Kalamunda – Dwellingup: A Trial By Fire
Wow. What a massive undertaking I’ve set out on.
It’s a really difficult thing to put a journey like this into words – there are as many incredible moments as there are hard ones and explaining them all is near impossible. I’ve decided to take you through it all, day by day, and we’ll just see how we go!
A ROCKY START
Kalamunda – Ball Creek, double hut, 24km
My adventure began with a setback, as all good ones do. My start date was interrupted by a massive freak storm that took over all of Perth and heaps of the South West, and I was forced to wait around for two days for the weather to clear – and thank god I did, because it would NOT have been a smooth start otherwise!!
So, on Friday 15 September, I drove out to Kalamunda to begin the Bibbulmun Track. I was an absolutely nervous wreck, with raging PMS adding fuel to the fire, and by the time I started walking I was on the verge of tears; a state I’ve found myself in many, many times on the trail, if I’m being honest!
With big hills to start and end the day, this beginning was definitely hardcore, but the first few hours flew by and I loved every step. It’s SUCH a beautiful area of the world, and despite being so close to the city the vegetation is lush and vibrant, and I couldn’t get enough of my misty surroundings.
However, at Mundaring Weir, a teeeeny town about 18km into the day, things took a turn. Somehow, I got hopelessly lost, and my phone decided to cark it. Of course, the fear of losing the track brought all the stress, nerves and emotions of the lead up crashing over me, and half a day into the journey I found myself sobbing uncontrollably on a random park bench, while the deeply uncomfortable builders working in front of me shuffled around, trying to pretend they couldn’t see the young woman with the pack the size of herself weeping and snotting all over the place.
Not an ideal start.
However, after 2 hours and 3km wandering around lost, I was eventually forced to get myself together, calm down, and work my way backwards till I found the Wagyl I had missed.
The Wagyl, for those that don’t know, is the Bibbulmun Track’s way marker, and takes the form of a black snake within a yellow triangle, the point of which guides the walker along the trail. It’s in reference to the Rainbow Serpent, a Dreamtime creature common in Noongar (Nyungar, Nyoongar) culture, the core indigenous language group of the South West of Australia. In fact, the track itself is named after the Bibbulmun, a sub-group of the Noongar people.
Anyway, after this double-hut, 24km day I eventually reached the camp that night, and was greeted by a really lovely group of hikers, who were all also end-to-enders: the Fish out of Water team, Sam (76) and Mary (69); Ollie (24); and Kate (22) & Nathan (39). Unsurprisingly, the second I was amongst people I felt completely fine, and even proud of myself and excited for easier days. The tiny hut made for cosy company, and after a lovely campfire we were all in bed by 6pm!
SETTLING INTO A GROOVE
Ball Creek – Waalegh, double hut, 19km
Day two brought aggressively steep hills that felt endless, but with them came breathtaking wildflowers, a little river to swim in, and beaaaaaautiful views. At some points, I was entirely surrounded my white and yellow flowers, stretching out below and above me as far as the eye could see. I’ve never seen anything like it!
Waalegh hut was lovely, and we had quite a crowd of both overnight and end-to-end hikers, and stayed up enjoying a massive campfire till about 8pm. I know, crazy. Absolute night owls.
This, unfortunately, was the night I realised my mat had popped. I spent the night waking every two hours on the dot to roll off and inflate it again, which did not make for a great night. Luckily, I was able to contact my aunt Fi, who met me the next day with an emergency replacement that’s served me well so far!
Waalegh – Mt Dale, double hut, 22km
Day three was, at least physically, one of the hardest of this section. When planning my itinerary, I had seen the distances and expected everyone to be double hutting. Boy, was I wrong – and I now know why they weren’t! The hills in this section are really full on, and Mt Dale was no exception. It was a hot day, and after hiking 14km the track began to climb steeply up and continued that way for the next 8km. This was one of the only days in which I got to the top and could barely appreciate the view. I was too pooped!
I met Fi in the Mt Dale carpark, which was nice, and she walked the final few kms with me into the Mt Dale hut, where I met Daniel: a lovely 26-year-old guy who, unbeknownst to me, would become my walking buddy for the next 4 days or so!
Mt Dale – Canning, 19km
I loooved this day! The terrain was really varied, with big rock slab sections that reminded me of home, and then eerie sections of bush that had been completely burned and were almost entirely silent. It was on this day that I began singing aloud to myself, as loudly as I liked – a habit that has stuck! (Don’t worry, though, I’m never around people as I walk, so I’m not disturbing anyone’s peace.)
