

A collection of Thoughts

With my first Bibbulmun Track sectional end to end now completed, I'd thought I'd sit down and write a piece about the experience and the how and why that went into the whole thing. For those that don't know me and to provide some context, I am Mark (aka The Life of Py) and at the time of finishing my E2E I was 33. I've covered off a bit more of an introduction about myself in this post and this one so if you want a bit more background on me then I suggest checking them out (along with some photos showing what I actually look like if you want to burst that bubble).

As I've included 120 photos in the above gallery (best viewed on a big desktop screen for those currently squinting on their phones) and a slideshow video at the end of this post, I'll just stick to the writing from here on out. I've taken way too many photos for each day so if you have a spare few days then you can click through from the very start and read everything I've written over the years along with some pretty pictures from my time on the trail. I'll break this long winded rant/musing into various subjects so it's easier to digest and it will keep me on topic somewhat. With that in mind, let me brain dump the last three years of my life onto the interwebs for all to read. 

The Why - This one is quite simple and yet quite difficult to explain. I didn't actually make the decision to start planning a full sectional end to end of the track until mid-2017 when I decided to tackle my first multi-day section that was longer than a night or two. Up until then I'd been out a fair bit on the Darling Range section of the track on day hikes and a few overnighters but the thought never seriously crossed my mind as something I should plan to do. I've always been a "let life come at me" kind of person and a sectional end to end was always something that future Mark would just stumble across doing.

So what changed? If I'm really honest, I wasn't that into multi-day hiking and a lot of that came down to owning the wrong gear and being a little inexperienced. There is no shame in admitting that you don't know what you are doing sometimes and my experiences with overnight hiking didn't fill me with the desire to go out and do that more often. I enjoyed my time out on the trail but it was always overshadowed by the sore feet/shoulders/back etc after ten or so kilometres and being bitterly cold at night. Eventually as I upgraded, found what suited me and invested some money in more comfortable, practical and lighter gear, I could focus on the thing that I enjoyed the most, being out in nature and exploring new places. This wasn't a sudden thing, it's taken me years of fine tuning and saving for new gear to reach a point now where I'm really just spending money on new gear to save a tiny bit of weight/space. 

Another factor in my decision was the start of a friendship with my now podcast partner and occasional hiking buddy, Donovan. Watching him and Alissa go through the completion of their end to end and seeing all the great locations that are found along the track inspired me to start thinking about finishing mine (although I had a lot more to go when we started the podcast). Something he said regarding his own motivations really stuck with me and I adopted the same mentality because it's very true. After the fires that destroyed Long Gully Bridge, Donovan decided to see as much as he could before everything was gone. With climate change and hotter and bigger bushfires now a reality of life going forward, you never know when a section might get utterly devastated like Northcliffe and Dwellingup did in 2015. Since then we've already lost Sandpatch and Helena with several other shelters coming close to being destroyed between Harvey-Quindanning Rd and Collie so it's something I really took to heart. 

The Track - The Bibbulmun Track really is a lifestyle for those that get serious about their hiking. I don't think most local hikers realise how lucky we are to have something this well maintained with such good facilities, essentially for free. Taking away the logistics of finding places to camp, find fresh water, navigating through the forest etc, all you really need is sleeping gear, food, clothes and any other comfort items you want to bring along. Once you've got the essentials sorted like a good pack, sleeping gear, clothing and technology sorted then the only variable is food so going on a week long hike is just a matter of packing some food and away you go (it's a little more complicated but not that much). 

Once you're out there, it's hard not to be impressed with the variety and quality of the landscapes you see along the length of the track. Pretty much from the start you are thrown into some lovely Jarrah forest filled with granite, hills, wildflowers and water. Watching the forest type subtlety change as you head south and in certain places change quite dramatically (Gregory Brook to Donnelly River, Gardner to Lake Maringup and Giants to Rame Head come to mind). Then of course you get the wildflowers and orchids if you're hiking anytime between early winter and late summer depending on your location. Western Australia is really lucky to have such an extensive array of wildflowers and orchids on display and it really forces you to slow down and marvel at what nature can produce, more so if you love photography like I do. 

Walking the track non-sequentially has meant I've had the opportunity to experience certain sections in what I thought was the best time (and others when it was convenient). If I was to do a full end to end then I would pick spring to do it because of the wildflowers and the balance between temperatures and UV. That being said there would be a good chance that most of Northcliffe to Walpole would be flooded and/or diverted, which is why I chose to do that section in early winter. Ideally over the years I'll head back and do each section again at a different time but I'm happy with how my experience panned out and the conditions I got on each trip. One thing I did want to do was finish in Albany as a symbolic end to my journey and I encourage others to do the same. Another tip I can pass on if you enjoy photography is to walk N-S for as many sections as you can because S-N will mean most of the time you'll have the sun in your eyes (especially in the dead of winter) and to quote the wise Treebeard, walking south always feels like walking downhill (which isn't the case in the southern hemisphere). 

