Saturday, 22 July 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Yarragil Form to Driver Rd

A long sectional day walk on the Bibbulmun Track, Yarragil Form to Driver Rd explores a section of Lane Poole Reserve. Badly burnt by the Waroona Fires of 2016, the first half of the walk is dominated by bleak, blackened forest before reaching the Murray River and the Murray campsite. Following the river and the Murray River Valley's rim, the walk greatly improves as it makes its way to the Driver Rd crossing.

Distance: 27.6 km (one way)
Gradient: A mix of steep ascents/descents and sections of relatively flat walking along the valley's rim and the banks of the Murray River.
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: 6-7 Hours, including a short lunch break
Steps: Some steps
Best Time to Visit: Late Autumn-Early Spring
Entry Fee: Yes - Natonal Park fees apply to enter Lane Poole Reserve. 
Getting There: Yarragil Form and Driver Rd are both accessed from Nanga Rd south from Pinjarra-Williams Rd. Yarragil Form is within Lane Poole Reserve. From Park Rd, continue through the park past the main campsites (Charlies Flat, Tonys Bend and Yarragil) to the Bibbulmun Track crossing. Driver Rd is reached by continuing Nanga Rd to a T Junction with Driver Rd. Following Driver Rd eastwards to a low river crossing. The Driver Rd access point is 200 metres up the road from the river crossing. The river crossing can be impassible during heavy winter rains. 

Having completed our excellent trip to Karijini National Park, Alissa and I turned our focus back onto our biggest mission for 2017 - to complete our sectional End to End of the Bibbulmun Track. With seven days of walking left to do, we agreed to tackle these last few sections in sequential order, working our way southwards to our final day walking into Balingup. As such, Alissa and I set out for a weekend in Dwellingup to complete Yarragil Form to Harvey-Quindanning Rd - a section of the track that includes Murray and Dookanelly campsites, as well as the newly opened bridge over the Murray River. The plan was to walk from Yarragil Form to Driver Rd, drive off the track to Lane Poole Reserve and camp at Charlies Flats, and then return to Driver Rd the next day to tackle the walk from there to Harvey-Quindanning Rd. By breaking it up this way, Alissa and I could walk with day packs and split the kilometres more evenly between the two days.

It had been a while since Alissa and I have done a car shuffle section of the Bibbulmun near Dwellingup and we both had not considered how much time it would take for us to actually drive down from Perth, park our second car at Driver Rd and then get to Yarragil Form to walk a somewhat lengthy 27.6 kilometre section of track. Waking up at 7 am was our first mistake, and then a series of bad decisions/a comedy of errors ensued - Alissa had to refuel her car, we stopped in for breakfast at McDonald's instead of just getting take away, we took a wrong turn in Lane Poole Reserve and then second guessed how far down the road Yarragil Form was, doubled back, realised we were right the first time and then finally arrived at our start location at around 10:50 am! To add to the comical number of errors, I reached into my bag to check the guide book and realised that I'd grabbed the wrong one!

Looking at the time and distance got us worried - we'd be chasing sunset the whole day, and it was almost certain it would be dark by the time we reached Lane Poole. Doing the math, we would need to maintain an average pace of 4.2 km/h inclusive of rests, stopping for photographs and lunch. This would be doable (we've done faster) but it meant we really had to motor. Unfortunately, the first kilometre from Yarragil Form is a steep ascent which served as an immediate hand brake to our progress.

Going straight into a sharp ascent was something of a shock to the system for Alissa, and I realised halfway up that I'd gone a bit too far ahead. While waiting for Alissa, I was able to take in the views across the valley. This whole area from Yarragil Form through to the other side of Murray campsite had been significantly burnt by the Waroona Fires of 2016, and while the landscape has been badly scarred the more open canopy allows for clearer views.

Unfortunately, the positives of clearer views were greatly outweighed by the negatives of walking through an endless landscape of bunt trees. Perhaps it was the fact we were stressed about getting to the end of the walk before sunset or that we'd just come from absolutely world class landscapes in Karijini National Park, but our patience for somewhat dull and repetitive scenery was very low and I have to admit that Alissa and I did not enjoy this first section of the walk. At least the terrain was fairly easy once we made it up the first ascent, with the track following the valley's rim.

5.6 kilometres in, the track descends to an ephemeral stream. While there was little water even after a fairly wet July, the stream is crossed via a small bridge.

Given how horribly burnt the area is, Alissa and I wondered if the bridge had somehow survived the fire or if this was a replacement. The former would seem like something of a miracle, but stranger this have happened - both Murray and Canning campsites were mere metres away from intense flames in the last few years yet somehow escaped mostly unscathed.

After ascending up the other side of the stream, the trail heads through an area filled with recovering Grass Trees. Recalling how stunning and lush the Jarrah and Grass Tree-heavy forest is on the other side of Yarragil Form (or least it was in 2015), I was sad that we hadn't walked this section before the fire. Back in October 2015 we nearly did do this section, however the realignment of the Nanga and Driver intersection got us very confused when we were trying to set up our car shuffle and we ended up walking from Inglehope Rail Crossing to Nanga Rd instead. Needless to say, I was kicking myself when I heard about the Waroona Fires, and I was doing so yet again while we were walking what I'm sure was once a really lovely section of the track.

The burnt forest reached peak bleakness as we descended through an area so significantly burnt that many of the trees were little more than burnt out stumps similar to the one pictured to the left of the photo above.

The scenery greatly improved as we followed an old vehicle track downhill. Without the guidebook, Alissa and I had to simply guess that this descent was leading us down to the Murray River and that we were now not far from the Murray campsite.

