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A Walk Among the Clouds

Our Trails

A Walk Among the Clouds

Regardless of which climb you’ve chosen to do for the day, on the drive south, you’ll see most of the options laid out before you as the Stirling Range fills your windscreen. By numbers alone, these mountains aren’t that impressive. At 1100 meters above sea level, Bluff Knoll, the highest peak, isn’t even Western Australia’s highest mountain. But numbers can be deceiving, and it’s the topographic prominence of over 800 metres that gives this range its towering presence. Bluff Knoll looks over the surrounding country like an impassive grey sentinel with a dark green cloak pulled around its shoulders. The Goreng Noongars of the plains, who wore kangaroo skin cloaks around their shoulders in the winter months, called it Bular Mial, which means “many eyes”: an ancestral being, watching over all.

Today’s drive is intended to get you to the trailhead of whichever peak you decide to explore and leave you as much time as possible to enjoy your climb and be back at the Premier Mill Hotel for dinner. Perhaps, after your meal, you’ll share a tale of adventure or two at the Cordial Bar, where the trails get longer and steeper as the night goes on. Today, you’ll drive south of Broomehill, head east through Gnowangerup, and then south on Formby Road, to the mountains.

The park contains over 1000 species of plant, including the one that most probably saved it from agricultural development: the poison pea, which contains high levels of fluoroacetates. This is the same key ingredient of the pesticide 1080, and it is toxic to non-native animals.

As you climb the trail that runs under the imposing granite face, you may notice a certain primordial strangeness; a prehistoric look to some of the plants. That’s because many of them are endemic to the park: you won’t see them anywhere else. Thankfully there are no dinosaurs, but the cool, wet gullies in the park are home to some animals that are relics from when this was part of Gondwanaland.

The rocks you see were once the silt from a long-forgotten river, piled up and turned to metamorphic rock by aeons of pressure from its own weight, and from the action of Australia tearing itself away from Antarctica. These colossal forces created a mountain range that has slowly eroded down to what you see today. Look for the ripples in the rocks and you’ll see that this was all once a seabed.

You’ll have to pick your way carefully over some sections, and at one point the trail does have a long drop-off to one side. But it wouldn’t be an adventure without a bit of adrenaline, right? The views from any climb in the Stirlings are the reward though, and from the summit of Bluff Knoll you’ll be able to see the south coast, and to the north, survey most of your drive home. If something a little more challenging is more to your taste, the next climb we suggest is Mount Toolbrunup. This climb is slightly shorter than Bluff Knoll but contains one key difference that will help you decide if you have enough fitness: what the rock climbers call “scrambling”, which is simply abandoning walking, and pulling yourself up over the rocks with hands and feet. Toolbrunup has its famous boulder field, which will either be great fun or too daunting, depending on your fitness levels. Consider the weather too – think “wet boulders”, although many of the loose rocks are quite coarse and will retain some grip in the rain.

12 kilometres down Chester Pass Road, towards Albany, you’ll see Toolbrunup Road, which you follow for 4 kilometres to the trailhead. The trail follows the course of a small creek through a dense forest and is an easy walk to begin with. Then the trail gradually steepens and becomes looser underfoot – something to bear in mind on the return journey.

You’ll again see more evidence of the ancient seabed on this trail, with the rippled patterns in the rocks along the path. Then you’ll be scrambling up the boulder field to a saddle with a more conventional track on it, before another scramble to the summit. Mount Toolbrunup has a convenient chair-shaped rock near the summit from which to enjoy the view. Be wary of the wind though.

Mount Hassell is the shortest of the Stirling Range climbs and can be reached 3 kilometres west along Stirling Range drive, from Chester Pass Road. It offers impressive views of Mount Toolbrunup from the summit and requires some scrambling. Another of the easier walks – and this one without the scrambling – is Mount Trio. The access road for Mount Trio from Formby Road is 3.7 kilometres north of Chester Pass Road. Known as the wildflower mountain, this is one of the best places to experience the park’s impressive biodiversity.

Talyuberlup Peak, which can be found 20 kilometres west along Stirling Range Drive, from Chester Pass Road, is another of the shorter climbs in the park. However, this one is not for the inexperienced, with steep scrambling sections. Mount Magog is the longest walk of the park’s day climbs, with the first few kilometres through flat lowlands, before a series of steep scrambles to the summit.

Then, a great alternative to the more intrepid qualities of the Stirling Range walks is to travel another forty kilometres south, to the Porongorups, and climb Castle Rock. While still a challenging climb, Castle Rock can be negotiated by people with a range of fitness levels. The trail winds up through yate, marri and karri forest, and takes you past the famous Balancing Rock. Near the summit, you’ll have the option of using the Granite Skywalk, a suspended walkway that spirals around the granite outcrop of Castle Rock, with views across the undulating farmlands towards Albany. Whatever climb you’ve chosen to do, you’ll enjoy the drive home with the views of the mountains receding in the late afternoon light. Now you’ve got some stories to tell.