Thursday, April 24, 2014

Week 2+ on the Bibbulmun Track (Dwellingup to Pemberton; 202km to 563km)

When we last left our intrepid adventurers they had just reached the quaint little town of Dwellingup, and what a nice stay it was.  After typing up our last little entry we continued our journey, again encountering periods of solitude mixed with welcomed interactions with other hikers.  The tenor of "The Bib" (everything is shortened in Australia!) is different from our experience with the AT in age range, whereas on the AT we would typically be with a mix of folks out of college or retirees, on the Bib we are finding the age range is typically senior with the occasional hiker around our own age or younger.  This could totally be due to the time of year we are doing it - perhaps during school breaks university students would come out, as it would comfortably fit into a school break.  And while there aren't all too many people out here at all, there is a high frequency of returners and a lot of folks seem to be on their second or third end to end or are out returning for a section having already completed the trek.  This is great because it means folks out here are generally very enthusiastic about the trail and willing to share tips about upcoming sights (and sites!) and such.

The trail over the last four hundred kilometers has shifted.  It was gradual at first, but a few days ago the forest took a sudden change.  The arid red soils have been replaced by paths inundated with eucalyptus bark, leaves, and sticks as we have entered proper forest landscape.  And what a forest!  The new biomass we are walking on (and sometimes seemingly fighting with, as we keep tripping on sticks and cutting up our calves) is coming from the glorious karri trees, easily one of my new favorite trees.  These can get MASSIVE, both in girth and height.  And they are an extremely stark tree in a forest setting - the bark peels off naturally in huge strips, littering the ground and even the branches above us, giving the trunks a mostly white sort of camouflage look (think of a sycamore tree on the white end of the spectrum in coloring).  The effect of their height is augmented by the fact that these trees drop their limbs as they age and climb skyward - hence all the sticks in our path - giving the forest a cathedral-like feel (this limb dropping effect is actually quite dangerous, people are killed by random falling eucalyptus limbs from time to time). We've been rewarded for laziness a couple times when we took a gravel road instead of the actual path  (come on, we've paid our dues on the AT!), eliminating even more ground cover and lower story, which just further illuminated these trees.  

But I get ahead of myself a bit.  We've actually encountered 3.5 more towns since my last check in so I'll give a little shout out for these fun little forays back into civilization.

Collie - this actually is the largest town within the termini of the track and we had been told by pretty much every northbound hiker to stay at the Colliefields hotel and we were not disappointed.  We cruised in to town quite early to take full advantage of our town day, checking in, showering, doing our laundry, and enjoying a first lunch at McDonalds all before 2PM.  We then met up with my cousin Jenn and her husband Darren.  As it turned out, Darren had been out hiking towards us all weekend!  He had only just missed us by one shelter the night before and he had come into town just in time for our meet up!  Unfortunately all three of us had discovered that there are some pretty nasty hills in that section, what we would call PUD's on the AT - pointless ups and downs - called the 4 sisters.  We all joke that is should be at least 6 sisters, maybe 10 as the hills didn't really stop at 4.  The hills eventually lead us under a 50km long bauxite (aluminum ore) conveyor belt which could be heard at the shelters on either side of it (10+ miles away).  So Darren was hurting a bit but he made it and quite fast, so, having had our first lunch, we decided to have a second lunch at Subway!  After catching up a bit it was time to split as we had to take care of all of our shopping (including mailing ourselves a food shipment to an upcoming town).  We knew we had been out for a while because we were suddenly craving TV and we basked in its unearthly glow for several hours.  

