Thursday, 29 September 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Boarding House to Beavis

Day six of an eight day hike on the Bibbulmun Track, Boarding House to Beavis is infamous due to being considered the Track's hardest day. Filled with so many ascents and descents that it is known as the 'Donnelly River Rollercoaster', the day's highlight is a steep plunge from one side of the valley and an immediate climb up the other. With many fallen trees as further obstacles, this is challenging but rewarding day of walking.  

Distance: 21.1 km (one way)
Gradient: Continuously hilly, with some very steep descents and ascents
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained, though there were many large fallen trees across the path (these have since been cleared)
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 7 Hours, including lunch break
Steps: Many formal steps
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Summer
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: This section was walked from campsite to campsite, and there is no easy way of walking this as a day hike

When planning for our Balingup to Pemberton walk, I prepared Alissa for the fact that our sixth day was going to be 'the hard one'. The day of walking from Boarding House to Beavis has become notorious amongst Bibbulmun Track hikers due to the fact it contains some the toughest hills over the entire track, and the elevation graph features a daunting stretch of track plunging steeply down only to climb up immediately after. As such, we prepared ourselves both physically and mentally for what would prove to be a challenging but enjoyable section of the Track.

The day actually start out quite nicely, with the track gradually rising through the Karri forest and providing walkers with views of the valley below.

Much of this early part of the day is along the old Wirraway Formation and as such provides for fairly gentle walking.

After following the formation for about five kilometres, the track descends steeply to Wirraway Bridge - another bridge constructed out of a single fallen Karri. I had been looking forward to the Boarding House Bridge as I had known about it since the Bibbulmun opened, however Wirraway Bridge was a lovely surprise.

The lush, ferny and moss-covered area around the Wirraway Bridge is pretty magical, and reminded Alissa of Neates Glen along the Blue Mountains' Grand Canyon Walk.

Immediately after crossing the Wirraway Bridge, the track ascends steeply up a switchback.

This was the start of the Donnelly River Rollercoaster, with the terrain becoming increasingly hilly from this point onward.

Expecting the worst, we had a few heart-stopping moments as we came around a corner only to see the track apparently rise up steep, heavily eroded vehicle tracks. Thankfully, walking a bit further revealed the Bibbulmun to not be quite as cruel as mistress, with the Track branching off the vehicle track and following a more reasonable (but still hilly) path instead.

The night before, Alissa and I met a man and his son walking in the opposite direction to us, and we were warned about a lot of fallen trees along this section, including some Karris that would need to be climbed over. From afar, I optimistically hoped that cuts into a fallen Karri were the incredibly swift work of maintenance volunteers, however upon closer inspection it was clear that this was an older tree that had fallen in a previous season. 

Although there were a few trees fallen across the track, two stood out as the major obstacles of the day.

The first was easier to negotiate, as other walkers had clearly dug a small tunnel to crawl through under the tree.

When not looking out for obstacles, the walking was very pleasant and again offered lovely views down to the Donnelly River below.

The second tree was considerably harder that the first, having no space to crawl under, and a sheer drop to the left that made climbing over dangerous.

As such, there was no where else for us to go but up, and we climbed up the valley and followed the fallen Karri up to its roots.

Having to navigate our way over a fallen Tingle between Giants and Frankland was actually one of the highlights of that secion of the Track, and having to find our way around this fallen Karri was similarly exciting and enjoyable. Climbing down the other side and continuing along, we encountered a few other fallen trees, but nothing as epic or difficult.

The Bibbulmun Track crosses the river again at the Lease Rd Bridge, and provided a clear reference point to judge how far in we were.

Immediately after the bridge, the Bibbulmun follows Lease Rd steeply up the hill before veering off along a regrowth boundary. The regrowth areas can be incredibly dense and not overly exciting, however it is followed by a section that follows the rim of the Donnelly River Valley that provides some good views. The guidebook is careful not to oversell the views however, and accurately refers to any views as being 'glimpses' given the dense scrub. 

After following the valley's rim, the track takes a sharp turn right.

This is the beginning of the day's biggest descent from the rim of the valley right down to a creek crossing. The photo above does not do justice to the steepness of the descent and I pulled out a GoPro to film the entire descent and ascent. Unfortunately I had only received the GoPro a few days before leaving, and clearly had not quite mastered how to us it; when I got home to check out the footage, I realised that it was in still mode and that I had only taken a still of the start of the walk and of the end!

The descent is via a constantly zig-zagging switchback that is nevertheless quite steep. Even with trekking poles, the shock of the descent could still be felt in my knees, and I would definitely see trekking poles as a must have item for this stretch of the track.

The above photograph of formed steps gives you some indication of how steeply the track descends - it almost looks like a spiral staircase!

Reaching the bottom of the valley, the Bibbulmun crosses a bridge over a small creek, providing a lovely respite before having to face the very steep ascent on the other side.

