Mount Bruce | Punurrunha
Start - Mount Bruce Access Road
Length - 10.8km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, Rocky Platforms
Vertical Climb - 576m
Summit - 1227m
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Time - 3-6 hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 14th July 2018
Best Time - April to September
Directions - Located on the south side of Karijini Dr, the access road is not signed but can easily be located from the western intersection of Banjima Dr and Karijini Dr. The gravel access track is to the east of the intersection by about 100m and will take you all the way to the car park.
The Hike - The big one!!! I had been looking forward to climbing Mount Bruce quite a lot on this trip and driving past it everyday on the way into Karijini only added to the anticipation. With several stops on Banjima Drive over the past few days to capture the second tallest mountain in Western Australia from different angles and lighting conditions, today was finally the day we were going to climb up to the summit. With almost perfect astrophotography conditions the night before we had spent a few hours photographing the rising Milky Way from a couple of vantage points around Mount Bruce with the car park actually being one of the better locations even though Mount Bruce didn't appear as prominent as it could have been.
Ben was over the moon about learning how to capture the Milky Way and in the cool desert air it was one of those special moments in life where you appreciate just how lucky you are to live in such an awesome state. The results weren't super fantastic as I didn't bring my proper tripod and only had one of those rubber balled adjustable ones sitting on the bonnet of the Landcruiser. Still managed to get the shaky shape of the core and later on when we were shooting the tail of the Milky Way behind Marandoo Hill, a truck came through my shot and gave the cool flowing lights effect. With a semi-early start the next morning we retired to the accommodation for a good night's sleep before tackling the longest and toughest trail in Karijini. Arriving at the car park once again the following morning we got all the equipment ready and took a deep breath before tackling our foe for the day.
Morning time probably isn't the most optimal time of day to be hiking Mount Bruce from a photography perspective as you will be shooting into the sun for most of the climb and the western ridge that you climb up will contain a lot of shadows but from a hiking perspective it makes total sense to get the climbing done before the day heats up so there is that compromise. Like a few trails in WA, the full 10.8km trail (I included both summit paths in my total) is broken up into a few trails that have different names. The smaller one is just lip service to the nearby Marandoo mine and at 500m is not really impressive if the end result is a view of the mine scarring this beautiful landscape. Karijini was split in two when this mine was allowed to exist in 1994, which is a big worry for the rest of the state if they can just do that to a national park.
The result is a constant reminder as you hike up Mount Bruce that they value this land not for the natural beauty but for iron ore. The second "trail" takes you to the Honey Hakea Lookout just before the really steep section of the hike and is a good spot to turn around if you don't want to tackle the full Class 5 hiking up to the summit (or if the day is getting quite hot and you are running low on water). We were here to do the complete trail all the way to the summit so began the first section with a pep in our step and an excitement to get stuck in to the hike. A few wildflowers showed their face on the gentle slopes up to Marandoo View and I had a good laugh at the minor graffiti on the info boards overlooking the mine. Normally I don't like when people ruin these boards but this was a small message scribbled on to the side that I feel is the sentiment of quite a few people who live in WA.
The trail leaving Marandoo View starts to get a bit steeper and you are faced with the view that will become home for the next couple of hours, the multi-layered and never-ending system of hills leading to the summit. Behind you is the view back to Marandoo Hill and it forms a feature of the landscape that I found quite fun to photograph with the changing elevation. Passing more wildflowers I could hear the sounds of people up ahead and sure enough as I rounded a small hill there they were. The mum and dad were lagging behind their two kids who were already at the top of the first real steep section of the hike. Just enough to get the blood flowing and the heart pumping, the trail goes from a defined path to following the familiar circle markers bolted to the ancient rocks as you clamber up a small rocky section and rejoin the path leading towards the first of many tiny summits.
With the golden spinifex lining the path and your gaze pointing towards the deep blue sky, this bit reminded me of summer hiking on the Wadjemup Bidi. As the ridge flattens out a little you get the sense of the real hiking ahead and that beautiful snaking trail leading all the way up one of the toughest climbs of the day. Settling into the relatively flat section, this was an area where I spent quite a bit of time photographing what was ahead and also the views behind. Coming up to another mini-hill, an information board situated right next to a Honey Hakea lets you know that this is where you would stop if you were doing the Honey Hakea Trail (funny that) and things get a lot tougher going forward. The reason why this becomes a Class 5 hike from here to the summit is right ahead of you with the trail leading back down the ridge before a series of switchbacks takes you up the imposing yet wonky looking ridge ahead. In my opinion this is one of the best views of the whole hike as the upcoming hill looks like it is near the summit but perspective will play funny tricks on you and this is far from the end.
