Monadnocks to Mt Cooke
Start - Monadnocks Campsite
Finish - Mt Cooke Campsite
Campsite - Deep South
Distance - 13.4km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 352m
Time - 3-6 hours
Date Hiked - 25th April 2016
The Hike - This is a section that I hold very dear, it was one of the first posts on the website when I came out here for the first time in 2014 to do Sullivan Rock to Monadnocks (by accident) and then again a week later to do Sullivan Rock to Mt Cooke. Over the years I've been out here countless times for many adventures with many great people and I rate it as one of the best day hikes you can do around Perth. Given this is part of a series of posts as part of my sectional end to end, I thought I would change it up and write somewhat of a love letter to this section of the track, talking about various details I really like, stories about different experiences and just reminiscing about the various times I've hiked along here.
My first time at Monadnocks Campsite was the half way point of my first trip out here and apart from the starting section from Kalamunda, was my only other experience on the Bibbulmun Track to that point. Initially hoping to visit Mt Cooke, a navigation early right after Sullivan Rock saw me and my friend Philip follow the waugyls straight ahead and in foggy conditions we ended up continuing on over Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert to Monadnocks. We laughed at our error as we were hiking along but were blown away by how spectacular the scenery and the conditions were that it didn't matter. I still laugh now and wonder how current me would have reacted if I met 2014 me at Monadnocks that day given the thousands of kilometres of hiking I've done since. I ended up returning a week later to do the Sullivan Rock to Mt Cooke section and was equally impressed as you'll no doubt read further on this post. It was great to share that first experience with Philip as we were great friends during our 20s, living together in Mount Pleasant, playing basketball (which is the only time I see him now), exercising together and hanging out a lot.
As our lives changed and he got married and had kids and I started a long term relationship with subsequent fur babies, we drifted apart but hiking was always a nice way to catch up. The campsite itself is in a very nice location as I discussed in the previous post with great forest all around and some views looking out from the shelter. The Deep South configuration suits this area although the dusty floor isn't great when you are trying to get on and off the sleeping platform. Leaving the campsite you head back on the path you came in on and cross the 4x4 track that soon appears. If you are doing a day hike in the area and don't want to deal with hiking over the two hills again, the 4x4 track is a good return route that skips the hills and takes you back to Sullivan Rock. I'm here to talk about the two hills and the lovely route the Bibbulmun takes as you heads towards the first of the two hills, Mt Cuthbert. I've always adored this section of forest leading from the campsite to Mt Cuthbert as it has this really spooky and moody vibe to it if you're lucky enough to hike it in foggy or rainy conditions.
The main reason for this is the mostly She-Oak forest that you walk through that have these green needle-like leaf structures that turn brown when they are dropped and sit on the forest floor. I liken this area to the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter but without the super massive trees with their giant root structures. Mainly because I'm a big Harry Potter nerdburger but also because it gives off the creepy vibes provided it's not a sunny day. There are a few older examples of some Jarrah trees here that you have to stop and admire as you walk through along with a really nice variety of plants including Snottygobble, Kingia Australis, plenty of sundews and countless wildflowers during the winter and spring seasons.
As you start climbing up to the first of the granite domes that is Mt Cuthbert you start seeing Wandoo and a similar looking trees called Butter Gums that have a whiter colour when the bark is fully shed. After a long downhill from the campsite it's a bit of a shock coming to an uphill bit, the first of two climbs for the section. This first one isn't so bad and there used to an arrow on a bare piece of rock but someone has spoiled the fun and dispersed the rocks everywhere. You exit the forest and are greeted with a large granite dome that you must scale in order to reach some of the best views of the day. Coming down this section on a group hike I was leading someone asked me if I was worried about carrying my camera in case I slipped and it smashed. Not long after I slipped on some black granite and showed them my technique for keeping the camera safe but my arms came away with superficial grazes.
If you're wary of the slippery black granite then picking your way up here by following the navigational cairns will lead you all the way to the gnamma pools and expansive views from the granite platform. This is one of my favourite places on the Bibbulmun Track and maybe even in the Perth Hills. Rain, hail or shine I'm always in awe when I reach this bit and as you can see I have a good variety of photos from various times and conditions. A surreal experience was coming up here in early January to show an international visitor the area and the view back to Mt Cooke was just a white blanket of fog including Mt Cooke itself doing a very good impression of Mt Fuji (see photo gallery above). The tiny speck to the north that I always refer to as Mt Doom is actually Mt Dale that you had the option of visiting a few days prior. It's fun to look back and see how far you've come and also look out towards Mt Cooke and the hills leading into Dwellingup.
I've seen sunrises and sunsets from up here and the changing colours of the sky as you stare out to the endless horizon to the north and to the east is breathtaking. Seeing nothing but forest leading all the way out to the horizon is a magical sight, even though knowing the massive land clearing that has occurred in the wheatbelt area ruins the endless forest fantasy. Exploring the gnamma pools in winter and spring is really cool, especially when the sundews are glistening in the moss (please stay off the moss as it is very sensitive). In the warmer months if you're quick enough you'll see the Ornate Crevice Dragons scuttling across the granite from their warm places in the sun to the safety of rock ledges or cairns. They are fast little creatures and it's fun to say that dragons live in these hills, even if they are tiny dragons.
