Bluff Knoll or Pualaar Miial in the Stirling Ranges is the highest peak in the South West of Western Australia. It stands tall and proud at 1,099 metres above sea level.
You’ll find this mountain just over an hour outside of Albany and approximately 4.5hrs south of Perth.
It’s most delightful claim to fame: The fact that it is the only place in the Western Australia with occasional snow. Without a weather station, local tourists and hikers report snowfall at Bluff Knoll annually. This usually happens during winter.
The views from the summit are a photographer’s dream and unlike anywhere else in WA. With sweeping aspects southwards across to the Porongurup Range, and north-west takes in the western peaks and farmland. North-east vistas provide a stunning view of the eastern peaks of the Stirling Ridge. Additionally, the coast near Albany can be seen from this viewpoint.
Hiking to the peak of Bluff Knoll takes around 3-4 hours on a 6.8km return trail. Classified as Grade 4, the walking trail is easily accessible and well signed – but not for the fait hearted!
Who wouldn’t want to climb to the top of a snow capped mountain so close to Perth?
Some cold hard facts about Bluff Knoll
- Bluff Knoll is one of the most under estimated hikes in WA with at least 5 rescues by SES in 2021. The first weekend of 2022 saw a double-header of rescues.
- The ascent is mostly steps, an eternity of endless steep climbing. This can be particularly strenuous on hiker’s knees, especially on the descent.
- The trail has strenuous sections. These sections have sheer drops near the edge of the trail.
- The trail passes between Bluff Knoll and Coyanarup Peak. Intensely strong winds often come with a chill factor, making the climb more challenging.
- Small sections of decking can be dangerously slippery in damp conditions. Some of these cover parts of the trail damaged by erosion.
- The weather at the base when you start may be very different from what you experience at the peak. Conditions can change quickly.
Bluff Knoll Requires All Your Skills as a Hiker
We don’t want you to miss out on the rewards at the summit of Bluff Knoll. However, the reality is that this hiking trail is not suitable for everyone.
Rescues cost the community thousands of dollars and add risk to the lives of volunteers. It might take an overnight wait for the rescue to happen. The injured person is exposed to the elements, and Mother Nature can be unpredictable. Therefore, this hike should be taken very seriously.
Joining Off The Beaten Track WA for a Bluff Knoll Tour or a Stirling Range Weekender is an exciting adventure. It is of course important to be prepared and not underestimate the challenge that awaits. This applies no matter if you’re going with friends, family, or solo.
So… if this is a challenge you feel you are up for, let’s get you fully prepared for this ascent!
Plan your Bluff Knoll challenge for another day if you have:
- Dodgy knees, ankles, hips or calf muscles;
- Heart or breathing conditions;
- Have the sniffles or feel off in any way;
Are you fit enough? Be brutally honest with yourself. This ascent has you climbing a kilometre into the air – at a roughly 33 degree angle for the entire hike. It is literally like being on a stair master at the gym for around 2 hours!
You may wonder why SES reports rescues of lost hikers on Bluff Knoll’s well marked trail.
A loss of mental clarity is often associated with a lack of food and water in hikers, leading to disorientation. Make sure your body is well fuelled up before you begin. Take enough food and plenty of water to get you through the day, plus extra for emergencies. We recommend at least 3ltrs of water for a challenge such as Bluff Knoll!
TIP: Don’t assign yourself a time limit to reach the summit. Take your time and rest often, take advantage of your rest stops for admiring views and taking pics.
Check yourself over for any minor first aid administration (blisters, sunburn, grazes, etc). Adjust your clothing layers for any change in the weather. Have a cuppa and a snack.
And be brutally honest … have you reached your limit? If you have, be smart and head back down.
Be prepared for a worst case scenario with a First Aid Kit. It’s more likely you’ll need your kit for minor grazes and blister care but this is one of those situations where it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
Make sure you have an emergency blanket in your First Aid Kit. When facing elements such as high winds, chill factor, and snow, you’ll want to have something durable and insulating to maintain your body heat. Typical emergency blankets are cheap and light, but you might want to invest in one that also has HELP printed on it, making you easier to locate. You can buy a Bob Cooper Emergency Help Blanket from the OTBT Shop.
Pack an emergency whistle to help rescuers find you in case of an accident. The human voice is only about 90 decibels and a whistle is 120 decibels. Most of us cannot yell loudly or for a long duration. A whistle, however, produces far more sound with minimal effort.
In an emergency situation blow your whistle with three short blasts then pause and repeat. This is the International distress signal and it is also recognised by emergency services across the globe. Most Osprey backpacks have a built in whistle on the chest strap – a super hand feature especially in stressful situations.
Use hiking poles to help with balance and the distribution of your body weight. Your legs won’t have to work quite so hard if you do this.
TIP: Try walking up or down the steps sideways. This will use leg muscles that are less fatigued and provide some relief to your knees.
Be Prepared Like a Boy Scout
Prep for blisters with well worn-in shoes and sock liners. Know your hotspots and tape them before your hike. Be sure to pack a blister medic kit (either shop bought or homemade – see here), and extra socks. between sweat, rain, snow and dew, having a dry pair of socks to change into will also help prevent blisters.
Pack layers for different types of weather conditions including warm sunshine and wet and cold weather. Layering up with light clothing gives you the opportunity to put something on or take something off whenever you need and light layers will be easy to stow away in your backpack without taking up too much room.
If you’ve never used a PLB before, this is the hike to take one with you. Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are personal safety devices which when activated, send out a distress signal via satellite, as well as an identification code. Buy one or better yet, hire one from OTBT so we can help you set it up before you go.
Be Very Present
Stay alert at all times! The dangers on this trail are very real. Fatigue is the enemy of being present and careful. Another reason to stop and rest is if the only thing you can concentrate on is one foot in front of the other.
Have an Emergency Plan. Let someone know when and where you’re going, when you expect to be back at your car and who to contact if they think you’re in trouble. Check in with them when you can with a call or text message. (Telstra has the best coverage in the area). At each check in, let them know exactly where you are on the trail (as best you can) so your contact has a “last known area” in case of an actual emergency.
In the event of an emergency it’s impossible to not get feelings of panic or anxiety with fight/flight hormones rushing through your body. With all that adrenaline pumping, even the best of us will find it hard to think clearly and rationally. Having a plan of action, step-by-step, will help give you some feeling of control over your situation and most importantly, help get you rescued! We cover everything you need to know in our blog on Basic Survival & What to Do in a Hiking Emergency.