Packing your fears versus the quest for ultralight hiking.

A great hiking friend of me once told me I pack all my fears when I go hiking. I wasn’t sure what he meant at first. Surely being out on the trail filled me with joy and confidence rather than fear. Even though about half of my hiking is as a solo woman I haven’t experienced fear. He then referred back to a conversation we had had during our days hike.

I had been saying to him that I seemed to take as much gear for an overnight hike as a multi day hike, and that even on an overnighter my pack weight was up around 18kg. In fact on my first ever multi day hike years ago I ended up with a compressed nerve in my shoulder from an ill fitted and heavy pack of about 19kg.

I always worried about “What if…?” What if it rains ? I better take that rain jacket, even though the forecast is clear for the next week or so. What if I get cold? I better take my puffer jacket, even though here in Western Australia it’s rare to need one. I would justify this addition to my pack by telling myself it could double as a pillow because it packed into its own pocket. To date I have used my puffer more as a pillow than actually worn it. What if the clothes I was wearing got wet from rain? Better take another full set. Doesn’t matter that my gear is quick drying and in many cases body heat actually dries it!

What if I get hungry? I had better take some snacks. Even though i work out good calorific choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner, maybe I would still be hungry. I would pack dried soup packets, trail mix, nuts, lollies and chocolate just in case. But as I don’t actually snack whilst hiking, preferring to wait until we stop, I would usually bring it all home after, put it in the cupboard, and pack it again next hike. What if the nights were cold? Oh, better bring that thermal sleeping bag liner. What if my body is cold at night? Better bring the thermals and sleep in them. What if it’s sunny? Better bring my cap, sunglasses and sunscreen. Better bring a change of T-shirt too in case the first one gets damp and sweaty. What if my extremities get cold ? Better bring my beanie and gloves. Plus my fingerless gloves so i don’t get blisters from the hiking poles. What if my feet get wet ? Better bring extra socks. Light weight for warm days, thicker for cooler days and a warm pair for night. How many pairs am I up to ?

What if I get lost? Better bring the map, compass, download map onto app on phone. What if I get blisters on my feet, a terrible headache, injure myself or get bitten by one of the poisonous snakes we share the trail with? Better pack the first aid kit, after restocking with rolls of Fixomul, pain relief, bandages, sterile eye wash, bandaids and compression bandages for snake bites. What if I injure myself or get bitten by a snake while I am alone, in the middle of nowhere or unable to move? Better bring the personal locator beacon (PLB). This is actually a very sensible thing to bring and is the first thing I pack now. Guaranteed to find me within 5m 😊.

What about the unlikely event of a solar eclipse and my solar light doesn’t charge? Better bring a head torch too. What if the torch batteries die? Better bring extra batteries. While I am at it, better bring the portable charger for the phone so I can use the maps.

What about if I need to collect water from an unreliable water source? Even though I have my ‘Lifestraw’ filter bottle I will still bring tablets to treat the water. What if the great Aussie flies are bad. Better bring the head net. Great to sleep in too if mozzies are bad.

Of course there are the mandatory items – tent, sleeping bag, mat, backpack, water. Add to all this the little extras like hand sanitizer, foldable trowel to dig holes, toilet paper, zip log bag for used toilet paper and another for rubbish (“Leave no Trace”), buff to use as an air filter wearing over my nose and mouth (even though pollution levels are non existent), dry bags to keep everything dry, pack liner to keep everything dry, money in case I need to buy anything (just where I think I will find a shop I am not sure), tissues, lip balm, pawpaw ointment (good for everything from cracked nails to chafe), hand warmers (didn’t even use these in winter in Nepal), microfiber towel, and spare laces for boots (another sensible item to pack). Cooking gear, gas cylinder, lighter or matches, plate, bowl, cup, mug, fork and spoon.

Wow when you look at it that way all those grams soon become kilos.

https://videos.files.wordpress.com/xLGMQgJM/img_0398-2.movI have given this thought whilst packing for hikes this year. I usually pack once, weigh it, try the full pack on, unpack and remove some ‘extras’. Then repeat. By the 3rd packing I am usually satisfied with the weight of about 14-15kg for a 1-4 night hike. A bit more for longer hikes, given the extra food requirements. The good news is that the pack will get lighter as I go, eating the meals.

