Stirling Ridge Walk
Stirling Range National Park
Bluff Knoll Rd
24km (One Way)
Directions - As a one-way walk you will need to organise pick-up or drop off at the Ellen Peak end (it's private property so no parking is allowed) but you can park at the Bluff Knoll car park (please notify the ranger). For more info check out the Stirling Ridge FB Group.
The Hike - This is a re-telling of the hike some two and a half years after it happened so forgive me if the details are a little foggy. The reason I am only just getting around to writing this is because I thought it wouldn't be long until I returned to complete the whole thing. Unfortunately two series of bushfires have wreaked havoc on the Stirling Range National Park and the series of peaks that makes up the Stirling Ridge Walk have been severely burnt. The most recent ones in 2019/2020 were the worst and it will be a year or two before the area will look remotely recovered. That won't stop people doing this off-track hike but given the sensitive nature of the alpine vegetation up there, I recommend showing respect to the area and visiting a different area like Fitzgerald River, the Bibbulmun Track or one of the other day hikes in the Stirling Range. Right now the plan is to return in late 2021 or early 2022 and this page will get an overhaul.
With that in mind let me cast my mind back a couple of years and recall what was a shortened adventure but an enjoyable one none the less. The idea for the trip came from my podcast partner Donovan (you can read his post here) as he had wanted to do it for a while and I was happy to join in as part of a longer road trip I had planned. Our friend Lou who we had met through hiking was also keen to come so the three of us made plans for a future date and hoped that the weather would be okay when that time came around. Donovan was very organised with laminated copies of the important pages from AT Morphet's Mountain Walks in the Stirling Range Part 2: The Peaks to the East of Chester Pass along with purchasing a topographical map of the area. The plan was to start at the Bluff Knoll end with Lou's husband Paul picking us up at the access road to the north of the ridge in three days time. The decision to do it in three days rather than two was a cautious one to allow for periods of bad weather and the occasional case of taking the wrong path (which is common on this hike).
The only marked section of the trail is on the path up to the Bluff Knoll summit and after that it is all off-track following the ridge line of the peaks in the area. There were visible pads in places but a lot of the time you are battling the undergrowth and trying to stay on course. There are no official campsites but there are places along the route where you will find enough space to pitch a tent or sleep in a cave. There is no permanent water with the only source an old barrel placed high above near one of the peaks so it is advisable that you carry everything that you need (along with carrying everything out). The weather for our trip wasn't looking fantastic with one clear day followed by a few days of light rain (forecast was 1-2mm). Deciding to risk it and start on what was a perfect day for hiking, we figured that 1-2mm wouldn't be too bad given we had our wet weather gear. I had stayed at Donovan's in-laws place the night before after a warm-up hike at Mount Magog and the following morning we drove out to Bluff Knoll in my failing Audi to meet Lou and her husband.
Although we each had 8L of water for the three days, Donovan and I had one last drink from the car supplies just in case. All of us had climbed Bluff Knoll before but with roughly 20kg on our backs, this would be a different experience. A fairly sizeable climb with about 650m of vertical distance to cover over the 3km trail, it would be a matter of taking it slow and enjoying the views every now and then. Paul took a group photo of us and then we set off on the downhill path from the car park. Being a sunny spring day, there were plenty of people out enjoying the climb and we got plenty of comments and questions about the size of our packs as we were overtaken. One great thing about having to stop frequently was that there was always something to look at thanks to the abundant displays of wildflowers. Having visited Bluff Knoll a few times before, this I believe was the first time I'd been here when it was sunny and definitely the first time reaching the summit with clear skies. Soon enough we were at the waterfall that I remembered waiting at with my mum and sister while dad continued on to the summit on a family holiday when I was much younger.
Providing another opportunity to get some water in us, Donovan and I drank some of our supplies and refilled the bottles using the waterfall water. Continuing on, we climbed higher and higher towards the more exposed sections of the trail where you start to get some of the amazing views looking towards the other peaks of the Stirling Range. I love these views and it gave me the opportunity to photograph the clear skies so I could update my Bluff Knoll post with much better photos. The trail somewhat flattens out towards the summit and the views over towards Mount Manypeaks and the coastline appear. We took another break at one of the bigger rocky outcrops and watched the stream of day hikers walking up the trail, envious of the ones without packs on. Reaching the summit we found it very crowded with a scouts or school group and after putting on our gaiters, decided it was best to continue on. Leaving the manicured trail behind we headed downhill from the summit towards the Chasm. I say leaving the trail behind but this bit had a well worn path down towards a sign telling you that beyond here is wilderness and to proceed with caution. Now away from the main track we were on our own here and navigation became a little trickier.