3- 4 hours, 6km climb
Moderate to Difficult (with basic levels of fitness)
- If you don’t have proper hiking boots, tie plastic lunch bags over your socks before putting on your shoes. It’s not fashionable but it kept my socks dry the entire climb!
- Wear grippy shoes as it’s very slippery in winter.
- Too much clothing is better than not enough as the weather can change rapidly.
Stirling Range Retreat
About Bluff Knoll
Bluff Knoll is the highest peak in the Stirling Ranges in Western Australia. It’s a rare sighting to see snow in Western Australia and this is one place you might be lucky enough to witness the white. Our host informed us that many people are unprepared for the rapid changes in weather during winter. Thankfully, I came overprepared.
Just Say Yes..
I woke Monday morning 3rd July 2017 and saw a message from mum, “Want to go Bluff Knoll to see the snow?”. There was news the day before of snowfall on the mountain. We agreed to go Tuesday and called to book our stay at the Stirling Range Retreat. They had been inundated with enquiries due to the snowfall. We were lucky to book one of the last motel rooms. On this random Monday, we were bound south to venture on a hike we hadn’t done before. I had to keep focused on an essay (due that day!), rearrange all my clients (who were incredibly understanding) buy winter gear, work, prepare food and pack. Gahhh! It was a crazy day but I managed to pull it off. When you’re about to embark on an adventure you’ve wanted to do for ages, motivation is bound to be high!
Tuesday arrived quickly and we set off. It takes about 4 and a half hours to get to the Stirling Ranges but we took longer due to multiple stops. There’s a bakery in Ballister along Albany Hwy and we bought fresh sourdough bread for our pre-hike breakfast. It was that good we had to get more on our way back to Perth. We weren’t planning to hike until the following day so it seemed pointless to rush. We enjoyed cruising down Albany Hwy sipping on hot tea and munching on snacks.
Entering The Ranges
When I first saw the mountains in the distance, the clouds above looked like mini tornados. I kind of pooped myself. Yes. I have a weird fear of twisters due to watching Twister so many times as a kid. I couldn’t believe these mountains were in Western Australia. They are incredible! Driving through Stirling Range National Park the sunset splashed red and purple all over the mountains. Colours bounced into the blue sky readying itself for night. It brought back memories of the mountains in Flagstaff, Arizona – the cowboy outback.
The view from our motel
The Stirling Range Retreat is across the road from Bluff Knoll. Our motel was simple; two bunks, bathroom and small kitchen. It may not be fancy but it’s the perfect place to stay if you are exploring the Stirling Ranges. Also, if you sleep in the car overnight, they have showers and an outdoor kitchen area. A couple slept in their car in the carpark – it’s definitely something I want to do when I go back! Hippie styles.
We settled into our motel and laughed wondering what to do all night. There was no tv, no reception and it was really cold. It was just us, our heat packs and a pile of food. We sat on plastic chairs, yeh there’s no lounge, and filled our bellies without holding back. We’d need it for the hike tomorrow, we agreed. Heading to bed at 7.30pm was a challenge. There was just nothing to do and I forgot to bring a book. I didn’t sleep too well that night. The man next door had a voice that like Gandalf. Seriously. Gan-bloody-dalf.
Entrance to Bluff Knoll trail
Wednesday 5th July – Day of the Hike
We arrived at Bluff Knoll along with hundreds of others who had the same idea. We expected a lot of people to show but weren’t prepared for the holdup. In a queue of cars winding all the way to the entrance, we anxiously waited to know what was happening. The rangers told us one by one there was a 1-2 hour wait to drive up to the next car park – the foot of the mountain. We had the choice of waiting in the car or parking and then walking 8km to the bottom of the mountain. Then 6km up the mountain. Then 8km back. This definitely wasn’t in our plan but we agreed to walk anyways. We signed in to the park and started walking. We were in for a challenge with the extra hours added to our hike.
It poured down so hard and we were saturated before we’d barely started. “Do you guys want a lift?” Not even 8 minutes into walking, a family offered us a lift. They had only two spare seats. We were so lucky! It was a long, windy, uphill walk in heavy rain weather. Hitching a ride definitely started the hike on a good vibe. It was slightly awkard watching so many people walk while we sailed through.
Climbing the mountain
Surrounded by eager hikers, families, young children and diverse cultures, the carpark was buzzing with excitement. We began our voyage up the mountain and laughed at how crazy we felt for this unexpected, spontaneous adventure. Faced with never-ending nature stairs, this wasn’t going to be like the hikes I usually do in Perth. I felt like I was in another world. The air was different. The vegetation. It was like landing on Mars and discovering everything for the first time. Sure, I have been to heights, canyons and waterfalls but mountains in Western Australia? Unreal.
People were going up and down non-stop. As we passed by we exchanged hello’s, jokes and spurs of motivation. I usually hike in less crowded places. But I was hoping there’d be a crowd especially being my first time. I met many people on the mountain that day, all courageously facing the wintery conditions in the hope of seeing snow.