What do I unpack? Usually things for which another packed item will suffice. I unpack my inflatable pillow and use clothes in a dry bag or my puffer. I unpack all those ridiculous extra snacks that I know I won’t eat. I no longer pack a plate, bowl, cup. I only take a ‘spork’ to eat with and eat out of the cooking pot, or packet. I don’t drink coffee or tea so don’t need a cup. Refillable water bottles or hydration pack are all I need. I may unpack the rain jacket, but this is a difficult one as I hate being wet. Would have to be 100% sure of fine weather to unpack this. I unpack the extra clothes I don’t really need. Embrace the dirty, grotty clothes and wear them daily. Change into clean ‘camp’ clothes to sleep in and put the dirty clothes back on the next day. Wear the same woolen socks for 2 (or more) days. You know what ? No one else hiking cares what you are wearing or notices how dirty it is because they are in the same boat!

As a final note, apart from my PLB there are a few things I must pack. A natural curiosity of the places I am heading to. A desire to learn along the way (anything from a type of flower I see, the call of a bird I hear, a culture I experience). And most importantly, always pack a sense of adventure. This weighs nothing but will provide many memories to cherish and stories to tell.

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4 day hike on the Bibbulmun Track

16-19 August 2018

Start – Harvey Quindanning Road access point on Bibbulmun Track

Finish – Collie town center

Distance – 63.3km

Weather – Cloudy, light showers, cold nights. Temp range over 4 days min minus 1.8 max 22.4 degrees C

I really enjoyed this fabulous 4 day hike on a lovely section of the Bibbulmun Track. I set off by train to Mandurah with my Osprey pack weighing in at just under 15kg. I doubt I will ever be known as an ultralight hiker, but it’s a work in progress every hike I go on to try and reduce the weight.

Once at Mandurah I was picked up by my hiking friend, who had arranged a friend of his to take us to the start (Thank you lovely lady). The access road to the Bibb is via gravel roads and the start is just near the Worsley conveyor belt which rumbles overhead as you walk under.

Day 1 saw a light sprinkling of rain at the start which was not enough to warrant rain gear. It was lovely to walk in the fresh air and rain, admiring wildflowers and listening to birdsong. We were lucky enough to witness some Red Tailed cockatoos in the tree canopy above us. It was just a short hike of 7.4km to the Possum Springs Hut. This hut is one of the newer rammed earth huts, and was built in 2016 to replace the previous hut destroyed by bushfire.

We met an end to ender at the hut and chatted for a while. Dinner consisted of a dehydrated meal and my hiking must have – chocolate. Overnight we could still hear the hum of the nearby conveyor belt but other than that it was very peaceful. But cold. Sleeping in the hut, the temp got down to about 2 degrees.

Day 2 was a 19.3km Hike from Possum Springs to Yourdamung. We set off fairly early after eating breakfast. Although a bit chilly to start off with we soon stopped to strip off the fleece jackets. The vegetation through here ranged from jarrah trees to marsh to she-oaks. We followed sandy tracks and a 4WD Track and found the ‘Plonkhole’ which is mentioned a few times in the red books in huts either side. Basically the ‘Plonkhole’ is a mostly dry creek bed with stepping ‘stones’ made of tree stumps to use in the event of there being water there making it impassable with dry feet. We also came across a pig shooter (illegally) driving down the track with his pig dogs on the back of the Ute. The dogs had their protective chest plates on. I was a bit worried about there temperament as they passed as there wasn’t much room to step back off that bit of rutted track. But the dogs just looked at us as they passed.

Continuing on to Yourdamung we passed through more marshes, crossed a small bridge and back into forrest. We eventually saw the turn off to Yourdamung and were soon setting up for the night. Even though I had my tent I decided to stay in the open hut again. This could have been a bad move as the temp dropped to minus 1.8 overnight but I did stay snug as a bug in my Sea to Summit Trek III sleeping bag with thermal liner. It was a bit hard getting out in the morning though! One final impression about Yourdamung was the absolute peace and quiet there. To just listen to the ‘sound’ of silence nourished my body and soul.

