Three Years on the Road
by
Brett Davis


98. Into the Mountains

After goodbyes to Andy, and to Noel and Denise, Karen and I cycled into Albany to buy the usual week's worth of supplies before heading north towards the Porongurup National Park. Once we turned off the South Coast Highway and onto Chester Pass Road the initially flat riding became more undulating. Combined with a strong north-westerly wind and a very hot day, the small hills had us working hard.

At about forty kilometres we turned onto Porongurup Road into the teeth of the wind. A sign soon directed us south along a gravel road towards two Porongurup features - Balancing Rock and Castle Rock. Two thirds of the way up the gravel road the grade became too steep for us and we were forced to get off and push our bikes up to the carpark and picnic area at the start of the walk to the rocks.

A car rolled up just as we were finishing lunch. Three of its four occupants immediately began the walk, but a fourth guy stayed with the car. Karen and I asked him to watch our bikes for us while we followed his friends up the trail. We soon caught and passed them, getting to the end of the alleged one hour outward trip in thirty minutes. Balancing Rock is exactly what the name suggests, a roughly spherical boulder about four metres in diameter balanced on a rounded rock slab with only a small area of contact between the two.


Balancing Rock

Not too far away, we scrambled between some boulders and a climbed a couple of small ladders to the top of Castle Rock. The views were fantastic, from the Stirling Ranges to the north, to the patchwork quilt of farmland with Albany and the ocean to the south. I had seen a brilliant postcard of Castle Rock which I wanted to emulate, so I convinced Karen to scale the safety fence and stand near the edge of its sheer, vertical face. I climbed down to the boulders below and scouted around until I found a small rock ledge, obviously the spot from which the original postcard was taken, and I snapped the shot.


Castle Rock

We returned to our bikes, rolled down the steep, gravel road and cycled a few more kilometres to a caravan park in Porongurup. The campers kitchen was a small house near the tent sites, with verandahs outside, a kitchen inside and a lounge area complete with lounge chairs and a couple of tables. Very civilised. We spoke with a couple from Canberra - Ivan and Rachel - and with two Germans who offered to give us a lift into the national park the following morning. We gladly accepted.

The walk next day took us up onto the main ridge of the Porongurup Range. Numerous viewpoints along the way gave us similar views to those from Castle Rock. After descending to a saddle we climbed a steep track up to the top of the Devil's Slide. At six hundred and sixty metres, it is the highest point in the range. We retraced our steps to the saddle and followed a track which traverses the park back to the car park. The Germans were not far behind us, and gave us a lift back to the caravan park too.

Ivan and Rachel gave us some of their home-made dried food - mostly carrots and a bolognaise mix - before we rode out the next morning. A warm, westerly wind neither hindered or helped us as we made our way north towards the Stirling Ranges over long, flattish undulations through the mosaic of agricultural land we had viewed from the top of the Porongorups.

Just before our first stretch break at twenty kilometres I noticed a small wobble in my back wheel and traced the cause - a very loose spoke. Out came our spoke key. It had been sitting in the toolkit doing absolutely nothing for sixteen and a half thousand kilometres, as virgin as the day it was purchased. I quickly worked out how to use it, and tightened the spoke until it made the same noise when struck as all of the other spokes. When Karen and I resumed our riding, the wobble was gone. It was the only time either of us had spoke trouble in our entire riding lives.


Stopping to fix a spoke - and needing a haircut

Western Australian Xmas Trees were in bloom as we rode towards the Stirlings. During our second stretch break at thirty five kilometres Karen took a couple of photographs of their wonderful yellow flowers. I wondered if these trees really were connected by their extensive root systems to the first Xmas trees we had seen near Geraldton. About eight kilometres later Karen and I had morning tea at the Moingup Springs camping area, noticing Ivan and Rachel's deserted tent set up on one of the sites. This national park campground was fairly spartan though, so we cycled on to the Stirling Range Caravan Park, adjacent to the Bluff Knoll turn-off.


Western Australian Xmas Trees

The caravan park proved to be quite a haven for birds. We had long and close views of rufous treecreepers, which we had previously only glimpsed a couple of times. A new bird also made its way onto our list - the yellow-plumed honeyeater. With a quick lunch in our bellies we stripped the bikes and rode up to the Bluff Knoll carpark. At one thousand and seventy three metres, Bluff Knoll is not only the highest mountain in the Stirling Ranges, it is also the highest mountain in the entire south-west of Western Australia.

As we were riding up the steep road to the carpark, Karen and I exchanged waves with the German couple we had met at the Porongorups who were on their way down. We also discovered why Ivan and Rachel's tent had been deserted earlier in the day - they were out climbing Bluff Knoll too. Ivan invited us to climb another big mountain - Toolbrunup - with him the next day. Rachel's knee was playing up, so she would be unable to make the climb, and Ivan did not want to risk going alone. He offered to pick us up from the caravan park the next morning and drop us back at the completion of the walk. It was an opportunity too good to miss, especially as we had originally considered doing the walk but had dismissed it because it began a long way up a dirt access road.


Karen cycling towards Bluff Knoll

With our plans for the next day finalised, Karen and I continued up to the Bluff Knoll carpark and chained Elle and Mel to a horizontal fence post prior to beginning the ascent. I had climbed the mountain in 1975 when the route to the top had been extremely direct. The long, vertical scar of the old track is still discernible, but not nearly the blot on the landscape it had been a quarter of a century before. The new track is longer but much more environmentally friendly, angling across the face of the mountain at a much kinder angle and a lot less visible from below.


Bluff Knoll

We passed three Pommy tourists on their way up the hill, and six others on their way down. The weather improved as we gained altitude. By the time we arrived at the summit, a little over an hour after starting out, the westerly wind was reduced to a zephyr and the morning overcast had broken up into regular sunny patches. We stayed on top for about half an hour, long enough to admire all the superb views. Long enough too for the three Pommy tourists to eventually arrive, one at a time, all looking very flushed with their efforts.


Karen on top of Bluff Knoll

A little less than an hour after starting our descent, Karen and I arrived back at the carpark to find that Elle and Mel had been moved. The horizontal railing to which we had chained them was actually an access gate for a couple of national park buildings. The railing, with both bikes still attached, had been shifted about three metres to the right by national park rangers to allow their vehicle to get through.

The ride back down the hill to the caravan park was a real hoot. On most downhills Karen and I are always very careful to keep our speed down, not wanting to break the bikes if we hit an unexpected bump or pot-hole, especially when Elle and Mel were heavily laden. But with the panniers removed from the bikes, and the road familiar to us, Karen and I shot down the hill at top speed. Some of the curves slowed us down a bit, but we still got up to about sixty kilometres per hour. It was good fun!

Ivan picked us up at 7:30am the next day, leaving Rachel to spend a quiet morning reading at our campsite. Karen and I piled into the front of Ivan's ute for the drive back down the highway and along Stirling Range Drive to the start of the walk. The track up Toolbrunup was more of a scramble than the Bluff Knoll superhighway, but it still did not take us long to reach the top. The highlight of the ascent, apart from the summit, was the profusion of green and gold around us as we climbed.


Flowers on the Toolbrunup climb

We were back at the caravan park before midday. All four of us lunched together and even had a swim in the caravan park pool. Ivan and Rachel left in mid afternoon to continue their travels. Karen and I took it easy for the rest of our rest day, reading until dinner time and retiring early.

We had four long days in front of us.



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