Ballingup - we got into Ballingup on Thursday immediately before Good Friday and found the backpackers full - luckily the transit park is very hiker friendly and gave us an 11 dollar campsite with EXCELLENT showers.  Not a bad deal!  The town is very artsy and friendly and we enjoyed relaxing in it a bit.  On our way out of town the next day we enjoyed a really nice leisurely stroll through the arboretum.  On our way out, we encountered a couple of hikers that gave us a really good tip - to follow the original route and ignore the upcoming trail diversion.  The previous year a huge fire ripped through a pine plantation (and then some), burning down the outhouse at a shelter at the top - luckily they managed to save the actual shelter and the rain water tank.  We were slightly nervous about getting lost (some trail markers were surely lost in the blaze) but with their persistence we continued on the original path.  It was amazing.  Huge fields of downed pine left the hills completely bare and when we finally reached the shelter (Blackwood hut, ironic from all of the charred remains of pine around, I know) we had a complete unobstructed view into the valley below.

Donnelly River Village - now we enter the aforementioned Karri forests!  We began following the Donnelly river, eventually entering into the "town?" of Donnelly River Village, which used to be a mill settlement but is now a vacation retreat.  The old schoolhouse is available for a small fee for hikers, but having already visited the town previously with Jenn and Darren we had decided to just pick up our package we mailed to ourselves and head off.  This is the place where tame kangaroos and emus will come right up to you looking for food - it is a lot of fun but trying to eat an actual meal of your own is difficult!  Luckily it was Easter and there were zillions of kids to distract the animals long enough for us to enjoy our lunch!  We also made a friend with a fellow hiker named John.  He had found a lost infant sheep days before and had intended on keeping him a trail companion/pet but another hiker called a ranger and they took it - he was very upset and kept showing us pictures of it and calling it his "little mate".  It was really sad.  It dawned on me later that the story was not so far off from the song "Waltzing Matilda", without the jumping into the billabong part.  We also made friends with a group of teachers at a shelter one evening - one of them had printed out lyric sheets and a portable speaker for everyone to sing along; right up our alley, very fun!

Pemberton - finally we reached the town of Pemberton, with a tough little 25 miler somewhere in the mix which beat up our feet a bit, but with our first zero day planned we weren't too perturbed.  We got into town pretty tired though and we encountered a little confusion regarding the backpackers - we'd been told that the backpackers was across from the supermarket, but upon finding it discovered it open but abandoned with no reception to speak of.  Shannon eventually went to the other backpackers in town and discovered they are one and the same, albeit in different ends of town, and she got a lift back up to the house.  It was a proper house, which was interesting, and we grabbed bunks and went to the visitor center to take care of some business, check our e.mails and play with the baby kangaroos and wallabees that they had sleeping in baskets there.  AHHH SO CUTE.  As it turned out Shannon was asked for a job interview!  Then it hit us - how were we to do a job interview during business hours in a small town in Australia, as we are 14 hours off from the US!  With that in mind, and being due for a rest anyways, we gladly made the decision to take a break back at Jenn and Darren's house  to take care of some business and some R&R to boot.  We hopped on a bus (to Jamie's chagrin, he got extremely car sick) and were back by early afternoon!

We are currently sorting out our plans for getting back on the trail - we may or may not be able to cover the entire track now, but we're not upset by the prospect.  Everyday out there so far has been thrilling and a great time and we'll be happy with whatever miles we can add on to our journey!  It is getting a lot colder, so we're also taking the opportunity to bring some more cold weather stuff - we've had to set up our tent for extra degrees the past few nights out which has been effective, but early morning hiking has proved very cold.  We are really looking forward to seeing more of the forests of the south, which will very soon give way to coastline, which we have been assured are the best part of the whole thing so we are quite excited for what is to come.

Breakfast at  Colliefields 

Balingup Liquor and General Store 

Blackwood Shelter 

Blackwood Shelter 

Karri Trees with the bark all around it. 

A little kangaroo wanting a hug. And an emu. 