Immediately across the bridge, the track rises steeply to commence the day's most intense ascent. Photos do not do this ascent justice, and I am kicking myself that I didn't press record properly on the GoPro as it is really tough going.

People who have walked with me will attest to the fact that my philosophy in regards to hills is to try and maintain a similar walking speed going up as I would on flat, and just push harder. Generally speaking I can make it all the way to the top of most Bibbulmun Track hills without resting, but this hill was something else and I had to stop multiple times to catch my breath.

At the top of the ascent is a clearing that looks like an informal campsite, and just beyond it is this log which served as a perfect resting spot to wait for Alissa and then to have our lunch break.

The soil type across the top of the valley is completely different to the Karri loams that had been the norm for the rest of the day. Instead of loam, the soils were sandy with quartzite rocks displaying banded lines of sedimentary layers. The change in soil type also meant a significant change in the forest, with Jarrah and a plethora of wildflowers on display.

This change of vegetation was interesting, and I could kind of see the logic of the track's steep ascent as a way of showing off this transition. After walking across the top of the valley, the track descends again down the other side.

The descent is initially fairly easy going, but becomes increasingly steep switchbacks as it transitions back to Karri forest. Alissa and I agreed that this day of walking would be much harder going in the opposite direction, and were glad to have gone from Balingup to Pemberton rather than the other way around given that we also walked Cardiac Hill in the better direction.

Reaching the bottom of the valley, the Bibbulmun again runs along the Donnelly River's banks. With all the rains, this low-lying section of the track was fairly muddy with many large puddles right in the middle. 

This section was actually our least favourite of the day, as the extremely dense riverside understorey made for somewhat boring and mentally challenging walking. Occasionally, breaks in the understorey allowed for lovely views of the Donnelly River but by this stage we just really wanted to get to the Beavis campsite as soon as possible.

As the Bibbulmun veers away from the Donnelly River, it enters an area with several very large Karris and with less understorey density. This made for somewhat better walking, and also serves as an indicator that Beavis campsite is not far away. 

Nestled in the Karri forest, Beavis used to be the first of the Nornalup style huts along the track, however the new rammed earth huts at Brookton and Possum Springs means thru-hikers will encounter this style a lot earlier. Although lacking the cool bunks of the other hut styles, the Nornalup style is more spacious and we were able to spread out a bit more than usual.

An excellent feature of Beavis campsite is the provision of a dam for hikers to have a bit of a swim, similar to the larger dam that can be found at Schafer campsite. Although we had had fairly sunny weather, the water was very cold on the day we walked the track and I ended up going in no further than waist deep, washing off a bit and getting out. Which is just as well, given that there were leeches in the water!

The dam wall has a slow leak, with water flowing over the wooden logs as a bit of a peaceful water feature. 

While Alissa, Helle, Jerry and I were relaxing at Beavis, we had an encounter with a somewhat confused day hiker. Wearing Vans, a stylish but ill-fitting backpack and casual clothes that were not fit for purpose, he walked into the campsite and looked to be heading up the vehicle service track that leads away from the hut. Asking if he needed help, he asked when the track loops back to the start. Given that the Bibbulmun is not a loop, we wondered what he was talking about. Although he was very vague, Alissa was able to ascertain that he had parked his car at Beedelup Falls and attempted the 4.5 kilometre loop walk, but somehow missed the turn off back to Karri Valley Resort and continued on the Bibbulmun Track - for almost 20 kilometres! 

Getting late and worried for his safety given how woefully unprepared he was, we suggested that he stay with us at the hut as we had an emergency blanket and plenty of food between us to share, however he was keen to get going and get back to his car. As he was filling his 750ml water bottle (again, not fit for purpose), Alissa kept offering him some muesli bars as we were very concerned for his well being, but he kept insisting 'No, no, no... it is my mistake and should be my burden to bear!' Eventually, Alissa convinced him that it was in his interest to take something just in case, and he took them with gratitude. After he left, the four of us could not work out how someone could overshoot a turn off by such a long distance - surely after a few hours and crossing several roads, you'd think 'this can't be right!' and turn around! It takes all kinds I guess, and Jerry knew of at least one hiker a few days ahead of us who was just as unprepared when he started his End to End in Kalamunda!

Although Boarding House to Beavis was a challenging day of walking, Alissa and I agreed that it was actually one of our favourite days of the walk. Even with climbing over fallen trees and the famously steep descent and ascent, the only part we didn't like was the boring section towards the end that followed the river through thick understorey - and that was some of the easiest walking of the day! I think expectation plays a major part in how you approach a day like this; since we knew it would be hard we were fully prepared for the worst, and it was within the realms of what we had imagined. If anything the next day to Beedelup proved to be more challenging as we had not expected it to be as hard and boring through the regrowth forest. While I wouldn't be recommending Boarding House to Beavis to just anyone, this was definitely a memorable day on the track that would be enjoyable for hikers who like a challenge. 


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