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Bibbulmun Track reaches 1000km

We are thrilled to announce that the Bibbulmun Track is over 1000km long!

In late winter Steve Sertis and Steve Clark walked the Track end-to-end with the aim of re-writing the Track notes for the new Bibbulmun Track guidebooks. Not only were the notes updated but the distances between campsites were recalculated and updated to include the spur trails to the campsites— after all, they are part of the Track that you have to walk.

We suspected that with all the various realignments that have occurred since the Track was last mapped in its entirety there would be a significant change in the overall length— we were not certain, however, that it would be 1000km or more. The final distance traversed by walkers completing an end-to-end, which will be reflected in the guidebooks, is 1003.1km.

The distance of the linear trail reflected on the maps, which does not include the campsite spurs, will be a little shorter but still very close to the 1000km mark.

The project to re-write the new Guidebooks was undertaken because the old books were very inaccurate in many respects, not just relating to the actual alignment of the Track but also the distance of each section. Many sections of the Track have been realigned, some only slightly but others to a larger extent, since the 2002 (northern) and 2004 (southern) editions were published.

The GPS used was a very high tech piece of equipment (Getac model) used by many professionals, unlike the technology back in the 90s when the Track was first mapped. It was supplied by the Dept of Parks and Wildlife who use it in their mapping work. The unit would mostly utilise around 9 to 12 satellites at any given time but more importantly give a Geometric Dilution of Precision (GDOP) reading letting us know how accurate the readings were from these satellites. Measurements were only taken when the GDOP was within an acceptable range maximising the integrity of the results. When the GDOP reading was unacceptable we stopped walking and waited for a better reading. Sometimes it took a little while and I recall on one occasion it taking almost an hour.

As each day’s notes were recorded we noted that some days were longer than shown by the old guidebook notes, some days shorter, and some exactly the same.

The total number of kilometres measured were intentionally not cumulatively added so that the end result would only be known after the last day’s distance were added to the spreadsheet. Why? Because we simply wanted a surprise at the end.

If anyone spots any errors then please email them through to the Foundation. These comments are then verified and any corrections are listed on the updates webpage (check page 2 of your guidebook to find the link) so that everyone’s books are as accurate as possible.

Rewriting the Guidebooks—a 60 day adventure

by Steve Sertis

On July 7th Steve Clark and I began an end-to-end walk with the primary aim of rewriting both the Northern and Southern Bibbulmun Track Guidebooks, which were last updated more than 10 years ago. In addition we collected data about the state of the Track, with a complete audit of infrastructure carried out to assist in future management and maintenance.

Planning began almost a year ago, following the decision that the Foundation would take on the rewrite of the guidebooks, which have previously been a DPaW product.

In order to make the books more user friendly and the process of production cost effective, it was decided to divide the existing two guidebooks into eight smaller books matching the eight Bibbulmun Track maps. The planning, history and other reference information contained in both the current guidebooks will form a ninth book – the Bibbulmun Track Handbook. The general information contained in this book can be absorbed at home, rather than it having to be carried as part of a guidebook.

With each guidebook corresponding to a map, walkers will no longer need to carry a book covering half of the Track when they are covering only short sections. Furthermore if there is a change in the Track alignment only the relevant, small guidebook will need to be updated.

In line with the aim of making the guidebooks smaller, lighter and cost effective, and following feedback from BTF members, the decision was made to remove the small maps from the guidebooks. The new guidebooks will contain section descriptions, north to south and south to north Track notes. Maps are more frequently updated than guidebooks; it makes no sense to have two different versions of the same map for sale on the shelf.

Re-writing the guidebooks required a number of steps:

1. Update of the section descriptions. These give a general overview of the terrain and set the scene for what walkers can expect to find in each section.

2. Update of the Track town profiles. These give walkers an idea of the size of the town, the services available and an outline of the town’s recent history.

3. Review of every Track note. The new guidebooks contain a total of 4430 Track notes. These were revised to give walkers more interpretive information and suggest good places for views and rest spots out of the sun or wind — particularly on the south coast where there is less protection from the elements. Also mentioned are public recreation areas where there might be a water tank or toilet. The Track notes for each day start from the campsite or town, not from the spur trail junction. This means that the notes reflect the actual distance to be walked between campsites. Previous editions of the guidebooks indicated the distance along the Track itself, not including the spur trails to campsites.

4. Checking the distance for each Track note. The original distances were recorded in the late 90s and many sections of the Track have been realigned since then. This meant that we could not rely on the current data and a complete revision was needed.

Our technical equipment consisted of:

• a high-tech GPS supplied by DPaW plus four batteries
• a tablet with a docking keyboard which doubled the battery capacity of the tablet to about 16hrs of continuous use
• a mobile phone with a spare battery which doubled as a voice recorder to record each Track note
• a paper copy of each day’s notes in case the technology failed
• a solar charger for the phone
• a camera with GPS and spare batteries for the audit to record the areas needing attention
• a number of wall chargers for the GPS, tablet, phone and camera
• a laptop used to transform the data into a word document
• two thumb drives for backing up data

A trial run was completed in March from Northcliffe to Walpole to test the equipment, fine tune the procedure and also determine how long the batteries would last before they needed charging. It was determined that each GPS battery would last up to two days (depending on the length of each walking day) and the tablet and one phone battery would last about four days.

