The plan was to start from just outside Collie and walk along the Bibbulmun Track to near Balingup, stopping each night at the huts on the track. The walk was just under 80km and would take 4 days/ 3 nights.
For those who don’t know, the Bibbulmun is a 1,000km walking track stretching from Kalamunda, in the foothills of Perth, all the way to Albany, on the south coast. The track has been specifically built for walkers, modelled on the Appalachian Trail with shelters and water tanks every 10 to 20km and routed to provide an interesting walk, primarily on bush tracks, with minimal conflict of interest with other land users. You can read all about it at http://www.bibbulmuntrack.org.au
I packed the night before, with advice and general banter from Steve who had kindly agreed to accompany me on my first hike (and who has lent me a lot of gear while I’m waiting for mine to arrive). There were lots of “do I need . . “, “how do I . . . “, “what’s the best way to . . . “ questions until eventually everything was in the pack. Total weight of ~14 kg (confirmed at 14.2 the following morning) which is significantly more than I want to carry but acceptable for this first, shorter hike where I have a lot of borrowed gear that is heavier than mine will be.
Please note, I am using the “Steve” pack weight method, which means that total pack weight is everything going on the hike except me. This includes everything I’m wearing and carrying including food and water. The aim is to keep this under 20% of my body weight. We didn’t achieve this, but I’m still confident of getting there for my holiday. Gear list is below.
Luckily Merlin was too tired from the past couple of days’ activities (see previous blog post) to try to get involved! He slept throughout the entire process then put himself to bed (my bed) very early while Captain and Lucy soaked up the pats and attention.
We set out at about 11am on Monday in glorious conditions. Big thanks to Mum for driving us to Collie.
The track was lovely, the pack was comfortable (although definitely a bit heavier than I want) and the company was good. We stopped at Mungalup Dam for lunch (Subway from Collie, as is Steve’s tradition) then headed onwards.
We saw some interesting flowers and went through some beautiful patches of banksia and sheok bushland, as well as the standard “bush”.
Today’s was a short walk, only 14km and we arrived at the Yabberup campsite at about 3pm.
I managed to pitch the tent (with only a little assistance from Steve), made my bed (sleeping mat and bag) then set myself up for an afternoon of reading (the book was a weight penalty I was convinced to bear, and I think it was worth it for this trip), charging the GPS and having dinner. We watched the stars come out, shared some green ginger wine then retired to bed.
Overnight, our beautiful weather disappeared. Some time during the night it started raining, including some very heavy downpours. At one point my tent felt a little like a waterbed as the entire base was basically floating on water (I discovered the next morning that even after thinking about potential flooding, I’d still managed to pitch in the middle of a substantial drainage route). Luckily there were no holes in the tent base and the rest of it remained waterproof. The same can not be said about the rest of my gear!
I woke up to ongoing rain so very carefully dressed and packed up inside the tent. I moved my pack into the hut then came back and picked up the entire tent and also moved it inside, to give it some chance to dry, and me a chance to pack it up without dropping it in a pool of water.
After breakfast we headed out, with the rain continuing to pour down. Sadly, I discovered at this point that my gortex jacket was not at all waterproof. Very disappointing as it was quite expensive and only about 2 years old. I knew my waterproof pants weren’t 100%, especially at stopping water getting into my shoes. This, combined with the track becoming a raging torrent (or babbling brook, depending on current levels of cheerfulness) and no waterproof jacket meant that I was soaked through, from head to toe (minus some small sections on my legs – the pants were doing an OK job) in almost no time at all. I decided very quickly that the sensible thing to do would be to bail out at the Mumbalup Tavern, 12km away. Steve agreed, as he was also finding things not as waterproof as he’d hoped.
After about half an hour of being miserable (and very annoyed about my jacket) I cheered up and quite enjoyed most of the walk. Unfortunately no photos as we had prudently put the cameras away to keep them safe and dry! I discovered when we got back that there were severe weather warnings for the entire area, with some areas nearby recording 80mm of rain in a couple of hours. The rain was certainly that bad where we were, and there was a little thunder, but at least it was not windy. Probably the worst part (other than the non-waterproof gear) was that the track was several inches deep in water for most of it, sometime even worse, so we were forced to go bush-bashing to get past.
Unfortunately we arrived at Mumbalup only to find that it was closed (the guy simply said he was “not getting up today”), there was no phone, and I had no phone coverage there. At least the toilets were open and we could change into dry clothes.
We tried hitching for a while, then eventually a passing truckie (also called Steve) lent us his phone so we could call home for a pickup. Waiting to get picked up gave some time to play with the camera and my water filter. I’m very impressed with the water filter results and slightly amused by the comparative colour of the water we had been happily drinking!
Huge thanks to Cherie for picking us up at short notice, although she was more than half expecting it given the weather warnings!!
