This blog is dedicated to Lee.
Worst nights sleep ever on trail. Bruce was the loudest, deepest snorer of all time. I thought he was dying at one point. The bloke clearly has sleep apnea or something. Ear plugs in and any loose clothing over my head did nothing to suppress his penetrating nasal noises from my ears.
I tossed and turned for hours, cursing my decision to stay in the hut. At some stage I obviously fell asleep from sheer exhaustion I’d say, close to midnight.
Regardless I was determined for an early start. Up at 5am as usual, Bruce was still snoring away. My only thought was fuck it, I’m not sneaking out to pack up my gear away from the shelter this morning. I’m going to rustle every freakin piece of gear I had, make the stove scream and bang my pot on the table.
I get that people snore. What I don’t get is the lack of warning or considerations shown to others. This guy had his tent set up inside the shelter. He had the option to pitch it away from the shelter or at the very least given me the heads up of his snoring before I had setup my gear and settled for the evening to give me the option of setting up my tent away. Rant over. Urhhh….. just tired and irritable. 2 days left and I’m looking forward to finishing.
I was away by 6am. Darker than usual with a thick layer of fog lying low. As the sun rose and light increased it did little to improve the visibility, down to around 200m.
My aims for the day were to get to Beraking shelter by 9m for 2nd breakfast, tick, Waalegh around 11am for elevenses, tick, climb three and a half steep hills and reach Helena around two for afternoon tea – tick.
The fog didn’t lift until I was at Waalegh but I was glad it did. As it rose it revealed one of the best shelter views on trail. A perfect sunset view in my mind looking out west over a deep valley and timbered, rocky hills. The view extending out across the valley to Helena. I’d have to descend that valley shortly and climb straight back up the other side later on.
From Waalegh the terrain was unreal. Finally some steeper hills to climb on a bit more technical single track. Initially down and then up again, multiple times. It was refreshing to have a change in terrain even if you had to work harder for it. I wished more of the Bibb was like this single track. Relishing the challenge of some ‘hills’.
A quick lunch break down by a bridge over the Helena River on a fire trail and another couple of hills to go. The hydralytes got a work out today to replace list electrolytes.
On the last hill I was literally only a hundred metres from Helena so was charging hard with my head down and crossed paths with a hiker headed south. Now Helena is a busy shelter, locally known as Hotel Helena, with heaps of people walking in and out of it being so close to Kalamunda, so initially on passing this hiker we just said a quick respective G’day not stopping for the usual chit chat. Then just as I passed and continued on I hear “Hey are you Mick Beckers? I watch your YouTube videos.”
On this I stopped to chat and find about more about my new friend. Lee was just setting out on his first ever thru hike taking inspiration from my YouTube clips and blog posts on gear. That is awesome. He is two days in and on his way towards Albany. How is that. Famous for being a YouTube sensation, not. But so strange to be recognised and addressed by name so far from home by a complete stranger. That sort of thing is typically reserved for police or emergency services. I had to get a selfie with Lee and made a commitment to make a new video about this trip, though it probably won’t be as polished as some of my other products.
Five minutes later I arrived at Helena to be greeted by Ben with the words “G’day. We have dinner!”
Meeting Ben was like meeting an old mate you haven’t seen for a while. We were different people but shared much in common and it felt like I’d known him for years. We got along really well from the outset and conversation just seemed to flow continuously.
So what’s the go with this dinner. Ben is headed northbound finishing his end to end from Albany as well but is taking a slightly more relaxed approach. He stayed at Helena last night and is avoiding finishing as he has not job to go to so is staying for a second night. Last night a bunch of nurses came in for an overnighter to Helena carting in a mass of home made curries that they had frozen, butter rice and naan breads. Too much for them to eat themselves last night they left the still frozen goods in Ben’s hands to feed hungry hikers like myself when they left this morning. No noodles and tuna tonight, we’d enjoy a selection of three different curries, rice and a selection of Indian breads. Wow.
Also at Helena was 70 year old Everard. Everard is a little bit ‘famous’ on the Bibbulmun, maybe infamous is more appropriate. He was out on the track for a couple of days and staying the night. He has a history with the Helena shelter.
Back in 2018 the Sawyer bushfire, a deliberately lit fire, built rapidly and swept towards the Helena shelter site where Everard found himself in imminent danger of being burnt alive. He was so, so lucky in that the air attack supervisor flying in a helicopter above to supervise water bombing saw him on the ground, found a place to land and was able to evacuate him out. Five minutes later the fire torn through the area where the Helena shelter and Everard had stood.
Listening to his account of these events was fascinating as bush firefighting is what I do from both the ground and air. I could easily picture the scene. Raging fire in the tree tops, nowhere to run. The pic below was lifted of an online news article by The West Australian on Everard’s rescue, showing the fire in relation the shelter (top circle) and helicopter (bottom circle). Check the link for a bit of footage and further context.
Meeting a civilian who so narrowly avoided death by bushfire was an opportunity I could not pass up to ask to some hard questions to get an insight in to what was going on in his head at the time. Why was he there in the first place despite public warnings not to bush walking on acute fire danger days? Why didn’t he let anyone where he was headed? What was he thinking at the time as the fire came towards him? What was he going to do? Did he expect to survive. One very lucky fella I say. If that chopper had not put down Everard would be dead for sure. He was pretty casual about it and described to me how he was going to dig a hole and cover himself in soil. He would have died for sure. I’m sure he knew that but was in some form of denial.
I’m pretty sure Everard is now the reason every shelter toilet along the Bibbulmun has bushfire safety signage inside.
Speaking of fire, we cranked up the camp fire for the night and a couple of other weekend hikers came in, Teresa, a Human Resources Officer with a mining company and Neil, a retired professional salvage diver.
We had a great night. With such a diverse bunch of people conversation flowed freely around the camp fire as Ben and myself prepared dinner for the night. Teresa sharing how her company wants her to employee people with the lowest remuneration packages possible. Neil sharing many stories on salvage diving, stories from insurance claims, easy jobs and hard. And Everard had a bloody anecdote for each and every conversation, launching into long monologues and references his army days and magazine articles he’d read back in the 1970’s. That got annoying real quick to everyone. He always had to have the last say and once started barely stopped to allow questions to be asked or to have any form of two way conversation. As his attention shifted from one person to the next it was obvious to the rest of us how we were each sneaking off to continue our conversations without interruption.
The view from Helena was another winner. Looking back over the same valley as Waalegh but towards the east, this would have to be the best sunrise view on trail. The most open view for sure since being on the coast. Pity it will be dark when I leave and I won’t get to see it.
Ben topped the night off by sharing his love for a new trail drink with us, lemon-ginger tea with heated port wine. A bit like gluewein. Delicious regardless. Perfect to warm the body up before sleep. I’ll have to remember this.
Last sleep on trail and last shelter.