Continuing on from the granite platform you head into a little forested area that takes you to the true summit of Mt Cuthbert and you exit onto another smaller granite dome that provides some better views of Mt Cooke and further on to Boonering Hill. This is always a fun spot to stop at and enjoy the morning sun if it is out. I remember sitting here on one of my earlier visits and watching two wedge tailed eagles circling above. While the trail here looks like you just clamber down the side of the steep granite, you take the route to the left and circle around the bottom (although even this in areas can be slippery). From here it's a pretty steep descent down the hill where you'll get views looking across Albany Hwy to the bauxite mining scarred hills near Jarrahdale. I hope the mining companies never cross Albany Hwy and rip up this area as it would be a travesty if any government allowed it to happen.
The area is always labelled as proposed national park but WA is run by mining companies so it wouldn't surprise me if this never became national park. Reaching a nice open piece of granite you get to gaze out upon the views to the east once again, this time from a much lower perspective before moving on to the forest on the saddle between Mt Cuthbert and Mt Vincent. There is a spot here where someone started laying sticks on a long skinny tree that had fallen over and gotten wedged in another. The effect now is that of a dinosaur skeleton and I make a ritual of adding a stick to the existing pile (not very Leave No Trace I admit). I really like the little dip of forest here as you get some time to recover from whatever hill you've just climbed and the forest here is quite enjoyable. It isn't long though before you are climbing again and this is the steepest of the climbs for the day. A couple of long switchback sections take you up the hill and through the forest.
You get a couple of nice spots to rest and enjoy the limited views but I always power up here knowing the best views are from the top. There is a good thicket of grass trees near the top and in spring the smell of Karri Hazel is a really nice distraction from the climb, which can take it out of you on a warm day. Reaching the summit of Mt Vincent, there is an impressive cairn to mark the occasional that always reminds me of a roundabout. The views here are just as stunning as Mt Cuthbert even though the surrounding area is blocked by the undergrowth. Looking back at Mt Cuthbert is cool and if you reach this point for the sunrise then you're in for a treat as the forest below starts to get bathed in golden light. In winter it's more likely than not to also be covered in fog so the effect is even more magical. My usual Anzac Day tradition is to get here for sunrise for a minutes silence before trying to complete the Six Summit Challenge.
Moving on from the summit you walk along the granite top of Mt Vincent that is home to some nice forest and nicer views (if you do the side trip on one of the granite platforms). Turning west you reach the lovely views looking back towards Perth although you wouldn't know it seeing so much forest (we love our land clearing in WA). On a rainy group hike here we witnessed an impressive rainbow and ever since my first visit here when it was a bit foggy, I've always maintained Mt Vincent is best hiked up or down in inclement weather. It adds a certain something to the experience even though the views from here are quite spectacular. You can see back to Mt Randall near Monadnocks and have a 180 degree sweeping view of the forest looking back to the west. Unfortunately that also means seeing the scarring on the hills to the south as a result of the aforementioned bauxite mining and they are only getting uglier as time goes on.
To see what a cancer bauxite mining is on the Darling Scarp have a look at this page that showcases the spread of it over the years (anything for jobs and "progress" right?). Heading down the exposed western side of Mt Vincent is a fun experience and I end up going down a lot slower than you think because I keep stopping to take more photos or enjoy the changing views. You get the briefest of glimpses of Mt Cooke through the forest to the east and the target for the day is in sight. Entering the forest at the bottom of the hill is always a nice occasion as the forest is very mature and contains a wealth of wildflowers in the spring. You are still heading downhill as you make your way towards Sullivan Rock. I've had more run-ins with wallabies here than anywhere else on this section but because of the thick undergrowth, I always surprise them and they jump off before I get a chance to photograph them.
Walking through a section of She-Oak where the undergrowth isn't as thick means you're close to the Sullivan Rock intersection and this area has a really cool feeling if you're travelling in the opposite direction at sunrise. The combination of Mt Vincent ahead, the valley to the east and the morning sun breaking through the canopy creates a really special feeling. Then you pop out of the forest and reach the Sullivan Rock intersection. To the left is where the Bibbulmun Track continues down the hill towards Mt Cooke and right ahead is the small granite dome of Sullivan Rock. Now a very popular access point for day walkers, it's a really cool place to view the surrounding landscape that is only 50m or so from the very busy Albany Highway. If you didn't know it was here then it would be extremely easy to just drive by in ignorance but for those that do know, it's a really special spot.
Catching a sunrise from this spot is something every Perth hiker should do once in their life and if you catch the right conditions then it feels like a completely different world. A touch of fog in the morning almost makes it feel like the sun is rising over fields of snow with distant peaks providing a touch of drama to the shot. I always make a point to start here early as it's just so much better at sunrise. I once had a group hike out here where the start time was bang on sunrise and I was the only one there to see it. By the time everyone rocked up the sun had risen above the clouds and it wasn't quite the same. Of course you don't always need light for this place to provide a great show. This was the first place I decided to try a bit of astrophotography on a balmy summer's evening.