Storms hitting while we walk
A few times we asked each other “Are we actually going up there?”. Looking up it seemed crazy to think we were going to be on top of this mountain. When you look back and see how much you’ve conquered though, it doesn’t seem that difficult. At one point the wind blew so hard, I lost my balance. My biggest fear was falling off the side to my death or worse, my mum. The best way to combat those harsh winds was to keep moving. We came to an open space on the cliffside where the temperature dropped really quick. Some guys hurried past us on the way down and said, “be prepared, there’s snow!” Mum suggested putting our gloves and rain jackets on to prepare for any snowfall.
As we did, light icey snow began to fall. I was so excited because I’ve never seen snow. It melted quickly and the path soon became a running water fall. We kept climbing as water rapidly gushed through our feet. The winds were really strong because of the open space. Eventually we came to a point where the rock protected us from the winds. The air was so still and eerily quiet. This part of the walk was quite beautiful and I can imagine in spring that it will be overflowing with blossoms. The path then changes to loose stones. With the rain and icey snow fall, we had to move slowly and choose our feet placement wisely. I’d have to say this part of the climb was my favourite going up and down. Although it was raining on the way down, the sky became clearer and the mountains in the far distance were exposed. As you can see from the imagery too throughout the climb, the temperature, weather and brighteness drastically changes.
The summit – 1099 above sea level
We reached the summit – 360 views of mountains, lakes and country beneath. I took off my glove to take photos only to very quickly regret it. Thick fog swirled around us and all views disappeared. I’ve heard about the fog on Bluff Knoll but when you experience it for yourself, it’s surreal. You can see far off into the disance and then all of a sudden fog wraps around the mountain. You’re unable to see a thing except the purest of white.
It was absolutely freezing and little ice drops began to fall. It was sharp and painful. I felt my fingers turning numb and then burning. I’ve never been in alpine conditions or even that cold before. Clothing wise I nailed it. Taking off gloves – fail. We quickly scoffed our cheese and tomato rolls, took a few photos and agreed to head back down. There were a lot of people at the summit but most were coming and going quite quickly due to the weather. We wanted to stay up there for a while but it was too cold and I thought my fingers were literally going to snap off!!!
On the way down
I felt myself clumsily walking back down in an effort to bring warmth back to my hands. I was disappointed for a moment that I couldn’t enjoy the peak for very long. But I sucked it up and appreciated what I had been able to accomplish so far. We thought going down would be easier but the weather wasn’t in favour of us that day. We slowly tiptoed in the thick orange mud knowing very well that one slip meant orange skiddies like so many others that day. As people were walking up, we became the heroes like those before us saying, “It’s so worth it!”. I loved seeing their eyes light up as we briefly shared our experience at the top. A dose of motivation to keep going, to keep climbing. We gave back what we had been given. A circle of encouragement amongst strangers.
When we finished the trail we arrived back to the carpark but we still needed to walk 8km back to our car. We’d been lucky on the way up. The wonderful thing about hiking with the masses is the friends you make along the way. As we started walking, we were spotted by someone we had encountered on the mountain. Again, we were freaking lucky and hitched a ride back to our car. The driver and his daughter are from Albany and told us about the dolphins and whales visiting along the coast. And the seed to visit Albany was planted.
After an epic adventurous and tiresome day, hot noodles, pasta, sourdough bread and random snacks were in store. An entire carb fest. We wanted to make the most of our stay as we were leaving the next morning. In the late evening we drove back to Bluff Knoll to watch the sunset. Thankfully, it was quieter. There was still quite a few people heading out and we could see torches all the way up from the night hikers. It’s a surreal feeling being at Bluff Knoll when the sun sets and turns to complete darkness.
Whispers from the mountain
As we were leaving to head back to Perth, we drove up to Bluff Knoll one last time to take it all in. I was standing at the foot of the mountain looking into this white layer of soft cloud. I was in an absolute awe that beyond the mist stood something grand, something I had climbed the day before. I had this sense of belonging – that even in a place far away from home, out in the middle of no where – I belong.
We got this shot which I was excited about especially because I wasn’t able to take many photos throughout the hike (which is always a positive thing being in the moment!). The image is very symbolic of this whole experience – walking in the unknowns of life. Sometimes we don’t know what lay ahead and our soul is leading us towards greener pastures. We may be tempted to stay in the known – our comfort zone – because we feel there are no guarantees. Staying comfortable hinders us from all we are meant to discover about life and ourselves. Sure, there may be challenges we’ve never faced before. But if we take each step as it comes, and focus on being present for each moment, the path will light up along the way.
Walking up a mountain in the rain, wind and alpine conditions wasn’t as challenging as I thought (I was given the nickname “mountain goat” by mum). It’s also not something I would have planned in winter and that’s the beauty of spontaneous adventures!