Saturday, 26 December 2015

Granite Skywalk (Porongurup National Park)

A short but steep walk through the forests of Porongurup National Park, the challenging but hugely rewarding Granite Skywalk takes walkers to a beautiful collection of granite rock formations including the massive, seemingly precarious Balancing Rock. For the more adventurous with a good head for heights, a scramble and a ladder climb leads to even more breathtaking views from the viewing platform bolted into Castle Rock itself. 

Distance: 3 km (return) 
Gradient: Somewhat steep, continually uphill walk to Balancing Rock with few flat sections. Access to Castle Rock requires scrambling over rocky boulders and through a crevice to climb a ladder leading to a lookout bolted into the rock itself. 
Quality of Path: Excellent, clear and well maintained. 
Quality of Signage: Well signed. There are large panels at the start of the trail as well as instructions later on for scrambling up to Castle Rock. Signs along the walk count down the kilometres to the peak.
Experience Required: Bushwalking experience and general walking fitness are recommended. The continual uphill ascent makes this walk much harder than the short kilometre distance suggests, and the Castle Rock section requires a head for heights and confidence in scrambling over natural obstacles. 
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: Some steps in the steeper sections of the walk up the summit. Metal handles in the rocks assist in the scramble, and a ladder must be climbed to reach the upper lookout on Castle Rock. 
Best Time to Visit: All Year, as long as its not overly hot or raining heavily. 
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park fees apply. 
Getting There: The trailhead is in a separate car park further east of the other walks in the Porongurups. The Car park is located on Castle Rock Rd off Mt Barker-Porongurup Road, nearer to the Chester Pass Rd end rather than Mt Barker. 

Down for the Christmas break, Alissa, her brother Ben, his partner Kelsey and I headed out to Porongurup National Park to walk the Granite Skywalk trail. Alissa and I had walked the trail earlier in the year, however the summit had been covered in cloud during our last visit and we were keen to check out the views on what proved be a perfectly clear day. The trail starts at the Day Use area adjacent to the Castle Rock Rd car park, and is clearly signed with directions and didactic panels explaining the formation of the granite peaks. 

The track up to the summit is clear and well maintained, with some of the steeper sections being slightly rocky and stepped. Due to a significant fire in 2007 than burned through 90% of the park, the thin scrappiness of the trees in the area are indicative of the forest still being in the early stages of its recovery. Nevertheless the path is largely well shaded, providing some respite from the heat of the sun during the relentless uphill climb. 

The constant trees may provide a shady overstorey, however it does make it hard to judge just how high you have gone and how far away the summit is. Thankfully, markers along the route provide a guide of how many more kilometres walkers have to travel.The track also passes by a few granite outcrops along the way which provide excellent views and rest spots. This particular lookout point is fairly close to the summit, and on the clear day we were walking provided views of the Stirling Ranges to the north. 

Not long after stopping for a view of the Stirling Range, this large granite dome signals to walkers that they have reached the area near the rocky summit. Where the track up to this point is dominated by the forest, from here on it is the interesting geological forms that are the mainstay of the walk. 

Balancing Rock is a highlight of this trail; a 6 metre high granite boulder that seems impossibly balanced on the sloping Granite rock below. This is a popular point for a photo op, and provides a good pay off for walkers wanting to reach the summit without taking the path up to the more challenging Castle Rock lookout. 

The walk continues through this chasm. Just beyond, a sign offers walkers a choice of paths - a 50 metre walk to the left to the Karri Lookout, or the 65 metre scramble up to the top of Castle Rock. 

The view from the Karri Lookout is quite good, and is well worth walking to if only for a glimpse of the Castle Rock summit above. 

The scramble to Castle Rock starts with a few rungs bolted into the granite formations, allowing walkers to climb through an opening in the rocks that leads to the other side. 

For here, further scrambling is required as you pass through a narrow chasm between two massive granite boulders which leads to the ladder up to Castle Rock. 

Even getting through the chasm is worth the climb, as it provides truly beautiful views across to the adjacent peak in the Porongurup Range. The karri forest to the south west of Castle Rock seems to have been less effected by the fires than the areas along the ascent, giving the area a certain green lushness that would be unexpected given the scrappiness encountered earlier on the walk. 

As grand as the views were we were keen to press on, especially with the view of Castle Rock itself just next to us.

The ladder to the summit and the viewing platform have been significantly upgraded a few years ago. Although a fairly steep climb, the construction feels safe and sturdy - even Alissa, who can be scare of heights, has been able to get to the viewing platform with relative ease. 

The platform at the summit is bolted to the side of Castle Rock, wrapping around it to provide walkers with a 360° view of the surrounding countryside. This platform is a definite upgrade from the previous walkway at the Castle Rock summit, with rust stains on top of the rock providing evidence of where it used to go. The old rusty boardwalk lead walkers directly onto the narrow summit of Castle Rock, with no fencing around it to prevent a fall! While Castle Rock has probably lost some of its intrepidness due to the new walkway's railings, one cannot argue against the fact that this new platform is a major safety upgrade without greatly diminishing the returns of the climb. 

Once again, the views are spectacular, providing walkers with a superb vantage point. To the north, the Stirling Ranges can be seen against a foreground of Porongurup's karri forest, while views to the south take in the coastline near Albany. 

That is, if you're walking on a clear day. In April 2015, Alissa and I did the Granite Skywalk in vastly different conditions, with mild drizzle as we walked the trail to Balancing Rock, and whiteout conditions at the summit. Although the views were obviously less rewarding, there was something atmospherically satisfying about the walk. At the time, Alissa and I had been watching the TV series Outlander, and it made us think of the misty Scottish mountains featured in the show.  

From the summit, the climb down can be a bit tricky if you have a hiking stick tied to your pack as it can get stuck to the cage surrounding the ladder. The rest of the walk down is however fairly easy and quick as its all downhill back to the car park. 

Although I generally don't like very short day walks, the constant ascent of the trail to the summit and the scrambling to Castle Rock makes the Granite Skywalk much more challenging than the kilometre distance suggests. The rewards at the summit more than justify any of the difficulty, and it is definitely worthy of its inclusion on Trails WA's list of the state's Top Trails - as well as the drive out the Porongurups in general. 


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