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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