When I set out with this project, I had the goal of finding all of the hard to reach, little photographed spots in the lower WA. The purpose of this was purely self development. I wanted to push myself into scenarios where I had to learn new skills and overcome difficult challenges. What I didn’t anticipate was how much it would change me. After every instalment, everything around me starts to look easier. The shortlist of locations that I devised at the beginning started to be rewritten. What looked difficult to achieve before I did the Harvey River challenge suddenly looks a bit mundane. So I had to come up with some new challenges.
You will notice that all of the images on this page are presented in black and white. Click on an image to open the colour version. I’ve done this for artistic sake, play along and enjoy the viewing experience. Every image was processed twice, one for colour and one for black and white. Take the time and appreciate each image individually. This is not meant to be fast. 😉
The Stirling Ranges
The traditional name is Koi Kyenunu-ruff.
When I was 17 I borrowed my mother’s car and my photography teacher’s cameras and travelled to the Stirling Range with a few rolls of film and a sense of exploration. While there, I walked through the amazing bushland on the mountain studded terrain and captured, and later printed, photographs that I would carry with me to this day. After eleven years, I was sorely over due to return to this wondrous place.
What I got up to on the first trip has entertained many people who have listened to me enthusiastically recall it. An impromptu day trip by a seventeen year old me meant self neglect and surely border-line self abuse, all for the pursuit of a photograph. This time it didn’t work out to be much different.
I decided to make the trip only the day before. Noticing a window of opportunity in my schedule I quickly started making plans. In all fairness, I did do a lot more planning in the few hours before leaving than I did the first time. I looked at maps.
I left home at 11:00pm at night for the five hour journey to the national park. Long before the sun lights up the ground, the face of Bluff Knoll glows orange in the colour of the morning. I arrived in time for the sunrise and this is what I got to see.
Bluff Knoll is the highest peak in the Stirling Range National Park. As the tallest peak in lower Western Australia, it has been given special treatment to cater for tourists. The well built and worn in path makes it an easy walk to the top. I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the Stirling Ranges.
Unfortunately for me, an easy walk to the top is not on my agenda. So I decided to go after the most difficult peak to climb within a day. Toolbrunup Peak. Here is the view of Toolbrunup peak from Bluff Knoll.
But before we get to Toolbrunup Peak, here are the beautiful colours of the Stirling Ranges at sunrise.
The shape of the land is described by the low angle of the sunlight. With each passing minute, another detail of the landscape receives the warmth of the sun and it slowly grows. As the freezing air recedes, all of the living things begin to make good on a new day. The scents that are carried in the air change slightly, if you are still enough to notice.
The Stirling Range is characterised by the tall rugged peaks and the flat forested valleys between them. Both active and dry streams run through the land. The diversity of flora and fauna earned it a place on the National Heritage List and it’s recognised as one of the top 50 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Damaging any natural thing within this park is illegal.
For many thousands of years, the Aboriginal people used this land for hunting.
Toolbrunup Peak stands 1042 meters above sea level, compared to Bluff Knolls 1095 meters. Factor in the average ground height and it’s about a 600 meter climb to the top. For greater perspective, you could build the city of Perth at its base and the tallest towers wouldn’t get you half way up.
The top tapers down to an area of just 10 x 20 meters. From a distance it looks perfectly pointy.
For the winter months, it certainly was colourful. Apart from the obvious green growth brought about by the rains, there were many displays of colour. The fresh air was sweet with the smell of the wet leaves.
The first stretch of the walk is easy. It follows a cleared path through the forest. The ground is mostly very fine sand rich in organic material to make a very firm walking pad. For a while I was thinking this might be too easy. The slope of the land gradually rises until you can feel the muscles in your legs warming up. I was having a grand time.
I kept my little Canon EOS-M around my neck allowing my to take the occasional snapshot while I walked. With the Leica camera in one bag and all other essentials in another, I was carrying a lot of weight. Add the tripod and I was starting to question the necessity of some of it.
The first stop along the route was a massive patch of gravel rocks which naturally spanned the side of the hill. It’s a puzzling feature of the land. Walking up the wall of gravel was fun, the rocks slowly giving way and rolling beneath me.
The view of the mountain was beautiful. The rich green forest and the blue sky, with a rocky peak looming above.
I pulled out the Leica to get a decent photo of the peak. Im hindsight, this picture blows my mind.