Day 3 saw us on a slightly shorter hike of 14.3km from Yourdamung to Harris Dam Campsite. Again we were blessed with the weather. A cold start soon warmed to a beautiful day. Perfect hiking weather of about 16 degrees and partly cloudy.

Today was an easy day with a short distance covered. We passed through virgin forrest as well as forrest burnt during a controlled burn a year or so ago. Thankfully some of the forrest was growing back and the blackened tree trunks were tempered with green regrowth.

We made it to Harris Dam campsite fairly quickly despite my hiking buddy having a pinched nerve or similar in his back which meant he had to lie down in the track a few times. At one point I was making contingency plans to get him off track to medical aid, but he soldiered on.

At this hut we were joined by two friends who do a section of the Bibb together every year. They had been friends for years and now lived in separate rural towns in WA. They made the commitment to hike every year and reckon at this stage they may finish by the time they are 70. I love this friendship shared on the track. The next morning we left them to their leisurely start to the day while we had a long day ahead.

Day 4 was a long 22km from Harris Dam Campsite to Collie. We set off at a nice pace stopping along the way to see the magical fairy garden on the way to Harris Dam. My daughter, who sometimes hikes with me. Would have loved finding this as a child!

We continued along the track through forrest to reach Harris Dam and the picnic area. From there we had to walk on the road for a small section before the Bibb returned to its natural habitat. We eventually arrived at a convergence of the Bibbulmun Track and the Munda Biddi mountain bike track, as well as another mountain bike track called Dead Cats Trail!! We soon arrived at a bridge crossing and decided to stop for lunch. Once I had some food in my belly I lay down on one side of the bridge allowing room for the few bikes we saw to pass. This was a special moment over the four days where I lay down, listening to the water flowing under the bridge, mixed with the sound of a gentle breeze rustling the treetops high above, and enjoying the movement of the green leaves in contrast against the blue sky. Add some fluffy white clouds to gaze at, and peace and quiet around me and I felt like it really was just me alone in this perfect world. It doesn’t get much better than that really, with my senses in overdrive.

Eventually we got up and started the final push through to Collie. As usual when we get near the end I do start to get faster. We passed through more forrest and came across some ‘locals’ illegally cutting down some tall trees manually, as to use a chain saw would alert authorities to their activities. We pushed on and made our way to the Coalfields Highway which we crossed and re-entered a conservation park. We were so close to Collie now but had a last section of bush then a very boring kilometer or so along the highway before we reached the town.

A few cars tooted at us and waved as we headed down to town. We must have looked a bit feral after 4 days but the idea of a cider and a pub meal lured us to an old pub in town. I have to say the chicken & bacon burger went down extremely well, washed down with an icy cold pear cider. About now I finally looked at my shoulders to check out some sore spots. I guess there’s not much you can do about bony collarbones!

Overall this was a very enjoyable 4 days on the Bibb with a good mate. We never ran out of things to talk about but were just as happy having moments of solitude on the track and not speaking so we could just enjoy these beautiful moments.

Time has passed since doing this hike and it is now summer. With the temp hitting 39 degrees last week and the risk of bushfires, snakes and heat exposure being too high I have packed away my hiking boots under the weather cools down. But already I am missing the simplicity of just me with my life in a pack on my back.

Coastal Plains Walk 28-29 October 2017

9DBBD588-056F-4024-B83E-CFF71CE21673Coastal Plains Walk

Distance 52km one way.

Started Neaves Road, Melaleuca Conservation Park – 8.20am Saturday 28 October 2017

Finished Yanchep NP Visitors Centre – 1.30pm Sunday 29 October 2017

Important Notes – Register your walk with the Yanchep Rangers & take plenty of water as it’s not guaranteed along trail. The water tank at Ridges Hut has been stolen, so prepare for this in your planning.

