At long last I have time to upload a few photos and perhaps also some words to recall the wonderful trip we took last September-October along the southernmost section of the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia. This was by way of a follow-up to the Workshop at the University of Western Australia that I mentioned in my last circular, and which you can read a little more about in Professor Gary’s blog here. We were joined by two of the Chinese delegation to the Workshop, who hailed from the hiking organization and whose write-up (in Chinese) can be read here. Frank Hitman of Zouba Tours also attended the Workshop and stayed on for the hike, as did scholar Duan Lian from Yunnan.

Our full team: Prof. Gary, Maya, Frank, Tina, Duan Lian, Yang Xiao, KK and yours truly.

The Bibbulmun Track runs for 1,003.1 kilometers between Kalamunda (in the hills outside Perth) and Albany. Its history goes back to the early 1970s, though it didn’t “officially” open until the Bibbulmun Walk ’79. In those days it was a rough experience, mostly on dirt and gravel roads with little in the way of facilities for the long-distance hiker. We found it much changed: now managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife, supported by the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, it has been re-routed through beautiful wilderness areas, signposted carefully and provided with a conveniently spaced string of huts.

Day 1, September 30, 2013. After a brief shower, the weather cleared as we headed west from the small town of Albany and along the shore of Princess Royal Harbour.

We could afford a late start on Day 1 as we only had 13 km to walk. Most of the trail ran along level ground; indeed, coming from Yunnan this was a very restful and relaxing four days of gentle trekking. The huts are nicely spaced, such that you can really take your time to enjoy frequent breaks and the odd venture down side trails, while still arriving well before sunset. Those who set out to walk the whole thing generally budget for around 60 days. We’d hardly been on the trail an hour when we met the first of several “end-to-enders” approaching their destination, in this first case two middle-aged ladies who stopped and very patiently answered our questions. Yang Xiao and I found it much like the Appalachian Trail in this sense: the friendly camaraderie among fellow walkers, most of whom were close to or beyond retirement age.

Duan Lian (whose name sounds like the word for “exercise” in Chinese) tackles a section of trail through the Torndirrup National Park en route to Sandpatch Hut, which provided our lodgings on Day 1.

Each hut was of broadly similar design and open on two sides. There was ample water supply and the sites also featured toilets and very limited camping areas – where Tina and I pitched a tent each night to ensure a snoring-free experience.

The Grasmere Wind Farm beckoned from west of Sandpatch.

Yang Xiao, Duan Lian and Prof. Gary enjoy the evening sunshine at the lookout above Sandpatch Hut.

A boardwalk has been constructed recently to take the Bibbulmun Track along a fine coastal section next to the wind farm. I think the windmills are rather elegant, though I wouldn’t want to see them everywhere.

I’m all in favour of banning dogs, but no cats?? Reminds me that Yang Xiao once had a cat that he took hiking with him. That was a rare animal; I can’t imagine any cat I’ve ever known putting up with it.

Track markers carry an image of the Wagyl. In the tradition of the indigenous Noongar people, the Wagyl is a serpent-like creation spirit particularly associated with water. There’s another explanation of its association with the Bibbulmun Track here.

I found the diversity of trail conditions to be among the most attractive features of this section of the Bibbulmun Track. On Day 2 we “double-hutted”, taking our lunch at Muttonbird Hut and then tackling this section of beach (approx 4 km) in the afternoon before climbing up to Torbay Hut not long before sunset. That made 23.5 km and easily the most tiring day of the journey. Our comrades from Doyouhike were first to bed every evening – perhaps overwhelmed by all the fresh air!

Excuse me but I must include a “thank you” to our sponsor – the China delegation to the Workshop and this inspection trip was generously funded by Osprey packs, whose excellent products also carried our gear (they’ve carried Red Rock’s gear since the beginning, in fact). Joe, Roger and Zheng Bei in Shanghai have supported me and Yang Xiao for years; they immediately got behind the idea for the Workshop when Gary and I first proposed it in late 2012. Thanks, guys!

This was the trickiest part of the journey. The Torbay Inlet has a seasonal sandbar at its mouth and at some times of the year you can cross without getting your feet wet. Even on this day we met hikers coming south who had skipped across in ankle-deep water. We weren’t so lucky and so crossed two-by-two to make sure everyone was safe.

Day 3 took us 16.7 km across the West Cape Howe National Park, finishing at West Cape Howe Hut. Absolutely blessed by the weather from this point on.

It wasn’t the best season for wildflowers, but we still saw a marvelous array of colours. Yang Xiao took all the flower pix and hasn’t given them to me yet, but I’ll put up a separate flower blog when I get those from him next month. The tiger snakes, which are the only snakes you’re likely to see, were plentiful but shy. I saw nothing but their tails disappearing into the undergrowth – except when KK almost trod on one directly in front of me. According to the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, in all recorded history no one has been bitten on the Track. Otherwise we saw little wildlife – although by Chinese standards it was still abundant, I suppose. It’s a sensational event in Yunnan to see a wild animal. Here we saw a handful of kangaroos and a few lizards.

It would have been nice to have an extra day to explore West Cape Howe some more, especially its secluded beaches.

Dinner time at West Cape Howe Hut. Once again we had the place to ourselves – our group’s itinerary had been published some days before, and so local hikers had made sure to avoid the Huts when we were likely to be filling them up. Not that we filled them that much – there was space in each for a group twice our size, especially with Tina and I tenting. Tina abandoned the tent on this occasion after Yang Xiao spotted the resident tiger snake hanging about.

West Cape Howe Hut after sunrise.

On the final day we hiked 19.5 km to Eden Road, where we were picked up for the short drive into Denmark.

A vaguely osprey-shaped cloud pointed the way home.

Yang Xiao celebrated with an appropriately named bag of crisps.