Start - End of Toolbrunup Rd
Length - 4.2km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Rocky Path, Scree Field, Scrambling
Vertical Climb - 534m
Summit - 985m ASL
Time - 2-5 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Black Boot Markers
Entry Fee - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 23rd October 2016
Best Time - All Year Round
The Hike - This is the hike I had been most looking forward to on this trip after reading about it on The Long Way's Better and hearing tales of pre-dawn hikes to the summit on the last group hike of the season (thanks Lou).
After taking in both Mt Trio and Mount Hassell the previous day, the legs were feeling great as I woke up to the sunlight pouring into my tent at sunrise. I had spent the night at the wonderfully located Moingup Springs and after a night of being woken by the strong winds stirring the surrounding trees, I was happy to stay in my sleeping bag like a warm toasty burrito. I had set my alarm but this wasn't due for another hour (forgot I wasn't sleeping in a dark room and the sun would wake me) so I laid there enjoying the sounds of the birds before getting on with the day's hiking. I was saved the hassle of boiling water for my tea by the family I had met the previous night and enjoyed a cuppa in the morning light, along with a banana and an Up&Go (I wasn't too hungry). By the time I had finished breakfast and packed up, the day was heating up (forecast was for 26C) so I made the short drive (you can see Toolbrunup quite well from Moingup Springs) down Toolbrunup Rd to the car park that marks the start of the hike.
After a few stops along the road to photograph the looming mountain, I arrived at 8am to perfect conditions and it was already in the lows 20s. There were already a couple of cars there and one I recognised as the same lady who started the Mount Hassell hike at the same time as me so I would eventually see her at some point. I performed my pre-hike routine of filling water bottles, applying sunscreen and packing the necessary cameras/gear. Unlike the two hikes I did the previous day, Toolbrunup starts off in some dense forest and this was very welcome given the expected temperatures. I found plenty of wildflowers in this first stretch as the going was gentle and the forest kept me shaded so took my time taking photos and soaking it all in. The trail follows the course of a small creek and the dips down to the valley can be quite steep in places. It is nothing like the drop offs you will experience at the summit but it's still a nice scene.
The gentle incline doesn't last long and soon enough you come across what makes this hike different from all of the others in the Stirling Range, a scree field. Fortunately you don't have to scale this one but it is a marvel to look at. As many have described, it's like someone has just backed up a dump truck full of rocks and poured it down the side of the mountain. On such a sunny day it was giving off quite a glare but the one advantage was the views looking back towards Moingup Springs. It didn't feel like a lot of climbing but the view suggested otherwise. It also provided a glimpse to the summit, still a long way away and up some bigger scree fields.
Traversing the small horizontal section of the first scree field was quickly done with and it was back into the forest for some very steep trail hiking. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few stretches of forest that reminded me of my trip to Ellis Brook Reserve in 2015 with the closed in feeling of the straggly trees so spent a bit of time photographing the area. Not far up the path I encountered the sound of running water so followed it off trail until I discovered the source was the tiny trickle of a creek that runs down the side of Toolbrunup. It wasn't much but enough that I found a small section cascading over the rocks where I could fill my hat with a little water to then put back on my head. Even though I had been in the shade for most of the hike, the climbing was making me feel a tad hot and this was a wonderfully refreshing feeling as the water ran down my neck and back.
Feeling refreshed it wasn't long before I reached the famous Toolbrunup boulder field. You can look at pictures on the Google and read about it but nothing prepares you for the first time you lay eyes on it. The boulders aren't the size of Volkswagens but the ascent is steep and some move a lot more than others. I love rock hopping so I took a deep breath, engaged Mountain Goat mode (I am a Capricorn) and hopped from one rock to another. It does help that I am a rangy 6ft1 and the rocks were all fairly dry thanks to the warm weather so I was loving this kind of ascent more than the hard slog up the steep paths in the previous section.
Watching me skip up the scree field from further up the trail was an older lady who was scooting down on her butt (a very handy technique in places as I discovered on the way down). We both stopped and admired the views next to one of the frequent white trail markers and discussed the climb so far. She was a local from Albany and against doctor’s orders, she was out doing the thing she loved, which I thought was a great attitude to have. She had been to the summit already and was quite pleased that her knee was holding up alright. I wished her a pain free descent and continued on my merry way, feeling very much like a child as I bounced from rock to rock.
