Start - End of Bluff Knoll Rd
Length - 6.3km
Grade - Red
Terrain - Rocky Path
Vertical Climb - 617m
Time - 2-5 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Distance Markers
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 4th June 2015
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - Getting there is pretty simple, from Albany just follow the signs north from town and get onto Chester Pass Rd. Keep driving for about 100kms until you see the sign for Bluff Knoll that are past Moingup Spring Campsite.
The Hike - This is the big one, both literally and figuratively. At 1095m above sea level, Bluff Knoll is the highest peak in the South West but thankfully still accessible for the average person. The 3km hike to the summit is a challenging but rewarding way to spend a few hours and has been attracting visitors to the area for decades. As Bluff Knoll is in the Stirling Ranges National Park, an entry fee does apply (unless you have already bought a day pass at Castle Rock like I did). The pay station is to the left after you turn off Chester Pass Rd and once you have paid then drive the 6-7km up to the car park.
Standing in the car park at the base of the climb, Bluff Knoll looms large as you ready your pack for the 3km hike to the summit. As a bit of a tease, the start of the trail is a downhill swoop into the scrub before the real climbing begins. At first it is steady but don't get carried away by belting up the trail as there are no flat bits until you reach the summit. When I arrived I couldn't see the false top (the summit actually winds its way behind what you can see from the car park) and the cloud cover was getting thicker as I got higher. My hopes for either a very clear day or a snowy day (very unlikely) didn't come through so the views climbing up were limited at best. This wasn't so bad when the tree cover was thick as it added a spooky atmosphere but as the trees disappeared the poor visibility wasn't as welcome. Just after the 1km marker there is a steep, rocky section that is highlighted with a small waterfall. It was only a trickle when I passed by but one of earliest childhood memories I have is visiting Bluff Knoll and waiting by this waterfall as my dad carried on and finished the climb. I swear it was bigger than it is now although it was only early winter.
Being a fully fledged adult now I wasn't about to stop here and after a quick photo stop I soldiered on. At about this point the forest starts to thin out and every now and then the edge of the trail is a sheer drop so be careful in wet or windy conditions. At this stage I would love to tell you about the amazing views across the national park but I can't so will instead comment on the amazing rock faces that spring up every now and then. These orangery/red features that jut out from the landscape are impressive to say the least and provide a great opportunity for a breather disguised as a photo stop. The interesting colour patterns founds in the rock face make for great photos, so get creative and explore different angles (but be careful around the edge of the trail). With no views to distract me it was simply a case of getting on with the climb and hoping the weather didn't turn nasty. The 1.6km to the summit marker soon appeared, although it felt like I had done a lot more than that. With very little tree cover past this point, the winds are free to batter you with their icy chill all the way to the top.
On one of the numerous rest stops I checked my phone and discovered I had mobile reception for the first time since I left Albany that morning. After a quick check of Instagram and receiving a text from a friend about new basketball uniforms I quickly forgot my weary legs and got going again. Just after the 1.1km to go marker, the trail makes a sharp turn on itself and you begin the final section up to the summit. Being about 600m higher than you were at the car park and amongst the soggy clouds, the temperature is noticeably lower when you stop to look at the information boards. Usually on a winters hike I start with a jumper on and ditch that as soon as my body warms up from all the activity but I still had the jumper on after 2.5kms and had to break out the rain jacket when I stopped to block out the cold winds. This turned out to be great timing as the drizzle started up as I was reading one of the information boards. Soon enough I was at the 0.1km to go marker and ready for spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding area (not really as visibility was at its worst). What greeted me was the summit marker, lots of grey and a welcoming party that consisted of a single millipede.
