Bibbulmun Track - Sullivan Rock to Mt Cooke
Start - Sullivan Rock, off Albany Highway
Length - 20.3km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Flat Track, Granite Slab
Vertical Climb - 550m
Time - 4-6 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun Waugyls
Date Hiked - 12th July 2014
Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring
Directions - The Sullivan Rock car park is an hour's drive from Perth and is located on the south side of Albany Hwy about 9.5km past the turn-off for Jarrahdale Rd. The trail starts at the red Bibbulmun Track sign on the north side of Albany Hwy.
The Hike - So....Mt Cooke - Take Two. After last week's navigation issues I knew exactly where I was headed for my next hike and was not disappointed. My GPS clocked Mt Cooke at 572m above sea level and that makes it the highest point in the Perth Darling Scarp. Starting from Sullivan Rock again, it loomed in the distance covered in ominous cloud but this would be the last time I saw it until the real climbing began. Taking the correct turnoff this time I ventured down the 4x4 track that serves as the first part of this section of the track. In the shadows of Mt Vincent & Mt Cuthbert, I hiked past remnants of the 2003 bushfires that ravaged this area.
A rusted out car body, fallen trees and open spaces were reminders of the devastation that tore through here. The area is slowly regenerating back to it's former glory but it will take much longer for the tall tree canopies to return. While the trail was relatively flat and the trekking easy going I popped in the headphones, listened to some tunes and pondered life, love and the many possibilities of LeBron James heading back to Cleveland. I liken this section as the road leading up to the Alpe-d'Huez in the Tour de France when there is heavy cloud cover. The road is flat and easy but you know a climb is coming even though you can't see it so you don't push. Mt Cooke isn't exactly the Alpe-d'Huez but being the goal of this day hike, it is certainly on your mind for the 6-7km stretch of flat terrain you must navigate to get there.
After 6kms of easy hiking you reach a sign for the group campsite that can be seen from the trail. I was keen to keep going so I didn't check it out and continued on to the Mt Cooke campsite that is 500m down the track. This rebuilt campsite is a typical Bibbulmun Track affair, a simple but quality structure perfect for the job at hand. As I reached the hut there was a young couple packing their last few things before heading up to Mt Cooke. They had camped overnight and were spending the day heading towards the next campsite at Nerang (13.4kms). I let them head off on their own and spent some time looking at the track log in the plastic container located in the hut. Unfortunately while I had stopped the clouds had become thicker and there was some light drizzle falling.
As I inspected the rusted old water tank that is the last surviving piece of the previous campsite from the 2003 bushfires, I finally saw Mt Cooke in the distance under a heavy blanket of cloud cover. With the campsite fully explored I packed up my camera, had a drink and headed back out onto the trail. The climb is steady to start with and has some more technical rocky sections as you get higher up. The further you climb, the better the view gets but I soon reached the level of the clouds and visibility became limited. With no view to distract me at every clearing I powered on to the summit, passing the couple I had met at the campsite. After a 270m vertical ascent I reached the top of the mountain, which is unceremoniously marked by a rock pyramid with a star picket driven through the centre.
The view from the top is limited at best (even with clear weather) and even after I climbed some fairly big boulders nearby I couldn't see much. I checked my GPS to find out I had only done 9km so I continued on the trail determined to find some better spots to take photos. Further on I found what I was looking for with some rocky granite outcrops filled with large boulders that must be as old as time itself. The weather on the south side of the mountain was a lot clearer than where I had come from and as I emerged from the boulders and looked east I got the views I was after. Untouched national park as far as the eye can see and endless sky.
I scrambled around a little bit more until I came to a spot in the trail where it looked like it was the start of the downhill section to Nerang. I turned back and spent about half an hour relaxing on a rocky section on the side of the mountain. Watching the clouds stream over Mt Cooke, the sun finally showed itself and I snapped away at the changing conditions (and my hiking shoes). Enjoying some trail mix and iced tea in the sunshine I could have stayed up there all afternoon but I heard the young couple coming up the trail and decided it was best to head back before the clouds in the distance got any closer.
When I reached the summit of Mt Cooke again the difference was night and day. There was very little cloud cover anymore and when I reached a clearing just past the summit I could see back towards Mt Vincent and beyond in great detail. With a full memory card already I had to stop and delete some old photos before continuing to shoot the brilliant views ahead. When I had taken enough photos I packed the camera away for a while and decided I would run down the hill to save time. A few close calls with rolling my ankle and I was on the flatter sections near the campsite. I said hello to an older couple that were getting ready to ascend Mt Cooke and put my headphones back in for the return leg. 20kms of hiking and another trail crossed off the list to go with another great experience to remember.
The Mt Cooke Cave - I first found out about the elusive Mt Cooke cave just after my first trip here and spent many a trip trying to find out the exact location. With some varied information from different sources I went out a few times to try and find it including on the first group hike of 2015. Unfortunately I was always looking in the wrong spot or didn't go far enough on the track to discover it.
Most of the time it was just a quick look while I was up there so one day I decided it was time to put the searching to an end. With Team Puma Bait with me, I double checked the information available and we made a specific trip to find it. Turns out I never went far enough south from the summit marker and was finally glad when I found it. To find it, head south from the summit marker for just over a kilometre. Find the split in the boulder facing east and venture into the cave. Please respect the Leave No Trace principles of the Bibbulmun Track and do not camp in there and take all of your rubbish with you as you leave.
Final Thoughts - Would I have preferred to do this hike last week instead of the trip to Monadnocks? In hindsight I wouldn't have done it any other way as I think I left the best until last in terms of exploring this area of the Bibbulmun Track. While the trail doesn't immediately jump into a climb like last week, the wait is certainly worth it. There is much more to explore on the summit and the views are much better (Mt Cooke is 70m higher than both Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert).
This hike at 20km long is certainly not for the beginner but for those that do get out and climb to the roof of the Perth Hills you will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts. Long climb, great views and cool areas to explore are all there for those who take on the challenge.
Get out there and experience it!
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