I would imagine that when it has been raining the ascent would be a lot more precarious on the slippery rocks but with plenty of grip beneath my boots, I was loving it. The scree sections are broken up by the occasional passage through overhanging trees but it is one long mess until you reach much higher ground. With the summit clearly in view when you traverse the more open sections, it seems like the scree field is never ending. I stopped at what seemed like the top of the scree field (it wasn't) for a drink and to admire the stunning views when the woman I had seen on the Mount Hassell hike came out from up the trail. I think she recognised me and I asked how much further it was to the scramble up to the summit. Luckily it wasn't far and she advised I don't hold my camera, which I had been alternating between hands the whole climb depending on where I needed to go.
Just like on Mount Hassell she didn't feel like talking a whole lot so disappeared down the mountain and I continued on. A short horizontal pass on the rocks was followed by the final scramble up a more familiar dirt and rocks pathway leading to the saddle. Unlike the Mt Trio saddle, you don't actually spend much time on the flat section, although there is a path leading to the west that will provide some great views if you don't feel comfortable scaling the final section to the summit. Having been shielded the entire hike from the strong northerly winds, I was now at their mercy as I began the almost vertical scramble up to the summit.
I did end up putting my camera away for this section but probably could have managed with it had I taken things a bit slower. The scramble isn't rock climbing but the near vertical pathway requires a good amount of leg strength to propel you up the mountain. It isn't all climbing with some flat bits to guide you to the next rock face and is well marked so where to go is never a problem. With a bit of effort I reached the summit and was immediately blasted by the wind again. The views were worth it though and I took the camera out of my bag and started snapping away. The views from up here are magnificent with clear skies providing a full 360 panoramic of Bluff Knoll, Mt Trio, Mount Hassell, Talyerberlup Peak and Mount Magog.
It had taken me 45 minutes to reach the summit and I spent almost as long as that on the summit just taking it all in and enjoying the serenity. The GPS was reading the summit as 973m ASL, which is a little bit off the 1052m that is quoted in the brochure. I found a similar reading on another topographical map I sourced so like Mt Trio, there is a bit of a discrepancy in readings. In the end it's just a number and it doesn't take away from the feeling of accomplishment that comes with tackling the only Class 6 day hike in the Stirling Range. With a steep but fun descent ahead I had a small snack and left the camera out so I could photograph the climb (or in this case descent) that I didn't shoot before. The climb back down the mountain was excellent fun and I had to take great care not to step on the skinks that were sunbaking in the warmer than usual conditions. By the time I reached the bottom it was noticeably hotter than when I started (car was reading 28C) and the jelly legs had well and truly set in. With one more climb to go in the day I made my way back to Moingup Springs for an early lunch and a well deserved rest in my camping chair.
Final Thoughts - As previously mentioned, this is the only Class 6 day hike in the area and it certainly lived up to its reputation as a tough one. Toolbrunup will always be compared to Bluff Knoll given they are the two highest peaks in the South West but I think it really comes down to personal preference as to which one you like more. Obviously Bluff Knoll is more easily accessible to everyone but Toolbrunup is certainly not out of the reach of anyone with a reasonably fit background and a can-do attitude.
I was aided by near perfect conditions on my hike (apart from it being a little hot) so that made the hike a little easier but having said that I think I might have enjoyed it a bit more with some mist/rain around. I love the feeling of ascending a misty mountain and getting that sense of being transported into a different world. I'm sure this won't be the last time I scale Toolbrunup and with the unpredictable weather this place is famous for, I might well get my wish.
The big talking point of any hike up Toolbrunup is of course the boulder fields and I have to say this was the highlight of the climb. It certainly beats slogging up a steep path made up of steps and nothing else. The choice to pick your own line, having to think about each step and react to the changing platforms really activates the mind as well as the body.
If I had to choose between Toolbrunup and Bluff Knoll I would choose Toolbrunup just because the climb has so much variety and the scree field is just too damn fun. Given I saw a lady with bad knees happily rave about hiking up to the peak, this climb isn't out of the question for anyone with reasonable fitness and a great attitude. As always, remember to hike your own hike.
Get out there and experience it!
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