Monday, 24 April 2017

Mt Hassell (Stirling Range National Park)

One of the many mountain walks in Stirling Range National Park, the Mt Hassell Walk Trail takes walkers to the summit of one of the Stirling Range's smaller and less visited peaks. Located centrally on Stirling Range Dr, Mt Hassell's offers a manageable and short alternative to Bluff Knoll, while offering impressive views of the mighty Toolbrunup Peak. Apart from a tricky scramble near the top, this is the perfect beginner's trail in the Stirlings

Distance: 1.5 km (return)
Gradient: Continually uphill with some flatter sections at three intervals along the walk
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward, though the scramble section requires some simple problem solving
Quality of Signage: Good and informative trailhead, though there are few signs along the relatively clear and obvious route
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended. Highly unsuitable for those with known knee problems 
Time: 1.5 - 2 Hours
Steps: Many formal and informal steps
Best Time to Visit: Autumn and Spring, and milder Winter days. Spring would definitely be the most spectacular time however. 
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access to Mt Hassell is via Stirling Range Dr, west off Chester Pass Rd. Mt Hassell is the first walk a short distance from the Chester Pass turnoff.

After finishing our week on the Bibbulmun Track from Northcliffe to Walpole and spending the Easter weekend with her parents in Denmark, Alissa and I returned to Perth for four days before driving down south yet again! My war history-obsessed parents had booked accommodation for a week in Albany to celebrate Anzac Day, and had asked us if we'd like to join them for the weekend. With my boss agreeing to let me swap the Tuesday public holiday for a day off on Monday, Alissa and I spent our second consecutive long weekend in the Great Southern. Although poor weather scuttled me plans to walk the Peak Head Trail in Torndirrup National Park on the Saturday, Alissa and I took my parents out to explore Waychinicup National Park on the Sunday. Although there are no real trails in the park, the Waychinicup Inlet is a beautiful spot, and we had a lot of fun hopping across the beautiful granite rocks.

On the way back home on the Monday, Alissa and I had to swing by Castle Rock Estate to pick up a magnum of Riesling they were holding for us, and we decided to head back out to the Stirling Range to do the short trail up Mt Hassell. Driving from Albany through the Porongurups, the weather did not look overly promising, however the rain decreased the further we drove north, with relatively good weather greeting us within Stirling Range National Park. Located a short drive down Stirling Range Drive, Mt Hassell is one of the shorter mountain walks in the park, and though less visited than Bluff Knoll, it is well regarded as the best vantage point from which to view the magnificent Toolbrunup Peak.

The trail initially starts as a moderately steep ascent, but becomes increasingly steep as it traverses a series of switchbacks up the mountain. The views to the east back towards Chester Pass are quite impressive, with Bluff Knoll's distinctive shape being visible in the distance.

As the trail snakes back east as it heads up the mountain, the steep ascent takes walkers to one of the mountain's lower peaks, with the summit obscured.

Turning back to look across the range, it was fairly obvious that the characteristically unpredictable weather patterns of the Stirling Range were at play, with many of the peaks becoming increasingly covered in clouds.

Given the steepness and relentlessness of the ascent, it was nice to find the trail level out as it reaches the summit of the lower peak. Some lovely lichen-covered rocks gave the area a distinct appearance and provided a spectacular viewpoint from which to view the surrounding landscape.

Heading around the corner, the rocky summit of Mt Hassell came into view, thankfully not enshrouded in cloud as I had feared might be possible. Alissa was not really feeling in the mood for a summit climbing challenge and decided that this was as far as she wanted to go. I was determined to bag another of the Stirling Range peaks on this trip so I continued on by myself.

From the lower peak, the trail descends briefly before once again follow a steep ascent. Looking back across to the lower peak, I could see Alissa exploring in the area, and she would later tell me that she saw eagles soaring on the thermals as well as many of the same lizards I would encounter with increasingly frequency closer to the summit.

The trail once again levels out at a lower peak, providing a fantastic view of the rocky summit ahead. Up to this point, the trail had been a fairly simple if continuous climb up a series of steps and slopes similar to Bluff Knoll, however the route to the summit does become increasingly rugged, with some scrambling required.

The most challenging point of the walk is a scramble up a stepped section of rock. Although the steps appear to provide fairly easy footings, the rounded edges and narrow ledges make this a bit harder than it would appear, and it was made a little more difficult due to the rocks being wet from rain in a few places.

My advice for this kind of thing is simple and common sense - if you take your time, it should be achievable for most able-bodied people to complete the scramble, however err on the side of caution if the rocks are very slippery and wet, or the weather conditions are not conducive to climbing.

As I continued up to the summit, I would continually see lizards darting away as soon as I approached. A few of the lizards seemed less aware of my presence, with one allowing me to get fairly close to take the photo above.

The track once again levels out as it reaches the summit, with the approach being similar to the way the summit of Mt Trio is hidden just around the corner from the trail.

Little more than 50 minutes after starting the walk, I made it to the summit of Mt Hassell.

Although one of the smaller mountains in the Stirling Range, Mt Hassell has the benefit of being the mountain with the best views of the adjacent Toolbunup Peak - the second highest mountain in the range, and arguably the best day walk in the park. Although I was fortunate enough to have clear views from Mt Hassell itself, Toolbrunup's summit was covered in cloud when I arrived. This is the nature of the Stirling Range; you could start a walk with absolutely clear skies and find the summit covered in cloud by the time you reach the summit - or vice versa. All in all, I've been fairly lucky with these summit climbs in the range, and the clouds were certainly dramatic even if it was not the clear skies I had hoped for. For a clear skies version of the view, check out Life of Py's photos from late in 2016

As I walked past the summit to get a better photo of Toolbrunup, something caught my eye - the remains of a prayer flag! Although tying a prayer flag to the summit of a mountain is not exactly in keeping with 'leave no trace', I appreciated this touch and can imagine it being quite an impressive and vibrant sight from Toolbrunup when it was still intact. 

From the summit, I returned back down the mountain, carefully navigating the scramble section and meeting back up with Alissa at the lower peak. 

All up, the walk took one hour and forty minutes, making it the easiest mountain walk in the Stirling Range by quite some margin. Although shorter than Bluff Knoll and Toolbrunup, Mt Hassell was nevertheless a very enjoyable walk; it had all the elements that make the Stirling Range a bushwalking highlight in the South West and fulfilled my need to return to the mountains after the cabin fever of the Summer non-hiking season. For those who are short on time or looking for an easier alternative to Bluff Knoll, Mt Hassell is a great candidate for a starter mountain walk given that it can be done in under two hours and flattens out three times to break the walk into manageable portions. And once you get to the summit, the views of Toolbrunup should be inspiration enough to tackle Hassell's taller neighbour!


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