The West

Bibbulmun s a star trek
Fred Worthington with backpack, sleeping roll and walking poles on a bridge between the Canning and Monadnocks Campsites. Supplied picture

Some walk all 965km of the Bibbulmun Track from Kalamunda to Albany for fitness.

More great walks:

Others want to prove they have what it takes to become an "end-to-ender" while many relish just checking out of the daily grind of city life for the weeks it takes to trek the track.

For Canning Vale man Fred Worthington and his mate of nearly 40 years Brian McAuliffe, it was a mix of all three.

They were camped near the base of Bluff Knoll a couple of years ago celebrating Brian's 60th birthday when Brian declared they would climb the 1099m peak.

"I was a bit unprepared," Fred says. "But as a way of getting him back, I said we'd walk the Bibbulmun Track although it's really something we'd spoken about, on and off, for years."

Mission accomplished 965km and 25kg lighter. Supplied picture
For three months, Fred took daily walks of at least 10km carrying a loaded backpack.

"I've always kept myself reasonably fit so I just stepped it up a bit," he says. "You really have to condition the walking muscles by carrying the type of weight you'll have out on the track.

"Brian's an ex-shearer and as tough as a nut, he's kept himself fit. He's 62 but he still does triathlons and he's cycling, swimming or running every day."

The pair also joined the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, to find out what equipment they would need and to get tips on preparing for the walk.

"The foundation really is excellent - a big help," Fred says. "We were able to learn from the stories of other people that had walked the track and were able to plan things such as what food we'd take and the cooking utensils we'd bring with us."

There were never any second thoughts - "we're both pig-headed" - and feeling suitably prepared, the friends set off from Kalamunda on March 1, each carrying two walking poles and backpacks loaded with about four days worth of food, water, clothes, a foam sleeping mat, a small inflatable mattress, a sleeping bag and a tent. The packs weighed about 20kg, becoming lighter as they used water and food.

Two pre-dropped food parcels helped them on their way on the long stretch of about 200km from Kalamunda to Dwellingup. They'd average 25km each day, depending on the terrain. "It's all pretty hilly," Fred says, "but some bits are easier walking than others."

They alternated between camping in tents or overnighting at the campsites which have toilets and fresh water and, on the northern section, are roughly 10km apart.

Without fail they'd walk from 6am to 6pm, stopping regularly to rest, including two hours for lunch - one of their three daily meals.

"We'd have porridge made with powdered milk and a cup of coffee for breakfast," Fred explains, "morning and afternoon snacks were muesli bars, lunch was always cream cheese or peanut paste on dried biscuits while tea would be pasta with tinned tuna or chicken mixed through it and then tinned fruit."

They met overseas hikers as well as Bibbulmun fanatics who've conquered the end-to-end more than once. But Fred says some people they encountered clearly weren't prepared for the walk.

South of Collie, there are more settlements along the track and Fred and Brian stopped at towns such as Balingup, Pemberton, Walpole, Peaceful Bay and Denmark, stocking up on food and water and staying overnight.

"We'd time it so we arrived in each town no later than about 1pm," Fred says.

"That gave us time to wash, clean our clothes and have a meal in town - usually a hamburger, chips and salad. It always tasted good but our stomachs had shrunk so much we couldn't manage much of it."

They never booked ahead, instead seeking accommodation advice at the visitor centres.

"In every town, the staff in the visitor centres were excellent people with great advice," Fred says.

"Each night going to sleep we'd look forward to setting off again in the morning. Those two morning hours were the best. It's cooler, there's a bit of mist and the forest looks beautiful."

Throughout the trek, Brian led the way. Fred jokes that his mate copped most of the early-morning spider webs but he believes that the fastest walker should always set the pace.

"Brian's also more alert than me," Fred says, "I'd have got us lost, the emergency services would've been out looking for us."

The track ascends a number of hills on the Darling Scarp and the views from each are a reward for the climb.

"You can't beat being at the top of Mt Cooke, Mt Cuthbert or Mt Vincent," Fred says. "They're all in a row, quite close to each other and you're up and down, up and down but from the top you get the best views of the forest. Further south, near Denmark, Mt Hallowell was one of the hardest climbs but from the top you can see so much of the surrounding country - it's probably the most spectacular view of the walk."

There was the odd difficulty; the pair were nearly blown over by strong winds around Peaceful Bay, while fighting for almost three days through the thick undergrowth along the Donnelly River became physically and mentally tiring.

But even when the feet were sore and the mornings nippy, there were never any thoughts of quitting.

"We're both the same in that way," Fred says, "Once we start something, we never give up - there was a contingency that if one of us got injured the other was free to complete the walk."

Those long days on the track gave the pair plenty of time for reflection.

"The two of us are great friends but there's not a lot to say to each other that we haven't said before - we might go a few hours without speaking.

"It's about getting locked in yourself and it gives you a chance to reprioritise things in your life."

And on the afternoon of April 10, 40 days after leaving the Perth Hills, they marched into Albany triumphant and a collective 25kg lighter.

Fred wholeheartedly recommends the end-to-end experience but suggests taking a little longer than he and Brian did.

"We had a good time but we sought a sense of accomplishment from finishing the walk within 42 days and we'd have been disappointed if it had taken us longer.

"You have skills you've learnt in your life but you think I've just turned 60, and wonder if there's anything left in the tank. And then you realise you have still got it and that's the satisfaction."

The pair have no plans for another six-week epic. But it won't be long until Fred and Brian lace their boots and fill their backpacks again, for they're planning to tackle the 135km Cape to Cape Walk next year.

Fred Worthington's end-to-end tips

• Preparation is everything. Join the Bibbulmun Track Foundation and check out Talk to members who have done the end-to-end walk.

• Buy the best and most durable equipment, not the cheapest, particularly when it comes to boots. Wear your boots in while training and try them with one and two pairs of socks to see which is more comfortable.

• Use walking poles which help with stability and with brushing aside branches and other obstacles. Buy a length of Fixomull tape to wrap up tender foot "hot spots".

• Make your gear as light as possible and avoid backpacks full of small pockets. Use a tubular-shaped pack with more capacity. Bring a pillowslip and fill it full of clothes to save on the space a pillow takes up.

• Add electrolyte drinks to water to avoid getting cramps in the middle of the night. Make sure there is plenty of protein in your meals. You will lose weight but the protein will minimise muscle loss.

• Rest often and don't worry about falling behind. The terrain varies widely and you will cover different distances each day. The weather also has an impact.

• Stay in contact with home and sign in at each campsite so your recent movements are recorded. The track is waymarked by distinctive yellow Waugal signs but these can become obscured. If in doubt about the direction you have taken, track back immediately - Fred and Brian had to do this "three or four times".

• In each town, call at the visitor centre for advice on where to eat and buy supplies and the best place to stay.

The West Australian

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