Sunday, 14 August 2016

Piesse Gully Loop (Kalamunda National Park)

A tough but rewarding walk in Kalamunda National Park, the Piesse Gully Loop is the longer version of the Rocky Pool Walk Trail. Following rugged, uneven tracks up steep inclines, the trail takes walkers up and down valley slopes and past large granite formations before reaching the idyllic Rocky Pool along Piesse Brook. A must do for seasoned hikers, this is an ideal training walk for those looking to tackle challenging terrain. 

Distance: 7.5 km (loop)
Gradient: Variable, with several long and very steep ascents and descents. 
Quality of Path: Largely clear, however the steep ascents and descents are severely damaged by erosion and provide for uneven and challenging walking
Quality of Signage: Poorly signed as the Piesse Gully Loop, however walkers can use the signage from several other trails to help navigate. The Shire of Kalamunda's Schipp Rd Walk and Rocky Pool Walk guides would be helpful
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 1.5-2 Hours
Steps: No steps, but uneven and steep paths are not wheelchair accessible
Best Time to Visit: Mid Winter-Early Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the end of Schipp Rd, off Hummerston and Mundaring Weir Rds. 

Rocky Pool is arguably the jewel in the crown of Kalamunda National Park. In spite of this fact, accessing Rocky Pool is something of a confusing mess. At least two trails are clearly signed and take walkers to the pool - the most direct one starts at Schipp Rd and is called the Piesse Brook Trail but was formerly known as the Rocky Pool Walk, while the longer walk has now taken on the Rocky Pool Walk mantle but starts at Spring Rd.

Meanwhile several walk trails go near the pool without giving walkers any indication that a grand natural feature is nearby, including the Schipp Road Trail which largely runs concurrently with the Piesse Brook Trail but then turns onto the Bibbulmun Track before reaching the pool. Curiously, the Bibbulmun Track itself bypasses Rocky Pool in spite of being less than 100 metres away from it! And to add just one more layer of confusion to this situation, there is also a completely unrelated Rocky Pool in John Forrest National Park.

The most epic of the Rocky Pool walks is outlined in the old (but still in print) CALM publication More Family Walks in Perth Outdoors. Called the Piesse Gully Loop, the trail appears to have since been cut in two to become the Rocky Pool Walk Trail and Schipp Road Trail by using an intersecting section of the Bibbulmun Track to create shorter loops. For clarity's sake, I have drawn the different walks in the map above - Piesse Gully Loop (Orange), Rocky Pool Walk Trail (Blue), Schipp Road Trail (Teal), Piesse Brook Trail (Magenta) and the intersecting section of the Bibbulmun (Yellow). Like the similarly 'lost' Mason & Bird Heritage Trail, the Piesse Gully Loop may not be clearly marked but it is still very much walkable. If you've done the Rocky Pool Walk (ably covered by Life of Py and Nature Mondays) but would like a longer, more challenging variation, this is the trail for you.

The trail starts at the end of Schipp Road, and begins by following the Piesse Brook Trail for a short distance. To the right of the broad vehicle track is a bridge across the brook. Although walkers continue on straight and will not cross this bridge, it is a good landmark to keep in mind. 

A short distance after the bridge is a turn off heading left up the valley. If following the anti-clockwise direction of the Piesse Gully Loop as written in More Family Walks, this is where you would return at the end of the loop. I don't recommend walking the loop anti-clockwise however, as I once got considerably lost doing the loop in 2010 after missing a crucial turn and had to bush bash down the valley. Instead, follow this turn off up the hill, as there will be much clearer navigational signage to follow in the clockwise direction during the more confusing sections of the walk.

This is a fairly serious incline that is sure to get the heart rate up, with the terrain made all the more challenging due to the track's severe erosion damage. This is one of the Piesse Gully Loop's main attractions - there are few places in Perth as steep and consistently uphill as this track is, making it an excellent training ground for difficult mountain walks in the Stirling Range and beyond.

What's more - all the vertical climbing is worth the effort, as walkers are rewarded with expansive views of the rolling hills and valleys of Kalamunda National Park. 

To top it all off, this is serious granite country, and the area is gifted with massive outcrops throughout. Some of the trees near the top of the valley appear to be fairly mature too - a rare treat given the usually thin and scrappy appearance of much of the Jarrah forest. 