After crossing a 4WD track that is not listed as an official Bibbulmun Track access point (and yet is well signed), Alissa and I were pleased to reach the banks of the Murray River.

Although this area was also burnt by the Waroona Fires, the damage was either not as bad as the dry forests earlier along the walk or it had recovered much quicker. Whatever the case, Alissa and I were happy to be walking along some dedicated single file walking track for a change instead of the vehicle tracks and railway formations that had made up most of the day's kilometres.

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
Although only 1.5 kilometres from the 4WD crossing, the walk to Murray campsite took far longer than we expected. Very close to the point where a lightning strike started the Waroona Fire, it is incredible that the hut somehow survived the inferno - if the winds had been headed in the other direction it could very well have been a different story. Although the trees surrounding Murray campsite are covered in epicormic buds and blackened bark,  Murray is still quite a lovely spot - far better than the bleakness surrounding Blackwood hut for instance.

Checking the time while we ate our lunch, Alissa and I realised that our current pace was not going to cut it if we wanted to beat sunset. With no time to waste, Alissa and I cut our lunch break to a very brief 15 minutes before heading back out on the trail. Initially following a narrow trail through dense undergrowth alongside the Murray Fireline, the Bibbulmun crosses the Fireline before rising steeply up the valley slope. At the time Alissa and I were cursing the route alignment as we didn't need any further delays, but we would later appreciate the wisdom behind the route alignment.

The views across the Murray River Valley were an enjoyable highlight of this section, with the more open canopy being one of the only benefits of the fire.

Walking along the rim of the valley, the trail runs along some granite outcrops that give the area a slightly rugged appearance. While less impressive than the granite-dominated walking along the Monadnocks, Mt Cooke and the White Horse Hills, the outcrops were a nice feature of this section of the track.

Another nice surprise was the number of streams that ran across the track, providing several gentle cascades for Alissa and I to admire. This section of the track passes through the area with the highest annual rainfall in the Darling Scarp, and the constantly flowing water made us think of the Overland Track.

Descending back down the valley, an interesting feature of the track is a series of wooden logs that aid walkers in crossing a stream. I've seen a number of these along the track - most notably between Lake Maringup and Dog Pool, and between Mt Wells and Dwellingup - however we've usually encountered them during a dry period when it was not needed, or found them to be so badly weathered that they are quite useless. Surprisingly, these were actually perfectly usable even if the tops had been burnt by the fire.

From the stepping stones, the Bibbulmun runs close to the river once again.

Although the scenery was better from Murray campsite onwards, the constant views of burnt forest and knowing how much better this area would have been just two years prior started to get to Alissa and I. Throw in the above average kilometres, and we were well and truly looking forward to getting to the end.

For much of this section, the Bibbulmun runs parallel to the Murray Fireline. At one point along the walk, we heard a convoy of four wheel drives heading south down the road. I'm not one for hitching and definitely want to finish the Bibbulmun properly, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to run to the road to try and hitch a ride to our car at Driver Rd.

Just as well we didn't as I would have missed out on one of the highlights of the day - a particularly close encounter with a Kangaroo. While it is possible to get very close to tame Kangaroos in places like Yanchep National Park and Donnelly River Village, most of the Kangaroos along the track are more wary and skittish. While the Kangaroo pictured above was still slightly cautious, it allowed me to get quite close as I took its photo, and we stared at each other for over a minute. Having become quite bored of the burnt track conditions, this encounter really lifted my spirits.

As the track descended to run alongside the Murray River, the appearance of Paperbarks growing in the river looked very similar to the section of the river where the Driver Rd crossing is found. While we didn't want to get our hopes up, we were finally beginning to feel that we were getting somewhere!

Heading further away from the deeply burnt section of the forest, Alissa and I found ourselves in a section of forest that looked very similar to where the Bibbulmun Track meets Driver Rd. Having known that there was a controlled burn through this area in May, a slightly smoky smell made us feel very confident that were now on the home stretch.

For those approaching the Driver Rd access point, a series of somewhat slippery stone steps serve as a good landmark - its only a few hundred metres from there to the road.

Heading through a particularly blackened section of forest, Alissa and I were delighted to see our car on the other side.

It was 5:15 pm, and we were relieved to have beaten sunset by 15 minutes. Arriving in Lane Poole in the dark, Alissa and I got confused about the name of our campsite, and as our final foolish mistake of the trip, we ended up rocking up to Tony's Bend instead of Charlie's Flat. Finding someone in 'our space', they kindly pointed us in the right direction. Being so late at night and with rain forecast overnight, Alissa and I decided not to set up our tent and instead lowered the back seat of the X-Trail and slept in the back of the car.
Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The next morning, Alissa and I were pretty shattered from the relatively long kilometres after being pampered by all the short walks in Karijini. With pretty poor weather forecast, Alissa and I decided to pull the pin on our second day of walking from Driver Rd to Harvey-Quindanning Rd, and instead come back the next weekend to finally cross the new bridge over the Murray River. Before leaving, Alissa and I took an early morning stroll to a section of the Murray River just metres from our campsite. The calm water and early morning mist made for a great scene, and I look forward to one day coming back to Lane Poole Reserve with our kayaks for a paddle down the river. 

I have to admit that Yarragil Form to Murray Campsite was not one of my favourite sections of the Bibbulmun, largely due to how terribly bleak the burnt forest looks. Perhaps it was because it was the very first walk we did after the endlessly stunning Karijini, but I really felt impatient with the monotonousness of the fire damaged scenery more than I have previously, and it will be many years before I consider doing this stretch of the track again. The walking from Murray Campsite onwards was arguably more enjoyable, and I can imagine it will be even better as the forest recovers. 


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