Canning – Monadnocks, 16km
My FAVOURITE day so far!! The first few hours of walking flew by, and about halfway through I found myself at Canning River, where I spent a divine hour and a half swimming in the freezing water, relaxing on the rocks, and reading my book.
The second half of the day up to Monadnocks was a fairly hard climb, but I green blazed and passed the arvo very happily! The hut itself was stunning: high up in the forest, the view stretched out over the middle + tops of the trees, surrounding the hut in a sea of green. I absolutely loved it here. It was also at this hut that I found my very first tick, although luckily for me it was tiny!
PAINFUL DAYS AND BREAKTHROUGHS
Monadnocks – Nerang, track diversion and double hut, 31km
Day six: the hardest day by far, and a perfect example of how this journey can flip from being the most spectacular adventure to the most grueling experience in just 24 hours.
The first few hours of the day were wonderful. Dan and I woke up at 5am, hoping to summit Mt Cuthbert for sunrise, and although we didn’t quite make it, we had a lovely breakfast at the top, looking out over the stunning view!
I was then met by my aunt Fi and best mate Anni, who surprised me on the track with a brekkie feast alongside my resupply box. It was SO great to see them, and almost even better to eat such delicious food! After spending about an hour with them, I set off on the track with a veeery heavy and full pack.
This is when the day went downhill fast.
A prescribed burn at Mt Cook meant that a 16km diversion had been put in place, and a temporary campsite erected. The day was very hot, and the walk was unpleasant, so I was pretty unhappy to arrive at the temporary campsite and find a stinky portaloo and patch of gravel! Dan was waiting there, and we both quickly decided that we’d push on to the next hut. While this was definitely the best call, the next stretch was not easy. The heat was oppressive, and the walk ran parallel to the highway for hours, and then up along the powerlines with no shade.
Once I finally hit the Bibb track again, I had 8km to go, but unfortunately this is where things got worse. I began to have period cramps at a level of pain that was almost debilitating; the kind of pain that, if I had it in ‘real life’, I’d be forced to lie down and wait it out. Of course, this was not an option, and I think in reaction to the situation my body went into a bit of a panic-fueled adrenaline mode. I felt like if I stopped, I would throw up, so I just didn’t. I kid you not, I have never walked faster in my life.
After 11 hours on the track (including my morning stop), I eventually reached Nerang – a quite beautiful hut! As you can imagine, I was in bed asleep before the sun went down. The day did make me feel like if I could get through that day, I could get through anything!
Nerang – Gringer Creek, 16.5km
Day seven was another deeply challenging day. I said goodbye to Dan, who was spending another day at Nerang hut, and pretty quickly suspected I’d be alone that night – a guess which proved to be correct.
I’m a deeply social person and have always had a pretty intense fear of two things: the dark and being alone. I’d imagined I might be alone at some point along the trail, but imagining and experiencing are two very different things. I haven’t touched on this too much so far, but this first section on the Bibb was deeply emotional for me. I spent a large amount of the 12 days grappling with feelings of fear, overwhelm, and loneliness, and it was at this hut when these emotions all came to a head.
At this point, my phone and battery bank had been dead for a day and would continue to be dead until Dwellingup, so I was forced to really truly confront my feelings of loneliness and isolation. I spent a lot of the arvo crying, which was very cathartic, and by 6pm I’d enjoyed a little campfire, eaten my dinner, and hopped into bed to try and get to sleep before it got dark (and scary!).
I was woken up around midnight by some loud animal noises outside that I initially thought were footsteps, but after lying there scared stiff for a while, I just had to pull myself together and go back to sleep.
The feeling of waking up the next morning, knowing I’d faced (and conquered!) one of the situations that most scares me in the world – sleeping in the bush alone – was an incredible feeling, and worth all the discomfort. It was a really important breakthrough for me, I think.
A TWELVE PERSON POSSE
Nerang – White Horse Hills, 16.5km
This walk was incredibly hilly and steep, but at this point I was feeling strong and starting to enjoy the challenge of the ups and downs. I had an awesome 10am “lunch break” on top of the first hill of the day, but soon became a bit beside myself by the heat. It was another absolute scooorcher, which funnily enough meant I walked faster than ever. At this point I was beginning to realise that discomfort made me speed up instead of slow down, I guess in a desperation to reach the hut sooner!
