Bibbulmun Track FKT Trip Report
In September/October 2022 I (Tom Bartlett) set the self-supported Fastest Known Time for the Bibbulmun Track (~950km). I completed the track in a time of 11 days, 21 hours, 45 minutes (6:08AM 22 Sept – 3:53AM 04 Oct 2022). The definition of a self-supported FKT can be found here.
At 5:20am my alarm went off in a quiet hotel in Albany. Driving rain had been battering our window all night, and I was starting to question whether the skies would clear up as forecasted. I had already been conscious for an hour, drifting in and out of sleep. My stomach was in knots and I could barely focus on all of the last minute things I needed to organise before my planned 6am departure from the southern terminus.
My nerves meant that Maddie had to pack my bag and coax me out of the hotel down to the start line. The rain had stopped as predicted. I couldn’t face my oats for breakfast, and instead did my best to force down a Magnum ice cream from the night before.
Maddie reminded me to load my day 1 gpx file on my watch for navigation, and took some photos at the start line. “Did I feel this way before the last FKT?” I asked her. “Yes, exactly the same,” she replied. With nothing left to delay the start, I put my headphones in and began a brisk walk out of Albany.
I knew I was ready physically. My attempt at the self-supported Bibbulmun FKT was the culmination of over 13000km of hiking in the last decade. I was the strongest hiker I had ever been, having already covered 6000km in the last year. This included a previous Bibbulmun Track walk, setting the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) Fastest Known Time (FKT), and then a 96 day walk from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail (4300km).
I had spent the seven weeks between finishing the PCT and my Bibb FKT attempt by eating and sleeping as much as possible. I had been trying to recover from a persistent niggle in my foot from the PCT, only to discover two weeks before the FKT attempt that it had been a corn the whole time. Much to my joy, my feet were 100% after the podiatrist removed it. However, it meant that I had only hiked ~50km in my seven weeks back in Australia and hadn’t had the chance to test a whole bunch of gear.
After delaying my start by a week due to bad weather, I saw a good weather window opening up and knew I had to take my chance. Maddie and I had lined up work as hiking guides for later in October, and I couldn’t push back my attempt any longer. I was ready physically, but was I rested enough mentally? Adjusting back to ‘normal’ life after the PCT and then preparing for this FKT had been exhausting. I hadn’t relaxed nearly as much as I planned to. However, I knew that getting to the start line was always one of the hardest parts and that there was an opportunity in front of me I had to take.
My motivation for this FKT attempt came primarily from events within the last year. More than a year ago I would not have even considered attempting to hike nearly 1000km in under 12 days. I was inspired by watching Josh Perry’s self-supported PCT FKT, where he was consistently smashing out 80+ km per day for nearly two months. I knew how much stronger I was since setting the AAWT FKT with my friend Paul, and I wanted to see what I could do if I put everything on the line. Because of this, it felt important to attempt the FKT alone.
My ‘A’ goal was to try and break the supported record set by Erika Lori (10d 17h 57m). I ended up coming in around 28hrs behind that goal, but was still able to hit my ‘B’ goal of sub 12 days. I didn’t know if my ‘A’ goal was possible, but also didn’t want to subject myself to preconceived limitations. What I knew was that I wanted to go out hard and see what happened. I didn’t end up breaking the supported record, but I am proud of the self-supported time I put forward and hope that it drives others to go even faster.
Day 1: Albany to William Bay Shelter
100.38km, 2355m, 18:08:15
I knew day 1 was always going to be a big day. I was inspired by Paul’s tactics from the AAWT and set a distance that seemed stupidly unrealistic without first day excitement. 100km seemed right. This ended up being the easiest day as my body remembered how to walk after 7 weeks of being sedentary. As I took off from Albany my nerves slowly subsided and I was able to walk nearly the whole day at 6km/hr, meaning 100k took only 17hrs and 20 mins. Luckily, Torbay inlet was sealed and I crossed with dry feet. After 80km I got a lift around Wilson Inlet from trail angel Jacko (who runs the Casa Libelula Bed & Breakfast in Denmark). I was worried that I would waste time going up and over Mt Hallowell at night, but ended up not having any problems due to the reflective track markers. I remember getting lost around this area last year and was grateful for the extra effort that had been made to improve the track since then. Since I reached William Bay Shelter early, I decided to reward myself with an extra hour of sleep (bringing the total up to a wholesome 5 hrs!).