So let's get to some rankings starting with favourite campsites. I'll preface this by saying this is all subjective and is just based off my experience at the time of visit. Very often is was a combination of location, weather, people, circumstance or just how I was feeling at the time. 

1. Lake Maringup - This one is just a combination of a stunning location, fantastic weather, good company and watching the Milky Way rise over the lake with the sound of crashing waves in the distance. 

2. Rame Head - This was an almost perfect day of hiking starting in the Tingle forest and making my way towards the coast to Conspicuous Cliffs before finishing with the campsite to myself and watching a stunning sunset. 

3. Tom Road - My first day in the Karri forests of the Bibbulmun and one of the best campsite locations on the track. Set right on the Donnelly River, it's a fantastic place to explore and those granite boulders are something else.

4. Mt Wells - While the shelter didn't look inviting on my visit, the location and fire tower are pretty special. Add in some largely unburnt stretches of Jarrah, good company and it was a memorable day.

5. Mt Chance - Despite arriving to find DBCA had almost burnt the shelter down and ruined the epic Karri forest around the campsite, sitting atop Mt Chance and staring out at the Karri islands followed by a million star sky was pretty neat.

6. Frankland River - It was cold and wet when I was there but you can't beat a fully decked shelter right by a beautiful river surrounded by Karri forest.

7. Waalegh - One of the best places on the track to catch the sunset and nestled perfectly among the golden Wandoo trees of the Darling Range. I've had many an enjoyable visits here and I look forward to returning every time. 

8. Blackwood - Not everyone will agree with on this one but on my visit I had warm temperatures, light winds and a pretty cool sunset over the Blackwood River. Watching the mist roll in overnight was also a treat.

9. Long Point - The first campsite along the coast and with moody conditions I was happy to do the short side trail down to the granite rocks and watch the waves crash over Little Cove. 

10. Murray - I almost didn't include this one but I've watched many a sunset from the banks of the Murray River and seeing it covered in mist is something else. I just wish the bogans and dirt bikes would stay away from the area. 

The People and the Solitude - The two ends of the spectrum here and as an introvert I weirdly enjoy both. While I used to love solo hiking a lot when I first started, there is something very rewarding hiking with someone over a few days or a week. Hikers are generally fairly like-minded people just out to enjoy nature and apart from one twosome that I ran into at Noggerup (they were stoners not hikers), everyone I've met on the track has been fantastic to talk to or hike with. Out of all the people I've hiked with on the track, Aron aka 1A1R is probably my favourite. It helped that he was already a great friend before we went out but I treasure those trips we shared together, even if sometimes he wondered why he agreed to them. Towards the latter part of my E2E when the website became more well known it was a weird experience to come across people that already knew who I was, either through the website or the podcast. I don't like tooting my own horn that much so excuse my awkward nodding and laughter if you were one of those people that said something. To all the lovely people I met along the way, thank you for sharing your time with me, it was a real pleasure.

People doesn't always mean those you meet out on the track. With any selfish endeavour you need support back home to keep things ticking along in your absence. For me that was Caris. She looked after the home and the puppas while I was gone, gave me more alone time at home to edit photos and write posts and took me out to celebrate when it was all over. She was my rock at home and I understand how hard it was for you, especially towards the end so thank you. A shout-out has to go to my parents who moved away to a convenient location in terms of logistics (Funbury). Dad especially, who cooked me his world famous pancakes before driving me out to several of the sections. Hopefully one day I'll get him out on the track for some overnight hikes in the future and he can see why I spend days on end traipsing through the forests of Western Australia.

Now the solitary part of my Bibbulmun experience. Solitude is an amazing thing if you're ready for it and quite early on I realised that I'm more than okay with my own company. After leaving Tom Road on my first longer stretch of the track, the only people I saw between there and Pemberton were a couple at One Tree Bridge that weren't even hikers. I still had my music, audiobooks and podcasts for company but the experience of doing nothing but walking each day with no need to talk was a really eye-opening time. Over my time completing my sectional end to end there were long stretches where I wouldn't see anyone and plenty of lonesome nights in the shelters. My advice to solo hikers is to enjoy the time you have with other hikers and cherish the time you have to yourself. Each is as rewarding as the other and in a time where we have a million things vying for our attention each day, it's a true luxury to be able to slow down and swit