Six Summit Challenge
Start - Sullivan Rock Rest Stop
Length - 36.6km
Grade - Black
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track, Granite Slab
Vertical Climb - 1,169m
Time - 7-12 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun Waugyls
Date Hiked - 24th September 2016
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Directions - The Sullivan Rock car park is an hour's drive from Perth and is located on the south side of Albany Hwy about 9.5km past the turn-off for Jarrahdale Rd. The trail starts at the red Bibbulmun Track sign on the north side of Albany Hwy.
The Hike - Are you looking for a challenge around Perth that involves a great workout, even greater views and a bit of exploring? If you are then keep reading and start planning your trip out to Sullivan Rock for this tough but rewarding hike. Essentially this is just the two sections of the Bibbulmun Track (Monadnocks + Mt Cooke) that I have previously hiked combined into one super hike with the addition of one extra summit. Enter the Six Summit Challenge.
Combining these two sections back to back provides the opportunity to get maximum bang for your hiking buck with a combined six climbs and 1,228m vertical elevation over the 35kms. While each climb is not what anyone would consider a mountain, combining their powers Voltron-style adds up to a decent climb. In such a special location, as it is to me and with many hikers I have talked to, I can think of no better way to spend a day than hiking this trail followed by some well earned wine afterwards.
Sound good? Great, let's get into some bare essentials plus some comforts that will get you through the challenge.
At least 3-4 litres of water -There are two Bibbulmun campsites on the trail but the water will need to be treated if there is any in the tanks to start with. Please only use these if you are desperate as the supply if for overnight hikers/end to enders.
Snacks - Get inventive here. The last time I did something close to this challenge I met a group of hikers that had brought along a small burner/hot plate so they could grill up some haloumi cheese on the summit of Mt Cooke. Some good high energy foods to consider include Anzac biscuits, muesli bars, raw slice or trail mix.
Lunch - With a 35km hike to tackle, you are going to get hungry. One of a hikers great luxuries is the ability to sit on an exposed granite outcrop enjoying a sandwich whilst soaking in the sun, views and stillness that accompanies such a magnificent location. My choice - Roast beef and mustard sandwich on homemade bread.
Music - I love the sound of nature, the calls of the birds, the wind in the tree tops and the absolute calmness when there are no birds or wind. I also love my music and with 7-12 hours of hiking to get through it really helps to lift the experience. Live concerts are my favourite but everyone has their own taste so experiment with what works for you.
A Friend - Hiking alone has its advantages if you like your own company but hiking with a friend adds that extra level of fun. You can talk about all sorts, motivate each other when your legs are feeling dead and share an experience both of you won't forget anytime soon.
With all that in mind let's get stuck into the where and how based on my latest experience doing the full Six Summit Challenge.
Section One - Sullivan Rock to Mt Randall
Given the feedback I have received over the past couple of years, finding the car park for Sullivan Rock is not easy on your first time. I completely understand this so this time I marked it out properly and the turnoff for the car park is exactly 9.5km past the Jarrahdale Rd turnoff so reset your odometer and keep your eyes peeled. My challenge started with a very early wake up on Anzac Day and a long drive from Fremantle so I could get out to the starting point around sunrise.
For the past couple of years I have done this hike as a personal form of dawn service to commemorate the Anzacs. It may not be the traditional service at Kings Park or Fremantle but it is quite a powerful experience to stand at the rock cairn marking the summit of Mt Vincent in silence watching the sunrise and thinking about the sacrifice made by the brave young men of the ANZACs over 100 years ago. With a reminder of how easy life is now because of what they went through, there is plenty of motivation to push on.
With my small silence finished, some photos snapped and having climbed summit #1 it was time to descend down Mt Vincent and get straight into the short climb up to the more exposed Mt Cuthbert. This is one of my favourite spots in WA but unfortunately the weather had started up for the day so it wasn't worth stopping on the exposed section given the poor visibility. With summit #2 crossed off the list it was a short descent down to the forest floor and on to the Monadnocks Campsite. This 2km section is a gradual uphill but being buried within the forest your legs don't really notice. Normally I end my hike at Monadnocks before turning around and hiking back to my car but this time it was on to the third summit of Mt Randall.