The song book

Dorm room at the Pemberton YHA 

Pemberton YHA 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Week 1 on the Bibbulmun Track (Kalamunda to Dwellingup; 0 to 202 Km)

From the advice of my cousin Jenny and her husband Darren we decided to hike the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia.  Darren is planning on walking it in December and was an excellent source of information on the details, and when the four of us travelled south to Albany for some camping we even took a few walks along it to check it out.  The trek is a little over 1000 kilometres long and goes from Kalamunda (east of Perth) to the city of Albany on the southern coast.  It travels through multiple ecosystems, traverses several national parks, and stops in towns along the way to provide resupply opportunities.

We took off from the town of Bunbury (where we were staying with my cousin and her husband) at 6AM via train to Perth (the biggest city in West Australia) and hopped on a bus out to a suburb about an hour away called Kalamunda (fun, right?).  All relatively painless!  That put us at the info center at about 9:30 AM, not bad for a first day!  We checked in there and quickly hit the trail. 
Day one was challenging for the following reasons: our packs were very heavy, heavier than I can ever remember as we'd crammed seven days of food in those bad boys (202 km until resupply).  The next reason is that we had to get accustomed to the terrain which is a lot of "pea gravel" - the underlying granites (old granites too) have slowly weathered into these rounded little red pebbles that like to make walking a little tricky (at least at first).  I (Jamie) had a slip in our first 10 minutes (how embarrassing!).
We did take it pretty easy though, and in that section the huts are fairly close together which means water isn't a big problem.  The water situation thus far has been this: there is no water in any stream, lake, pond, or billabong.  The only water source we've seen is the water catchment site that is dammed up (this is sent via the longest water pipeline in the world to the gold fields of Kalgoorlie where the gold is literally spilling out of the topsoil, apparently).  Luckily there are rain water drums at all the shelters (shelters are just like the Appalachian Trail, by the way) and these have been no issue whatsoever!  We just put a couple of drops of bleach in there and we're good to go.  We've taken to "cameling up" as much as possible and only carrying a liter between water sources to reduce weight.
And the shelter sites are just gorgeous - the sparse landscape in general makes the whole place look like it has been professionally landscaped.  The plants in many places seem to just give each other space so they look intentional.  And it is all desert vegetation, meaning EVERYTHING HAS SPIKES, which has been problematic in a few areas where the trail was a bit overgrown.  But at the shelters it looks even more manicured, as it seems to be part of hut culture to rake the pea gravel when you are done - sometimes it legit looks like a zen garden.  And it is a pretty lonely kind of track, especially compared to the AT, so we've only shared shelters two of the 6 nights out.  In fact I counted a 68 hour span of time where we didn't encounter a single other person - I can't remember this happening ever before in my life.   Apparently this has to do with the time of year - we are early in the hiking season as it is still fairly warm out - more will be coming behind us it sounds like, and most people hike in spring when it is cooler still and there are zillions of wildflowers. 
For wildlife we've seen lots of tiny wallabies and larger kangaroos - they are sort of everywhere and I don't think I'll get sick of them because they are so damn cute.  Lots of lizards, including a couple of really big guys.  There are lots of things that can kill us out here as well!  Notably spiders and snakes (hence I got that GPS unit which has an SOS function which would summon search and rescue if need be), but apparently its the sort of "they are more scared of you then you are of them", which would mean that they are pretty damned scared of me!  We passed a dead scorpion on the trail as well to which Shannon said, "They have scorpions TOO?!  This changes everything!".  We had to add them to the deadly thing list.  Ticks were a problem for a few days (we've been told we are finished with them now though) - these guys are tiny - they are called pepper ticks and luckily aren't Lyme's carriers because I counted 200 of them on my socks and shoes (took an hour to get them all off).   We saw a little possum yesterday as well (different from our opossums, they are really cute), and zillions of crazy birds (cockatoos, parrots, kookaburras, ravens, REALLY BIG EAGLES, and magpies).  So yeah, animals have been a definite highlight.  And for flora, there are a whole lot of eucalyptus species that form the vast majority of the over-story - these are really neat trees because 1.) they have the same sort of camo-bark thing going on as sycamores, 2.) they smell awesome, and 3.) they are super fire resistant so they are all sort of burned at the bottoms but still flourishing.  They do a lot of prescribed burns here and most of the plants' seeds are fire activated so they won't take until there has been a fire.  Neat!  The black of the charcoal provides a neat juxtaposition between the red soils and greens of the plants.
