Mount Le Grand
Start - End of Cape Le Grand Road
Length - 5.4km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Path, Steep Granite
Vertical Climb - 423m
Time - 2-3 hours
Signed - Partially Signed on Coastal Trail
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 3rd October 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Owners - Wudjari People
Directions - Cape Le Grand National Park is located about an hours drive east of Esperance. Take Fisheries Rd north out of town and take the turnoff onto Merrivale Rd (look for the Lucky Bay signs). Follow this road until you reach Cape Le Grand Rd and continue into the park. Mount Le Grand is an off-track hike that comes off the well signed Le Grand Coastal Trail that starts at the Le Grand Beach car park.
The Hike - Mount Le Grand is a place that I had been wanting to visit after seeing a post from awildland describing their adventure in 2018 on this unmarked detour from the Le Grand Coastal Trail. My only previous visit to Cape Le Grand was earlier in 2018 and given there was nothing in the park brochure about Mount Le Grand apart from a small dot on the map, I didn't consider it to be an option for hiking (plus we only had one day/night in Cape Le Grand). It wasn't until after my trip that I saw a couple of social media posts about it and then the aforementioned awildland adventure that I put it on my list of hikes to do.
Fast forward to Spring 2020 and I had pencilled this in for the Esperance leg of my road trip, one I was really looking forward to doing thanks to the beauty of the coastline here. I had scheduled in the few remaining hikes in the area over the next few days but the order of them would be pretty fluid thanks to the cold, wet and windy weather that was forecast. After taking in the Stokes Heritage Trail west of Esperance on my way from Fitzgerald River NP, I stopped off in town to grab some lunch and also assess my options for the afternoon. I was booked into Lucky Bay Campsite for two nights and at the time of booking I was looking forward to a few days of sunny skies, great trails and relaxing on pure white beaches. The weather wasn't playing ball so I grabbed some treats from the Esperance Bakery and made my way down to the foreshore to wait out the passing showers before driving the 30 minutes to Cape Le Grand NP. Unfortunately the showers kept rolling in for most of the middle of the day so I ended up sitting in my car eating baked goods and watching Game Two of the NBA Finals on my phone. With the game over and my treats exhausted, I decided that I would eventually drive out to Lucky Bay, even if that meant no afternoon hike. The weather did look better on the radar so I would at least attempt to do the shortest of my planned hikes for the area and that meant driving out to Cape Le Grand Campsite.
I got caught in a shower that had previously passed through Esperance but as I headed back towards the coast, the skies looked pretty clear and I was excited that this hike might actually happen in good weather. Arriving at the Le Grand Beach car park just before 3:30pm, I had enough light left in the day to complete the hike and drive to Lucky Bay to setup camp. Grabbing my gear and finding the trail head for the Le Grand Coastal Trail, I was a little bit giddy as I headed up the hill to begin this part off-track hike. Initially it was going to be easy going with the undulating trail being well defined with single track through the scrub and open sections of granite that had wooden posts to guide you. Immediately I found my self stopping to photograph the wildflowers and to look back over Esperance Bay and the Archipelago of the Recherche, a chain of over 100 islands off the coast of Esperance, Cape Le Grand and Cape Arid. After the initial ascent, the trail starts to flatten out and you pick your way through the various granite platforms that thanks to the rain had a bit of flowing water cascading down them. Stepping carefully on the steeper sections, the grips levels weren't too bad and I could instead marvel at the views ahead taking in Frenchman Peak and the smaller, unnamed peaks to the right.
I had certainly lucked out with the weather and in the afternoon light the landscape that seems to go on forever was looking a treat. I couldn't stop photographing the hills in the distance with the iconic shape of Frenchman Peak providing a good focal point for a lot of my shots. I was even lucky enough to get a rainbow in a few photos thanks to the showers heading away from me and they would end up being a pretty regular sight on this hike. Skirting the base of another unnamed peak, the sun was in an unfortunate position to capture it but it was a nice overbearing feature of this early part. After navigating over one of the granite sections, the large orange and green dome of Mount Le Grand comes into view and it's a pretty cool moment to see what you have to tackle. I wasn't quite there yet so continued along the Coastal Trail to a section where it starts to dip down the hill and into some thick undergrowth. I'm guessing the rangers out here don't do a lot of trail maintenance over the winter/spring period (or at all given my podcast partner's review of the trail) as it was a bit overgrown in places with the trail almost disappearing sometimes. It doesn't last too long but made the descent a little trickier as I had to brush branches out of the way and find level ground for my next footstep.
A highlight through here were the iridescent Roe's Jewel Beetles that I happened across a couple of times. These beautiful beetles have an amazing metallic like colouring that was quite a sight and they even stayed still for plenty of photos. The wildflowers through here continued to be fantastic, adding to the already epic colour palette of the hike. Popping out of the undergrowth, I came across another highlight of the marked section with an open granite platform that had a creek coursing over it. Thanks to the past couple of days being a bit wet, it wasn't a surprise to see a good amount of water flowing and I had to pick my crossing spot carefully otherwise my trail runners would be getting a bit soggy. Looking like a mini version of FR Berry Reserve with the boulders strewn about the place, I took some time here to enjoy the views and have a good look at the rocky valley that the creeks runs down. From here I would be looking out for the point where I would leave the Coastal Trail and head straight up the side of Mount Le Grand. From the satellite imagery it looked like the best route was to head up from where the Coastal Trail leaves the granite and heads due north. Scanning the terrain, there were a few good spots of bare granite but as my eyes followed them up, they either met heavily vegetated areas or steep rock that would require climbing.