Campsites on trail – Moitch Hut, Ridges Hut, Shapcotts Hut

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Having found very few reviews, and with it being right on my doorstep, the Coastal Plains Walk was a trail I was keen to try. So when my hiking buddy Didier suggested it, I could not say no. We were dropped off at the Neaves Road Trailhead sign at 8.15am and after having a quick look at the sign we set off by 8.20am. The weather was cool and slightly overcast but we soon warmed up.  The first trail marker was found on a tree straight ahead from the start.  These markers were then fairly consistently placed, mostly on trees, for the next 10km to Moitch Hut.  In some places they were a bit sparse but were supplemented by some tape that was originally pink but had faded to white, on trees or branches along the way. We also relied somewhat on a general ‘feel’ for the trail and in fact only had 3 spots where we really had to stop and search for elusive markers.

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The general condition of the trail was fair but after a bush fire a few years ago there were quite a few small trees or branches across the trail and it could use some trail maintenance.  As is often the case after bushfires, the seeds from plants that have been released combined with the ash beds provide suitable conditions for germination that results in quickly revegetating bushland. This is more than likely what has happened through this area with lots of new small plants popping up everywhere, including the middle of the track, making the track sometimes unclear on the ground, making you reliant on markers. These conditions lasted pretty much 8km from the start but the final 2km into Moitch Hut was an easier trail to follow with lovely vegetation, wildflowers and plenty of markers.

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On arrival at Moitch Hut we think someone must have stayed overnight  as the fire circle still had some smoke and heat and there was a camp chair there (perhaps for a regular?). The hut was clean, with a fire circle, full water tank, room for about 12 to sleep plus a couple of tent sites, and a drop dunny, but no table/benches. We stopped for about 20 min for a snack and to get the packs off our backs before setting off again.

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We soon emerged out from the bush and onto Perry Road for a section of tarmac, where we came across some 4WD cars having just completed a training session in the area with a company that does 4WD survival training. After passing the Wanneroo Gun Club and RAAF firing range on the right, we soon turned left off Perry Road when we saw the familiar blue marker just after the paintball site.

From there we trekked on a variety of track surfaces, including some randomly placed built up limestone trails, sand trails, limestone road and 4WD trail. After sitting on a log to have some lunch we pushed on to Cypress Road (note – no markers at this big intersection so follow the road to the left).

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We then continued along a variety of surfaces again and this meant the trail did not get boring.  A couple of sections even had logs purposely laid across the trail and some yellow markers.  We were not sure what this was for and thought maybe the limestone track and logs were for mountain bike users. The info centre at Yanchep NP thought it may have been for a nature play project, but was really unsure.  We also considered that they were there to stop trail bikes riding through the area.

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We passed through a couple of sections of pine plantations where we enjoyed stepping on the pine needles underfoot, listening to the wind blowing in the pines, smelling the pine and stepping over felled trees.

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After coming out of the last pine plantation for the day we came across a few guys from a running club setting up for a night time Halloween running event in the pines that night. Thankfully Ridges Hut was 1km further on from them as they planned to have vampires, zombies and ghouls jumping out during the event to frighten the pants off the runners. We wished them well after declining  to participate in the 12.5km and 25km event, and pushed on through the last nice bush section to Ridges Hut, arriving just after 4pm (30.3km in just under 8 hours).

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Ridges Hut is quite a nice hut, similar to those on The Bibbulman Track. It’s very roomy with plenty of room for hikers to sleep, plus a few nice tent sites, a fire circle and a long drop loo, but sadly no water tank as it had been stolen.  This was  disappointment as being over half way into the hike we had already used more than half our water and it would have been great to resupply (note we both had about 5 litres with us).  The hut did however have a resident bee hive under one end of the sleeping platform.  The bees were quite active, but not aggressive and by nightfall had stopped buzzing about.  So we set up at the other end of the hut and had some dinner. A pre-purchased ‘Backcountry’ meal and fruit puree pouch for me and pasta and chocolate for Didier.  Mountain bread was put to use cleaning the pot and subsequently eaten. A big thank you to Didier for bringing the cooking gear.  We also had the good fortune to be visited by a young kangaroo while we ate.  The roo was not bothered by us and watched us for a while before bounding off.  There was no chance of a nice sunset as it was too cloudy and I think we were both tuckered out by about 7.30pm.

