The Bibbulmun of Py

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 Giant 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 switch off. 

Volunteering - Very early on in my hiking journeys, well before even thinking about my end to end, I wanted to give back to a track that I spent a lot time on. Donations are always welcome and I try and make one or two a year (although not as much as I should) but I wanted to do something more than that. In 2015 I put my name on the list to be a maintenance volunteer and it wasn't until 2016 that a section was free for me to take over. A 10km section between Possum Spring and Yourdamung was my first maintenance section and although somewhat unappealing at first glance, there is a lot of nuance to the area that I hope to enjoy over many decades. The second maintenance section I took over was around the Murray Campsite after a friend could no longer look after it. While battling the regrowth for most of 2018 and some of 2019, it's a bit of a love-hate relationship. I love the location and misty mornings there are a delight but it's taken a lot of work (with help from Aron) to get it to a somewhat passable standard. Now I'm done with my sectional end to end, I'm going to be devoting a lot more time to these two sections with a view to making them the best experience possible for walkers. If you're interested in volunteering with the foundation then click here to register your interest.  

How I've Changed - This is a tough one to express but I'll give it a shot. To say it's been life changing is an understatement. It's hard to spend three years of your life completing something like this and shrug it off as no big deal. Over the course of hiking the Bibbulmun I've learned a lot about myself - physically, mentally and spiritually. I hike for different reasons than when I first started and my outlook on life has completely changed because of the times I've spent with nothing but my thoughts and nature to guide me. I'm a much calmer person that deals with stress a lot better and as silly as it sounds, I've figured myself out and am comfortable with me as a person. The track is far from a miracle cure for anything that ails you but it's been suggested by many mental health experts that quality time in nature is wildly beneficial for our well-being and I can attest to that in spades. I've still got a long way to go in my personal development but the last three years has taught me a lot about who I am and what I want out of life. 

What Next? - This is far from the end of my Bibbulmun Journey. While I don't plan on doing any week long sections in 2020 (I'm short on annual leave these days), I will still get out to my favourite places every now and then for a day hike or overnighter. I've postponed a few hiking trips that I would have liked to have done sooner had it not been for trying to finish the track last year. One of those is a complete end to end of the Cape to Cape that is scheduled for spring and plenty of other smaller trips over the course of the year. Looking into the future, I'd love to introduce my nieces and nephew to the track and start taking them out on short trips, eventually building to multi-day hiking but we'll see if they like it first. There's another little side project I'm working on at the moment that I hope comes to fruition by the end of the year but we'll see if that eventuates as I plan it will. The Bibbulmun will always be a part of me and I look forward to many great adventures including a full end to end one day. 

Summary - If you're sitting on the fence about completing a sectional end to end then my advice would be to do it. It can be difficult logistically and depending on your body it might be physically difficult but the reward is there and I've not met a single hiker on the track that regretted being out there (and I've heard a couple of really heartbreaking tales). If you need help with your end to end then I recommend becoming a member of the Bibbulmun Track Foundation and using their expert knowledge with any questions you might have. Alternatively shoot me an email and I'll be happy to help out where I can.

I'll leave you with the below video that is three photos from each section set to some relaxing Lord of the Rings ambient music. I make no apologies for the length of the video, I recommend brewing a tea or coffee and enjoying this one in HD in the dark (with the music turned up). 

© The Life of Py       E: thelifeofpy@gmail.com

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