Location: Stirling Range National Park just over an hours drive from Albany
Distance: 6.8 km return (it took us about 3 hours)
Difficulty: Grade 4 – Bush walking experience recommended. Tracks may be long, rough and very steep. Directional signage may be limited.
What to bring: Water is a necessity. Snacks are a bonus. Dress less for the walk up but it’s bloody freezing up there so don’t forget some warmer clothes!
Cost: There is an entry fee for the National Parks which is $15 for a day pass or you can get a cheaper deal if you will be heading to the parks for longer. Check it out here.
Apart from heading down to see family, this hike was one of the main reasons I was going to Albany. Our family friend, Mike, was keen to climb it with me so he drove down the night before. Being as obsessed with sunrises as I am, I thought we’d better try to catch one on the way up. Being over an hour away from the beginning of the trail, we left home at 5am in the pitch black. Sorry Mike! Driving into the Stirling Ranges as the sun began to light up the sky was pretty spectacular. The outlines of huge mountain ranges began to show themselves and the ombre sky put on a show.
We were surprised to see at least ten other cars in the carpark when we arrived. Lots of people must have had the same idea as us! After taking photos for a big group of tourists and using the amenities (WA seriously have the best facilities everywhere you go!), we set off just as the sun began to hit the top of the mountain peaks surrounding us.
The track had only just been reopened after four months of repair works. Multiple fires over the summer had burnt through about a third of the Stirling Ranges and many of the tracks were damaged. They had to be restored using only hand tools which is incredible to consider as you’re walking up the thousands of stairs. The surrounding forest was beginning to rejuvenate but Mike said it still looked very different from when he had completed the walk pre fires. A positive of this was that it was so clear and gave the best views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
The beginning of the track is lovely and flat and then the stairs start. They don’t stop. It’s just stair after stair after stair after stair. Mike was a large degree fitter than me so I kept making him stop and blamed it on my asthma. The view was my other go-to excuse. To be fair, it was pretty beautiful. Especially as the golden sunlight began to hit the land. I had put my jumper on before we started and it was off before we hit the tenth step. Mike, to my envy, had chosen to go jumper-less but that was quickly going to be the biggest regret of the hike.
When we looked up, clouds were cascading over the peak of Bluff Knoll. Once we reached cloud level, the track got a bit more slippery and the air got a whole lot more icy! It was a pleasant relief from the sweat we’d built up along the climb and we knew it meant we were close. Why is it that you get such a big burst of energy when you’re about to reach the end of a big climb? I had struggled the whole way up and then the last 200 metres felt like I was walking on clouds, maybe because I actually was?
It was hard to see a lot when we reached the summit as the clouds were creating a thick fog. To be honest, I was pretty grateful for the foggy veil as it hid the view of the drop below. I’m a bit of a sook with heights and this way I could stand right on the rocks near the edge! We were so lucky that the clouds were coming from the back of Bluff Knoll so we still got fleeting, stunning glimpses of the view at the front. We hung out at the top for a while sheltering from the wind behind a rock. It was SO cold at the top. A couple were up there with us and they were rugged up big time. We heard them laughing at us in our shorts and t-shirts and I don’t blame them! Being the highest peak in WA, its pretty obvious that it would get cold up the top. Will definitely bring some warmer clothes next time!
We enjoyed the sense of achievement and the views for a while as we had a snack and explored the summit. I had a fly of the drone which was all well and good until I tried to land it. It was pretty much hurricane Katrina up there. At one point Mike was about to fall off the cliff after I asked him to try and catch it. Instead, I had to do a seriously sketchy crash landing on the smallest section of rock ever in the highest winds I’d ever flown it in. The drone survived everyone, don’t worry.
After about half an hour, we started the descent back to the carpark. About a quarter of the way down, we passed the huge group of tourists we had taken photos for back at the start. Mike told them there was a coffee machine at the top to inspire them to keep going. They were stoked. Probably wouldn’t have been when they got there. The downhill is an absolute killer on the knees, just a warning if you have any issues you might want to reconsider. It’s definitely fun saying hello to everyone when you’re not out of breath though and they are. We were glad to have headed up when we did as there were now heaps of people hitting the track! Once we made it back to the car, we felt very proud of ourselves! To keep the adventure going, we drove home through the Red Gum Pass (a half hour drive through the Stirling Ranges) and stopped off at a few little lookouts along the way. Then we did absolutely NOTHING for the rest of the day. Well deserved I say!