One of the easier access points for end to enders to get a resupply box given the length of this first town to town section, this is a pretty cool spot for that interaction. Even if you don't have someone meeting you here, the short side trip is worth the effort just to sit out on the granite and soak in the sun like an Ornate Crevice Dragon (also found in this area). I can't talk about Sullivan Rock without mentioning the extremely delicate moss that makes the place look so great in winter (when it's like a green carpet). If you're walking on Sullivan Rock then please stick to the bare granite and do not step on the moss at all. Follow the rock cairns as they dictate a way up the rock without the need to go trampling the precious moss that doesn't respond well to being stood on. Once you've had your fill of Sullivan Rock it is time to start the second half of the day towards the Mt Cooke Campsite. With the hills of the morning behind you, it's a very gentle walk all the way to Mt Cooke.
Head back towards the intersection at the 4x4 track and take the route down the hill. I love this spot as on a clear day you get Mt Cooke framed nicely through the forest but I've never quite captured a photo that does the feeling of seeing it like that justice. The 4x4 track is a great place to see some wildflowers on the northern side, which is a good excuse to say to others in case you fall over on the uneven and rocky ground. At the bottom of the hill take a left turn onto Millars Log Rd and then a sharp right onto Cooke Rd that will be your path for the next little section. After crossing a low lying area that has ephemeral streams in winter and spring, you reach some of the nicest Jarrah forest I've seen in the Perth Hills. Jarrah forest in its natural form is a beautiful tree with a lovely soft grey to the trunk colour but unfortunately it takes a while to shed its bark so 90% of the time you'll only ever see it burnt (insert burnt Jarrah joke here). Unfortunately on my latest visit in July 2019 there were diversion notices already in place and I think this area will be getting the scorched earth treatment very soon.
That made me a little melancholy as I walked through this part as it felt like the end of an era. I've always known this area to be very nice and although at first I tended to think it was chore you must walk through to get to Mt Cooke, in my older years I've now come to appreciate how beautiful this stretch is. Passing the iconic burnt out car wreck I noticed a budding artist had sprayed a phallic icon on the upturned car that I'm sure they thought would look nice. This area was severely impacted by the 2003 bushfires that devastated this region so it's nice to see that 16 years later it has somewhat recovered and was looking fantastic in the winter sun. From Millars Log Rd all the way to the She-Oak forest further on, there is a very distinct smell to this place that is welcoming after a few visits, it's an odd thing to say about the place but every time I'm here I get a pleasant feeling when I smell that smell. A section of grass trees and parrot bush before the bridge is a good section to look out for sundews and more wildflowers, along with admiring the flowers of the parrot bush.
Crossing the very early beginnings of the Canning River, there is the option to cross via the new bridge or an old log. Head towards a thicket of more parrot bush, which also has a very distinct smell that I liken to a dead kangaroo and you're at the entrance to what I dub the Savannah section of the walk. A wide open plain where the track runs parallel to the Canning River, I get no end of joy walking along here. A great spot to see Black Cockatoos (you'll hear them before you see them), I love looking anywhere but on the trail at all the solitary trees, the forest to the east and looking for wildflowers in the low lying grasses. At the end of the Savannah there is an opportunity to see the Canning River up close before the track says goodbye to it. Heading into a small section of Jarrah forest, it isn't long until you are walking though another lovely section of She-Oak that is similar to the bit between Monadnocks and Mt Cuthbert. Very tricky to photograph if the sun is out, I do enjoy walking through here on a bleak winters day with all the moodiness and spooky feelings that She-Oak provides.
There is one particularly large Jarrah tree along here that is a mighty specimen compared to anything else you'll see on this day and towers over everything else in the forest. In spring the wildflowers really bring a pop of colour to the monotonous brown of the forest floor with a good variety popping up all the way to the Mt Cooke Group Campsite. An overfill campsite designed to house scout groups and school camping trips, it's nice that they have area away from the regular Bibbulmun hikers and don't have to worry about making too much noise or taking up too much space. Not as nice as the normal campsite with just a platform and roof for shelter, I've only ever had a quick look before moving on. About 500m down the track is the proper Mt Cooke Campsite, now located a bit further back from the creek than the original that was destroyed in the 2003 bushfires. The old tank is still there along with an information board about the fires. The new campsite is still in a nice location with some lovely forest all around and plenty of space. If you choose to hike this section in one short day then I recommend leaving your pack at camp and climbing up to one of the first platforms on the way to the Mt Cooke summit to watch the sunset.
Final Thoughts - I feel a deep connection to this section of the Bibbulmun Track with so many great memories forged here in a lot of different conditions. I know every section like the back of my hand and relish any opportunity to come out and hike it.
We don't get a lot of hills in Perth so it's fun to have these little granite domes as a place to hike and stare out at the endless forest. Hopefully it stays like this for quite a while and every generation going forward can have the pleasure of seeing this area for the beautiful nature space that it is.
If you can't tell by the number of photos (which is still a small portion of my archive) and the length of this post, I really love this section and I encourage everyone to get out and see it (provided you show the right respect and follow the Leave No Trace principles).
Get out there and experience it!!!
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