Sunday, 4 June 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - White Horse Hills to Mt Wells

Day two of a three day hike on the Bibbulmun Track, White Horse Hills to Mt Wells is another enjoyable day of walking. Starting in the White Horse Hills, the track traverses a rugged granite-dominated ridge to reach a beautiful gnamma pool on the southern summit. Descending to pleasant forest walking before rising to Mt Wells, the old fire lookout tower and towermen's hut make for a unique overnight experience. 

Distance: 16 km (one way)
Gradient: Some steep sections descending away from the White Horse Hills and rising to Mt Wells, with relatively gentle terrain in between.
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained.
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 4.5 Hours, including a lunch break
Steps: Many informal steps
Best Time to Visit: Late Autumn/Early Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: No direct access to either campsites - this area is deep within the Disease Risk Area and should not be accessed by vehicles due to the risk of spreading Dieback. 

With many other hikers to chat with as we sat around the fire, Alissa and I ended up going to bed much later than we usually would on the Bibbulmun. Besides conversation, the main reason we were up so late is that I had been in charge of the fire and had put a far too massive piece of wood in the fire pit. Feeling responsible for the fire, we decided to stay awake waiting for it to burn down. In the end, it looked like we may be staying up the whole night so we doused the log in water to ensure we didn't have an unattended fire going right through to morning!

After a fantastically restful sleep in our tent, Alissa and I woke to the White Horse Hills campsite being covered in a veil of mist. A very light and sporadic sprinkling of rain falling on our tent was about as heavy a downpour as we would experience over the three days. Packing up a wet tent is not exactly one of my favourite things, but with sunny skies forecast for the rest of the day I made a mental note to take the tent out to dry when we reached Mt Wells.

The misty forest made for a lovely start to the day, imbuing the somewhat ordinary Jarrah forest with an almost cinematic moodiness.

Similar to our day walking from Mt Chance to Woolbales, the light drizzle and dew had been caught on all the spiderwebs, making them pop out throughout the forest. The example above was just the most brilliant of the many we passed along the way.

The White Horse Hills campsite is actually located on a saddle between two peaks, and after some flat and slightly downhill walking, the Bibbulmun rises up to the next peak in the hills. The terrain became increasingly rugged as we continued up the hill, and as a fan of rocky terrain I was really enjoying this early stage of the walk.

The jumble of increasingly massive boulders made for very impressive walking, and the section had a very similar character to the iconic granite landscape of Mt Cooke. Fans of the Bibbulmun Track days in Monadnocks Conservation Park will definitely enjoy this stretch of the track.

Although the misty morning was something of a gift in the forests near the campsite, it was also something of a curse when trying to take in the views of the surrounding landscape. While waiting for Alissa at one point of the track, I found a makeshift side trip running off the Bibbulmun to a nice viewpoint that could probably be used as a stealth camping location. Unfortunately, the wall of mist obscured any views beyond. Alissa and I were reminded of the weather we had encountered between Cradle Mountain and Waterfall Valley on our first day of the Overland Track, where valley views were similarly obscured by walls of cloud cover.

A major landmark along this stretch of the track is a large cracked granite boulder with a smaller (but still massive) boulder balanced on top. Looking like a mini version of Balancing Rock in the Porongurups, Alissa and I spent a bit of time taking photos of this beautiful natural feature, including a somewhat silly photo of me that Alissa was able to immediately post to Instagram thanks to the excellent phone reception available on all the hills in the area.

After Mini Balancing Rock, Alissa and I continued along the enjoyably rugged terrain. Our old Northern Half guidebook suggested that we would have to 'scramble up through a jumble of rocks' however this was an extreme exaggeration; at no time did we have to use our hands to pull ourselves up through the granite, with the gradients being no more than what I would expect on a Class 3 or 4 trail.

Reaching the southern summit of the White Horse Hills, Alissa and I were blown away by the beauty of a large gnamma pool found near the highest point. Although we have seen similar pools on Abyssinia Rock, Mt Cuthbert and Sullivan Rock, this pool was larger and deeper, and served as a fitting grand finale to this stunning and rugged section of the track.

From the gnamma pool on the southern summit, the track immediately descends from the White Horse Hills as it once again enters the Jarrah forest in the plains below.

As with the previous day, the forest walking was less exciting than the rugged terrain higher up, however Alissa and I agreed this stretch of the track between White Horse Hills and Hume Tank was very enjoyable due to the fairly open understorey and the prevalence of some mature and shady Jarrah. Yes, it may have been a few kilometres walking down an old vehicle track, but this was one of the better vehicle track stretches along the track.

After about 3 kilometres of walking along the old vehicle track, Alissa and I turned onto Hume Tank Rd. We knew that a major landmark along this stretch of track was an old water tank and campsite, so the sight of a sign with a 'W' symbol on it indicated that we were not far.

