Bibbulmun Track: Collie to Dwellingup, July 2019

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Bibbulmun Track: Collie to Dwellingup, July 2019

Postby neilsf » Wed 31 Jul, 2019 3:26 pm

Hi All,

I solo walked from Mornington Road (Collie) north to Dwellingup on the Bibbulmun Track, from Monday 8 July to Sunday 14 July, 2019. This was my first walk longer than an overnighter, so enjoy (?) reading a newbie tell you about their first multi-day solo walking experience! Marvel at how he got through without dying! Laugh at his obvious mistakes! I did no training or physical prep, and just thought I'd have a crack at it and hope for the best (age 44, mostly healthy, a bit fat, but have done lots of day walks and overnight walks in the past, and have always been able to go from sedentary to an overnight walk without difficulty). Past injuries to both knees and an issue with arthritis in small joints of a foot and a hand.

Vital Stats
Distance: ~128km/7 Days (6 full days)
Wild pigs encountered: 4
Encounters with pig hunters and obnoxious people: None.
Fuel burnt: Total ~300mL of methylated spirits in Trangia, or about 50mL/day. Used only for rehydrating freeze-dried dinners and evening tea for most of trip. Breakfast and afternoon tea in the last few days.
Blisters: many/big (all on right foot - I still have a big brown/purple patch taking up about 1/3rd of the sole of my right foot, 2.5 weeks later), and my boots came apart on the last day.
Slips saved by trekking Poles: Countless
Falls caused by trekking poles: 1
Injuries: None (except blisters)
Underwear velocity: 0.33 changes/day

Food consumption: Less than I expected - just not hungry. About 400g-500g/day of dry food. Brought back 600g of tuna, 200g of trail mix, some chocolate and about 150g of breakfast.

Average time from wake-up to break camp: Almost two hours! Why does it take me so long to breakfast, clean up a bit and re-pack every day?

Fav bit: The walks into and out of Murray - I loved the overgrown vegetation going in, and the view of the rapids soon after leaving (heading north). Also, lots of fungi across a few days of this section.

On Blisters: So I had these blister dressings in my first aid kit that I used, but wouldn't recommend to others without a caveat. The first clue should have been the warning that they're not suitable for people with diabetes. Now, I don't have diabetes, but why would a wound/blister dressing say such a thing? Well, it happens that it was some kind of chemical peel. See, at Possum Creek I started using them, on small blisters, and the instructions said to leave on, and that they'll come off by themselves. Which they did by Swamp Oak. Thing is, a whole heap of my skin was taken off onto the dressing with it. Which is all good and all, except the dressings are quite big, and I used extra dressings intended just as protection for hot spots. So now they'd taken off skin over much of my sole, leaving very delicate fresh skin behind. Which of course blistered immediately again on the walk from Swamp Oak into Dwellingup. Two weeks later, I still have a big purple/red/brown patch covering much of my foot, though at least I can walk on it fine now. All caused by that last day. Anyways, if you see this kind of blister dressing, beware that you'll end up with very delicate skin afterwards that will need lots of protection to prevent further blisters. They also said there were more complete warnings and instructions inside, and I didn't spot them.

On arthritis: Weirdest thing - the walking, or changed diet, being on holiday or physical stress (?) of the walk seems to have switched off my (wonky immune system) arthritis, which was flaring up just before the walk. This impacts small joints in my left foot, and also a couple of fingers on my left-hand. Symptoms still gone or very minimal two weeks after. This is curious to me. Yay! I was concerned that I'd be aborting the walk half-way through the first day because of the walking exacerbating this. I was using ibuprofen everyday to try and pre-empt it (in addition to a prescription), but even so symptoms were obvious when sedentary in Perth.

