Saturday, 26 March 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Schafer to Warren


The second day of a three day trek from Northcliffe to Pemberton on the Bibbulmun Track, this is a relatively challenging day's walk in continuously hilly terrain. The first half of the walk mainly passes through Karri Forests, while the second follows the Warren River. Stunning river views and crossing the River Road Bridge are a highlight. Perched high and overlooking the river valley, Warren Campsite is one of the Track's most scenic.



Distance: 22.1 km (one way)
Gradient: Very hilly, with frequent ascents and descents. Some steep sections
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained. 
Quality of Signage: Well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information. 
Experience Required: Bush Walking Experience Recommended
Time: 6 Hours, including lunch
Steps: Few steps - mostly just steep inclines
Best Time to Visit: Best to avoid from January-March during the Bushfire Season. 
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: This section was walked from campsite to campsite, though several roads provide convenient access. River Road Bridge is a short distance from Warren campsite and would be ideal for those looking to do a single, somewhat long day walk from there to Pemberton. 



Leaving Schafer Campsite just after 7:30am, Alissa and I were the first to head off for the next day of walking to Warren Campsite. 



Although initially skirting farmland, the first half of the day's walk is largely deep in hilly Karri Forest. The constant ascents and descents start almost immediately after leaving the campsite, and would set the tone for one of the harder days on the track. 



It must be said the track in this section is very well maintained, with a lot of signage all along the way. 





An unusual but highly useful addition to the signage in this section is the use of small metal plaques discretely attached to signposts near road crossings. These plaques give the name of the road crossing, and are helpful on roads where there are no obvious street signs. This is peculiar to the section from Schafer to Warren, and again speaks highly of the track maintenance team for this section. 



With the constant birdsong and the towering grandeur of the Karri forest, it is easy to forget to look at the sights that can be seen closer to the ground. Although just coming out of Summertime, the fungi on display were numerous and plentiful. 



One particularly interesting insight into the life of the forest came in the form of a dead Karri tree stump that had been colonised by fungi, and then was later covered entirely in moss. Life always finds a way. 





The only confusing junction of the track occurred at an intersection with the Blackberry Pool Walk. At this point it is fairly obvious where the Bibbulmun should go (continuing up), but the signage points left, where a faint overgrown trail can be seen. They obviously meant the sign to mean 'continue on the trail to the left of the tree', but this is needless confusing the conventions of arrow directions. 





After passing Moons Crossing (unclearly marked, apart from a sign reading 'No Unauthorised Vehicle Access - Walkers Welcome'), the day's walk enters its second half, following the Warren River for most of the rest of the day. 



With the river's levels relatively low, some rocky sections can currently be walked onto. The group of four who had shared Schafer campsite with us had passed us when we stopped for lunch near Moons Crossing, and we caught up with them again when they stopped for lunch at a particularly pretty spot on the river pictured above. 



Looking downstream, the river's low flow gently made its way through a series of rocks and boulders, and I can imagine this area becoming much more ferocious rapids after a wet rainy season. 



Instead of following the river bank, the track in this section continually rises and falls. With a dense understorey precluding sweeping views, many of these ascents and descents seem pointlessly difficult due to the lack of reward. Our morale was at its lowest in this section - a feeling shared by many of our fellow hikers. We were given some hope when we eventually ran into some day hikers who informed us we were not far from River Road Bridge, with the hut just one last ascent beyond. 



With Long Gully Bridge destroyed by the fires of 2015, River Road Bridge is now the longest and most impressive trestle wood bridge along the track, serving as an important river crossing for both the Bibbulmun and Munda Biddi Track. Shorter than Long Gully used to be, this is still a very impressive and historic bridge.



With river levels fairly low, the view from the bridge was not quite as spectacular as I'm sure it can be later in the wet season, but it still proved to be one of the day's highlights. 




Beyond the bridge, the track rises for its final ascent. Eager to get the campsite, I powered ahead, and came upon one final obstacle before the hut - a fallen Karri right across the track. Although smaller than the fallen Tingle we encountered between Giants and Frankland River, this was nevertheless a tree of considerable size. 



Inspecting the area around, I noticed a makeshift path around the tree had been created by other hikers and I followed it to safely get to the other side. Not seeing this, Alissa undertook the more adventurous option by climbing right over the tree. 



A short distance beyond is Warren Campsite. Located high above the valley, the ascent to the campsite is entirely worthwhile; while lacking the lovely swimming opportunities of Schafer, the views from this site are spectacular. This is definitely one of the best located huts along the track. 



Although we were the first to arrive at the hut, we were far from the last. The nine other hikers we met at Schafer campsite (plus a less sociable couple we encountered in the morning) were also heading to Warren, and by the end of the night we were eventually joined by another eight hikers! Seven had come from Pemberton heading in towards Northcliffe, while a particularly fit hiker had double-hutted his way from Northcliffe straight to Warren. With a whopping 17 staying in the hut, this is only the second time I've ever encountered a hut at max capacity, with everyone squeezing up to let in some of the later arrivals. Being a long weekend at the start of the walking season was the obvious explanation for the comically full house. Although everyone was nice and accommodating, one more group of four would not have been able to secure a space in the shelter. This is definitely served as a warning for hiking on long weekends - either be prepared to arrive early to secure a spot in the hut, or bring a tent just in case. 


Overall, this was a tough day, especially after the easiness of Northcliffe to Schafer. I'm definitely up for challenging hikes, however it was disappointing that some of the most challenging sections of the day seemed pointlessly so given the lack of views. Still, the constant birdsong in the Karri Forest, the lovely views of the Warren River and the chance to cross River Road Bridge all make this section worthwhile - and the views from Warren Campsite are really the ultimate reward for a hard day's walk. 

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