my very good Perth friends (Sandy and Richard) and I went down south to the Stirling Range for the "Hugs and Hills Tour 2010".
The Stirling Range is a range of mountains about 350km South East of Perth. Some of the main peaks (all of which we intended to summit over three days) are:
- Bluff Knoll - (1095m)
- Mount Hassell - (847m)
- Mount Magog - (856m)
- Mount Trio - (856m)
- Talyuberlup Peak - (783m)
- Toolbrunup Peak - (1052m)
On our 5 hour drive we stopped in the mighty metropolis of Kojanup for lunch... population doubled by the arrival of the three of us hehe.
So here we are on our drive down, at the Gateway to the Stirlings, and doing some recycling! We managed to spot some Emus on our trip down as well, however, they disappeared off into the scrub pretty quickly so no photo opportunities.
This was my first glimpse of the Ranges themselves and coming from relatively flat Perth I was pretty excited!!!We all got more excited when we stumbled across the first Canola field... we ran around like little kids (after trying to elegantly scale the barbed wire fence).
The Australian bush is amazing, check out these plants recovering from a bush fire. Ina year or so time, these will have re-sprouted and will be back to life totally.
So after a 5 hour (or so) drive, with a stop off for some supplies we arrived at the Stirling Range Retreat and our rammed earth cabin. After making ourselves at home, cooking up a quick Moroccan Chicken on rice with poppadoms (yum!) we settled outdoors around a little camp fire and started roasting marshmallows for dessert.
You cannot believe how great it was just hanging out outside, under the stars, and being away from city life, knowing that I had three days of fun times and running in the hills ahead of me.
Saturday morning dawned and we were all looking forward to the day ahead of us. Our plan was to head up Toolbrunup Peak, which is the second highest peak in the ranges. At just 4km return but predicted to be 4 hours I should have been a little more worried about the difficulty. Instead I went off all carefree and rearing to go. Here is the first sighting off Toolbrunup... the literature is correct in noting that it towers above other peaks. The track was also listed as a 5 (out of 6) in terms of difficulty.
It was on our drive that we first encountered the Army. They were in the middle of a SAS training week. 6 days of climbing, walking and sleep deprivation for the hopeful SAS recruits. It made for some interesting times for us as well meeting up with the trainers at the top of the peaks and coming across the recruits on many of the climbs that we were doing.
The brochure from our accommodation said that Toolbrunup is "a wilderness trail with steep loose rock and scree over the last quarter of the trail, before reaching the summit half the size of a tennis court with magnificent 360 degree views". Let me tell you, Toolbrunup was tough!!! My calves were in agony and it made me realise how much hill fitness I have list since living in Perth! But I was LOVING it!!!
Here are some of the amazing views that we encountered on our trip...
Here's Sandy and Richard!
Us at the top of the peak. WICKED is all that I can say.
Halfway up the mountain there was a mountain risk warning, noting that we shouldn't proceed unless fit and agile.... it was tough and at times we were using all fours and moving up the peak is a style reminiscent of a crab. But I am happy to say that we did the 4 hour trip in 1 hour 46! Even the SAS trainers at the top were impressed with our ascent time.
After our morning hike we relaxed back at our cabin- lunch, music, photos, laughs and fun times all round... and of course diet coke for me...
Later in the day we were all feeling a little less fit and agile... we had all stiffened up somewhat, but we started our preparations for our evening ascent of Bluff Knoll (perhaps the most famous of all the peaks and known as one of Australia's 25 best hikes). It was the most "commercial" track. We had decided to summit this peak and watch the sun go down from the top.
It was touch and go as to whether the weather would clear for it. But we decided to head up anyway. I left my camera in the car but Richard had his camera. As we were anticipating it being cold at the top we were rugged up for this trip... and within 3 minutes of the climb we were all sweating and dropping layers of clothes.
Near the top we came across two more SAS trainers waiting for more of their recruits, they were pretty well camouflaged and laughed at how long it took us to spot them.
Once we made it to the top we settled down, putting on all our spare clothes and waited for both the weather to clear and the sun to set. We weren't disappointed at all... the weather cleared long enough for the sun to put on its show. What a great way to end the day.