Gear: This wasn't a lightweight walk - my pack was definitely over 18kg at the start, with food. Partly because I have an old canvas Macpac pack that is still going strong and I can't bring myself to replace it with something newer and lighter when it's still holding up so well, and they just repaired the harness for me - 3kg. Also a down One Planet sleeping bag at 1.4kg. I used a vintage k-mart blue-foam, which maybe rates as ultralight, but have decided that next time I want to experience one of those newfangled Thermarests, or Sea to Summit sleeping mats, that everybody else I encountered uses. I've been lying to myself when I've said I'm comfy on it. I also took a new 1.8kg tent that I could use outer only during our insect-free winter in future, for less weight.

Chapter 1: Mornington Rd to Harris Dam - 12km (usually 21km)
I had a leisurely start to Day one, after taking a Transwa coach into Collie on Sunday evening (arrived a bit after sunset) and staying in a motel. I wanted a short day to start, so lopped off a few kilometres out of Collie by having a taxi take me to the Mornington Rd intersection with the track. We looked for a different intersection closer to Collie, but we couldn't find it so then tried for the Mornington Rd intersection which is clearly marked with a big Bib track sign - didn't originally mean to shorten Day One this much. It was reduced to only 12km, when I wanted 15km.

I struggled with unhappy shoulders and a pain in the neck, on the right side. I made a decision that I would stop, rest, and re-adjust things as soon as I felt like I needed a break. No point in pushing on to meet an artificial schedule. I think this may have saved me from lingering aches/pains or overuse injuries. It also meant a slow average speed over the week of only about 3km/h - probably 4.5km/h while moving, but with many breaks.

Many slips were saved by my trekking poles, the first on a wet wooden bridge very early in the walk. Part of the problem here was probably my well broken in, but also well worn Keens - the Interwebs say they are renowned for being slippy on some surfaces. Stopped for lunch at Harris Dam and had the place to myself. Walked into Harris Dam campsite a short time later, and it also was all mine.

Lots of lovely forest between Mornington and Harris Dam. Many red-tailed black cockatoos.

Being the first night out for a long time I was maybe more sensitive to noises, and woke up late at night to watch a wallaby (?) munching on vegetation just outside the campsite. It was too far away to see clearly by headlamp, but was wallaby sized, and stood on rear legs with little hands. Yay! Creatures!

Apart from the Wallaby, the night was silent. Except for the comforting hum of the local bauxite processing plant. This was a theme through the whole walk - mining operations can be heard every night, at least until Swamp Oak. Also, sometimes there is blasting in the afternoon.

Oh my goodness - Sea to Summit ultralight inflatable pillow is amazing! I've never overnighted with a pillow before. Highly recommended.

Toilet paper was supplied -as was the case with every campsite toilet!

In the morning I met a couple and their 12 year old son who had come from Perth and were exiting at Collie. They were double-hutting from Yordamung to Collie - the first of many double-hutters who I was in awe of, having really felt my 12km the day before. I got beta on the puddles you can swim in, which stretched across the track on the way to Dookanelly (Day 4), and the overgrown vegetation in the kilometres around Murray, that will soak you to the bone. These stories continued every day until I reached those parts of the track.

100g of Tuna, 90g of Nasi Goreng rehydrated with boiling water (cannot recommend as "fried" rice), 100g of trail mix, 35g of chocolate, 25g of dried/candy mango, maybe 25g of fuel, and 83g of muesli and milk powder for breakfast. Expelled. But the pack wasn't feeling lighter yet.

Dry weather during the day, but it rained during the night. I hoped to see wonderful Milky Way skies, but it wasn't to happen on this trip. Did you know that the centre of the galaxy, and its supermassive black hole, are overhead at this time of the year?

There is Telstra reception here, should you want to make contact with Collie to arrange accomodation.

Chapter 2: Harris Dam to Yourdamung (14km)
Easier than yesterday, despite the extra distance. Encountered a very bold rat in the campsite that night and put my food in the plastic box containing the track logbook and journal. The rat appeared around 7pm, but after the food was put away it left me alone the rest of the night.

More red-tails on this day.

The second night by myself. Was I going to have every night to myself? Very happy to have no joint pains, either in my feet, or knees or hips.