The walk had so much to look at. The forest changed every few minutes. The further up hill I went the more the altitude seemed to affect which trees I saw. Every time I walked under the canopy of the trees the temperature would drop and the humidity would rise suddenly. From here on, the walk was either on loose gravel or steep solid rock.
Further up the hill I was greeted by the first real view out over the land. I sat down on the gravel and gazed out at it for ten minutes or so. I was starting to get really tired. Walking over the loose ground was really taking its toll. Carrying the tripod wasn’t helping either. The view did cement something in my mind though, I was going to make it to the top.
Back to walking, I entered a patch of forest where the temperature change was so sudden and so freezing that it had me questioning the cause. My body temperature was really high due to the climbing, but my skin was freezing cold from to the air around me. I was hoping that it was not going to continue getting this much colder as I went up.
About half way up the mountain you approach the boulder territory. There’s really nothing but boulders. Most of them are the size of dogs. The ground slopes up 45 degrees. To put that in perspective, for every body length forward you go, you are also climbing one body length. Walking over these was no longer an option, it’s a four legged climb. It goes on like this for hundreds of meters..
By this point, I was exhausted. It might have been another story without the camera equipment I was carrying. The point of this was to take photos so I will likely never know the answer to that question. The views were amazing.
I was breathing heavily as I sat here on the rocks, taking photos.
I really wanted to give up. It was starting to get to me. I had been climbing for two hours and the peak still seemed so far. At the same time though, it also felt so close by comparison to before. I desperately wanted to see the view from the top, if only my body could keep up.
Had I mentioned that throughout all of this, the whole place was drenched in water? Every tree was soaked and dripping. Everytime I grabbed a branch for support I was rewarded with a brief rain coming from the leaves. All of the rocks that I climbed over were covered in large drops of water. This just made the whole experience more cold and extra slippery.
If it sounds like I am complaining, it’s because I was. I was being challenged and I was fighting back, but moaning the whole way through it. It’s a good thing I was doing it on my own. Anyone else would have had enough of me. The audio notes that I made to myself via my camera were extremely amusing in retrospect.
This is the moment I finally saw sunlight hitting something above me. It signalled the end was near. Adrenaline started pumping again and my speed increased. This was counter-acted by the now near vertical accent of the climb. Knowing that the tripod was at the end of its utility, I decided to leave it behind to collect on the way back down. There would be plenty of light where I was going.
I climbed up onto a ledge and I was met with the first breeze I had felt since the bottom. I could feel every inch of skin that the sunlight touched. I laid down on the thick beds of moss that covered the ledge and looked up the interrupted sky. My heart was beating so fast that I could feel my pulse through much of my body. The smell up here was incredible. The sounds of dripping water was surprisingly loud and I could see the rocks bleeding out the fresh rainwater.
I got up, and headed for the top.
If I could describe the feeling of making it up here, it would be joy, awe, relief, excitement, and appreciation. It wasn’t just the view that made it worth it. It was that it was so difficult to achieve. It’s a feeling that film makers have tried to emulate for decades. The scene where the hero makes it to the top to gaze out over the entire world before him. That’s it! I felt like a hero.
After taking these first photos of the mountain-scape, I took ten minutes to rest. It was time to start exploring this small patch of land and the view it offered.
Something that I noticed on the occasional boulder on the way up, and then again in abundance up here, was wavy patterns.
It is the true poetry of Earth that we would find something like this up here. The pattern is created by the deposition of fine material in layers at the bottom of shallow seas. As the layers of material build up, pressure increases. This deposition occurred between 2 to 1.2 billion years ago when this whole area was a shallow sea. When the sea receded 1.2 billion years ago, it left behind the muddy sea floor to solidify into rock. As Australia slowly inched its way around, the grinding of the tectonic plate against Antarctica caused the subsurface rock to buckle, heaving up the surface of the land to form the stirling ranges. Wind and water erosion created the distinctive shapes of the mountains today. The valleys of gravel are testament to the erosion of the mountains.
What beautiful poetry it is, that soil that formed at the bottom of the sea should find itself sitting atop a mountain peak. The bones of sea creatures still intact.
When you look out at the land surrounding the national park, you can’t help but notice the definite divide between the agriculture and the wilderness. This amazingly beautiful place is just a small taste of what once existed all around us. I don’t deny the need for agriculture. But hearing our current Prime Minister refer to these places as “…we have too much locked up forest” is saddening. No Mr Abbott. We do not have too much.
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