The descent was also pretty wicked. There's nothing like night tramping. It was just us, a beautiful night and nature. Loved it, loved it, loved it. After the second effort of the day we were home for a great pasta dinner and bed.
On Sunday we all awoke with some different aches and pains, the bodies, while we are all fit, were not used to some of the rough terrain that we were encountering.
We planned to climb both Mount Magog and Talyuberlup on this day. On the way to Mount Magog we came across a nice sight. The dull morning leading to some pretty good photos.
At the bottom of Mount Magog we came across about 15 SAS recruits who were waiting to be picked up as their training week had finished. They were generally in good spirits, but were desperate for some real food. We offered some food from our eskie (uh oh- Aussie lingo now hehe) but they were not allowed any outside assistance.
The start of the trek started with about 2.5km through a valley, Sandy and Richard were much faster than me as I ambled along, running some, taking some photos and generally just enjoying life really. The SAS trainers were hiking out and asked me if Sandy and Richard had left me behind, I said that they were much fitter and that I told them to go on ahead, they laughed knowingly and said that they would slow down pretty soon... and they were right... it was tough. We had about 600m of ascent over less than a km.... tough on my already battered calves.
Halfway up the climb I got a little sad at the fitness that I have lost over the year (its taking me a while to adjust to being a "normal" person and not being world championship fit) so I had a little cry. Herein came the Hugs part of the Hugs and Hills tour... I felt much better after a mid climb hug.
We were nearly at the top and we came across a mission rock scramble that required some reasonable bouldering skills. I was a little apprehensive about getting back down over these rocks, but it was time to enjoy the third peak of our trip... with some pressups- one armed and normal hehehe.
The reverse trip down was tough... and I really had trouble at one bit, taking about 10 minutes to go around 5 metres... I just froze up there and was scared. But Sandy and Richard talked me through it. Nothing like pushing boundaries with great friends.
Halfway down the climb I started to play to my strengths (down hill running) and just opened up on the track. My legs felt a little clumsy at first but not long into it I was flying. I love down hill running, having to think ahead 5 or so steps and just loving the free feeling of running. I pulled ahead through this section and felt free from all the pain from climbing. Again, the trip was great for the soul.... slowly but surely I was letting out all the negative tension that had been building over the past few months and smiling, laughing and feeling free from worries and work pressure.
After a 45 min break, we did the second climb of the day- Mount Talyuberlup. A tough, but short climb and perhaps the best views and amazing rock formations of the lot. Unfortunately I didn't have the camera for this trip as I was tired and my camera weighs a lot!!!
That evening we planned to head out to the local- the Borden Tavern. Taking a few touristy shots on the way. Here is the Dutch Lilly Windmill, with the magnificent ranges in the background.The ranges and more canola fields...
Just having fun... Me taking a "bath"... or wanting one at least. There was a lot of larking around at the "Nudists Crossing Here" sign- I'll leave that one up to your imagination.
And more shots of the windmill and ranges for you...
We made it to the local for what was initially planned to be one drink, then back to the Bluff Knoll cafe for dinner. But as all epic nights out go, this one was unplanned, but one of the most fun nights I have had for years. We had a few shandies... and the rest they say is history.
Monday was our last day of our trip and we had left the two easiest peaks till last. Up till now the weather had been on our side so we started early to try and get in a sunrise from Mount Hassell. Unfortunately, no sunrise for us, but the climb was good. So after a few more one armed pressups we were on our way back to the lodge to pack up.
So after a good breakfast, packing up and check out we headed off to the last peak of the trip. I am happy to say that I was really tired and if one person had said that they didn't want to do the climb I would have faltered. But we all did it and once we had started it was ok. A few hundred steps on this track and then it flattened out for a nice easy 1.5 km to the top. A great way to finish the trip!!!
We drove home a slightly longer way, via a number of small country towns... and then stopped off for the biggest (and at the time) the best burgers ever!!! We were all REALLY hungry by that stage.
Anyway- this was one of my best weekends away with friends for a long, long time. I really wish Jason had of been able to enjoy some of what we did, but it's not really his thing! Sandy and Richard were great company, I had an absolutely wicked time and over the last couple of weeks since the trip- if I am stressed, tired or sad, all I need to do is look at my photos and they make me smile!