I'll spare you the weight change calculations! Unfortunately my notes seem to have mostly focussed on me, not the natural highlights of the walk! I spent much of the evening staring at my maps, making navigational notes and working out when I'd drink my water and eat on day 3. I was pleased that two litres of water per day seemed ample, given the cool weather.

Chapter 3: Youdamung to Possum Creek (19km)
This was the first "long" day and it went smoothly. I loved the wetland vegetation that you encounter here, coming out of Yourdamung, and there is also some nice jarrah forrest in this section.

Arrived at 2pm and shared a coffee and beef jerky with somebody double-hutting, who stopped for lunch. We needed to fill up at the tank and then got a shock when it was empty. Would we be drinking from puddles? There was cloth tied around the join of the tap to the tank, so it looked like somebody was trying to stop a leak. Before we set off to find puddles we realised there was another tank, just not visible from the spur trail that you come into camp on. Survival epic averted. My visitor told stories about the puddles you can drown in, and the thick overgrowth near Murray. He warned that I need to stay focused, because if I lose the track here I'll have trouble finding it again (though also pointing out that the track follows a map contour, and maybe prompted by my specific questions about whether the overgrowth makes navigation hard - he was probably trying to err on the side of too much warning). Also, a mouse bit him on the nose at Murray campsite. It could smell the food remnants in his trousers pocket deep in his sleeping bag, but you take the opportunities that present themselves, I guess. Especially if you're a mouse.

Rammed earth style site shelter, which I'd never seen before - I liked the novelty and openness of the design.

After sunset a 70 year old chap who had just double-hutted 40km stumbled into the campsite - he missed the hut marker on the track (perhaps it's missing or hard to see for south-bound walkers?), but spotted my headlamp. Amazing old people are also a theme of this trip. This was my first night sharing the shelter with somebody else. Did I bring earplugs, you ask? Yes, I did!

Today a pole tripped me up. It got caught in vegetation, and I should have stowed both of them well before - I'd been telling myself that they're going to trip me, but was too lazy to take the pack off and pop them into the side pockets. No harm done - I tumbled sideways and the pack absorbed much of the force, though I made like an upside down turtle for a bit and couldn't easily get up again until I unstrapped myself from the pack. First blisters of the trip appeared today. Shoulders and neck still in pain, but managed with frequent breaks, and importantly the ache didn't persist after settling in at the campsite.

How good is it to get out of your boots at the end of the day and put on some camp shoes? I wish I knew, as I didn't bring any.

I tried a bit of underwear washing (in a large ziploc bag with S2S "wilderness wash", and hung these outside my pack on day 4.

Chapter 4: Possum Creek to Dookanelly (23km)
This was a long day. But it did start nicely, with a misty morning walking through the forest out of the campsite.

Waded* the puddles of despair, but I imagined much worse - the rain had mostly stopped by today, so they'd shrunk a bit. Much of today was on old 4WD track and the monotony of this is exhausting. Have I missed a marker to turn off? I dreaded finding that I walked extra and unnecessary kilometres, or worse that I won't make the campsite, or missed the spur trail, and will have to camp on the track. But if had to camp on the track, would I find water? This was a concern the whole trip, even with me looking at the map and estimating distances and times (often accurately to within a couple of minutes of travel time - so actually I shouldn't have been that concerned). Also, actually, water was never going to be an issue, with the rain and having a filter.

The Worsley bauxite conveyor belt is the feature of this day. As you approach it, the noise seems to be coming from everywhere. Which is because the noise is coming from everywhere. When you look at it on Google Earth it stretches a vast distance in front and also around you. Given that mining is part of this walk, all the way, the conveyor belt doesn't irk me as much as it might you. I decided to accept that this walk is about cultural features (like the conveyor belt) as much as it is about being the wilderness. In some ways the pride and openness about mining makes the walk interesting in its own way. In an odd way I find it more honest than clearing vast tracts of land, but leaving a narrow corridor of trees for visitors to see. Mind you, with the noise there would be no way to pretend it isn't there.

