Sunday, 16 October 2016

Nancy Peak Circuit (Porongurup National Park)

A spectacular trail in Porongurup National Park, the Nancy Peak Circuit takes walkers across several granite peaks. Leading to its high point at Nancy Peak, the trail is dominated by incredible views across the Porongurup Range, especially the neighbouring Devil's Slide. Running along a well thought out route, this rewarding trail is one of the best walks in the South West, and a very deserving Top Trail. 

Distance: 5.3 km (loop)
Gradient: Almost continually uphill with some steep sections, and a very steep descent.  
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward, though a section near the summit of Nancy Peak is very overgrown
Quality of Signage: Good and informative trailhead, with metal waypoint signs along the way and some information panels at key points. The overgrown section is flagged with pink tape
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended. 
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: Several formal and informal steps
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: Access to the the trail is via the Tree in the Rock day use area. Tree in the Rock is located at the end of Bolganup Road, with runs south off Porongurup Road. 

After completing our early morning summit of Mt Trio, Alissa and I left the Stirling Range to complete the last of our four walks for the weekend - the Nancy Peak Circuit in Porongurup National Park. Having really enjoyed the nearby Granite Skywalk last year and having heard that Nancy Peak was even better meant it had been high on our list of walks to check out, and we were pleased to have relatively fine weather as we drove south towards the park. Unlike the road to Castle Rock and the Granite Skywalk, the road leading to the Tree in the Rock day use area that the trail starts from is not as clearly marked and hikers will need to keep an out for it. Once at the day use area however, there are very informative trailheads for all the walks in this section of the park. 

The Nancy Peak Circuit starts just to the left of the main information sign and passes the day use area's toilet block. Unlike the dryer, more heath-dominated Stirling Range, the Porongurups support an isolated Karri forest that was separated from their main range in the Southern Forests 5000 years ago. We walked the Nancy Peak Circuit just two weeks after we had completed the Balingup to Pemberton section of the Bibbulmun Track, and seeing all the Karri trees did makes us feel a bit nostalgic. 

100 metres into the trail, walkers will see the Tree in the Rock - a Karri tree that has somehow grown out of a relatively small fissure in a large granite boulder.  Karris need over 750 millimetres of rain a year to survive, however the run off from all the granite peaks provides enough supplementary water to keep this area lush. This tree growing out of the rock is an example of how the granite formations have provided a hospitable environment for these thirsty giants. 

Nearby, a hollowed out Karri makes for a nice photo op. This area was severely burnt by a wildfire in 2007, causing devastating damage to 90% of the park. Almost 10 years on, the park has recovered quite well from the devastation, however burnt out hollows and the skeletal remains of trees that did not make it are occasional sights all along this walk. 

After the hollow Karri, the trail ascends via an occasionally steep switchback. This part of the walk bears a strong resemblance to the Granite Skywalk, with the typically dense Karri forest understorey precluding any real views. 

Nevertheless, the walk was fairly pleasant and we accepted this as a necessity of the trail. The designers of the trail choose the route fairly judiciously however, and we got the opportunity walk past some very large granite boulders on the way up. Sections of this ascent reminded me off the Caldyanup Trail that circles around Mt Frankland near Walpole. 

While the Granite Skywalk is dominated by the ascent through Karri forest, the Karri forest section of the Nancy Peak Circuit is relatively brief, and it only took Alissa and I thirty minutes to make it out to the first of the moss-covered granite outcrops. Like many other granite hills and mountains in the South West, metal marker pegs are used to guide walkers, however the path is fairly easy to follow - just look for the breaks in the moss. 

From this point, walkers get their first impressive view. Beyond a sea of farmland, the Stirling Range looms large in the distance, with Toolbrunup being the dominant peak to the west and the distinctive shape of Bluff Knoll dominating the eastern section. 

Looking closer to the edge of the granite dome, walkers are also able to peer down over the Karri forest that they have ascended through. 

The day before, the Porongurups had experienced a few showers in the afternoon. As such, many of the granite domes were quite slippery and a potential slip hazard. Not wanting a repeat of Mt Hallowell's falls from earlier this year, Alissa and I were particularly careful when negotiating some of the more awkward slopes. Its pretty much common sense, but we would definitely advise walkers to be cautious when doing this walk in wet weather. 

