First Steps

As I stepped into the Albany Visitor Centre, on the south coast of West Australia, to sign my last logbook entry, it was hard to believe I’d just walked 1000 km from Kalamunda. Through sun, wind and rain. Mostly Rain. I rang that victory bell that finishers are given, long and hard. Hours later over a cold beer and a juicy burger, I reflected on my walk. I didn’t start this journey in Kalamunda, just outside Perth, it started 12 months and many kilometres earlier.

From London

In November 2019, I had rented out my small 2-bed house in London to backpack for 6 to 8 months through South and Central America then visit friends in the US, Australia, and Indonesia. COVID had begun to make global news in Italy, the UK and the US by the time I had reached Bolivia in late February, of 2020. However, in early March, I flew back to my hometown of Brisbane for a family funeral. My wonderful stepmother, who’d earned her 100th-birthday telegram from the Queen, had closed her eyes for the last time. A week after the service the Australian borders closed, and the country went into lockdown. When the restrictions lifted in my state, Queensland, an old travelling mate, John, introduced me to some bushwalking friends. My love affair with the Australian bush began anew.

Day hikes and camping trips became weekly adventures through April and May, as I tried to figure out my next steps within Fortress Australia. Our trips included Lamington and Moogerah Lakes National Parks, as well as Imbil and Amamoor State Forests. I relearnt hiking and camping skills I’d long forgotten in Europe, and it helped me find some level of fitness again.

Cooloola Education

In June, I joined John on the Cooloola Great Walk, a 5-day, 90 km walk from Rainbow Beach (just south of K’gari / Fraser Island) down shaded sandy tracks, through melaleuca forests, and along towering coastal dunes to Tewantin (outside Noose Heads). I borrowed his tent, we shared a cooker and I learnt how to live simply, limit my food intake and cope with consecutive days of hiking.

This was hugely different to hiking the ‘W’ Trek in Patagonia’s stunning Torres del Paine National Park. I hiked this busy trail with two friends, each of us with a small pack – no tent, no cooker or food. Each camping area had refugios, pre-erected tents and cafeterias.

As luck would have it, John had completed a few long-distance US hikes himself – the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Coastal Divide Trail. So, there was plenty to learn. I enjoyed the walk, loved the camping, and I picked up a few valuable tips for ‘next time’.

Road Trip, Carnarvon Gorge & Solo Hiking

The next time came sooner than expected. I had no choice but to make the most of our closed International borders, so I hatch a plan for a road trip. I did some research, bought myself a lightweight hiking tent, a gas stove, and a good sleeping bag then used a few camping trips to test them out. In July of 2020, I rented a camper van for 5 months and headed up through central Queensland, pointing my nose west to Bunya Mountains and Carnarvon National Park. This would be my first trip to the spectacular Carnarvon Gorge and my first solo through-hike. The Cooloola Great Walk had given me the confidence to tackle the 90km Carnarvon Great Walk on my own. It was hilly, remote, and with temperatures that fluctuated between -1c and mid-20s. Sure, I forgot things, made a few mistakes, and lost the trail markers once or twice, but I loved every minute of this walk, I learnt some valuable lessons and it reinforced the beauty of multi-day hiking.

The Larapinta

Four weeks, a state border and several thousand KMs later, I was setting off again with my pack. This time from the Telegraph Station just outside Alice Springs in central Australia. The Larapinta was not something I knew much about until I’d arrived home a few months earlier. Several bushwalking friends had completed the 240km trail that stretches west from the ‘Alice’ along the West McDonnell Ranges. They had nothing but praise for it. Other than the flies. It took days of planning, reading advice on a Larapinta Facebook Page, food shopping and logistic work. I did my own food drops – 3 in total – in sealed tubs. By the time I’d finished, I had clocked up 270 km, soaking up multiple side trips to explore refreshing waterholes, gorges, and spectacular viewpoints. The stars had never felt so close at night – the heavens were the brightest I’d seen anywhere.

Mistakes, I’d made a few – going too hard too early and earning some sizeable blisters, for one. I quickly learnt what to ditch – a book, my journal, spare clothes, excess food, all left behind at the first supply point for collection after the hike. Along the way, I’d observed and listened to tips from fellow hikers. I can’t recommend this hike enough for the desert landscapes and colourful vistas, the big open spaces and the sense of remoteness. It’s both challenging and remarkable.

The Bibb Idea

December 2020, back in Brisbane, I caught up with John for a Xmas drink. I hadn’t really made plans for 2021 but I still couldn’t escape Australia. “Do you fancy doing the Bibb with me?” he asked. The seasoned hiker that I was, I responded: “What’s the Bibb?” John explained: It stretches from Perth down to Albany. 1000 km, 6 – 8 weeks, spaced campsite shelters spaced a days walk apart, and several re-supply towns along the way. He had just sewn a seed. I went and did some research, I joined the Bibbulmun Track FB group and quietly studied the route. Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet John’s departure date, so I’d have to attempt the hike solo. Undeterred, I learnt about weather patterns in the different regions, resupply points, and the risks – snakes, ticks, flies and mice. I also joined the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, bought some maps and began a dialogue with a very friendly volunteer, Issy, who helped with logistics. I booked flights, updated some kit – new boots, slightly bigger pack – and decided to hike south.

By the time I reached the West Australian capital of Perth in mid-May, my mate John had already completed his NoBo (northbound) hike. I’d followed his exploits on FB, reading about fires, snakes, and ticks. John suggested I enlist help with resupply points from some trail angels where there are no trail towns to buy more supplies. They unselfishly help Bibb hikers. I contacted a wonderful lady called Trish, met her on the outskirts of Perth and handed over a parcel with a week’s worth of food. She met me at Sullivan Rocks a week later, halfway between Kalamunda and Dwellingup. The concept is that you only carry no more than 1 week’s worth of food at any time thus saving weight, your legs and your back.

Trish was one of many wonderful generous folks along the way: hikers, Parks and Wildlife rangers, Visitor Centre staff. People who shared stories and food, offered lifts, cut wood, and started fires. That was in stark contrast to the West Australian weather which gave me the cold wet shoulder for almost 6 weeks. I lost count of how many times I heard, “Wettest winter on record.”

Despite the constant rain, the track provided myriad colourful wildflowers, an abundance of fungi, countless rainbows and, when they appeared, delightful trail buddies. In the end, I reached Albany after a leisurely, at times challenging and often damp, 58 days. I’d left Kalamunda, nervously, daunted by the 1000 kms ahead but I’d convinced myself: “One step at a time Walt. Let’s see how far we get!” I loved the landscape, the people, and the simplicity of my daily routine. The Bibbulmun Track delivered, in bucketfuls. Rain and all.

Start Where You Are

So, to anyone who is unsure about tackling a track of this length, I’d say just get out on a trail. Any trail. And walk. Just start wherever you are. A few days here and there. Do some overnights. Hike a section with friends or without. Test your kit before you go, especially if you have a new pack, tent, boots, or stove. Confidence comes with experience. Experience comes with making the odd mistake. And learning from them of course.

I completed the Bibbulmun thanks to the kindness of other people, the wonderful facilities on offer all along the track, and the many miles already banked on earlier hikes and trails. 

Categories: Adventure, Australia, Beaches, Bushwalking, Hiking, Outback, Travel, Uncategorized, WalksTags: , , , , , , ,

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