Day 2: William Bay Shelter to Frankland River Shelter
89.02km, 2,089m, 18:20:19
It’s easy to have a big first day; the real test is whether you can back it up. As I left William Bay Shelter I was filled with confidence. Day 1 felt easy and I was moving well. However, day 2 ended up being one of the toughest days physically. The long beach walks and coastal tracks felt much tougher than they had yesterday. The sand dunes felt never ending and I struggled to keep the good pace I had the day before. Again I got lucky as I had dry feet crossing Parry Inlet. When I arrived at Irwin Inlet I was happy to see 3 canoes on my side, and paddled across whilst battling a strong head wind.
I phoned ahead to Peaceful Bay to order a burger and hot chips, and upon arrival also grabbed several ice creams, chocolate milk and a Red Bull. By late afternoon I was really starting to struggle, and was looking forward to moving away from the coast and into the tingle forest. However, the tingles weren’t any easier as rain started to pour down and I settled in for a long, cold, wet night. I was grateful to reach Frankland River Shelter and reminisced how this was the second time it had protected me from persistent rain. I quickly tucked into my sleeping bag for 4 hrs of sleep, hoping that the rest of the rain would fall whilst I was sleeping.
Day 3: Frankland River Shelter to Mt Chance Shelter
80.3km, 1469m, ~18 hrs
(Note that my watch corrupted the gpx file so numbers are based off official track data instead of my watch recording.)
Much to my displeasure, I awoke to the sound of rain crashing onto the roof of the shelter. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag and headed out in the dark. I knew the rain wouldn’t last long, and that I would feel better when the sunrise came. The rain persisted longer than forecast, and I was excited to reach Walpole to grab a coffee and some hot food. I received many odd looks in town with my running pack, tights, rain poncho, and general look of dishevelment. I started to gain a good rhythm leaving town after consuming several hot pies and sausage rolls. The rain had finally cleared and the coffee was kicking in.
I was not looking forward to returning to the coast, but also knew it was not long until I would be reaching the infamously flooded Pingerup Plains.
I had an ambitious goal of pushing to Dog Pool Shelter, however, the Pingerups had other plans. Walking through the flooded plains at night was extremely cold and the water was excellent at shutting down my fatiguing muscles. Consequently, I was struggling to maintain a good speed and decided to call it early and stop at Mt Chance Shelter. I inspected my feet and was grateful that they seemed to be holding together well and lay down for another 4 hours of sleep. Although the track was slower and harder than anticipated, my body and mind were coping well.
Day 4: Mt Chance Shelter to Schafer Shelter
88.16km, 1208m, 19:01:21
With the coast and the last of the bad weather behind me, I knew that I wanted today to be a big one. The Pingerups were flat and I was hoping to make good time. The flooding wasn’t as bad as the previous year, and I reached Northcliffe not long after sunset. I could feel sleep deprivation catching up to me and that tonight might be the start of the ‘sleep monsters’. Also, the last 24+hrs of wet feet had taken their toll and I had a few blisters developing. My feet were macerated and generally more tender than they had been for the last three days. Getting from Northcliffe to Schafer Shelter proved to be extremely difficult mentally. I was consistently falling behind my schedule to best the supported record and I kept moving slower and slower, struggling to stay awake. I was happy to go to sleep and to put the coast and Pingerups behind me, telling myself I would be stronger in the forest terrain.
Day 5: Schafer Shelter to Beavis Shelter
88.44km, 2,158m, 19:53:59
Today ended up being a monster and was by far the most challenging for me physically. I started off by negotiating the hills that comprised the Pemberton ‘rollercoaster’. It was slow going and brought on knee pain that I hadn’t experienced before. I reached Pemberton in the late afternoon and was grateful to resupply with some hot food and more coffee. I was moving well after leaving Pemberton and enjoyed the more relaxed 20km into Beedelup Shelter.
To make a poor cricket analogy, the section between Beedelup and Beavis hit me for six. Although the track was easy enough to follow, the steep firetrail pinches seemed never ending, and also not accounted for in the elevation profile. I seemingly crawled into Beavis Shelter after a long 20hr day with a body that was starting to develop issues. Hotspots on my feet were turning into blisters and my knees were aching as I struggled to lift my heels off the ground.
Nevertheless, I settled in for another 4 hr sleep. The seemingly only upside of such a long push was that I would be waking up in the light instead of darkness.
Day 6: Beavis Shelter to Willow Springs Shelter
73.81km, 1499m, 16:43:03
It seemed that every day thus far I had told myself “Today is the last day of tough terrain. Once you get through today the track will be faster and easier.” At least today it might be true. After making it to Boarding House Shelter, it seemed that the track genuinely got easier. I passed half way and was excited to walk on the soft forest floor. My feet were still struggling from the damage inflicted in the Pingerups and I was having to stop more frequently to try different methods of looking after them. The last 5 big days were catching up to me and I knew I couldn’t repeat another 20 hr epic like yesterday.
