Day two of my 16-day section hike from Northcliffe to Albany.
Terrain: Flat and easy
Bonny and I planned another short day to ease into this hike. We’re both experienced hikers who can handle 30km days, but I was extra conscious of my recent knee pain and the need to manage my legs properly so they’d survive 335km of walking.
The next camp site at Dog Pool is another 25.7km beyond Lake Maringup, so it made sense to keep this section a relatively easy single. Strong hikers could easily make the journey between Northcliffe and Lake Maringup in a day, provided you start early enough – which we didn’t. Knowing we didn’t have much ground to cover, we had a late-ish start that was further delayed by my disaster of a breakfast.
I’d been experimenting with making dried meals in a dehydrator at home, and after great success with a variety of dinners I got cocky and simply assumed that scrambled eggs would dehydrate just as well. Wrong! Close to an hour of soaking the hardened egg-lumps in boiled water only turned them into purple, slightly rubbery hardened egg-lumps that were absolutely foul.
I forced myself to eat some because I knew I needed the calories, but immediately regretted it and had to make a hot drink to try and get the lingering taste out of my mouth. They were gross! Somehow, even the dried bacon tasted disgusting – probably because it had been sharing a bag with the eggs in my freezer for about a week. Pro tip for any back country cooks: Just buy powdered eggs. They’re not the greatest, but they’re won’t make you want to scrub your tongue clean. Or stick to porridge, which is what I did for the remainder of the hike.
Terrible breakfast over (Bonny and I were sharing some meals, so she was subjected to it too – sorry Bonny) we packed up and set off. From Gardner camp site the track follows more sandy but firm 4WD trails of the kind that criss-cross the great network of low-lying plains we were about to enter. From here to the coast the track is often inundated in winter, requiring lots of wading, but at this time of year it was mercifully dry. Less than five minutes after leaving camp we were into the plains, and rewarded with the sight of huge swathes of flowering swamp bottle brush.
Most of the morning was spent alternating between the colourful plains and dense patches of Karri forest. I saw a family of wild emus in one of the plains, but they scampered away before I could take a snap.
Eventually the trail links up again with the Gardner River, which can be accessed with a short scramble down from the elevated 4WD track that follows it. We stopped here for lunch and a swim (read: paddle), and the water was shallow enough to allow us to do some exploring by wading along its length.
It was an easy 5k or so after lunch to Lake Maringup camp site, which is preceded by some truly magnificent stands of Karri. At the shelter we met the legendary Jentz, a prolific hiker from Mandurah whose glacial pace is more than made up for by his endurance. I’d met him once before in the Darling Range section in 2017, after he’d spent all day hiking the 8-odd kilometres from Waalegh to Beraking. He’d walked to Lake Maringup from Albany on one of his many end-to-ends, and was gone hours before dawn the next morning in order to make it to Gardner.
We also met Richard and Rebecca Stokes, a pair of British tourists who were new to hiking but nonetheless determined to walk the whole way as well. They were in remarkably good spirits for two people who just walked 300km on their first serious multi-day hike, and were in much better shape than I was after my first attempts at long-distance trails!
Rebecca had been inspired by an earlier holiday to WA, and had persuaded Richard to join her on the Bibb. I met them again a few weeks later just north of Dwellingup, when they were barely a week from the finish line. By now, they should have finished.
Bonny and I tried for a swim in Lake Maringup, which is just down the hill from the shelter. Accessing the water requires wading through a reedy bog, which wasn’t too pleasant, but worse was the mass of floating particulates that we had to swim through once we were in. 2/10, would not recommend.(Bonny says it wasn’t like that on her previous visit, so the floating particulate soup mustn’t be permanent. YMMV!)
After dinner I hung my food from a karri tree using a rope I’d brought along to test the concept ahead of the PCT. It worked fine but is ultimately unnecessary on a track with rodent boxes at the camp sites and no bears, so the rope system was dead weight in my backpack until I offloaded it to Bonny when she left the track at Mandalay Beach. None of my food bags were disturbed at any other huts, whether they were hung or stored in the rodent boxes. I think some of the credit for that has to go to a set of odor-proof bags I used, which effectively sealed in the smells but only lasted the hike. When I made it home, I replaced them with a more durable Opsak I bought on Massdrop. They can even double as emergency water containers, in a pinch.