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I woke at about 5.30am and enjoyed listening to the birdsong. The peace was shattered at 5.45 by a succession of gun shots, 2 then 5, then 2, then a final 6 (Didier did not stir at all).  The shots did seem to be heading in a northerly direction and my guess was it was perhaps roo shooters in the pines, or maybe cleanup crew killing the zombies from the previous nights Halloween Run. After a breakfast of cereal & muesli we packed away our gear and were back on the trail by 8am.

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The first section out of Ridges runs the same route as part of the Cockatoo Trail (which we had actually joined  the previous afternoon for the final 400m or so into Ridges Campsite), and after about 30 minutes the two trails separated. It was about here I trod on a baby dugite.  Didier called out to me to let me know but I hadn’t even noticed it as it just looked like a thin twig on the track.  Assuming it was dead, Didier nudged it with his walking pole and it didn’t move.  He then decided to push it off the trail so no one else would get a fright, but as he did so it slithered into the bush! Soon after the trail picked up Yanchep Rose Trail for a very short section.

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We walked to Pigeon Road where we crossed the unsealed road.  At this intersection the brown concrete markers were visible on both sides of the road, but the actual trail markers had been removed. We continued on the trail and eventually they both separated into their own trails.  Along the way we passed a very old Holden dumped in the bush and we had to wonder how exactly it got there, as the bush was very thick and the trail narrow.

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After the car there was a slight incline (the first for the trail), which was a bit of a hamstring and glute workout after mostly flat trails. After crossing the Swamp Road track I totally did not see a bobtail the side of the trail.  When Didier called out and I went back to see we noticed there were actually 2, one on the track and one hiding in the bush.

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The track soon headed west with two more slight inclines over sandy and overgrown trails, but with plenty of wildflowers.  We put it out to the universe that we needed a spot to stop for an early lunch and were rewarded with a nice fallen tree in the shade at the side of the track where we had a quick snack and continued.

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The next section was about 2km until we met Wanneroo Road which was quite busy with Sunday traffic.  We crossed safely and made the last 4km dash to Shapcotts Camp Site.  The trail here was quite thick with growth and lovely wildflowers but easy to follow with the blue markers consistently placed.  We reached Shapcotts at about midday and stopped for a rest and for Didier to get some water from the tank, which he treated with an AquaTab.  Unlike the previous two huts which were wooden,  Shapcotts is concrete blocks and I think is a replacement of one burnt years ago.

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We then pushed on for the final section which now became part of the Ghost House Trail.

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After stopping for the obligatory photo at the ‘Ghost House’ we followed the trail against the traffic of Sunday picnickers, passed a huge dugite enjoying the sun and a monitor lizard that quickly ran under bushes.  We finished by taking the turn off onto the Wetlands trail, which included two boardwalks, and came out near the Yanchep Inn where we could hear some live music.  On another day it would be nice to stop for an ale or cider but we wanted to get to the visitors centre to let them know we had finished the hike and provide feedback about the trail. My dear husband was waiting for us there with a cold drink and a chauffeur ride home.

Overall impression:

This trail is not well reported but I enjoyed it greatly. The wildflowers were just finishing as we hiked the trail at the end of October and were stunning to say the least.  I would say the best time to do this trail would be September/October whilst the wildflowers are at their best.  As the day time temperatures were on the increase, and there not being much shade on a great deal of the trail, leaving it much later in the year would be too hot.  Given that there is no water at Ridges, you will need to take plenty of water with you.  It is do-able over two days, but that does mean a 30km day and a 22km day.  It could be broken down over 3 days with 10km Neaves Rd to Moitch, 20km Moitch to Ridges, and 22km Ridges to Yanchep NP.  Water would be available at Moitch and Shapcotts.

In summary this trail really surprised me, in a good way.

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