Climbing Bluff Knoll, WA

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I met a very nice New Zealand couple who invited me to come and see them when and if I ever get there.  The backpackers ran off the Aeroplan letter for me and I taped the boarding cards to paper; went to the post office to mail it; had to go over to the library to run it off and wait for an elderly lady to run off dozens of copies of a Christmas letter. 
About 10:30 I reached Helen's sister Ros and we drove out to the Stirlings to climb Bluff Knoll, the tallest peak for a thousand kilometers or more in any direction and most popular tourist attraction. 
The Stirling Ranges (which stretch for 60 kilometers from Mt. Barker and Cranbrook eastward to Gnowangerup), are called Koi Kyenunu-ruff (where the mists moving around the mountains) by the Noongar people.  Wikepedia tells me that the Stirling Ranges is one of the richest areas for flora in the world. Ninety families, 384 genera, and over 1500 plant species occur in the Stirling Ranges, 87 of which are found nowhere else. This represents more than a third of the known flora of the southwest, and includes more species of wildflowers than in the entire British Isles
The Noongar people call Bluff Knoll Bular Mial.  It means 'many eyes' and is important to the traditional culture and beliefs of Noongar people throughout the southwest of Western Australia.  The mountain is well respected and feared as a dangerous and sacred place.  We are asked by the Noongar to respect this sacred place, as they do.
A note just before the hike began gives some geological history of the area.  The Stirling Ranges are formed of layers and layers of sand, silt and clay that long ago settled to the bottom of an ancient shallow sea and slowly became compressed into layers or rock.  Ripple marks created by shallow water can be seen on the sides and tops of some peaks.  When part of the Earth's crust buckled, these rock layers were thrust upwards to an impressive height.  More than 1200 million years of constant weathering has gradually worn down the Stirling Ranges and sculpted its jagged shape.  Weathering along fractures and faults in the rock helped create sharp ridges, deep gullies, and the craggy patterns that appear on the faces of the cliffs. 
The nearly vertical face of Bluff Knoll was left standing when the softer rock at the base of the peak (slate and phyllite), weathered away more rapidly than the upper layers (sandstone and quartzite) causing them to collapse. 
It was an amazingly grueling climb though the views and the unique wildflowers were worth every step.  Many of the plants that grow on these mountain peaks are not found anywhere else.  We were encouraged to 'stay on the formed paths to avoid crushing this fragile environment. 
Though some of the climbers coming down told us "there are some flat spots", in fact, every step was up, up, up without a flat spot to be seen. From 'way, 'way up we could see down, it seemed forever, the road and parking lot looked like the head of a sinuous snake. Far in the distance we could see the grain fields that the area outside the park had been turned into.   The sharp boundaries on all sides of the park show where agriculture immediately gives way to protected land.  The climb was supposed to have been about 4 hours total but it took us about 4 hours up and 2 down.  At times we honestly thought we would not - could not make it.  The fact that it was about 40 degrees on the climb was an added burden. 

Between the two of us we carried four liters of water and we drank every drop of it, having to ration ourselves on the downward trek.  It is a rather deceiving mountain as it is very hard to know just when you've reached the top.  Every time we'd say to each other "look, there's nothing above that next ridge", we'd turn a corner and there would be another miserable hill to slog up.  It was more than a bit annoying to have done all that walking and to find that there was no actual marker around which we could do a tired victory dance.  At one point we simply decided "this must be it" and headed back down the hill.  Walking back down hill our knees were trembling with the effort.  Quite an exhausting day; however, one on which I was glad to have had the company.
We rewarded ourselves with an evening out at the Spencers Arms and a couple of beers
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lroff on

Thank you madamim
I'd left Doug's comment up there because it would be a fair comment if someone thought I'd exaggerated. My comments stand - it was a hard climb for me (and you); however, maybe not for some. I hope you have enjoyed your trip in the area. WA is one of my favorite spots ever - still - 2 years later.

Doctor Strabismus on

I have climbed Bluff Knoll many times over the last 30 years, and did so again yesterday. The path you climb now, which has been in place for maybe 20 years, is vastly easier than that of earlier times, when it was more direct, far steeper, with some very exposed sections and an extremely tough scrabble up one of the gullies just west of the summit to get above clifftop level, My wife made the climb for the first time yesterday, and not being accustomed to mountan walking she definitely found it hard going, despite being in a good state of fitness in her late 40s. I don't think people should be scared of the climb, but neither should they take it lightly. Allow at least 2 hours to get up, and if you do it quicker, well and good, and an hour and a half to descend. Be very aware of what time it gets dark, as it would not be good to be trying to descend in fading light, and don't push on upwards in deteriorating weather. Also be sure that the group moves at the pace of the slowest, and never split up. Those are basic rules for anyone going into the mountains anywhere in the world. I reckon about a litre of water per person is a reasonable amount to carry for this climb, other than in very hot weather, when anything up to double that amount might be wise. And if anyone is troubled that the highest point (whch is totally obvious) is not marked (or ruined) by some sort of pillar or obelisk, well, they would be better off in Disneyland.

lroff on

Thanks Doc, for your comment as well. It is entirely possible that somewhere or another near the top my climbing friend and I got off the track. Maybe that's why we didn't find the summit. On the other hand, we didn't really need 'X' marks the spot , the climb was well worth it. Also, you're very right. we should have taken more water up with us. Thought 4 litres between two of us would be enough. The combination of the heat longer period of time than expected misled me. Next time - either take more water or turn about earlier. Thanks for your post .

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