This is a place I had always wanted to visit after seeing it on the WalkGPS blog so decided this was the day to do it. The plan had been to get up to Mt Randall and back to the campsite before the rains hit around 9am. Due to a later than expected start along with several photography stops to capture the relatively clear views along the way, I arrived at the campsite a bit before 9am. From the western slope of Mt Vincent and the northern section of Mt Cuthbert I could see the heavy rain clouds in the distance but decided to press on and try to get to Mt Randall in time. Added to this, the hut was a bit overcrowded with campers and they all looked miserable so I left them to it and headed off immediately.
Before I describe the way to Mt Randall, please note that it doesn't follow the Bibbulmun Track and there is no marked path to follow. Only attempt this if you are an experienced hiker and have a GPS tracker. It is very easy to lose your way in the bush so be prepared. The way to Mt Randall is found by heading west from the hut towards the camping spots and finding an exposed bit of granite. From there it isn't much further before you hit the second exposed bit of granite and the remnants of a trail marker hanging from a branch leading into the bush. The path is very overgrown and tight in places but it soon opens up to a single track that I'm guessing was once the official way to Mt Randall.
Once you pass some granite boulders, keep heading west until you see the large formation of boulders that marks the summit of Mt Randall (it is not hard to miss). The path disappears here as the undergrowth gets thicker but just keep heading in the direction of the giant granite boulders and you will be right. Once you reach the base of the formation this is where it is necessary to scramble up rocks until you reach the top. Once there you are treated to spectacular views to both the east and west (the best is looking east). I am marking the summit here as being a rusty old tower that has long been blown off its original location and now rests in between the rocks.
It was at summit #3 that I rested for a bit, enjoying a cup of tea and an Anzac biscuit before looking north and realised that it wouldn't be long before the weather turned nasty. I couldn't see NW from the summit and that's where the rain had crept up on me from. I quickly got out my waterproof cover for my backpack, put my camera in its dry sack and stuffed everything away safely. Then it bucketed down and I had to scramble down the wet rocks and find the path again. I found my way back to the faux-cave (one of the fun areas to explore up here) and then headed back. It wasn't long before I realised I wasn't on the same path I came in on so checked my phone and I was heading in the right direction, just a little north of the intended path.
Using the compass on my paracord bracelet I pointed myself in a southerly direction until I found a 4x4 track. With the rain now pouring down, the amount of water on my phone screen was preventing me from unlocking it and I didn't have a dry enough section of clothing to wipe it with. My hunch was that this 4x4 track was the one that crosses the Bibbulmun Track before the Monadnocks campsite and I was right. At the crossroads between the 4x4 track and the Bibbulmun I saw some of the unhappy campers from the hut heading down the 4x4 track to avoid climbing over Mt Cuthbert and Mt Vincent.
With very wet clothing, very damp socks and an unfavourable forecast for the rest of the day, the hike back to Sullivan Rock was spent pondering whether or not to call it quits for the day. With squishy socks and soggy feet, I had developed a couple of blisters and it wouldn't be fun having those get worse over another 18km of hiking to Mt Cooke and back. The climb up Mt Cuthbert for summit #4 wasn't any better in terms of visibility and the granite was now a bit slippery, adding to the time taken to get back. The weather abated a bit and slowed to a drizzle, allowing my new hiking pants to dry up somewhat and the body heat generated under my rain jacket quickly sorted out my shirt.
