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There and Back Again

Dave Hartley, WA

25 June 2013

In 1990 I set out on a very different Bibbulmun Track to that of today—no shelters and very few camping spots with any facilities. From memory, not good these days, I found four campsites, possessing just a concrete fire ring with a plate and hook, and a toilet. Evidently there were more but I couldn’t find them.  To prepare for the hike involved writing to all the CALM (now DEC) regional offices asking about the condition of the Track, any prescribed burns planned, was I likely to find water, any diversions and what facilities existed. I included return self-addressed envelopes, and most of the offices replied. No internet and web pages in those days!

Day one was October 14th, a fine day with little cloud. I was carrying a heavy pack and a bit of apprehension.  In October of 1990 there were just two people known to CALM that were intending to hike the complete Track. Having just left the Army Reserve I had some bush experience but had never done any long distance hiking. It took me four days to work out that if I did up the waist belt on the pack it would prevent my shoulders from getting sore. 
Being fit, healthy but not very wise I was using mainly ex-army equipment which included two hutchies (basically plastic sheets strung between trees on a string) to sleep under. Water was my main concern and dictated my day’s hike. It was a very different climate in 1990 to that of today and we had had reasonable rain in September, so a lot of the creeks had some water in them. Also getting supplies was a bit tricky and I would have to hike off the Track to get food or other supplies.  One day I hiked 4km to get a burger and another day 3km to get water.

This is an extract from my diary:

Day 27:  27 Nov 90

Distance 17.5K + 3K to get water 

Weather:  Fine overcast with bright spells

Time: 1640 

Location: 35B Cnr Chesapeake/ Spring Break

Walking: 0630 to 1200

Had a bad night couldn’t sleep and had an upset stomach. Had a full tin of corn beef late so having dinner a bit early today, chicken curry and rice with pineapple to follow. Short of water. The water in the Shannon is very brackish, using it after boiling for 2 minutes for cooking and making tea. Only have ¾ of a canteen of drinking water for breakfast and tomorrow no water where I am camping. I was away early today the walking was good varied with some trees and some open country. On the coastal plain about 10km from the sea can see the hills and dunes around Broke Inlet. Saw a little furry creature today, about as big as a hamster, in the burnt off area. Although the walking was good feel very weak and tired. Looking forward to seeing everybody tomorrow need the backup for the final push. Specially looking forward to seeing Angie .Looks like might get showers tonight. Flies are bad.  Fair day.

I still had two days hiking before finishing at Walpole but was meeting my wife Angie, Stan and my children at the highway the next day.  The Location 35B refers to the section of the track marking system used in 1990 which normally consisted of a short wooden pole (one metre or so high) cut off at an angle with a number attached.

In 1998 I was very fortunate to be a member of the team opening the new Southern section of the Bibbulmun Track. That was a completely different experience, with shelters and water tanks and CALM bringing in supplies every four days. There were organised BBQs and events all the way along the 960km.  My equipment was also somewhat better than that of the 1990 hike and I was a more experienced hiker.

Since those early days it has been a pleasure hiking with two very close friends, Stan Barclay who was there for me in 1990 and Pam Bradley, who I met on the 1998 hike. We have hiked together and separately in Australia, South Africa and the UK. As a team we took out the old farts state champions one year in rogaining (see the WA Rogaining Association website). We have been up to our waists in mud on the South Coast Track in Tassie, Stan and I climbed Table Mountain, and I suffered altitude sickness when climbing with Pam in the Drakensberg (South Africa). Last year we all did the Coast to Coast Walk in the UK.

Pam completed an end-to-end on the Bibbulmun Track a couple of years ago with some South African friends and we have all completed the Track over a number of years in sections. Pam joined Stan and I for a week on our end-to-end in November 2012. The weather for this walk was outstanding with almost perfect hiking conditions for the whole eight weeks, unlike the UK Coast to Coast Walk, which had rain nearly every day, mist on the hills and snow in the Lake District, in springtime. The upside was there was a village at the end of every day’s hike with radiators in the B&Bs or hotels rooms to dry the wet gear, a comfortable bed and a full cooked breakfast the next morning. Also our heavy gear was transported ahead of us, meaning we carried only daypacks.

As those who hike the Track know you soon fall into the days routine—hiking, getting in setting up, a cuppa, food, rest, read or sleep, entry in the log, chat, plan the next day, set the fire, food again and so on.  For Stan and me it was very much the same routine, except Stan wrote a daily verse of his poem and I carved my Waugal (my third), which is now proudly displayed in my games room. My equipment and experience as a hiker is now much better but age is starting to catch up—although in reading the shelter log and book entries I find inspiration when looking at the age of some other hikers.

I dedicate this article to fellow hikers, the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, DEC, the volunteers and the sponsors who do such a great job.