After what felt like hours of, "are we there yet?" (not my exact words), it was a huge energy boost to finally hit the Bilya Djena Bidi bridge, and know that the campsite was near. The bridge is another interesting cultural feature. I never got to see the old bridge before the fire destroyed it, but it seems to me like an upside is that the creation of a new bridge has given an indigeneous community an opportunity to have some ownership of this new structure, which they never had over the old railway bridge.

I had good conversation with Chudditch (trail name) who wanted to be bitten on the nose by a mouse at Murray, and was a bit disappointed by the lack of wildlife on the walk. She is solo end-ending from Perth and is visiting from the Blue Mountains, where she does track work with the national parks folk there. Also at the campsite was Paul, in his 60s, who was using a heavy metal trolley, which broke. What do you do? Well, in his case he carried both his duffle bag and his trolley on his back over this section and still had three days to go to Collie! The two of them got a very impressive campfire going despite the cold and wet and I managed to dry my washed socks and undies, which never dried during the day.

By today my aches and pains were gone - the frequent breaks, increasing fitness(?), and dropping pack weight all seemed to be making a difference.

Also both Chudditch and Paul validated my 2 hour break camp time. Chudditch had been asking herself the same question, but by now had just accepted it as what it actually takes when you want to have breakfast before setting off and you need to re-pack carefully for everything to fit and for the weight distribution to be okay. Paul needed even more time.

* not really - there was less water than people were experiencing a few days before, so just walked around them. Some slippery bits, but no difficulties.

Chapter 5: Dookanelly to Murray (18km)
This was a pretty easy day! As with the crocodile infested potholes, the overgrown vegetation was much less of an issue than I imagined. I appreciated the way that the track leads you straight into the campsite without a spur trail. It's a lovely surprise to see nothing but vegetation, vegetation, vegetation, then, BAM! There's the shelter 20m in front of you, right by the river! And I really enjoyed it when the plants slapped me in the face every few meters after those awful vehicle tracks of the day before. This is what I like in a bushwalk. (Really! So long as there are no tics.)

This was easily my favourite campsite! And I had it to myself, with an opportunity to go for a swim in the river.

From the news I heard from others, and seeing Paul and his boots, southbound people were turning up at Dookanelly soaked because of the 6km of overgrown vegetation that they had to fight through southbound. But northbound you hit it at the end of the day, when the dew has dried out. Chudditch was okay though, heading southbound, but she had rain pants and gaiters.

Like her, I had no luck with intimate mouse encounters.

I lost my map today, which was on my belt. I'm sure it would have been picked up by a southbound walker, so am confident it won't still be litering the track. Nevermind, almost at the end of the walk now, and no difficulties ahead.

Chapter 6: Murray to Swamp Oak (25km, or 19km if you have a map)
Oh my goodness, what a day! I left late, and then made more mistakes. On this day I used all 2L of water (vs typically 1L on previous days).

I remembered closely spaced contour lines and previously noted that there were a few steep bits. But something gets lost in translation with squiggley lines, and I wasn't quite prepared for how these would feel, in practice!

Today's Excitement:
* Did I mention that I lost map the day before, so wasn't able to plan or properly anticipate the route?
* Encountered four wild pigs. In the bit on (potentially) dangerous animals, the Bibbulmun Track guide has this to say about pigs, "Pigs inhabit the forests around the Bibbulmun Track, but you're unlikely to encounter any".
* Missed a marker turn off from a track (a very lovely track - calling it a tree-lined avenue does it more justice). I noticed that I wasn't seeing markers any more, but pushed on because markers were sparse anyway and I wanted to be sure that I wasn't backtracking unecessarily. Being flat ground I picked up the pace for half an hour, walking as much as an extra 3km. Which means I added 6km to my walk, with the eventual backtracking.
* Then I was walking on another old vehicle track in the late afternoon, with sun in eyes and trees just sillhuettes, and markers near invisible until I was right on top of them. In this section, at the slow pace I was going, given that I was constantly looking left/right and behind me to spot markers, I was finding that markers were sometimes more than twenty minutes apart.
* walking in a burnt section for maybe 30 minutes before sunset, where it wasn't always obvious to me where the track was, and with burnt markers that might not reflect well after sunset, by headlamp. Was very concerned that I'd lose the track after sunset.
* Memories of "To Build a Fire" by Jack London. What if I didn't reach the campsite? Would I survive the night?