Eventually I found a good spot to start my ascent and from here it would be an almost 300m vertical climb on the exposed rockface to reach the summit. The start was relatively easy with a mild 20% gradient as I picked a good line up the dome. Early on I realised I was a bit hasty with my departure from the Coastal Trail so ended up trying to head more towards the east as I ascended. Most of this was dictated by the immediate terrain ahead of me but for the most part it was just watching where I was stepping as you never know how slippery a piece of granite will be until you put your foot down. Luckily the granite here has a bit more bite to it compared to the monadnocks of the eastern Darling Range so I didn't end up finding one of the treacherous patches that are similar to stepping on ice. As with all granite dome climbs in Western Australia, the views just keep getting better and better and Mount Le Grand provides some epic views. Very soon Frenchman Peak became a small hill in comparison and the scene looking back towards Esperance Bay provided some magical views of the showers passing through to the west. Occasionally I would hit a spot where I had to navigate through a small patch of vegetation, which thankfully looks to be recovering after fires ripped through this area in early 2019. Patches of bright colour thanks to the wildflowers provided a nice contrast to the bare rock but the blackened branches still remained.
Being careful to only stand on exposed sections of rock, keeping my balance was getting trickier thanks to the increased gradient as you get nearer to the summit. Reaching almost 40% in places, it's best to keep a low base and if you want to take in the views, stop first to find your feet. You're not scrambling up near vertical rock faces like some sections in the Stirling Range but you do need to be wary as a slip or fall may be consequential given nothing will stop your fall. Nearing the top, the views were just outstanding and it really does feel like you're on top of the park, which is true as this is the highest point at 345m ASL. Looking over towards Frenchman Peak was a delight as the sun was illuminating the popular spot and I started getting glimpses of Hellfire Bay and Boulder Hill. Another cool sight was to look straight down at where I had come from and see just how much ground I had covered to reach here. As the summit approached it started to flatten out and I was presented with a maze of exposed rock that contained a lot of gnamma pools to negotiate. A few rock cairns suggested there was a route to follow to reach the proper summit but I couldn't see an obvious way to go thanks to the vegetation covering the southern half of the summit. I paused for a moment to take in the views and would go exploring once I had a chance to catch my breath. Admiring the god rays poking through the clouds and illuminating the islands in the distance, I was happy to spot a Sticky Tailflower growing on the exposed rock.
After photographing that with the ocean in the background, I circled around the vegetated area trying to find a summit cairn. Eventually finding what looked like a trail leading into some nearby scrub, I stumbled across the official Survey Mark and was a happy camper. Not only did I find this marker but hidden away were a few Purple Enamel Orchids that added the cherry on top of what was already one of my best hikes of the year. After seeing if I could find some exposed rock overlooking the ocean side of the summit, the best I could get was some partial views looking through the low scrub. Content with that, I doubled back and found the gnamma pool area so I could get my bearings for the descent. After a little bit of a side trip to check out the exposed rock leading to the east where I got some better views, I started my journey down. It's a lot easier to pick your way down than it is going up and I was heading on the path I should have taken, the one leading from where the Coastal Trail heads north. Careful to take things slowly due to the risk of slipping and also to take in the incredible views, the afternoon light was putting on a good show. Passing many cool features I didn't see on the way up thanks to my different route, it was a very peaceful stroll going down as I could just enjoy the views instead of staring at bare granite. Reaching the bottom, I quickly found a Coastal Trail marker and from here on out it would be a leisurely walk back to Le Grand Beach. I still had a good amount of light left in the day so didn't have to rush and used my time to photograph all the wildflowers I didn't see on the walk out. Occasionally looking back towards Frenchman Peak, the golden light mixed with the shadows from the clouds created a pretty idyllic scene.
With the sun now lower in the sky and occasionally blocked by heavier clouds, I could photograph the first peak a little better but only one of the shots turned out to be halfway decent. Walking through the overgrown section, I made a mental note of where the beetles were the first time I saw them and sure enough, they hadn't moved in the past hour. In softer lighting the photos turned out brilliantly and I had a big smile on my face when I edited them up (one is also my phone background now). Reaching the final descent down to Le Grand Beach, the hike was completed with more god rays overlooking Woody Island and one final look back at Frenchman Peak, illuminated in the distance. Unfortunately my descent down the hill was accompanied by the annoying buzz of a nearby drone that the user didn't seem too keen on moving from just above the lookout when I walked past. With the hike over, I took some last shots of the beach before packing up and heading towards the Lucky Bay Campsite. I couldn't resist stopping on the road there when I spotted a magical scene looking back at Mount Le Grand and the sun streaming through the clouds behind it. A pretty amazing finish to another fantastic day of hiking and I was very happy to completed that one with great lighting. I managed to setup my tent and get down to the beach at Lucky Bay for the last of the sunset light but it was bitterly cold so I quickly retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag.
Final Thoughts - While Frenchman Peak get a lot of attention from those looking for a hike to do in Cape Le Grand (that doesn't require a car shuffle), Mount Le Grand stands there as a big missed opportunity.
The trail out there already exists and all it would take is a few markers bolted to the granite and you have another epic trail for people to enjoy. It's only slightly steeper than Frenchman Peak in terms of gradient and the unmarked section is all exposed rock so no trail would need to be built.
Having that feeling of knowing only a handful of people do this every year was pretty cool (and might change if lots of people read this post) but given the lack of quality trails in WA, this would be an easy win if they wanted to give us more.
Having a wealth of different highlights ranging from a pristine beach start to beautiful wildflowers to bare granite creeks to some outstanding views, Mount Le Grand offers it all. It may be a bit of a physical challenge but the views are worth it and the feeling of wonder and accomplishment from the summit more than make up for the sore legs and shaky muscles.
Please exercise caution and common sense on this hike and do not attempt it in wet or slippery conditions. Be aware of your own ability with regards to balance and navigation.
Get out there and experience it!
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