Sunday, 26 May 2019

Helena Pipehead Walk (Kalamunda NP)

An enjoyable walk in Kalamunda National Park, the Helena Pipehead Walk explores the a section of the Helena River downstream of Mundaring Weir. Heading along old vehicle tracks, the trail follows the river to so excellent vantage points while also passing the Pipehead Dam. Heading to the Piesse Brook valley, the trail loops back through more pleasant forest. One of the better Shire of Kalamunda walks

Distance: 5.2 km ('tadpole' loop - a main loop with a return section)
Gradient: Mix of gently undulating and moderately steep walking
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and generally well maintained. Track is entirely on vehicle tracks
Quality of Signage: Some signage, but no trailhead and some markers are difficult to spot. It is best to consult the Shire of Kalamunda's page for the track notes.
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking experience recommended given the somewhat insufficient of signage
Time: 1-2 Hours
Steps: No formal steps, but some mildly eroded tracks with informal steps
Best Time to Visit: Autumn-Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts on the car park on Helena Valley Rd. From Roe Hwy, head east onto Kalamunda Rd and then turn onto Midland Rd. Take the immediate right turn after the car park onto Ridge Hill Rd. Continue on Ridge Hill Rd for four kilometres before turning right onto Helena Valley Rd. Follow the road until the bollards and car park

Due to the fact my birthday falls in the month of May, May has historically been the month with the lowest number of walks undertaken in the autumn quarter. With my birthday/election party being a fairly somber affair given the results, our plans to go hiking on the Sunday after never eventuated and it was't until the next weekend that we did our third and final hike for May. After the big ticket adventures of our Cape Arid/Cape Le Grand/Fitzgerald River road trip and the off-track Northam double bill of Mokine and Clackine Nature Reserves, Alissa and I decided on a fairly low key Shire of Kalamunda walk - the Helena Pipehead Walk in Kalamunda National Park.

Starting from a car park at the end of Helena Valley Rd, the trail head along what looks like a service track for the dam. This is fairly typical of the vehicle track-based Shire of Kalamunda walks, however the road's alignment alongside the river makes for some decent scenery. After initially following the slightly hardened road, the walk veers off by continuing straight along the river.

A low key bridge crosses a tributary creek. During the wetter months this creek would flow into the Helena River downstream of the Pipehead Dam, however at the time of walking it was bone dry. May had been a very dry month  for Perth, and the lack of rainfall was definitely on display. 

Nevertheless, the trail passes a river crossing point and gauging station, and it was nice to see a pool of water on the Helena River. Given the dryness of the Summer and Autumn, this was our first real sight of water on a hike in the Perth area and made me excited for the Winter to come. 

After enjoying the views of the river, the trail continues uphill along the vehicle track. At this point, the vehicle track was in fairly good condition with only minor erosion damage - a rarity given how severely eroded some of the vehicle tracks in Kalamunda National Park can be, such as on the Piesse Gully Loop.

Having rise up from alongside the river to a higher perch along the Helena Valley, the views opened up and became increasingly excellent. While I'm not a fan of Jarrah forest, it does look better looking down at it from further away, and the mix of forest and granite made for some lovely scenery.

The lack of erosion was clearly a cause for celebration for another visitor who was very proud of the fact that they got their Hyundai Excel to this point - proud enough to vandalise a granite boulder and declare 'Fuck 4x4'. Classy. 

Continuing along, the excellent views of the forest along the valley continued. While I was taking the photo above, a massive walking group headed passed Alissa and I, and with each hiker carrying a yoga mat it was obvious to me this was one of the organised yoga hikes that has become really popular in Perth in the last few years. While this is not my cup of tea as I'm a bit of a hiking purist, I'm glad to see that this has made hiking more accessible to a lot of people. That being said, I had to question whether a group as big as this one (well in excess of 20-30 people) was a particularly sustainable number of people to be walking a trail all in one go.  

After reaching the crest of a hill, the Pipehead Dam and its pumping facility came into view. While I do enjoy Mundaring Weir and the classic pumping station at that location, I didn't have any particularly strong view either way on the Pipehead Dam and its facilities, which were okay but not overly exciting. 

Passing the Pipehead Dam, Alissa and I could see the waters of the Helena River being held back behind the dam. While not quite the lake of Lake CY O'Connor, it was neverthless nice to not see a river bone dry, and Alissa and I agreed this was definitely an above average Shire of Kalamunda walk. 

As the trail descends close to the river, a tree that has grown sideways offers a cool vantage point from which to view the river, and the smooth, worn bark was a clear indication that is a popular vantage point use my many walkers on the circuit.

The view down to the river was excellent, and I can imagine it is even better after Winter rains. 

After taking note of the very heavy-handed 'no access' signs near the river, Alissa and I began the moderately steep climb away from the river. 

Heading back up the valley, the excellent valley views continued with a noted transition to more Wandoo - my preferred forest type in the Perth Hills. 

As Alissa and I rounded the corner on the vehicle track, we could see the faint outline of trails on the other side of the valley. We surmised that the trails were part of the extensive ad hoc trail network that mountain bikers have created in the area, or part of the Helena Valley Walk GPS Route I hope to tackle later in the year. 

As the trail curves westwards, the walk provides nice views across the same valley seen on the Piesse Gully Loop and the first section of the Bibbulmun as it plunges down into Kalamunda National Park on the way to Hewitt's Hill. Seeing a vehicle track veer left off the track we were on, it was clear to Alissa and I that a longer dual loop walk was possible, taking in both the Helena Pipehead Walk and the Piesse Gully Loop. This is something Alissa and I would like to try some other time.

Heading away from Piesse Brook, the trail heads northwards up a vehicle track with the type of deep rutting we've come to know and love in Kalamunda National Park. 

Another landmark provided by the local bogans is the wreck of an old car. The wreck is so distinctive and 'iconic' that it is a even listed in the trail notes that are provided by the Shire of Kalamunda!

From the car body, the trail reaches a crest and then begins a slow descent back to the car, with a mountain bike trail crossing the track near the crest.

While the walk was one of the better Shire of Kalamunda walks, the appearance of large granite outcrops to the left of the trail made me wish that some money had been spent to take walkers closers to these outcrops as they would have been worth exploring. 

The trail eventually levels out to be a flat, easy going walk as it joins back onto the start of the loop. Assuming that the yoga hikers had done their session by the low point of the track near the Pipehead Dam, we were surprised to see them all lined up doing their session near the bridge we had encountered earlier, and were careful to be quiet as we made our way back along the return tadpole's tail to the car park. 

While we had wanted to do a more low key on track hike this weekend, I was not 100% sold on the Helena Pipehead Walk being a good walk as the Shire of Kalamunda walks range from the excellence of Whistlepipe Gully to the nadir of the Channel 10 Tower Walk. What Alissa and I found was pleasantly surprising, and while I'd put the Rocky Pool loops, the Bickley Brook Walk and Whistlepipe Gully ahead of this, it would certainly be one of the better Shire of Kalamunda walks for me. This is largely thanks to the excellent valley views, and the fact the trail actually has semi-reliable water in the river thanks to the dam. With an ability to link it to old time favourite the Piesse Gully Loop, this is a walk I'd happily do again on a low key weekend where I needed something close to Perth.


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