With nothing to look at but the grey expanse I found a nice sheltered rock to sit on and tucked into a roast beef roll while the drizzle continued. With the pitter-patter of raindrops falling on the hood of my rain jacket I reflected on how this was the second time I had climbed to the summit and both times the views had been blocked by the clouds. Not letting this thought get to me I had a wonder around and snapped some photos of interesting/moody looking scenes before heading back down. As luck would have it just after I rounded the sharp turn, the clouds started to disperse and I was greeted with some stunning views. Add in composition you only dream of as the sunlight burst through the passing clouds and I was a happy camper. I met a few people on the way down and stopped to have a chat, wishing them a better view from the summit than I got. The hike back down was a little easier than going up but be careful if you are using momentum to give you a little extra help as it's a sheer drop in certain places and it only takes one rock to send you tumbling.
2020 Sunrise Hike - With my travels in late September taking me to the Albany region, one thing I really wanted to do was hike up to the top of Bluff Knoll for sunrise and see if I could get lucky with the weather. With a planned trip out to the Porongurups, this would be the perfect warn-up hike and one I haven't done since the fires devastated the eastern Stirling Range in 2018 and 2019. Setting my alarm for 3:30am, the weather forecast wasn't in my favour but you never know and it would at the very least be a different experience and a good workout. Arriving at the car park, it seemed that many others had the same idea and as I got my pack ready, I could see a line of lights leading up the mountain where people's headtorches were shining through the fog and drizzle. I couldn't see the summit through the fog and darkness so put my head down and began the slog up the stairs that would last the next 3.1km. Parks and Wildlife have done a great job repairing the trail since the last bushfire but it seems that they've added a lot of steps to what was already a step heavy trail. On the way up I passed a lot of groups, many being families with kids and about 500m from the summit it wasn't looking good for a clear sunrise. I caught up to a couple of girls close to the summit and we all commented about how gloomy things looked. All up it took me just under an hour to get to the summit but I was motoring along. If you're not a regular hiker then allow at least 1.5-2 hours.
We reached the summit and as luck would have it, just as we arrived, the heavens parted and we were treated to the most glorious sights. Looking off towards Toolbrunup and Mount Hassell provided a blanket of white cloud mixed in with a pastel purple colour palette. The real show was looking towards the eastern peaks that form part of the Stirling Ridge Walk with the clouds cascading off the rock faces and creating a mystical scene. With the morning sun shining through, we snapped away quickly because we weren't sure how long the clear conditions would last. Unfortunately in my haste to get shots in the bag I didn't adjust my ISO on the camera back down to something that matched the conditions and the result was very grainy photos (noticeable when you expand them). In the moment though, I was just enjoying the beautiful nature display and just a very happy hiker to be here. Just as quickly as the clouds had parted, they blanketed the summit once again with the picture of everyone standing around in the grey a mere 14 minutes after the first photo in the below gallery. Just as the clouds came over again, a group arrived, followed by more and more. We all sat around at the summit waiting for the clouds to clear again but they never did. Heading back down the mountain, the sweat I had worked up on the way up made for a very cold descent but it was worth it. As we got closer to the bottom I started noticing more wildflowers and even some orchids popping up in the bleak landscape. What a hike and I can highly recommend getting out there to try and catch a sunrise from the summit.
Final Thoughts – Bluff Knoll is a popular destination for a reason. A challenging hike, spectacular views and being able to claim you climbed the highest peak in the South West all attract visitors to the area. If you have a reasonable level of fitness then this hike is an experience worth doing if you are in Albany but don't underestimate the trail or the conditions. There is a reason why people go missing on this trail and require rescue so make sure you take enough clothing & water to cope with the conditions and be careful not to venture off trail.
My biggest fear about doing this hike was not getting the right weather conditions and coming home with a memory card full of grey landscapes. To say I was relieved when the clouds started to blow over on the way down was an understatement. One day (maybe in summer this time) I will return to Bluff Knoll and get to see the views from the summit that everyone raves about.
If you are thinking about visiting Albany then make sure you take a half day out and visit Bluff Knoll. It may be punishing at times but the rewards are worth the pain.
Get out there and experience it!
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