I passed through Donnelly River in the evening which meant I was unable to buy any morale-boosting hot foot. I was hoping to reach Gregory Brook Shelter but the sleep deprivation and my slow speed meant that I stopped 10km short at Willow Springs. The track had gotten easier, but the flat hard-packed gravel surfaces proved to be nearly as much trouble for my feet as the preceding hills had been for my knees.
Day 7: Willow Springs Shelter to Grimwade Shelter
71.49km, 1559m, 17:07:06
Day 7 proved to be very similar to day 6. The track was easier but I was moving slower due to sleep deprivation and foot problems. I was just slower in general. Going to the toilet, tying my shoelaces and refuelling at food drops all took longer. Heat was also a problem for the first time and I had to stop at Blackwood Shelter in the middle of the day to cool down. My feet were complaining more in the heat and the only thing I could do was elevate and soak them in cool water. I would have paid a lot of money to have access to some ice packs!
Passing through Balingup I again loaded up on hot pies, soft drink and coffee. I also took my first day time nap that afternoon, knowing I would struggle to push through the night without it. I was happy that I had managed to last until day 7 before my first nap, and enjoyed the powerful effect of 15 minutes of sleep.
Again I had hoped to make it further than I did, but also respected that I still had a long way to go and needed to rest. Although the last two days had been shorter in terms of distance, they were also on less than 24 hour cycles (once you include sleep). This meant that I was starting to sleep earlier in the night, which was a deliberate shift in tactics to break up the long nights. I was struggling with the 8 hours of walking in the dark between 6pm-2am. I thought that breaking the night walking into two shorter stints on either side of a sleep might be more manageable.
I also conveniently managed to lose my inReach Mini tracker at this stage, which must have been another sleep deprivation related accident as I remember having it clipped onto a loop on my pack. I ended up picking up another tracker that evening after another hiker kindly agreed to let me use theirs for the remainder of the trip.
Day 8: Grimwade Shelter to Harris Dam Shelter
82.88km, 1552m, 19:56:24
By day 8 it felt like I was in survival mode. My body and mind weren’t broken, but it felt like one little thing could tip me over the edge into major struggle town. Therefore, I was extremely surprised and grateful when a fellow thru hiker offered to walk with me for the first few hours of the early morning. This was the first time I had walked with anyone on the trail and it was a great boost to be able to share conversation and stories with someone.
Our lovely morning walk was too soon replaced with solo walking in the heat and I was quickly scrambling for ways to look after my feet. Not long before reaching Collie I had to stop and lie down in a cold stream to try manage the swelling and pain.
Since Collie was off the track, I wasn’t able to get any hot food. I had joked with others about trying to see if I could organise UberEats, but in the end I was too tired to deal with extra logistics. I was moving slowly and didn’t want to waste any more time.
Again, it was a struggle staying awake in the dark by myself. I spent many hours singing pop songs out loud and was happy to strike up conversation with the many frogs I passed in the dark.
Day 9: Harris Dam Shelter to Murray Shelter
76.86km, 1,154m, 17:39:15
I was looking forward to day 9 as I knew the first half passed through some of my favourite parts of the track from last year’s Bibb walk. I enjoyed the flat forest and then sandy tracks filled with wild flowers. I can’t explain why, but this region seemed to be filled with many more flowers than any other part of the Bibb.
I reached Possum Springs Shelter by lunchtime and was ready for a 15 minute nap. The heat was sapping my energy and I needed to stop and try to consume more calories. The other hikers at the shelter kindly vacated to give me some peace and quiet. All too soon, the vibration from my watch alarm jolted me awake and I begrudgingly put my shoes back on. I took a few quick selfies with the hikers and then kept going.
I always enjoyed meeting other hikers, even if maybe I didn’t show it! I certainly was motivated by their enthusiasm and interest, and it helped me remember that ripples of an FKT attempt can be much broader than the individual taking part in it.
The second half of the day was spent walking along Murray River, a section I was happy to do in darkness as I remembered it dragging on last year.
The lack of reception for nearly the entire day meant I didn’t have much opportunity to call or talk to friends and family. I found dealing with this isolation tricky, especially as the sun set and I became more of a walking zombie.
Either way, I kept pushing till I reached Murray Shelter (which I had appropriately been informed had the worst tasting water on the entire track!). As I entered the shelter there was a lady awake who I started chatting with. She ended up being a nurse and was determined to make sure I was okay and to do her best to look after me. I was extremely grateful for this interaction as she helped remind me of how far I had come, and had relatively not that far to go.
