Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sheila Hill Memorial Track (Mt Hallowell Reserve)

Running concurrently with a stretch of the Bibbulmun Track, the Sheila Hill Memorial Track takes walkers via Monkey Rock on the way to the summit of Mt Hallowell. Featuring lush Karri forests, massive granite formations and spectacular views of the Southern Ocean, this is an excellent day walk option for those without the time to complete the William Bay to Denmark stretch of the Bibbulmun Track. 

Distance: 4.6 km (one way)
Gradient: Continually uphill with some steep, challenging sections. 
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward, although the rocky terrain is highly uneven and potentially slippery.
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Bibbulmun Track Waugal and plain yellow arrows providing clear navigational information.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended - the granite can be slippery. 
Time: 2-2.5 Hours
Steps: Some steps on Monkey Rock and a lot of walking up granite rocks
Best Time to Visit: Autumn and Spring, and milder Winter days
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access is via Lights Rd. Trailhead is located in the Monkey Rock car park. The track ends at the corner of Ocean Beach Rd and Cotswold Rd. 

Note: much of this information is similar to that already covered in the Mt. Hallowell segment of the William Bay to Denmark section of the Bibbulmun Track. This guide is for those looking to do a shorter day walk variant of that section. 

Over its 1000 km, the Bibbulmun Track shares sections of its length with other tracks, such as The Dell to South Ledge trail in Beelu National Park or the Greenbushes Loop which provides a circuit spur trail to the historic town of Greenbushes. In spite of being aware of many of these trails, I had never heard of the Sheila Hill Memorial Track until Alissa and I found ourselves walking it while doing the William Bay to Denmark section of the Bibbulmun Track. Strangely even more obscure than Denmark's already under-promoted Mt Lindesay Walk Trail, we were so impressed by the Sheila Hill Memorial Track that I felt that I needed to write a separate article about this spectacular walk.

Starting from the Monkey Rock car park on Lights Rd, the trail climbs up and over Mt Hallowell - one of the main hills surrounding the town of Denmark. Areas nearby are significantly infested by Dieback and cleaning stations are present near the start and end of the trail. It is a privilege to walk in such fine forest - please ensure that you make use of these facilities. 

Unlike Mt Lindesay's mix of Jarrah and heathland, Mt Hallowell is covered in Karri forest. Although less biodiverse than Mt Lindesay, the massive Karris are far more impressive trees than Jarrah and make for a lush and beautiful forest to walk through.

The track rises quickly and steeply, leading to many enormous granite mounds, including Monkey Rock. A number of rock climbers were scaling this major feature along the walk, and they provide some sense of scale for the size of the formation.

The track skirts Monkey Rock with no actual signage indicating that there is a spur. Climbing onto the rock reveals that there are a number of stairs that have been put in place to allow easier access to the rock's magnificent views.

Typical of the granite formation in the Great Southern, many of these large, fractured forms almost seem to float on the larger rocks below, with only a small bit of granite connecting the two. Although less impressive than Balancing Rock on the Granite Skywalk, Monkey Rock's formations are still impressive.

The views from the rock are excellent.To the south-west, walkers can see William Bay National Park while the Wilson Inlet and West Cape Howe are visible to the south-east.

Monkey Rock is about as far as most tourists seem to go while on this track, however walkers looking to complete the Sheila Hill Memorial Track have a long way more to go to get to the summit. 

The Karri trees lining the track up Mt Hallowell are beautiful, reminding Alissa and I of Porongurup National Park. In fact, with the Porongurups still recovering from the horrendous 2007 bushfire that defoliated much of the forest canopy, the trees on Mt Hallowell appear significantly older and healthier. The result is an arguably more pleasant walk up to the summit compared to the Granite Skywalk, even if the Skywalk's Castle Rock is still more spectacular.

Although Monkey Rock and the summit are the most obvious points of interest, there are many massive granite formations all along the track, with the path meandering through quite a few of them. 

Indeed, the route for the track is very well considered, with a good mix of forest walking, climbing between granite boulders and sections that open up to expansive views of the coast and Wilson Inlet. 

The terrain gets increasingly rough and boulder-filled on the way up, and I would hazard a guess that this would be considered a Class 4 walk on the Australian Walking Track Grading System. Near the highest point of the track, a short spur leads to the summit of Mt Hallowell itself.

At just under 300 metres in height, Mt Hallowell is hardly a true mountain, however it provides spectacular 270° views across the landscape, taking in everything from the rolling farmland that surrounds Denmark to the rugged coast.

To the south-east, Denmark's two wind turbines can be seen - a precursor to the iconic wind farm further along the coast that indicates to walkers that Albany is not far away. With lovely weather and great views, Alissa and I stopped for lunch here and chatted to other walkers enjoying time out on the Sheila Hill Track.

Continuing back on the Bibbulmun, the track begins its descent, offering even more superb views of the mature Karri forest.

Wooden posts and cairns provide waymarkers for the descent. These are fairly easy to follow.  Although less steep and difficult than Toolbrunup or Talyuberlup in the Stirling Range, this descent proved to be particularly treacherous; both Alissa and I slipped and fell at different points, with Alissa breaking one of her new trekking poles and me spraining my right wrist. This is definitely terrain that needs to be treated with some respect and caution.

The descent is definitely the long way down - there are points where the track descends steeply, on the rise again - the above section with railing being the most extreme example. 

Nearer to the bottom the track levels out and reaches a junction. Originally, the Sheila Hill Memorial Track continued straight ahead, but for whatever reason now continues on with the Bibbulmun Track. The Sheila Hill does not have an obvious end point, but looking at where the trail used to go, I would suggest that Ocean Beach Rd is the trail's final destination. 

The trail passes by some low density residential areas nestled in Karri forest, before reaching the corner of Ocean Beach and Cotswold Roads. Those doing a one way walk could park a second car here, while those looking to do a return walk would simply turn around and head back to the car park on Lights Rd. 

I wouldn't usually double up on a walk that has its entire length run concurrently with the Bibbulmun Track, however we were so impressed by the Sheila Hill Memorial Track that we felt it deserved to be more well known, being either a great short one-way walk or a challenging but entirely worthwhile return walk. In appearance, its very similar to the experience of walking in the Porongurups, and its proximity to Denmark makes it a very obvious option for people holidaying nearby. As with the obscure Mt Lindesay Walk Trail nearby, the Sheila Hill Memorial Track is another excellent walk that has been a well kept secret for far too long. 


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