From the first exposed granite section, the trail returns briefly before ascending up another slippery granite slope. 

As the track heads south west, the trail cuts across a sloping section of rock. With no forest to interrupt the views, walkers get their first glimpse of the neighbouring Devil's Slide and Marmabup Rock on the other side of a valley in the Porongurup Range. 

The track continues to rise up towards Hayward Peak. There are a number of interpretive panels along this walk, some of which provided interesting information about the formation of the Porongurups and the neighbouring Stirlings. 

The ascents were no where near as strenuous as the middle section of Bluff Knoll or the very steep parts of Toolbrunup and Talyberlup in the Stirling Range, and the circuit even features the luxury of flat sections to stop and take it all in. With few obstructions, the views were really spectacular and made the walking very rewarding. 

As the trail continues on, the trail rises up more and more granite domes with each revealing yet another even higher peak just beyond. 

At the point pictured above, we began to reach better vantage points from which to view the granite peaks to the east. The peak in the background is Twin Peaks; somewhere beyond is Castle Rock and the Granite Skywalk that leads to it.

From there, some of the walking can get quite steep, however its never relentlessly uphill, and once you've reached the top of yet another climb it was time to take in even more stunning views. 

And the views do get better and better, with more and more of the Devil's Slide becoming visible beyond the increasingly tall granite towers along the peaks. 

Heading through bushes, the trail continues up and through the granite towers as it continues up to Nancy Peak. 

Although no where near as large as Castle Rock, standing on top of these large domes and looking down across the landscape is nevertheless a breathtaking experience. 

From the large granite towers, the landscape is dominated by heathlands.

The wet winter had obviously caused something of a growth spurt on the mountain, and the path was extremely overgrown. Someone had obviously noted this as a problem and had flagged some of the more confusing points with pink tape, and I assume someone will eventually get around to doing some track maintenance along this stretch. 

Clearing the overgrown bushes, we had one more climb before we reached the track's highest point.

After negotiating a narrow passageway between granite boulders, we were finally at the summit of Nancy Peak. The view towards the steep slopes of the Devil's Slide is really incredible; it was not just one of the best views of the walk, but one of the most memorable of the entire weekend. 

From Nancy's Peak, the trail descends towards Morgan's View, named for a local landholder and former Premier of Western Australia.

After Morgan's View, the trail begins to descend steeply towards the valley that runs between the peaks of the circuit walk and the Devil's Slide. 

With the trail coming closer to the Devil's Slide, walkers will get to appreciate just how steep the slide is - it definitely lives up to its name!

The train once again enters Karri forest, passing by a massive expanse of moss-covered granite on the way back down to the forest floor. 

From the descent, the track heads through forest before reaching the junction pictured above. Straight ahead lies the trail to the top of Devil's Slide, and if we hadn't climbed Mt Trio earlier in the day and had a long drive back to Perth ahead of us, Alissa and I would have continued on to complete the steep return walk as well. Instead, we turned right to head back to the car park and complete the circuit. 

This stretch of the circuit runs concurrently with the Wansborough Walk. The Wansborough Walk is really just a vehicle service track that cuts through the Karri forest, however it provides for a fairly pleasant 1.65 kilometres back to the car. 

Many of the towering giants along the track show signs of having recovered from the severe fires of 2007, and when compared to the recently burnt forests in Boorara-Gardner National Park, the recovery is quite remarkable. Nevertheless, amongst the success stories are several dead Karris that just couldn't recover from the damage that the fire caused. 

Over the last year, Alissa and I have completed many of the walk trails up the granite peaks of the South West, including the Granite Skywalk, the Mt Lindesay Walk Trail, the Summit and Caldyanup Trails of Mt Frankland and the Sheila Hill Memorial Track up Mt Hallowell. Of all of these, the Nancy Peak Circuit is arguably the best and most spectacular of them all, providing excellent views along a well thought out and rewarding route. It may not have the feature attraction of the walkway bolted into Castle Rock, however the fact that most of the walk occurs over the granite peaks rather than within the thick Karri understorey makes it the superior walking experience. As we drove back home to Perth, Alissa and I agreed that this circuit would definitely be a contender for one of our top 10 favourite walks in the South West, and being less than 45 minutes from Albany makes it a must do when in the area. Highly recommended, and very deserving of being considered one of Trails WA's Top Trails. 


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