Day 10: Murray Shelter to Mt Wells Shelter
73.87km, 1,621m, 18:17:54
Day 10 ended up being a bit of a disaster. I was keen to have a good day and to cover 90km to reach White Horse Hills Shelter. This would mean that I had only around 160km for the final two days, as I was keen to avoid a mega push on the final day like Paul and I had to make on the AAWT. It did not go that way.
The day started slowly as it took me a long time to prepare my feet and get moving. The hills leading into Dwellingup were just steep enough to make things troublesome. It took me a long time to resupply at my food drop and I was making silly mistakes. I was filling my soft flask up with soft drink but poured too quickly, meaning the bubbles overflowed and spilled all over my new clothes and fresh socks. I tried my best to mop everything up with wet wipes but the sticky residue remained.
After finishing my attempt at cleaning the mess up, I went to fill up my next soft flask with more soft drink and proceeded to do the exact same thing! This time the soft drink overflowed onto my shoes and foam mat.
Putting my slow food drop behind me I pushed onto Dwellingup. This would be my last opportunity to buy some nice food and I wasn’t going to waste it. I visited the general store to stock up on ice cream and energy drinks. Then, I visited a nearby cafe to pick up an order I placed over the phone. I drank my coffee and packed my $70 worth of hot goodies. I had been quick and felt like I made the most of my last town stop.
As I was leaving the cafe I went to grab my AirPods but couldn’t find them. The bag they were in also had my iPhone cable. Both of these items were non-negotiable and I backtracked to the cafe to see if I could find them. I tore my pack apart without luck. I begrudgingly backtracked to the general store hoping to find the bag, or at least buy a new iPhone cable and headphones.
$50 later I had some mediocre headphones and an iPhone cable and was walking out of Dwellingup. Then, at the exact spot I had initially stopped at to look for my AirPods, I saw the stuff sack they were in lying on the ground. Half unsure of whether I was happy to find my AirPods or not, I picked them up and laughed ironically. I had wasted over an hour of time and stress trying to remedy this situation, all because I hadn’t checked the ground around me when I first went to find my AirPods! Another tired mistake. Suffice to say I walked briskly out of Dwellingup.
As I reached the railroad track leaving Dwellingup, I met a couple who were out for a walk. They pushed me to keep going and I was grateful to share a few words with them.
Night soon took over and I knew my goal of reaching White Horse Hills Shelter was no longer realistic. I then decided to try to reach Mt Wells Shelter as soon as possible instead, to give me extra time for the now-inevitable final mega push.
Rain and wind picked up as I climbed Mt Wells slowly, and was glad to reach the shelter before conditions worsened. My late night sneaking-into-shelter skills had seriously deteriorated over the last week and the couple inside asked me how I was going. We reminisced over how we had both hiked the Te Araroa in New Zealand and I jokingly informed them of the rumours I heard last year that a boa constrictor lived in this hut!
The couple informed me there was a man sleeping out in his tent who wanted to meet me and proceeded to wake him up. The man was Philip Lori, Erika’s father and crew member from her supported FKT the year before. He was out hiking a section of the Bibb and wanted to check up on me to see if I needed anything. He even offered to walk with me for an hour or two the next morning.
Enthused with the prospect of a morning companion, I tucked into bed for my final four hours sleep of the trip.
Day 11: Mt Wells Shelter to Monadnocks Shelter
77.46km, 1821m, 18:07:46
Playing mind games with myself, I told myself that day 11 was the final ‘full’, or ‘real’ day. This is because it was the last time I would sleep in a shelter with my luxurious 3mm foam mat and summer sleeping bag.
After spending a long time preparing my feet, I exited the hut to see that Philip had woken up even earlier than I had to cook me some hot oatmeal for breakfast. The prospect of warm food and a walking partner at 4:30 am overwhelmed me to the verge of tears. Philip was surprised when I asked if he could pour this delicious breakfast into a ziploc bag so I could eat it whilst walking. I knew I was moving slowly and didn’t have a moment to waste. We successfully negotiated the descent of Mt Wells and I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Philip. I could tell he knew what I was going through as he expertly navigated the conversation to pass the time. After the sunrise I was back alone and focused on the climb up to White Horse Hills Shelter.
I spent many hours of day 11 in tears as I sang along to hits from the last two decades. The tears didn’t represent sadness or joy, but acted as a pressure valve releasing the build up of raw emotion inside of me. I find it liberating to sing out loud, and I’m sure sleep deprivation had me believe my singing was far more in tune than reality warranted.
I moved reasonably well throughout the day and reached the top of Mt Cooke by sunset. I was glad to finish my descent without any navigational issues. Passing Mt Cooke Shelter I was looking forward to knocking out the last 13km to Monadnocks Shelter and having an early night before my final push. However, the Bibbulmun had other plans.