The terrain has been interesting because of the desert conditions and the flora/fauna, not necessarily because of the topography.  There have been a few challenging little climbs, but nothing approaching a typical day on the AT and sometimes some pretty boring flat stretches that follow old gravel roads.  Luckily we are finding the gravel isn't too rough on the feet, but Shannon is starting to feel the wear and tear of averaging 18 miles a day for our first week out (with a lot of weight).  Our speed has been a lot slower than we can remember traveling on the AT as well - this should be expected of course as we are not trail fit yet, but it is difficult to come to terms with.  The daylight is quickly getting less and less so we are pulling into camps near dark (we are going to try and get up earlier so we can take off at daylight but we have a hard time waking up in the dark!). 
The night before last we actually stayed at an old lookout tower facility, an enclosed cabin next to the firetower on Mt. Wells.  Pretty neat place!  I always find actual cabins a novelty as they have such a different feel from the open wall structures.  We woke up at 4:45AM, which wasn't much of a feat considering we'd fallen asleep probably by 8:30PM, to get ready in the darkness.  We made our usual breakfast of tea/coffee and oatmeal (we've been throwing chopped up dates in there, its better than brown sugar!) and packed up just in time for sunrise.  We made our way to the first hut 15k away by about 10:15 and had ourselves a snack - we were pushing for town, so we kept it pretty brief.  We kept on and stopped around noon, just by the railroad track end that we would follow later on into town, and had ourselves some lunch (our go-to crackers and tuna crumbled together and mixed with mayo - DELISH).  Shannon was having a bit of a rough time at that point; maybe exhaustion, we're not sure, so we had to take it easy for an hour or so until she came back to.  We followed this old disused railway for a bit and then it turned into a still-in-use railway (a tourist train on the weekends).  The trail skirts back and forth across it and was a bit overgrown in places so we decided to follow the advice of another hiker we met earlier that day and just follow the track directly and keep our ears open for the odd chance that it actually came our way!  This was to be our longest day yet at 21 miles, so we were pretty excited to hit town!
We got our lay of the land at this really nice visitor center (where we are sitting at now!) and found a cute little "bushwalker cabin" at the caravan park in town for a very fair fee of $40 AUD (we'd of course picked up a six pack of Victoria Bitter on the way over!).  We did some much needed laundry, took some super hot super long showers, and made our way to the local pub for more brews and 3 dinners between the two of us.  Heaven.  We then had another big meal at a cute cafĂ© in town this morning and we're just taking care of some internet things now before we head over to the grocery store to get provisions for the next 4.5 day section.  I guess from here we will get more into mixed hardwood ecosystems before hitting coastline environments further south.
We will try and update again from our next resupply spot in Collie!
We will have pictures later on, we can't upload from here.
If you want to follow our GPS position, follow this link!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Bibbulmun Track

Someday I will learn how to be a better blogger. Until that time, thanks for your patience.

Jamie and I are doing another long walk.  It's called the Bibbulmun Track. It's a 1000k (620mile) walk down the western side of Australia.  It goes from Perth to Albany.   We're leaving tomorrow morning so I don't have much time because of course I'm in the throes of packing, but I thought you might be interested in our new toy.  We got a Spot device. You can track our progress online!  How cool is that?
Here's the link.

Just follow this link to see my location updates:
If the link doesn't work, try copying and pasting it to your browser's address bar.

You should also check out the website for the Bibbulmun. They've got a great website and the map of the track is fun because it has pictures of all the shelters/towns.   We are starting in the North and heading South. We imagine it will take us about a month.

Until my next post, here's a picture of us with some Kangaroos.