I had been waiting for what felt like an eternity to do a meaty multi-day hike & had heard that the Stirling Ridge Walk was a fairly well kept secret.
This hike is not for the faint-hearted… and we set out, grossly underprepared.
It was Good Friday eve, and I managed to get out of work a little early for the 5 hour drive to the start of the trail. We got there close to midnight & slept in the swag in our hiking gear, exhausted but excited for a 5am start.
Entry from the Bluff Knoll side is apparently the easiest, but we started at the eastern end. We had a long 3km walk on a firebreak track, past paddocks and bounding kangaroos, before reaching the gnarly Aussie native scrub which is prickly, head-height and goes for a few hours. I was pumped just to be outdoors – so the scratches and branches whipping against my face did little to dampen my spirits.
The first peak is Ellen’s Peak (1,012m) Don’t be fooled by its size, it’s a tough climb to summit. Steep loose gravel gradients are scattered along the walk with lots of fun rock climbs using arms and legs. After Ellen’s you pass Pyungooryp Peak, over Bakers Knob, over Third, Second and First Arrow, across Isongerup, and on to Moongoongoonderup, then down & up on to St James Peak before going over the top of the most popular mountain of the ranges; Bluff Knoll (1,073m). The passes between some of these mountains drop to somewhere around 600 to 800 metres.
It’s important to note here that there is no track for the entirety of the walk, only vague indications of a trail here & there, often overgrown and unclear. Maps & a compass are a must have to navigate this challenging bushwalk – and in hindsight, a personal locator beacon is probably a good idea too. Preparation is key, do the research. As I write this blog, I have checked the DPAW website & can see the walk is closed at the moment for prescribed burning.
It is all worth it though, this is one of the most breathtaking hikes I have ever encountered. It is said to be about 26km and takes 2-3 days. The rugged peaks, which rise to more than 1,000m above sea level feature stark cliff faces, shady lush green gullies, impressive views and a rich diversity of rare and colourful wildflowers. I still rave about it today… months after the event & look forward to heading back soon.
So, I suffer from ITBS, probably due to weak hip bones suspected to be caused by prolonged steroid use from my early days with crohns. A funny twist in my knees will trigger it… and of course, on the first day of this hike, I triggered it. My heart was absolutely shattered and it really slowed us down. Our first night camp was supposed to be in a cave on the Third Arrow, which was why we decided to lighten our load and not pack a tent. We didn’t make it, as the struggle through the torturous razor sharp reeds (note: pack gloves for this) had really taken its toll on me. It was getting dark and without a clear trail we weren’t confident I could get there or even to another sheltered spot before nightfall & that could’ve been a dangerous situation.
So we found a clearing and set up camp (camp mattresses, sleeping bags & a mosquito net). We were both exhausted and after a comforting serve of hot soup cooked on the biolite camp stove, we pretty much passed out. We had been warned of rapid unpredictable changes to weather conditions, strong winds, heavy rain/ hail, sudden cold changes and low cloud that can make it almost impossible to see. It started to rain heavily at about midnight & we didn’t last long without a tent. Caleb ventured out into the darkness and found a nearby sheltered cave which saved us. We stayed cosied up in that refuge until well beyond sunrise when the cloud cleared – Caleb’s find gave us a much needed lift to our severely dampened (pun-intended) moods.
We got lost, more than once, but getting lost is part of what defines exploration and our adventurous souls were soaring – much like the eagles that were expertly hunting through the peaks.
My knees were a burden, and we reluctantly decided to find an escape route 2/3 along the way. We decided on a route from Moongoongoonderup ridge. By this point, we were using rope to haul our backpacks on steep descents. We got lost again, and ended up in thick shrub, steep drop offs and a sizeable section of loose rocks which I could only slide down on my bum. Even our escape route was a huge adventure!
Despite the mental anguish at my crippling physical situation, I relished the whole experience. We could not believe our eyes at some of the sights and our connection to nature and the environment was ever strong.
I will explore this region again and maybe next time we can draw a somewhat reliable map to share 🙂 but for now, all I will say is, if this hike is within your reach… do it. You will not be sorry.
Here is a video of the hike, put together by Caleb Salty Davenport.