Walkers will notice a sharp increase in track quality as the Piesse Gully Loop reaches a section shared with the Bibbulmun Track. To the left are a set of stairs that head towards Jorgensen Park and the Bibbulmun's Northern Terminus, however walkers on the loop should instead keep going straight. 

Roughly 100 metres after joining the Bibbulmun Track, the Bibbulmun branches off to the right on a purpose built walk trail down the valley. To the left of the turn off is the marker tree pictured above. The marker below the yellow Waugal is a teal coloured directional marker for the Schipp Rd Trail, while the darker green/blue marker above is for the Rocky Pool Walk Trail. From this point on, navigation becomes easy; both the Piesse Gully Loop and Rocky Pool Walk Trail head in the same direction so its a matter of following the Green/Blue markers to the Rocky Pool. 

The track reaches a T Junction, with the Piesse Gully Loop turning left towards the Spring Road car park. The trail heads west from here, before loop around north. 

This section is again on a steep, heavily eroded track as it rises even higher up the valley. 

As with the earlier incline, the increase in elevation is rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of the forests and rocky outcrops of the National Park. In the distance, the massive pylons of Powerline Rd can be seen - Bibbulmun Track walkers will be very familiar with these as the cross they track here in the park as well as along Brookton and Albany Hwys

Another interesting sight along this stretch of the track is an area of forest understorey absolutely dominated by Grass Trees. I've never seen such a density of Grass Trees anywhere else in the Darling Scarp - and its not like they are particularly rare in these parts!

Continuing along the track, walkers will encounter an old Waugal marker that suggests the Bibbulmun used to head this way a long time ago. Not long after the Waugal, the track branches to the right to a very steep descent from the very top of the valley right to Piesse Brook. 

Sections of this descent are steeper than the ascending earlier on along the walk, with the track alternating between muddy, heavily eroded or a combination of both. Unless you have the sure footedness of a trail runner, I would suggesting taking extra care in this section .

At the bottom of the descent, a trail marker suggests you should head into an area of forest to the left. The trail disappears at this point before eventually connecting to a vehicle track. If consulting the Rocky Pool Walk guide from the Shire of Kalamunda's website, the following information pertains to this turn off: 'A divergence in the track. In winter, due to the flow of water, it is necessary to deviate to the left through a grove of saplings. The track is indistinct but generally follows the creek line. Look for a blue marker on a dark Red Gum'.

Sure enough - if you head straight the track reaches a point where the Piesse Brook flows right through. While I had gone around through the grove of saplings, I tested out the rocks and fallen branch and found the water course easy enough to cross. 

Looking upstream from the middle of the crossing reveals the brook to be lined by large granite boulders, serving as a precursor of Rocky Pool. 

The Track passes under the massive pylons seen earlier. After appreciating the serenity, the trail branches off in a few directions; if you are confused, take the track that runs closest to the brook. 

At last, the Piesse Gully Loop brings walkers to the lovely Rocky Pool - a natural swimming hole surrounded by large granite boulders. Being mid-August and coming after a good week of rains, the Rocky Pool was at its most spectacular and I ended up spending 20 minutes taking photos and scrambling around. 

From the Rocky Pool, walkers will encounter a series of information panels that belong to the Piesse Brook Trail. These signs can be very informative, and also serve as way markers for walkers heading back to Schipp Rd - these signs run all the way from here back to the car, and walkers will now disregard the Rocky Pool Trail's markers. 

100 metres from the Rocky Pool, the Bibbulmun Track crosses the Piesse Gully Loop. This is where walkers on the Rocky Pool Walk would turn off to return to Spring Rd. Oddly, there is no indication at this point that Rocky Pool is just around the corner, and I'm sure many Bibbulmun hikers would pass through completely unaware of the stunning natural feature just a short distance away. A spur trail sign like the ones seen at Sullivan Rock and the Cascades would be a welcome addition.

From there, its a pleasant and easy amble back to the car park at Schipp Rd. Given the rarity of hilly terrain in Perth, the Piesse Gully Loop's challenging inclines makes it a perfect training trail for those looking to get fit for walking in mountainous terrain, and I would consider this a harder ascent than Mt Cooke from Mt Cooke Hut on the Bibbulmun Track - and easier to get to. Additionally, the trail remains engaging over its decent length, offering stunning views across the hills and valleys, with the Rocky Pool being the ultimate reward after a session of serious bushwalking. While I would not recommend this to hiking neophytes, this is definitely one to be savoured by hardcore bushwalkers who love a bit of a challenge. 


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