Yep, I’m calling it. Having finished the Cape to Cape earlier this year, as well as large swathes of the Bibbulmun, I can say this one tops it. No other hike in Western Australia offers the experience as provided along the Stirling Ridge walk. It had been on the list for a while but to be honest, low expectations had put me off. I’d been up Bluff Knoll and a few other peaks in the area and while providing a pleasant outing, weren’t really worth the long drive from Perth. I’m happy to eat my words on this one.
I was joined on the trek by a mate of mine, a welcome change from the usual solo endeavors. Early June was our time frame, perhaps not the best choice from a weather perspective but we decided to rough it. From a few of the reviews we read you’d assume this hike was equivalent to a venture into the Alaskan wilderness. Exposed ridges, arduous slopes, shit, even cyclonic winds were mentioned. I also read somewhere that 2 out of 3 treks that started didn’t complete it. Either someone was having a laugh or we were leaving Western Australia. We decided to risk our lives and do it anyway.
Embarking from Perth at 6am, we reached the Bluff Knoll campsite after 6 or so hours of looong, tedious driving. Parking the car up and grabbing our gear, we got a lift out to the East end of the track by an old gentleman from the camp. The long ride was made enjoyable after the driver mistakenly thought my friend, a female, was actually a man. I was in hysterics for quite some time. Small minds are easily amused as they say..
We’d heard traversing the ridge from East to West is the way to go, it provides a clear landmark in Bluff Knoll at to work towards and is a little closer to civilisation at the finish. Here’s a map of the whole thing. There’s a 5km walk along a firebreak to get to the start of the trek. While not generally amusing, my friend had a good laugh (& got one back) when I fell over in some mud. I immediately regretted wearing old, worn down running shoes..
At last we reached the base of the ridge. From here there’s a rather steep section up to the little knob of Ellens Peak (far left in the photo above). From there you can either go up the peak and back down the other side, or scramble around either side of it. We went around the northern side which involved a bit of a dip, then scrambling back up to get onto the ridge (just to the right of the peak).
We continued along the trail for another couple of hours, by which time the daylight was starting to fade. Time to look for one of the fabled ‘sleeping caves’ we’d read about. We tried to find the cave which was supposedly on the North side of the ridge. A GPS we’d brought along showed it was in our immediate vicinity but after a good hour of searching, we were out of luck and out of light.
We resorted to sleeping outside on the sloping ridge. That was an interesting one. Thank god we’d chosen a period of clear weather. Finding a spot free of vegetation, we laid out the sleeping bags and after a hearty feed, attempted sleep. We’d doze for a little while, wake up and find ourselves a meter down in the tussock, having to crawl back up the slope again. I don’t recommend it. Find a cave.
One perk of sleeping on the northern slope was the view it afforded us of the sunrise. All the sunrises and sunsets were pretty special along the ridge. Following an extended bout of admiration fro the glories of nature, we packed up the kit, had a quick bite and were on our way again.
Pushing on for a couple of hours, we came across an awesome cave that should’ve been our shelter for the night. The spot was incredible. It would’ve taken a big first day but should be quite doable. I don’t actually know the name of the spot but I’m sure you’ll find it on any Stirling Ridge Walk guide or map.
The terrain on this trek was a great deal more interesting and often challenging than I first suspected. For the majority of the first 2 days, you’re contending with brush and scrub that covers the track. When applied to the Stirling Ridge Walk, ‘track’ can be a fairly ambiguous term. Although there is often a fairly well defined trail, much of the route is open for interpretation as far as the best course to proceed. Cairns; piled rock markers are generally the only form of navigation you’ll find.
Once again, we timed things badly and were left without a cave to sleep in by the time the darkness began to take hold. At this point we were actually up on top of one of the ‘arrows’ (what they call 3 of the peaks in this range) so we decided to make our camp there. Not the best choice.. there was a little more wind up here and I shivered through a rather chilly night. Again, the views well and truly made up for it.
We kicked off the third and final day with our sights set on the big dog the range, Bluff Knoll. I really can’t remember the times we hiked each day, I’d hazard a guess and say roughly 6 hours for the first and 7 or 8 for the last two. The last one in particularly took a little longer then expected.
There was far less scrub on this section of the Route, rather mud and steep banks were our biggest challenge. I landed on my ass quite a few times, much to the amusement of my companion. Once again, please don’t use old runners on this trek..
When we were dropped off at the East end by the camp manager, he warned us several times not to take car keys up there; apparently several sets had been lost over the years. By the third day I had lost a shirt and the end of my trekking pole (which I never even used..) and my friend had lost her camera. It’s quite easy to drop things and have them torn away by the brush. Keep your gear tucked up inside your pack.
Another thing, the wind.. holy hell. I made a mock comment on a review that referred to the wind as ‘cyclonic’. Well, while that may be a slight exaggeration, it is damn strong. It was present on the first days along sections but it wasn’t until day 3 that we felt its full force. It’s legit!
Sauntering on, we finally approached the last climb up to the top of Bluff Knoll. Upon reaching the summit plateau, we were greeted by a complete white-out. Yep, we got lost as all hell. Thankfully the GPS finally did it’s job and we found our way to the summit marker and the well marked path back down the other side.