Mount Le Grand
Cape Le Grand National Park
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 penciled 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.