All that said, this was my favourite day from the perspective of scenery and variations in terrain and vegetation. I loved the hillside terraces and lush Jarrah and walking out from Murray, with views of the river and the rapids. I'll just know better to not underestimate the time and effort required by this section! There's really lovely forest just north of Yarragil Form. That's also where the close contour lines are.

Met two young women at Swamp Oak, walking south on an end-to-end. At least one of them was a recent fine-arts graduate and we talked about artist run initiatives and a gallery/studio space called Paper Mountain, which she exhibited at, and was created by two people I know. Perth is small. They graciously let me look at their Dwellingup Map and I wrote down some detailed notes for the walk onwards to Dwellingup the next morning. I tried to take a photo with my phone, but it wouldn't wake up - maybe affected by dew.

I was intending to use my tent this night, but picked the good hut company instead.

PS - how good is it to not hear mining operations at night? This night was quiet. Though I could have done without the rolling thunder of blasting, on the way out from the Murray river valley.

Chapter 7: Swamp Oak to Dwellingup (13km)
Leisurely start to the day, with a cup of coffee and my "Porridge Supreme" meal. I managed to spill half of it on the hut floor, just as one of the women dropped her breakfast on the floor that morning too. After they left I tried to collect up and disperse most of the food away from the campsite. In retrospect this probably wasn't the best thing to do, but to collect it up would also have been awkward -being porridge it was lots of little bits, and I would have been packing out lots of dirt as well, and in any case would not have got all of it. Hope the campsite pests (if any) have settled down now, to their usual lack of food.

I hit a deviation from the map notes all of 100m from the start of the walk. This was a bit rattling given the day before and my geographical embarrasment. Instead of following the vehicle track out of Swamp Oak as per their map edition (and as I remember from my memory, having done an overnight at Swamp Oak before), the track immediately turns into the adjacent forest. The track was also slightly harder to follow than I wanted - I didn't lose it, but was concerned about getting lost in the first five minutes of the day. I was cursing the Bib folk for bumping up my stress levels first thing in the morning! Though I understand why they would want to take people into the forest over a boring vehicle track.

The route relinked with the old route at the track/stream/track crossing a kilometre or two from Swamp Oak, and then all was well again.

After a few kilometres you'll hit the spooky pine plantation. I really like this section and recommend singing "In The Pines" while walking through. Do you know it? It's an American folk murder ballad of unknown origin, but the Leadbelly version, re-popularised by Nirvana is something you've probably heard. But for the first time (having crossed it at least four times in the past) I noticed the lack of track markers in this area, especially in the southmost section of the plantation, when heading north. Previously I never had any concern with recognising the track, but this time I did backtrack once or twice just to be sure that I hadn't deviated off the track. All was fine, so this was unecessary. Maybe it was the light and position of the sun, and being more concerned about geography mishaps? I was checking my compass regularly so that if I did lose the track I could at least intercept the last road and then find the track again, if needed.

An hour out of Dwellingup I started bumping into day walkers out of Dwellingup. Strange creatures, with their little packs. My newly formed giant blister was bugging me at this point and I was becoming impatient to get to Dwellingup and drink beer and eat a burger. Lost the track one more time, just a kilometre or so out of Dwellingup, but quickly picked it up again. And then I was in Dwellingup! The traffic of Dwellingup seems loud when you've been in the bush for a week.

By this last day I was ready to re-supply and go another seven days on the track - my aches and pains were gone. (Except for the giant blister!)

I hobbled over to my accommodation (which was a bit over a km out of town, in the opposite direction of the track), had a shower (wishing I had camp sandals) and then walked back to town for a well-deserved pint at the pub! The next morning I got a ride in to town with a contractor who was managing a re-vegetation project for Alcoa and we chatted about day job things and walking, on the way to the Blue Wren Cafe, where he got a coffee, and I had first and second breakfast, before lunch and my ride back to Perth. I made camp at the cafe as I was really feeling my right foot by now. (Thumbs up for the woman at the cafe who asked if she could get me anything from a pharmacy, as she needed to go out to Pinjarra that morning - Dwellingup is too small to have a pharmacy).

