"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves" Sir Edmund Hillary
Last weekend saw me back out on the trail on another training mission. The plan was to pick up from where I left off last time at Albany Hwy and walk through to Collie or even further if I was able. The walk from Albany Hwy to Collie is 195km. I was planning on doing it in about three days.
You must have heard by now about the ice bucket challenge that is sweeping social media right now. Well, somehow I have been spared from nomination so far. However, I think last weekend God decided that He would nominate me instead. Jenn dropped me off at the Albany Hwy on Thursday afternoon and I camped beside the road ready for an early start the next morning. I had planned to start at 0400 as usual, but because of a restless night, I decided I might as well get up and start hiking as lay there shivering. So I packed up and left camp at 0300. I figured it would give me an extra hour on the trail.
The day started out well. I got going at a brisk walk and soon warmed up. It is still winter here and the nights and mornings are still quite chilly. I had only walked about two hours when I noticed a storm brewing far to the south of me. The sky would light up like daylight with sheet lightning and I heard the distant rumble of thunder. I thought nothing of it, the forecast said fine day today and it was a long way off. I kept walking at a good pace - around 6km per hour, punctuated by brilliant flashes that exploded through the dark night. The wind picked up, the storm was approaching at a rapid pace. Before I knew it, the lightning to thunder intervals were down to a few seconds. I quickly fished into my pack for my raincoat and got it on just in time. The lightning was right above me now, all around me, every few seconds an intense flash followed immediately by booming thunder. The wind was howling, huge drops of freezing rain fell in torrents. I hunkered down pulling my hood over my head and marching on through the storm praying that the lightning wouldn't hit me. Then I noticed that the drops of rain were bouncing off the ground. When I looked closer I saw that it was hail, the size of marbles. Pretty soon the ground was white with it. Still I marched on, head down leaning into the wind. Then, just as suddenly as it had come, it moved on. The rain and hail slowed down and then stopped. The lightning flashes were behind me now. The storm had passed. Ice bucket challenge passed, not that I really had a choice about it!
It was still about 2 hrs til daylight when I reached a T intersection on the 4WD track I had been following. I looked for a trail marker but couldn't see one. I hiked up some distance to the right and left along the intersecting road but could not see any markers. I got out the maps and studied them. I decided that I would need to retrace my steps back the way I had come until I found the trail again. I finally found the trail once more very close to where the storm had attacked me. In the noise and confusion I had missed the marker where the trail left the 4WD track and had inadvertently walked on into the night. I had wasted over an hour and I estimated at least 6km of walking.
I hiked on to the first hut which was occupied by a large group of teenage boys tenting nearby. I stopped long enough to dry out my feet and put on dry socks again. Not only was I wet now but cold from the ice storm also. The sun had risen by now and I had not had a good start to my trip. I hiked on to Mt Wells camp. This was a cool place. It was on top of the tallest hill around and it was an old fire tower lookout. The watchman lived in a very small two room hut, one room for a bed and the other has a small stove built in. As the tower is no longer used for this purpose the hut is now used as a track shelter and is the only one on the trail that has 4 walls, windows and a door! I did not overnight here but I can see that it would be very cosy on a cold winters night. I stopped here for about 30 minutes in an attempt to dry my feet out completely. My feet were already beginning to hurt from the 9 hrs I had been walking so far. I had learnt what can quickly happen to wet feet from the last trip and did everything I could to keep my feet warm and dry. The damage had already been done however from the early morning storm. After 30 minutes I headed out with warm dry feet again and for a while I felt great! I was running and dancing along the trail, in fact I ran the next 4km, I had happy feet! I could almost see the penguins dancing through the trees as well.
A couple of hours after Mt Wells camp I met two ladies travelling the same direction as me. I stopped and chatted for almost half an hour, then bade them goodbye and headed off to Chadoora campsite. I only stopped here for about 15 minutes and hit the trail again. I was behind schedule again. I was hoping to get to Swamp Oak campsite by the end of the day which was the one past the town of Dwellingup. I still had about 20km to get to Dwellingup.
I finally arrived in Dwellingup about 7.30pm. The sun had gone down around 6pm, it was cold, and I had been on the trail now for 16.5 hrs. I had walked about 72km including the 6km of "bonus miles" when the storm distracted me. It was 13km to the hut where I had hoped to go, but I decided to camp just out of town for the night and call it a day. Rather than getting my stove out and cooking a meal I called in at the local pub and had a delicious Turkish bread sandwich with eggplant and all sorts of other goodies in it, a serve of hot chips and a soft drink. I also called my wife since I had good phone reception and planned to meet her in Collie on Sunday.
