My first multi-night hike took place in the Land Down Under. Here, the wilderness is perilous and dangers attack from above and below; poisonous creatures hide in every bush and the deadly sun beats down from overhead. Leading up to the hike I was anxious, my mind filled with doubts. However, my concerns had nothing to do with the dangers of the bush.
It’s true what they say about conquering fear; sheer exposure to the Australian wilderness had neutralised my perspective of it. Rewind one year and you’d find me sweating on a banana farm in humid North Queensland, a famously dangerous part of Australia. Venturing into the ocean? Choose your death: shark bite, crocodile death-roll or jellyfish sting. The farms, where it was considered a minor hazard to come face-to-face with a poisonous snake, weren’t much safer. The first time this happened I had removed the protective bag from a bunch of bananas to find a hissing Brown Snake, furious that its hideout had been cut down, transported across the farm and hung up on a moving conveyer belt. Frozen on the spot after being impatiently told to ‘throw it outside’, I watched as the manager seized the snake, lassoed it around his head and lobbed the furious creature back outside, into the path of other backpackers. I have long since learnt that few snakes are naturally aggressive, and will only attack if provoked. Unfortunately for hikers, being crushed by a hiking boot is considered provocative.
So my concerns had nothing to do with snakes and everything to do with the daunting task of carrying a full pack for five days. This would be my first overnight hike since my disastrous attempt to conquer the Colca Canyon in 2015. It was also my first time carrying a full pack. I liked to think I was a fitter, tougher and more determined version of myself in 2018, but there was only one way to find out.
Day One: Dwellingup to …?
Our journey began with the 106km car ride to Dwellingup. Fraser and I had decided on this remote section of the Bibbulmun Track to escape the bustle of Perth. In true Pathless Woods style, we arrived late to the head of the trail. Pausing only to capture our ‘before’ shot, we bashed straight into the bush.
The Bibbulmun Track is a well-traversed trail that runs over 1000km from Kalamunda to Albany. The track is divided into nine sections and we would tackle part of the ‘Dwellingup to Collie’ section as a there-and-back to Murray Campsite. Departing on a weekday, we hoped to encounter few people on our expedition.
Despite our late start, we were on track to arrive at Swamp Oak Campsite before dark… Until we came across a trail closure. I stood in my trainers, wearing a borrowed ill-fitting pack and watching uselessly as Fraser studied his GPS. I didn’t feel like much of a hiker. The detour took us down a gravel road with cars rolling past; this wasn’t the remote bush hike we had planned.
Arriving at the temporary campsite, we set up camp in the dark. We agreed to use only one headlamp to conserve battery. The inky blackness seemed to bear down upon me, pressing in on all sides. The beam of my headlamp swam alone in a sea of darkness, its feeble glimmer threatening to fade at any moment. It felt suffocating. I was determined not to direct the beam of light into the surroundings woods, terrified of what I might see. Though the headlamp barely lit up our surroundings, it did illuminate scores of scuttling spiders on the ground, exactly where we were laying our tent.
Suddenly, voices and screams pierced the darkness, followed by the sound of people running. I leapt up, certain we were going to be attacked. A group of teenagers crashed out of the bush, jumping on each other in the darkness and laughing raucously. Their teacher trailed behind. “Oh my god, who’s that?!” One boy cried, seeing Fraser illuminated by my headlamp. Comically, the teens were unable to see me or our campsite, only a creepy man in the woods. That shut them up.
Days Two and Three: Murray Campsite
Murrary campsite was everything I expected: remote, quiet, natural. The free huts along the Bibbulmun are basic but wonderful for the weary hiker. They consist of three walls, a roof, simple wooden bunks and rough wooden benches. Fraser and I planned to spend two nights and one day relaxing here, away from the bustle of Perth. It felt strange to sleep outside in an exposed shelter, especially in Australia, the home of kangaroos, crocodiles and snakes. My headlamp revealed more scuttling spiders on the ceiling above my bunk and I expected a kangaroo to bound inside at any moment.
It had been a tiring trek to make it here; a long ascent followed by a longer descent. By the second morning my body ached from the weight of my pack; my back and shoulders did not respond kindly to this foreign feeling. One hour into the trudge we reached the end of the detour. I rejoiced! We were back on track in the bush… But then, the trail turned sharply uphill. My whole body protested as I lugged my pack upwards; my lungs and legs burnt; my temper rose. I growled at Fraser which resulted in him bolting away to wait for me at the top. I made a mental note to check my temper when climbing uphill, or to prepare for a very lonely hike.
We had greatly anticipated our day relaxing in the bush. The campsite was situated beside the river and I envisaged a day spent frolicking in the water. We bounded down in the morning but stopped short; the water was shallow and murky, featuring a number of suspicious-looking logs. Allegedly, there are no crocodiles in this part of WA. However, allegedly, there are no saltwater crocodiles on the beaches of Broome. This proved untrue from personal experience… So we eyeballed the floating logs from afar.
Our ‘relaxing’ day now passed with waves of boredom. The catch of hiking is having to transport everything on your back; there was nowhere comfortable to sit and no stash of sugary treats. I hadn’t brought my book. Furthermore, having slept in and not exercised during the day, I found myself unable to sleep that night. It appears that ‘days off’ are incomplete without a fun source of water, a comfortable seat and a day mission. We did this much better at Lake Waikaremoana in New Zealand.
Days Four and Five: Murray Campsite to Dwellingup
Having completed several there-and-back missions, we now know they’re a little repetitive. The beauty of hiking is the unexpected; not knowing what’s around the next corner, sleeping in a different location each night and stumbling across jaw-dropping views. This is the source of the magic. It also helps not knowing when you have a back-breaking section ahead of you!
Over the last two days of the Bibbulmun, my body became increasingly sore. However, this was balanced out by the decreasing weight of my pack. We trundled back to the temporary campsite, and eventually back to the car. Discussing my latest read (Wild by Cheryl Strayed) and the challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) ourselves, we encountered another hiker – Jono Ride. He informed us he had just flown back to Australia after completing the PCT. My jaw dropped. We later discovered this hiker went on to complete the Bibbulmun Track in record time.
What Did I Learn From My First Multi-Day Hike?
Down days: When planning down days, ensure there is a fun source of water and somewhere comfortable to sit! Lake Waikaremoana is perfect for this.
There-and-back missions: These can be fun, but loops or one-way tracks are unbeatable!
Positive attitude: If you want to keep your hiking buddies, refrain from growling and remain upbeat even when the going gets tough. I continue to work on this during my hikes with Fraser…