Changes for next multi-day trip:
* Less food and fuel
* A more comfortable sleeping mat (but ideally not more than a couple of hundred grams heavier than my 310g blue foam)
* Grippier boots (bigger lugs for mud, and maybe something that will stick better on wet granite, as you find closer to Perth)
* Map carrier to keep it around my neck, with compass
* If it's a short trip and the weather is fine I may risk not carrying a tent.
* Try Leukoplast for blister prevention
* Don't choose the freeze dried Nasi Goreng. (But mashed potato rehydrates well!)
* Camp sandals seem like a good idea
* I could probably have carried one less change of underwear/clothes - I had clean clothes to wear in town, but this isn't that important.
* When I tripped onto my pack my PLB and first-aid kit were both inaccessible (at least if I was badly injured), on the outside of the pack and under me. Might reconsider their locations next time.

I returned to Collie last weekend to do those final kilometres near the town, so now I can truthfully say I've done the full section from Collie to Dwellingup. I used some old boots that I haven't worn for years - full steel shank full-grain leather scarpas. And scored more blisters in new places! I could also feel the fatigue induced by the heavier weight. I want to use these old boots as they have much life left in them (and chunky vibram soles), but maybe it's wiser to invest in lighter weight modern boots, despite not wanting to make an unnecessary purchase.

I liked that the spur trail to Collie was clearly labelled at the junction (with the other directions being "Bibbulmun North" and "Bibbulmun South"). I sometimes wish that there were similar signs near the other campsite spur trails. I can imagine walking into camp knackered and not paying attention to which direction you came in on, and where you should go the next morning. I saw kangaroos for the first time on this walk during this short 1/3rd day trip.

I plan to to complete all of the Bibbulmun track to Collie over the next year (it can be done in short 2/3/4 night long-weekend sections), but as I like cold weather this may have to wait until next autumn. All up, a very enjoyable first multi-day walk experience.
Last edited by neilsf on Wed 31 Jul, 2019 7:20 pm, edited 12 times in total.
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Re: Bibbulmun Track: Collie to Dwellingup, July 2019

Postby Warin » Wed 31 Jul, 2019 4:53 pm

Thank you for the report. We all look at our walks differently.

About the backpack and the poles.... some of the current backpacks have elasticised loops that take your poles (compacted) and you can use them without taking your pack off, they work quite well - despite my scepticism. Side benefit - the backpacks weigh less too, but not as robust.

Good luck.
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Re: Bibbulmun Track: Collie to Dwellingup, July 2019

Postby bigkev » Wed 31 Jul, 2019 7:16 pm

Thanks for that entertaining write up neilsf,

I'm normally around 2 hours to break camp and cook brekky as well - the time just seems to fly by and I always find myself thinking that tomorrow I'll be quicker...but it never happens!
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Re: Bibbulmun Track: Collie to Dwellingup, July 2019

Postby Al M » Wed 31 Jul, 2019 10:26 pm

Good detailed write up and positive style. Lots of valuable gear trials and testing for future benefit on the trip.

18kg for 7 days isn’t too bad but it pays to shave gear weight in every area with about 3kg less helps with pack comfort and effort and end of day feel.
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Re: Bibbulmun Track: Collie to Dwellingup, July 2019

Postby Bam » Thu 01 Aug, 2019 7:52 pm

Wonderful write up, a thoroughly enjoyable read along with some very useful information, well done neilsf..!
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Re: Bibbulmun Track: Collie to Dwellingup, July 2019

Postby Eremophila » Sat 03 Aug, 2019 11:38 pm

Thanks NSF, very entertaining & informative. Love the honesty.

My break-camp time is around 90 min, feel no need to change. It's an enjoyable time of the day, do whatever is good for you :D
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