After another cold restless night I got going again about 0500. I had decided to cut my trip a little short so I slept in a little. It turned out to be a beautiful day, when the sun finally burnt through the thick fog it even warmed up enough for me to strip off my jacket. It was so nice to have my shadow come along with me again! I walked the 13km down to the first hut at Swamp Oak. Then after a short stop to fill up with water I headed off again to Murray campsite 19km further on. The terrain was pretty good, I had left most of the bigger hills behind on day one. The trail descends quite a long way down to the floor of the Murray river basin. Murray camp is situated right beside the now flowing river and it is a beautiful place to camp. I met a nice couple there and chatted for half an hour or so as I rested. It was after 3pm as I headed out again, they were very surprised that I was not staying the night, but I said I had to get at least one more camp under my belt for the day. So I headed down the trail towards Dookanelly campsite almost 20km away.
My feet were really bothering me again, and this leg of my journey seemed exhaustingly long. The fact that it is flat for the majority of it actually makes it seem longer. I went as hard as I could, but my pace was very slow now. Each step was agony, the balls of both feet were very tender. I had large blisters on the balls of both feet which later turned into good sized blood blisters about the size of cherries. There was one last long hill before Dookanelly camp, about 2km up, it is not very steep but it just keeps climbing. Finally I staggered into camp around 8pm to find 4 other visitors sitting around a cosy fire. It was a very welcoming sight and it was great to have some company for the night. I set up my tarp and hammock near the hut and had a well deserved hot meal before heading to bed.
As I lay there falling asleep I decided that I would not go all the way to Collie the next day. There was just one more pick up point between where I was and Collie. That was at Harvey - Quindanning road. It was 12.5km from where I was, and I decided that I would send Jenn a message to pick me up there in the morning. If I missed that opportunity I would have to go on to Collie and given the condition of my feet I thought that was probably a bad decision.
I slept in until daylight for the first time ever on the trail. I packed up my gear and started down the trail just as the other campers were rising from their beds to greet the day. It was about 7am. I figured it should take me about 3 or 4 hrs to get to the pickup point 12.5km away given my condition and the fact I had to walk over the four sisters. The sisters are a set of four small hills. They don't look like much on the map but many people say this is the worst section of the entire 1000km trail. Each hill is steep and sharp, the trail follows a 4WD track but it is badly washed out and rutted. The trail is so steep it makes it quite treacherous with the small pea gravel underfoot. I was very glad that I had my walking poles and lightweight backpack on. I made short work of the hills and marched on towards my destination.
I carry a small point of view camera that is mounted to my walking pole. I take video with this so I can document my trips. But for some reason it was not working this entire trip! I really wanted to film the hailstorm, and some of the beautiful scenery along the way, so I was really put out that I could not share any of that with you this trip. As I was hiking along today I came across an echidna scratching around in the leaves right beside the trail. These guys are very shy and seldom seen, especially in the daytime as they are mostly nocturnal. I was very excited to see him and tried once more to get my camera to work, I even dug out the spare battery and tried that but to no avail! On arriving home and telling my wife she mentioned I could have filmed him with my iphone but I had totally forgot I had it with me so I missed the opportunity. I have lived in Australia almost 45 yrs and only ever seen about 3 or 4 echidnas in the wild in all my years of hiking and camping, so I am always excited to come across these fascinating elusive creatures.
Echidnas are small mammals about 12 -18 inches long and are covered in spines. They are a monotreme which means they lay eggs. There are only two mammals on earth that lay eggs, the echidna and the platypus, both of which live nowhere else than Australia (and New Guinea- one of our closest neighbours). Echidna's are unique in the fact that when they lay their egg the female then deposits the single egg into her pouch. She then carries this around for 10 days until it hatches. The young echidna (called a puggle) then lives in her pouch for a further 50 days suckling on its mother's milk. After this they are ejected from the pouch and they begin to grow their spines that they will need in adulthood. They stay in a nursery burrow for 7 months until they are weaned with the mother coming back to feed the young puggle every five days. Echidnas are also known as spiny ant eaters as they forage around for ants and termites. They have powerful claws for digging up ants nests and when threatened will dig themselves into the ground leaving just a mass of sharp spines protruding. They have very poor eyesight and this little guy came right up to me as we wandered around searching for his lunch. It was really really cool to see him completely at home being undisturbed by my presence.
I arrived at Harvey - Quindanning road about 10am exactly 3 hrs after leaving Dookanelly campsite. My wife arrived soon after and we headed home again. I had only managed about 135km this trip but had done it in just over two days this time. So it wasn't a total loss. I learned some more and have some new ideas on how I can improve next trip.