I’m still claiming the trip as a success as I learnt a lot (and not just about my rain jacket!). Here are some findings from the trip:
Pack: My pack performed well. It was comfortable and fitted everything in. The trampoline back not only allows airflow to keep my back cool but also seems to help stop the pack getting wet when there is water running down my back. I could keep a water bottle on each side which made them accessible, although we are not overly convinced that they won’t fall out. I can also reach into the top (lid) pocket very well – this is a good spot for the camera. The pack is not at all waterproof. I was borrowing a pack cover which worked reasonably well – the top of the pack was slightly wet where the rain was belting down on it but the rest was reasonably dry. Unfortunately when water got in, it pooled in the bottom of the pack cover, making the bottom of the pack very wet. I think I’ll need to put a small drainage hole in the bottom of my pack cover to prevent this.
Shoes: I’m quite happy with how my shoes performed. They didn’t hurt my feet and were not at all unpleasant to put on for the second day of walking. The grip was very good – no problems on slippery mud, gravel or rock, and no honkey nuts getting stuck in the tread. The mesh on top was definitely not letting water in, but I’m not sure if there was some leakage through seams on the sides – my feet got wet quite quickly but with all the other problems I don’t know if this was just coming in at the ankle or seeping in through the shoe.
Sleep Systems: The short (1.2m) Thermarest pad was definitely long enough for me. If I curl up, my feet fit on, if I stretch out my heels are on the ground. I had my pack inside the tent (and glad I did when I looked out to an inch deep pool in the morning!) then my pillow (spare clothes in their dry bag, wrapped in my fleecy jacket), then the sleeping mat, so this gave some extra length to the mat and stopped my ‘pillow’ sliding around. This pad was self inflating foam and quite thin (1cm). It was enough to take the bite out of the small pebbles and ground lumps but I think I’d prefer something thicker (I’m looking at the inflatable Neo Air XLite). This would also help with insulation – with cold water flowing under the tent I really noticed the lack of insulation underneath me (more about this in a future post about sleeping bags). I got too warm, then too cold then one part too warm and another part too cold (etc) throughout the night. It was also a bit unpleasant being sticky, sweaty and dirty. I didn’t really bring sleeping clothes, just a thermal top and underwear. I think getting some proper camp/sleeping clothes will help with these problems. I’m also still looking into a silk liner for my bag, so I can use that like a sheet if it’s warm.
Packing: I had things packed in separate bags – the tent and sleeping mat in their own (non waterproof) stuff sacks and then separate dry bags for my sleeping bag, clothes and electronics. Food was generally in waterproof packaging or zip lock bags anyway so was just loose wherever it ended up. This was a bit annoying so would’ve been better in plastic bags or something to keep it together. Most importantly, everything that needed to, stayed dry. Also, it was quite easy to unpack and repack. Having things in separate dry bags, rather than trying to waterproof the entire pack worked for me. It is important to pack things together that need to be used together though – I think it would be better to pack every-night electronics and clothes in one bag and town/occasional-use clothes/electronics in another, rather than having all the electronics together and all the clothes together. Except where the clothes bag is used as a pillow – the last thing I want is a power adaptor sticking into my ear!! It will require some fuzzy logic, but hopefully you get the idea. I’d like to get a better waterproof pouch for the camera. I had it in a ziplock bag in the top of my pack, but didn’t feel safe leaving it there when it was pouring so ended up putting it in one of the drybags, where it was inaccessible.
Solar Panels: I didn’t try to use these during the walk (too many trees blocking most of the direct light) but charged them for an hour or so in camp, and recharged my GPS logger. They seemed to work well.
GPS Logger: I really should’ve read the instructions more carefully before coming out as I didn’t really know what each type of light flashing meant. Happily, it did work correctly, as you can see from the track log. I think it stores waypoints (or ‘photo spots’) wherever I stop, rather than just when I pressed the button. It was not easy conditions (steep hills, tree cover, heavy cloud) so I’m very happy that it worked so well. Here is the map of our route (haven’t worked out how to display without flags and camera icon yet!). Pink is day 1.
Me: My feet, legs and shoulders held up quite well. I know it was only two half days, but I had done some pretty intense activity the previous couple of days as well and my feet and muscles were all OK to keep walking. My navigation was good. I enjoyed being in a tent in the middle of nowhere and enjoyed the walking. All in all, there were no show-stoppers for my planned trip.
Food: Didn’t really get enough time to test long term requirements properly. Premixed muesli and milk powder worked well for breakfast (with ziplock bag as bowl). 1 bottle of sustagen/milk powder to drink during the day to top up energy requirements worked well (easy to carry the dry powder to make a new batch every day). Eating dehydrated pre-packaged food cold was fine (just add cold water and leave to rehydrate for longer, rather than adding boiling water) so I’m still on target to not take a stove. Special K is a great nibbly during the day. Hopefully will be able to get by on ~0.5kg/day.
Other: A towel is definitely an essential!!
If the weather looks awful, it may be best to hole up in the tent for a day, or take other precautions (sandals instead of boots, no trousers under waterproof pants) rather than getting me and most of my gear soaking wet.
Exit routes can be much more difficult than expected when on foot with no communications.