By 12, I had reached White Horse, and as the arvo went on, I began to feel more and more worried that I’d be spending another night alone – and perhaps even the next 3 days into Dwellingup.
Boy, was I wrong.
Just as I had made peace with my solitude, two 20-year-old girls, Iris and Sienna, came walking into camp, soon followed by – wait for it – NINE other hikers. There were:
– three longtime friends – Jen, Tash and Rikke
– three brothers – Nick, Ritch and Will
– and three mates – Jim, Amy, and Mel.
Of course, while being on the track I’d lost all sense of time and had had no idea that this was the first day of a long weekend (leading into school holidays!) – so naturally the track was packed.
It was so lovely, and to be honest quite jarring, to be surrounded by so many people, but it made for a very fun few days. The other bonus was that these section hikers absolutely threw food at me, knowing that as the only end-to-ender I’d be ravenous. I was given muesli bars, hot chocolate packets, Oreos, marshmallows, fresh veggies, even wine! it was awesome, and I was very grateful; both for the food and for the company.
PS: See my instagram @issygoeswalking, under the story highlight “WALKERS”, for photos of all these wonderful people!
White Horse Hills – Mt Wells, 16km
Day nine was very chill, aside from a steep last 2km up to Mt Wells hut (the highest hut on the Bibbulmun Track, I think, apart from maybe Mt Cook?), and I was the first to arrive; a trend that would continue until Dwellingup! At this point, I had my morning routine down pat, and was very used to waking up with the sun (or a bit before) and getting hiking early. It was nice to have a little bit of time to myself each day before the others slowly turned up! Mt Wells is a strange campsite, as the hut – unlike any I’d seen before – was an old four walled building, with one room inside with one smallish platform to sleep on that Iris, Sienna and I quickly nabbed (and were later joined by one of the brothers, Will). It was bizarre to set up camp fully indoors, and we all agreed we preferred the open huts!
The campsite also has an old watchtower, so a few of us spent the arvo hanging out up there, reading and chatting and playing cards. It was a lovely afternoon which led into another great night around the fire, chatting and laughing altogether. It’s so special how quickly friendships form out on the track, and how close you feel to people that, in the real world, you might never even speak to!
Mt Wells – Chadoora, 16.5km.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of this walk, aside from that it was easy and pretty, and I got there before 11am!
Chadoora hut had recently been oiled and maybe repainted, so had a fairly strong smell that I enjoyed but others didn’t like so much! As the afternoon went on, more and more overnight hikers began to appear, and by evening there were 22 of us camping in and around Chadoora! It made for a very festive evening, that’s for sure.
I was also reunited with Ollie, who I had met on my very first night on the track, and it was very special to swap stories and compare our experiences of the first stretch. In reality, Ollie had come to the realisation that the Bibb was not for him and ended up going back to Perth after Dwellingup. It’s not a bad thing, though, because as far as I know he is heading off in a week to the UK to live there – something he was incredibly excited for, so he definitely made the right call!
Chadoora – Dwellingup (!!), 21km
And here it was, finally: town day!!!! Sienna, Iris and I were so excited to get into town that we woke at 4:30am and were out walking by 5:15am.
The day was relatively flat, and Iris set a ridiculously fast pace that somehow, even with my pack, I managed to meet. We ended up getting into Dwellingup before 10am, meaning we’d walked about 6km per hour – a LOT faster than the 3.5km per hour I was doing in the first week!
We had brekkie at the Blue Wren Cafe, and I cannot tell you how divine a hot coffee and brekkie roll tasted. I then met my aunt Fi and her mate Clara at the Dwelly pub, who gave me my resupply box and lots of cuddles.
Dwellingup was great. The caravan park was definitely shabby, but I was just happy to have a day of rest! I spent all of Tuesday eating and relaxing in the sunshine, writing this blog and reading. It was divine.
There you go: 211km done! If I were to sum up this section in a word, it’d be emotional. I spent a massive amount of this section feeling fearful, lonely, and close to tears. Equally, though, I spent huge amounts of time feeling absolutely elated and beside myself with happiness! I’m hoping that the next section will bring more calm. We shall see, I guess! I’m feeling proud, sore, and very very happy to have made it this far. Hooray!
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Loved reading this. Beautiful descriptions of your time on the track 🙂
You are absolutely amazing! Such a privilege to get insight into your journey and cannot wait to read more <3
A great read, thankyou. Wishing you well. Signed up for weekly reports. Thankyou. Be safe