Climbing up and over Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert proved to be slow and painful. The steep granite tracks wreaked havoc on my feet and I couldn’t believe that I didn’t remember this part of the track from last year.
I reached Monadnocks Shelter later than anticipated and settled down for my last sleep. I had decided to sleep for only two hours as I wanted as much time as possible for the final day. I wanted to avoid walking into the early hours of the morning and thought an early start would give me the best chance of doing that. I guess that idea was correct in theory…
Day 12: Monadnocks Shelter to Kalamunda
105.49km, 2371m, 25:35:43
I knew that today was going to be my final day. I wasn’t going to allow myself to lie back down for a long sleep, determined to make do with 15 minute and then 2 minute naps to get me to the finish line. The truth is I was just done. Done with walking. Done with the track. I was ready to be at the finish line and to be whisked away to bed and nice food. I started walking at 2:15 am and was hopeful I’d be able to knock out the 100km or so in under 24 hours.
I moved well in the darkness and was grateful to be able to talk to my dad who was awake given it was three hours later on the east coast. However, within half an hour of the sun rising I was unable to keep my eyes open and resigned myself to my first 15 min nap of the day. I took two NoDoz caffeine tablets before the nap and awoke feeling refreshed and awake.
My feet were sore and I was stopping to fiddle with them to try to make sure I didn’t develop any serious blisters this close to the finish. I ended up stopping for another nap around lunchtime; partly because the road detours meant my feet were overheating again and were more painful than I was willing to accept.
I reached Waalegh Shelter before sunset and stopped for my third and final 15 min nap of the day. I knew I needed at least one more nap before the finish and wanted it to be in the daytime, as getting going again in the dark is often much more difficult.
In the first few hours of darkness I ran into a few other people on the track, and it was nice to share stories with them for a while. With around 25km to go I was alone again and settled in for the final push. I had felt alert in the darkness thus far and was determined to keep it this way.
I took the night time reroute around Mundaring Weir and was surprised to then see yet another detour along the Bibbulmun. The track had been closed around Hewitt’s Hill Shelter sometime during my walk, leaving me with a 8.5km road walk along Mundaring Weir Rd. These 9km ended up being one the biggest lows I have ever experienced. The steep road made for slow going and the hard bitumen felt like walking on hot coals. Additionally, the sleep monsters were taking over and I was struggling to keep my eyes open.
I ended up needing to take a 2 min nap off the side of the shoulder of the road, and was then able to finish the detour off. Leaving the road I knew I had only 8km to go and did my best not to stare at the clock. The final climb up to the northern terminus felt easy as I knew that the end was near and Maddie was waiting for me at the finish.
I reached the finish at 3:53 am and Maddie quickly gave me some warm clothes. We took some finishing pictures but quickly headed towards the car. I didn’t cry like I had imagined so many times in the preceding twelve days. Much like the AAWT, I didn’t really feel much apart from relief.
It felt fitting that the end was so anticlimactic. I was more concerned with the logistics of standing up in the shower than with celebrating any sort of achievement. I knew there was time for that later, because at that moment all I needed was sleep.
When I started on 22 Sep 2022 there were several reroutes in place along the Bibbulmun. I thought I would detail them here for clarity. All distances were taken from the Bibbulmun Track Foundation website.
|Section||Official Distance||Reroute distance||Name|
|Denmark – Walpole||2.3||2.7||Realignment William Bay National Park|
|Walpole – Northcliffe||18.9||8.9||Maringup campsite and Track closure and diversion|
|Collie – Dwellingup||2.6||3.5||Timber harvest diversion|
|Dwellingup – Kalamunda||5||13.2||Diversion due to prescribed burn Location: Between Canning and Monadnocks Campsites|
|Dwellingup – Kalamunda||8.7||9.8||Diversion due to prescribed burn Location: Between Sullivan Rock and North Bannister|
|Dwellingup – Kalamunda||19.1||15.9||Diversion due to prescribed burn Location: Between Mt Dale and Brookton Hwy|
From these reroutes I was 2.6km shorter than the normal Bibbulmun Track. I therefore decided to do an ‘extra’ 2.6km to make sure that the distances were even. I did these 2.6km by walking back for 1.3km along the Bibbulmun before the Lake Maringup closure. I chose this location because it most closely mimicked the closure around Lake Maringup. You can see this 2.6km on my strava activity.
Incidentally, the Bibbulmun had a surprise for me and another closure was introduced whilst I was walking. This closure was between Kalamunda and Mundaring Weir. The original route was 8km and the detour was 8.5km.