Given that all this equipment added significantly to the weight of our packs, we had to make weight reductions elsewhere. The laptop and the wall chargers were kept in one of our town boxes (we had three), but all the other technical equipment had to be carried and recharged regularly. We called on the support of our fabulous volunteers and DPaW staff in the Wellington and Donnelly districts to assist in some of the more remote or restricted locations. This meant that we had to carry food for only two days, except in one Disease Risk Area where we carried food for four days. In all we had 29 food drops, with meals that we had been dehydrating since January.

We also had a remote charging supply at Brookton Hwy, Sullivan Rock, Harvey-Quindanning Rd and Broke Inlet Rd. This consisted of a 12v DC – 240v AC 500w inverter connected to a 300Ah 12v lead acid battery supply (for those that understand the lingo) and a power board to connect all the chargers. All other charging was done in towns, or our support crew took batteries away, charged them and returned them at another meeting point the next day.

A typical day on the Track for us looked like this:

1. Rise at between 5am and 6am (remember this is the middle of winter!) and leave camp between 6am and 7am depending on the length of the walk on the day. Some days we doubled — all campsites from Kalamunda to Brookton Hwy, Gringer Creek to Mt Wells, Northcliffe to Lake Maringup, and Long Point to Walpole.

2. Start the GPS (at times we had to wait a while to locate the required number of satellites and have a satisfactory DOP reading — again for those that get the lingo) and record distances between Track notes. Steve would carry the GPS mounted on the top of his pack. I would record the Track note description and also the distance from the previous Track note. This would continue throughout the day. Steve would correct my voice recordings (eg where I got my left turn and right turn mixed up – it’s easy to do!). We would also at times have discussions about how to best interpret the information so it would be easily understood by walkers whose first language was not English. There were also considerable discussions regarding whether the foot bridge was a substantial footbridge or a significant footbridge! That’s an article in itself.

3. Reach camp between 12pm and 2pm. Set up camp. Steve would prepare a cuppa and get dinner started (thank you!). Because the first three weeks were so cold (one day I walked almost 16km before taking off my two beanies, gloves and three layers of clothes) we were not drinking enough water while walking. So the billy was put on the fire and we kept drinking hot water all afternoon. On some days it was so cold it was near impossible to press the buttons on the GPS.

4. I would begin transcribing the notes from the phone onto the tablet. This would take around an hour and a half to do. Then the south to north notes were written. To do this I had to picture walking the Track in reverse. The distances were also recalculated. Typically this would take about another hour. On some occasions, however, the distance north to south didn’t match the south to north notes. Careful scrutiny (which sometimes did our heads in!) would usually find the calculation error, but I do remember not getting to bed until after 10.30pm at one campsite.

5. Photos from the day were then backed up onto a thumb drive while being categorised into the day’s section (eg Mt Cooke to Nerang). The Track note data was also backed up onto a second thumb drive.

6. Upon reaching a town all the Track notes were transferred to the laptop and put into a word document for each guidebook, already formatted with existing sections, and the new Track notes proof read. The distances were rounded from three decimal places to one decimal place (ie nearest 100m). As each guidebook was completed it was emailed back to the Foundation office in Perth for checking and editing.

This procedure continued for 60 days. A gargantuan effort even if we say so ourselves!

Those of you who were not in WA during August and September may not be aware that we had our wettest August in 10 years and wettest September ever! The Track was underwater in the most unexpected places and we saw creeks that I had never before seen flowing in my 15 years of walking the Track. Our first inundation (I define inundation as water above ankle deep) was just south of Tom Rd Campsite (day 32) where it was waist deep along the rail formation parallel to the Donnelly River, and the last inundation that we walked through was before Torbay Campsite (day 58). The deepest was just below my rib cage — and it wasn’t even on the Pingerup Plains – they were plain by comparison! Steve would warn me of water ahead by calling back to me “there’s another adventure up here!”

Other non-water related adventures and other surprises included:
• with the aid of DPaW in Dwellingup and Collie, locating and rescuing our support crew after they got bogged down
• having to saw and chop a fallen marri tree for two hours on a 25km day which came down across Chesapeake Rd in a storm, so the above support crew could leave
• losing the GPS charger for three days (it ended up being in the back of a DPaW support vehicle)
• rescuing an injured boobook owl but having no choice but to deliver it into the hands of a Collie pig hunter that turned up in the middle of nowhere
• getting a delivery of cider at a campsite
• walking to an impromptu café complete with outdoor table and chairs set up along the Track with fresh, real coffee
• being invited to a home cooked meal in Balingup
• having some campfires lit for us by DPaW staff
• deliveries of cheesecake, chocolate and ice creams by volunteers

Once the walk was over on September 5th I began proofing the edits and rechecking the distance calculations for each of the guide books. As I started to write this piece, the last edits had been made and they are now ready to be typeset. Once photographs have been selected the books will be sent to the designer and then after another edit they will be printed.

The new guidebooks will provide a means for all walkers to make comments and send through editing suggestions via a dedicated email address. Also as changes are made on the Track, updates will be provided to those who have purchased books via a special web link, keeping your books up to date until the next edition is printed.

These new pocked-sized books will provide walkers with a description of the areas they are walking through along with interpretation of the human history, flora and fauna. With the newly updated walk notes, they will continue to be great companions out on the Track.