Stirling Ridge Walk - Day 1

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Fence Track to Ellen's Peak

Despite taking almost two hours, the six-kilometre-long walk along the Boundary Fence Track from the (Phytophthora cinnamomi) dieback control barrier (just after the Gnowellen Road junction) to the entrance of the Stirling Range National Park was rather uneventful. Everyone seemed to be in an intrepid mood despite having ended up with soggy boots early on after foolishly attempting to cross a flooded section with footwear. Even the forelimb of an unfortunate kangaroo that had somehow gotten itself impossibly tangled up in a part of the fence didn't seem to be able to dampen the mood. For me the time passed by fairly quickly as I was finally back in the wilderness, surrounded by the sounds, smells, and colours that utterly engulf and enchant my senses. To the north, just behind the fence that we walked along, lay green fields that spread out as far as the eye could see. To the south lay the imposing range that we were to cross, with ominous clouds rapidly billowing off the peaks.

As we walked down the wide, pebble-strewn path, we were met with a brisk front wind that, unbeknownst to us at that time, was relatively mild compared to what we were to encounter later on. The wind caused the puffy, globular clouds to whip across the sky above us and the shadows that they cast, known as 'rionnach maoimeans' in Gaelic, rapidly roll across the hills. The wind didn't seem to bother a tiny white-breasted willy wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) though, as it flitted from post to post just ahead of us, stopping to look at us inquisitively as we approached before flitting across just in front once again, always remaining just out of reach - as the celestial Pleiades are to Orion (or so I thought at the time). The reputation that it has in Aboriginal folklore as a stealer of secrets certainly seemed apt at the time, as it seemingly tried to listen in to our conversations before jumping away to avoid capture.

We reached the turn-off that lead south towards Ellen's Peak (elevation : 1012 m) with just under two hours of hiking. Once there, we came upon a notice board of sorts that announced a prescribed burn of one of the sections of the walk alongside a small illustration of a mountain bell (Darwinia sp.) flower. I unfortunately did not spot a single mountain bell during the hike, so it looks like I'll have to come back once again for the panoply of wildflowers in Autumn. I took down the number to call in case of an emergency before we continued on southward.

The bush was sparse here. The aftermath of prescribed burns could be seen amongst the regenerating vegetation - pyriscent buds emerging, a reminder of how resilient nature can be. Bushes of banksia (Banksia spp.) were surrounded by remnants of the trunks, formed by a hollow ring of accumulated leaf bases, of kingia trees (Kingia australis), also known as bullanocks. It became harder and harder to appreciate the vegetation as the imposing and seemingly impregnable ridge of the Stirling Range loomed ahead, growing ever larger as we approached. As we made our ascent up the northern ridge, the views began to open up behind us, a lush green carpet blanketing the land; and the wind also began to increase its intensity, forcing us to brace ourselves.

As the shadows cast by the clouds continued to roll across the valley, leaving us in alternating moments of brightness and darkness (almost a grim reminder of the capricious nature of the elements that were lying in wait for us), crepuscular rays would occasionally shine through. The combination of this hard and soft contrast, the mélange of colours and shades, the wind whistling and the leaves rustling, and the birds soaring and circling in the air currents, left me feeling as though I could almost understand why some people in this day and age still held on to the anachronistic belief in an omnipotent creator.

Towards the top of the northern ridge, we encountered a clearing that would have made a decent campsite. Despite this, we continued on as the campsite that was apparently located in the saddle that lay between the ridge and the climb up to Ellen's peak was far more likely to be sheltered from the gusting winds.

Next : Day 01 - Fence Track to Ellen's Peak (Part 2)

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