The Meetup that nearly wasn’t
Duration: 2 days
Since completing my monster 16-day hike from Northcliffe to Albany in April, I’ve been on a mission to finish the Bibbulmun Track before the summer. As I inched closer to my goal of a sectional end-to-end, this section, just north of Collie, became an ever-more glaring omission from my map. It’s a tricky section to do as a standalone hike – especially over just one weekend – requiring a lift to a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and at least one other hiker crazy enough to drive to Collie at an ungodly hour of the morning. Knowing I’d never find a trail angel generous enough to ferry me around that early on a Saturday, I abused my position as a volunteer organiser with Young Perth Hikers by making a Meetup event of it.
I’d hoped to find a couple of other hikers who were as keen to do that stretch as I was, but the few who did RSVP dropped off in the days before the hike. By the Friday, I only had one other attendee – a guy named Mariusz who wasn’t replying to my messages. Given our recent epidemic of no-shows to Young Perth Hikers events, I wasn’t feeling confident about driving down to Collie in the hopes that he turned up. But, the universe delivered, and Mariusz responded to my pestering text messages the night before the hike. He’d been at work (reasonably), and hadn’t seen my messages. To my amazement, not only was he keen, but he’d roped a friend into coming with us. We arranged to meet at the Collie McDonalds at 7:30, and I packed my gear.
Getting out of bed at 5AM was every bit as painful as I predicted, but the early-morning drive down to Collie more than made up for it. Fueled by a McDonalds coffee, I enjoyed the trip down the Forrest Highway as the sun slowly crept above the horizon. I met up with Mariusz and his friend Max as arranged, and we headed out to Harris Dam, dumped my car and continued on to the start point. On the 45-minute-long bumpy ride down a series of corrugated dirt roads, I learned that Mariusz and Max were both Polish telecommunications riggers in Australia on working visas, building mobile towers. Sadly, they hadn’t brought their equipment to set up an impromptu tower at the campsite. Nonetheless, we found the spot where the Bibbulmun Track crosses Harvey-Quindanning Road, and loaded up.
We set off under a thick blanket of fog, which made for some spectacularly eerie views through the dense native forest in the early morning. As we ascended the first hill of the day, an ominous droning noise pierced the mist, escalating from a drone to an almighty din as we climbed. The whole thing was all very Stephen King-esque. Or was it H.G. Wells? We soon discovered the source of the noise – a massive mining conveyor belt that stretched as far as the eye could see, and was running hell for leather. The belt transports raw bauxite from a mine near Boddington to a refinery 51 kilometers away at Worsley, where alumina is separated for aluminium smelting. After ducking our heads to ensure they weren’t sanded off, we scurried under the belt and continued through the forest.
Being winter, the forest was an explosion of green leaves, often hanging off the blackened trunks of the recently-burnt bush. We reached Possum Springs campsite after a couple of hours of relatively easy walking, and stopped for a quick morning tea. I buzzed around the rammed earth shelter for a few minutes, testing my new camera – a Sony A6000 – and was disappointed to learn (thanks to a few glaringly overexposed shots) that I’m not the manual photo wizard I thought I was. I’ll stick to aperture priority mode for now. The break was redeemed by Mariusz’s delicious homemade protein balls, and Max’s tasty homemade jerky. All I had to offer in return were some Red Rock chilli-coated peanuts, but they graciously traded with me anyway.
The rest of our Saturday was mostly more of the same verdant forests, alternating here and there between vehicle tracks and purpose-built walking trail. None of us were overly hungry so we decided to skip lunch, preferring to push on to Yourdamung campsite, our destination for the day. About an hour before the shelter, we passed through a low, swampy area that was a nice break from the usual tall trees and pea gravel. There was even enough water about to justify a short wooden footbridge. We made it to Yourdamung by mid-afternoon, and set up camp for the night, weary after walking 26.8 kilometers since our early-morning start. Mariusz had lugged a six-pack of beer the whole way, which we didn’t even finish – and as is Bibb tradition, we all had way too much food.
We enjoyed a sleep-in the next day, having been promised a comparatively sedate 18.1 kilometer hike to Harris Dam by the Bibbulmun Track guidebook. The stroll through the forest was pretty, in the way that all the bush around Collie is pretty, but otherwise fairly unremarkable. We pushed on, and made it to the Harris Dam campsite in good time. We stopped at the shelter for a lunch, after my hiker hunger finally took hold of me. I devoured two salami and hummus wraps, and way more M&Ms than is reasonable.
From the shelter it was an easy half an hour walk to the dam itself, which is a popular picnic destination for Collie locals and visitors alike. We passed several families and a series of quaint wooden bridges on the approach to the dam, then climbed up to the top of the dam wall. From the top we could see Harris Dam’s off-take tower, a peculiarly Stalinist-looking concrete structure that sucks up drinking water for further treatment. The unusual sight was welcome to me, as it meant I’d linked up another section of track to the bits I’d done, which now extended all the way from Harvey-Quindanning Road to Albany, and most of the bits north of HQ Road as well.
Doing a sectional end-to-end is a game of diminishing returns, where it generally becomes more difficult to organise the remaining sections the more you’ve done. I was grateful to Mariusz and Max for making this bit possible, and helping me get 44.9km closer to my goal. After a much bumpier ride down yesterday’s roads in my poor Honda Accord, I dropped the guys off at their car and took the stunning drive through the farmland of the Lower Hotham Valley on my way home.