The course that the Bibbulmun takes to Hume Tank is bizarrely convoluted. As we walked along Hume Tank Rd, Alissa and I could see the tank and campsite through the trees just to the left of the track. Clearly making use of the established vehicle tracks, the Bibbulmun simply continues on past the tanks before turn onto a side road that then doubles back to Hume Tank! Given that the tank is so close to Hume Tank Rd, a short section of walk trail could easily be built to cut this unnecessary corner off and make the route more direct.

Hume Tank and the lean-to shelter located next to it are the remnants of an old logging camp. The tank is empty apart from discarded rubbish and the shelter is mostly collapsed, but they do provide a fascinating insight into the forestry heritage in the area.

From Hume Tank, the Bibbulmun again continues along old vehicle tracks. The forest along this section was less special than what we had encountered earlier in the day, however the easy terrain did at least make the five kilometres of pleasant but unremarkable walking pass by fairly quickly. Nevertheless, Alissa and I were getting pretty hungry by the end of the five kilometres, and we stopped for a lunch break just before tackling the ascent of Mt Wells.

The ascent of Mt Wells starts by following an old and somewhat eroded vehicle track. The ascent is described as being 'somewhat challenging', however Alissa and I thought it was easier than the previous day's ascent to White Horse Hills and far easier than some of the steep ascents further down the track, such as the ascent of Mt Clare just before Walpole.

After following the vehicle track for 600 metres, the Bibbulmun turns onto purpose built single file walk trail for 500 metres before following the old access road to the summit. This old road has been blocked with fallen trees to make it impassable by cars.

Although it may prevent cars from using the old road as route to access Mt Wells, it is not 100% effective - when I reached the summit I was greeted by a massive group of dirt bike riders who had ridden to the summit for what looked like a picnic lunch. I'm not sure that they should have been there at all given that this is a Bibbulmun Track campsite, and I was initially concerned that they might be staying the night. Thankfully, they were a friendly enough group, and after talking to a few of them I was able to ascertain that they were staying at somewhere called 'The Farm' nearby.

Mt Wells is a unique campsite on the Bibbulmun Track as it is the only hut that is an actual hut rather than just a three-sided shelter, and features an old but still functioning lookout tower that used to be used by towermen to scan the horizon for signs of fire. The towermen used to live for weeks or months in what is now the Bibbulmun Track hut, making it a special and historic place.

The hut feature two bedrooms - a small one person space that opens out to the undercover patio area...

...and a larger space that could comfortably sleep five or six people. An additional room with a table and fireplace serves as the perfect place to sit and eat dinner on a wet and windy night but could also be used as an overflow for more hikers during particularly busy periods. Alissa had been skeptical of the hut, fearing it would be a rickety old thing like Du Cane Hut on the Overland Track, however we were pleasantly surprised by the facilities on offer. Knowing that the three ladies we had met the previous day would also be joining us, we decided to leave the larger main room for them and took the one person space for ourselves. Although a bit cramped, we were able to fit both our inflatable mattresses onto the sleeping platform if we slept head to toe. The reason the platform was so narrow is because the door opens into the space, and I just wish that DPaW had moved the door to open outwards and then extended the platform out so two people could comfortably sleep in this room.

As with the previous day, I took it upon myself to get the fire going, again doing so without fire starters. Back when we did the Balingup to Pemberton section of the track last year, Alissa had challenged me to start a fire without fire starters at Beavis campsite. With the very experienced Jerry watching on, I choked under the pressure and in the end let Jerry take over. Getting two good fires going without starters was something of a redemption for my failure last year, and I half-jokingly said to Alissa that I had to prove to Jerry that I could do it!

Considering that Mt Wells has a lookout tower, one would assume that it would have excellent views. Sadly, the upper platform that would have been used by the towermen is blocked off, and a hiker's lookout platform is located halfway up.

This is no where near high enough, with the mountain's banksia forest preventing hikers from seeing the surrounding landscape beyond. In younger days, I would probably had considered ignoring DPaW's signage advising not to climb higher as the access ladder up to the top can be easily reached from the viewing platform. As a public blog with a decent readership, I decided to set a good example and refrain from climbing up the ladder just for the sake of a couple of better photos. I wouldn't recommend anyone climb up the ladder given that it has no safety cage. I do however understand why some individuals would climb higher, and it would be nice if DPaW could make a higher viewing platform to prevent people from being tempted to take an unnecessary risk.

White Horse Hills to Mt Wells was another excellent day of walking on the Bibbulmun Track, with a good balance of rugged walking through the White Horse Hills and pleasant, easy walking through the Jarrah forests below, and would rank as one of my favourite days in the Kalamunda to Dwellingup section of the track. The historic aspects of this section add another layer of interest, with Hume Tank, the fire lookout and the deluxe fully-enclosed hut enriching the walking experience. My only major criticism would be that public access to a higher up level of the tower would provide far better views, as the current viewing platform is not high enough to see beyond the height of the surrounding Banksia forest. This is however a minor complaint in the scheme of an otherwise enjoyable day, and as with the previous day, Alissa and I would happily walk this section again in the future. 


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