The warmth from the sun was starting to makes itself known and with the switchbacks providing no respite from the hard work, things started to get quite hot, quite quickly. Ben had chosen to take the field equipment for the first stint and was handling the rocky path very well. I was taking it a bit slower as every time I turned around to look at the ever increasingly pretty views, I took a few more photos. This little mini-climb is about 150m of elevation change in a short distance but is broken up nicely by the most challenging point of the hike and possibly a bit of a scary one if you don't like heights or big drops. Coming up to a rock wall the trail heads along to the right and you spot a metal chain attached to the side of the wall that is there to guide you past a narrow section over a steep fall. This bit is fairly straight forward and the chain is certainly useful but the real challenge comes just around the corner as you have to scramble up a steep rocky section that does a little U-turn on itself as you get higher. It's by no means super difficult but the drop below makes it seem a lot more dangerous than it would otherwise be.
A reward for making it to the top is the great views looking down and knowing that this is only scramble you need to worry about. The trail continues uphill a little more from this spot and you reach another flat point along the ridge. An information board telling you about the Pebble Mound Mouse is a good point to stop and catch your breath but unless you are up super early or here around dusk then you will most likely not see one of the little critters lurking near their home next to the info board. The next section to the final climb is a fun affair with a much narrower and rocky trail taking you along Snappy Gum lined boulders and on cracked platforms of red rock. There are drop offs on the south side that are quite unforgiving but the trail is wide enough that you will only get near them if you choose to. The trail hugs the right hand side of the ridge and you soon arrive at the final climb of the day, another 150m of vertical ascent right to the summit. With it being my turn to take the field equipment for this leg I knuckled down and began the hot climb up more switchbacks as the red earth terrain shifts to a green field of low lying shrubbery.
With the summit sort of in sight I pushed on and powered up the switchbacks. The final location of the end is not always clear and every time you round another corner of the switchback it seems like it is further away. With the mid-morning sun now beating down hard it took a lot of effort to reach the top, especially with the extra weight I was carrying. The consolation was looking back every now and then to enjoy the spectacular views as I caught my breath. It took some effort and a lot of sweat but I eventually reached the summit and gazed out upon the impressive summit cairn with great joy and relief. As the second tallest peak in WA, Mount Bruce is a little bit special and a round plaque nearby gives you an indicator of where all the other peaks are in the Hamersley Range are in relation to where you are standing. I had a bit of a laugh when I saw Mount Sheila as that's my mums name and my parents nicknamed me "Bruce" as a kid (not sure why).
Mount Bruce is a little bit unique in that the summit is actually a long crescent shaped ridge on its own so there are two paths leading away from the summit cairn to explore. Given I wouldn't be up here again until my next visit some distance in the future I continued on to the right as Ben checked out the path to the left. With different views on each path and some unique perspectives looking back at the summit cairn, it was nice to explore the area and cool down somewhat after that last climb. I found some yellow and purple wildflowers on the right path before heading back to the summit cairn and continuing on to the left path. As I was heading back from that little section, a helicopter doing a tour flew right overhead in a scene that made me feel like I was in a tourism ad. I tried to get a few shots as it flew down the ridge line but without my zoom lens it was a tiny spot in the photo. Ben and I had a bit of a break here as we met back up and rested next to the cairn. We were soon joined by the two girls that we had passed much earlier in the hike and we all sat down looking out at the great views.
Ben remarked that the landscape looked very much like it belonged in the Lion King and we just needed the music to make it feel right. I obliged and soon the epic-ness of "Naaaants een-vwen-yaaaaaaa ma-ba-gee-chi-ba-va" sung out over the land, much to the delight of Ben who probably wanted a little dingo pup to hold up at that moment. Sitting up there for a while was a fantastic experience and we both remarked on the small outcrop of native pines just below the summit that we also saw at Dales Gorge. The girls dad eventually arrived, as did another couple and after a good break at the summit we decided to head back down and begin the trek to the car. As expected it was a lot easier heading down and we passed quite a few people doing the hard slog of hiking up Mount Bruce in the heat of the day. We reached the car in good time and celebrated by driving to the Eco Retreat and enjoying some of their excellent burgers for lunch.
Final Thoughts - Mount Bruce, being a significant landmark in Karijini and also the second tallest mountain in WA is a highlight of any Karijini trip. Similar to Bluff Knoll (often stated incorrectly as the tallest peak in WA) but much longer and harder in terms of the physical challenge (especially with the warm weather you only rarely get in Albany).
Having skirted around Mount Bruce and spent several afternoons photographing it from a distance certainly made the hike a little more special when we finally did do it. From a physical standpoint, if you are in relatively decent shape then this shouldn't be a problem for you, just take plenty of water and slow down if you're feeling faint as you don't want to pass out near some of those drops.
Much like Mount Hassell in the Stirling Range but on a much bigger scale, this is the tale of three hikes within one. The ever changing landscape reveals hill after hill and if you mentally prepare for a never ending trail then this won't be a problem.
Having this hike as our official farewell to the Karijini portion of the trip was a great way to finish but this could easily be done as break from all the gorge walking on your visit. This is a fantastic way to experience Karijini from above and is really worth the effort.
Get out there and experience it!
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