Day 12 of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Coastal cliffs and sand. So much sand.
I’d been pretty lucky with the weather so far on my journey, but I knew within 20 minutes of setting off from Boat Harbour that my luck had run out.
What started as a deceptively-sunny morning soon turned into spatters of rain, which quickly became a steady downpour. Complicating matters was the absolutely ferocious wind that howls through the South Coast during storms, and slowed me down considerably.
My rain jacket did a reasonable job of keeping my upper body dry, but my feet got soaked whenever I would brush up against wet bushes, which was always. Breathable trail runners are great for most conditions, but they did nothing to stop water soaking through the mesh top layer and into my socks.
Within a few kilometres of leaving my campsite, my shoes were making an unpleasant squelch with every step. Introducing sand into the equation, from some beach and dune sections, didn’t improve things.
But the dramatic weather only enhanced the wild, exposed feel of the coast, particularly as roaring winds whipped up even bigger waves to crash against the shore. The whole experience was loud, uncomfortable and awe-inspiring.
I had my sights set on the campground at Parry Beach, where I hoped to be able to find some shelter to eat lunch and at least wring out my socks.
After a long, squelchy descent through sand dunes and scrub, I crossed my first paved road since Peaceful Bay and walked into the campground in the middle of another downpour.
My hopes for some respite from the rain were fulfilled when I came across a thoughtfully-placed shelter next to a toilet block, where I stripped off my wet socks and put on another pair I’d kept in a dry bag.
Nothing dried very much during lunch, but I did at least manage to drain the water that had been sloshing around in my shoes, and wring out the insoles (yuck).
The rain subsided after I finished eating, so I packed up again and headed through the campground to the beach, where I began the 7km beach walk I’d been dreading since Northcliffe. At first, the sand was hard as cement and easy to walk on. But after about a kilometre, as Parry Beach became Mazzoletti Beach, it deteriorated into a soft, wet, fine-grained mush that felt like it had to be waded through as much as walked on.
The only highlight, besides the crashing waves and occasional gusts, was a tall limestone formation a little past the half way point. I put in my earphones and plodded on.
After around two hours of slogging through the sand, I reached the eastern end of the beach and hauled myself off it with some heavy chains that replaced an eroded staircase.
I took a moment to look back at how far I’d come, Parry Beach campground now hardly visible on the horizon.
The hardest part of the day over, I steamed up a big hill and arrived at William Bay campsite by mid-afternoon. The 20.4km day wasn’t long by most hiking standards, but the long beach walk and foul weather had worn me out.
Not fancying my chances of a good night’s sleep in the draughty shelter, I set up my tent, and slept.