I saw a couple of groups between Mt Cuthbert and Mt Vincent but the visibility didn't improve at summit #5 so I kept moving. The plan at this stage was to hike back to the car and make a decision there. It wasn't a long way back to the trail marking the way to Mt Cooke and I had a dry pair of socks in the car I could put on. I caught up to the other half of the Monadnocks campsite group as I approached Sullivan Rock and then made my way down the slippery rock face (drenching my already soaked socks even more) to the car park. Sitting under a small shelter located in the car park, I had my sandwich and watched all four campers pile into a tiny hatchback with all their gear and struggled with my desire to call it quits for the day. In the end I decided to push on given I had one summit left and 14km of the hike was on relatively flat ground so I changed my socks, dumped some gear and headed back to Sullivan Rock for another 18km of hiking fun.
Section Two - Sullivan Rock to Mt Cooke
The 6km journey out to the Mt Cooke campsite is fairly flat so I stuck the headphones in to forget about my blisters and just pounded away the kilometres. I can't say it is interesting bushland, being a bit featureless and once you enter the forested section, a bit monotonous. This section does have one area that intrigues me though, an open expanse of bushland with a narrow sand trail leading through the grasses. I can't explain why I like this section but I do and take great joy in walking this part of the trail.
Before long you start a mini-climb up to the Mt Cooke campsite (the proper one, not the one intended for large groups) and this is where I chose to have a small break before tackling the 230m vertical climb up to the last summit of Mt Cooke. By this stage the odometer was reading 23.5km so I took off my hiking boots and laid down on the hut floor to rest my weary muscles. It wasn't long before I heard a bit of noise and a couple who I had passed not long before came into the hut. They had wanted to take lunch at the group campsite but the tables aren't undercover so trekked back to this hut. We had a bit of a chat (they had been out on the trail since Friday and were finishing up today) and watched as the rain started up again.
After a 20 minute rest I headed out into the drizzle for the last climb of the day. The ascent averages a 10% gradient for over 2kms but the views back towards Mt Vincent & Mt Cuthbert are worth it. The lower slopes provided some surprisingly good views to the west given the weather and I used the last of the space on my memory card snapping away. It didn't last though and soon I was amongst the clouds and visibility was poor. The scene from the cover shot on The Life of Py's Facebook page was barely visible past the rock so my plans to recreate it didn't pan out. Ploughing on, I climbed the last few hundred metres to tick off summit #6. The highest point of Mt Cooke is marked by a rock cairn and rusty sign that is very unimpressive but in this weather there wasn't much point heading further up the trail where the great views are (plus I still had 9km to hike back to the car).
It was a quick rest next to the ammo box containing various geocaching paraphernalia before I headed back down the mountain and the long trek to Sullivan Rock. The long flat section is an exercise in single minded determination to forget the tired legs & blisters and just keep going. The phone battery still had plenty of life in it, even after over seven hours of GPS tracking and playing music so I switched on an audiobook and happily trudged along the trail until I reached that last slog up the 4x4 track (eating jelly beans certainly helped).
Feeling sore, tired and happy at the top of Sullivan Rock, I got out the camera again and snapped some photos back towards Mt Cooke together with some of the fauna. Back at the car my GPS tracker said I had covered 35kms in total and climbed 1,228m vertically over the past eight and a half hours. Six Summit Challenge completed, I was happy I didn't pack it in at the half way mark and I rewarded myself with a few glasses of red and a heat pack that night.
Final Thoughts – Sullivan Rock is a very popular access point to the Bibbulmun Track and one that provides the opportunity to climb up the more significant hills we have in Perth. The views from each summit allows the chance (on a clear day) to see a landscape without man made intervention and lets you experience a sense of awe and wonder that only comes from being in those moments.
I planned the Six Summits Challenge as a mini-Misogi to test myself physically and to reconnect with a place that I love so much. With a bit of training, 35km is not out of reach for any hiker in one day and I can guarantee that the experience will be worth it.
Even with constant drizzle for the entire day mixed in with heavy downpours, I never once regretted doing this. It's hard to be miserable when you are out in nature and with the right gear you are only soaking wet for a short time (socks excluded).