Two days, two challenges –
Day 1: the Skywalk at Castle Rock in the Porongurup National Park.
Day 2: Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Ranges NP – the highest peak in the southern part of WA.
What a blast! Fortunately I was able to tackle both in perfect clear blue-sky sunny winter weather upon heading north from Albany last week.
The Skywalk promised a relatively short and simple walk of 3kms from the car park to Balancing Rock, then a challenging scramble and climb for a further 100m to the top of Castle Rock. I’m sure the first part was way more than 3kms! Or I’m just totally out of touch with hiking – ok, more likely the latter. The final bit was everything promised, and a real rush to boot. I actually had flashbacks at one point to hiking the Franz Joseph Glacier in NZ 3 yrs ago – some parts of the scramble were much the same, except I was climbing in and through granite this time instead of ice. Once up on the skywalk itself the view was extraordinary and it was only when I got to the end of the cantilevered walkway, which is firmly bolted around the edge of the rock, and looked down that I realised just how far up I was, and became instantly dizzy! The rocks and woodland at the bottom was disorienting, so I distracted myself by looking out at the horizon instead – taking photos, and even experimenting with a short video commentary. What a dag. As I skipped my way back down (strangely didn’t seem anywhere near as far!) I passed a family heading up – Dad with toddler on shoulders, Mum, and young girl of about 5 throwing a hissy fit and declaring she wouldn’t go any further! At the sight of a stranger, young girl clammed up, and after I reassured them they were more than half way, they carried on. Brave!
In the Stirling Ranges, I was very pleased to find a great place to stay for a couple of nights, the Stirling Range Retreat – an eco accommodation / tours venture right near the turn off to Bluff Knoll. It was incredibly quiet in terms of visitor numbers, but still had a fair buzz around it as the staff prepared for their forthcoming busiest season of the year during September – October when wildflowers and birds draw great numbers of people in. They had great facilities for such a remote location and it was just so peaceful.
The next day, after a fruitless 60km round trip to the nearest town where I’d hoped to buy the Weekend Australian and failed, I tackled Bluff Knoll. It was a beautiful sunny day as I set off from the car park with my large day pack – filled with 2.5l of water, lunch/snacks, extra layers and waterproof etc as recommended at the Retreat and in all the DEC materials I’d read plus my journal cos I thought I might write as I sat at the top. Within 500m I already had to get rid of one layer and was down to just a t-shirt, long pants and boots! It was incredibly warm, you’d never have guessed it was winter. Just ahead of me a family of Mum, Dad and two boys maybe 6 and 8 had sauntered up wearing shorts, t-shirts, trainers and carrying only a small water bottle each. Crazy. They made it all the way to the top though. I also passed another young family, with baby being carried in a back-pack seat thingy. It’s amazing how many people I did pass actually – I counted over 30 individuals just in the time I was there, ranging in age from probably less than 1yr (in the backpack of course!) to a bloke who must have been in his 70s, and in states of dress from bare foot (!) through to full mountaineering gear and walking sticks. It’s apparently been nominated one of the top 25 hikes in all of Australia, I guess that accounts for its popularity.
The walk itself was pretty challenging going up hill. At times I thought the steps would never end. At some parts there was fierce cold wind cutting through me, and others I was overheated. Once at the top I was glad I had bought some lunch and could sit and enjoy the 360° view for a while, though by that time it was a bit hazy and I suspect we were actually in a light cloud layer. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too cold up there. There was a strong wind racing up the cliff face side of the bluff, shaking the stunted trees growing out from the summit edge, but so long as you sat a couple of metres back from the edge (no problems there!) you barely felt it. Going back down was of course less challenging, although harder on the knees. But by that time fatigue had set in and several times I slipped, tripped or stumbled. It would be so easy to fall and get seriously hurt, it’s surprising to me that it doesn’t happen more often given the numbers that tackle the peak. Anyway, back to Sweetie in safety, I coasted back down to the Retreat feeling exhausted but exhilarated, enjoyed dinner and a cider, and had an awesome sleep.