Saturday, 12 May 2018

Mt Magog (Stirling Range National Park)

The westernmost day walk in Stirling Range National Park, the walk to the summit of Mt Magog is also the park's longest day walk trail. Initially walking through the lowlands, the trail quickly steepens to take on the mountain head on as it rises to a saddle between the summit and the neighbouring Talyuberlup. With some scrambling to the summit, this is an excellent walk in one of Western Australia's most beloved national parks

Distance: 7 km (return)
Gradient: Flat through then lowlands and then continually uphill, with some very steep sections requiring free hands for scrambling.
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward. Some of the ascent is on loose scree and uneven surfaces. The rockier scramble sections can be very slippery in wet - extra caution must be taken.
Quality of Signage: Good and informative trailhead, but little signage along the way. The path is easy to discern however, and wooden pegs and flagging tape have been put in place to guide walkers in the more confusing areas. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Required. This is a very hard walk in steep and potentially dangerous terrain known for its unpredictable weather, with large sections of the walk requiring scrambling. Highly unsuitable for beginners or those with known knee problems 
Time: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Some steps along the ascent, as well as sections requiring scrambling
Best Time to Visit: Autumn and Spring, and milder Winter days
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access to Mt Magog is via Stirling Range Dr, which turns off west from Chester Pass Rd. Magog is the last signed mountain along the road heading west. Alternatively, Magog can be reached from Red Gum Pass Rd, which turns onto Stirling Range Dr. Magog is the first mountain walk after the Western Lookout. Note that the road into the Magog Day Use Area is one way and that the outbound road is encountered first if heading in from the west. 

2018 has been a crazy year. Having hiked through caves in Vietnam, three months in the subtropical rainforests of Queensland and then spending two weeks in Tasmania, Alissa and I returned to Western Australia at the end of April and at a perfect time to start the Western Australian hiking season. Having hiked in some extraordinary places so far this year, I wanted my first WA walk for 2018 to be a special one. As such, Alissa and I headed south to the Stirling Range to tackle Mt Magog. This was the last of the mountain day walks in the range we had left to complete, and I was looking forward to being able to tick this one of the list. 

While there are other peaks west of Mt Magog, Mt Magog is the westernmost mountain walk in Stirling Range National Park and Alissa and I drove in through the north-western entry of the park. It had been several years since Alissa and I drove in from this entrance, and we were surprised at how beautiful all the Wandoo and Jarrah forest is in this part of the park. I made a half-joking comment about how the area didn't look burnt enough for Western Australia and that Parks and Wildlife will probably have to light a fire soon to give it the characteristically charred look - a joke that is filled with a twinge of sadness now knowing that a huge part of the park would be completely destroyed by an out of control prescribed burn just weeks later...

Mt Magog's trail is quite different from the other walks in the Stirling Range as the first few kilometres are along the flat lowlands of the range. All the other mountain walks basically get started on the ascent pretty quickly, so getting a chance to explore lower Kwongan heath makes this a bit special. Another special feature of this is being able to not only see Mt Magog (the peak to the left) but also the rocky spire of Talyuberlup (right) - the neighbouring peak that is connected to Magog via a ridge.

Being autumn, only a handful of plants were flowering at the time of our visit however I recognised a number of plants as being ones that are particularly beautiful during the springtime. One impressive sight along the walk was a particularly large (but non-Royal) Hakea growing right along the track.  

As Alissa and I came closer to the mountains the heath gave way to small trees and mallee as we made our way through a well maintained tunnel of thick vegetation.

This was also the start of the steepening. While there are some steep climbs on many of the mountains in the Stirling Range, Mt Magog would easily be one of the steepest as it tackles the mountain head on in a similar fashion to Tayluberlup. This is a tough ascent; Alissa and I had recently done the Walls of Jerusalem's steep climb with a full pack and this felt even harder with day packs!

The reward for the climbing becomes apparent fairly early on, with excellent views of the peaks to the west. This is really interesting as many of these peaks are obscured by Magog and Talyuberlup from the other mountains so it provides a fresh perspective on the range.  

With the walking being a continuous uphill climb with few landmarks, the appearance of a rocky lookout point is a welcome breather and a chance to take in the spectacular scenery.  

From the lookout point, the rocky summit of Tayluberlup can be clearly seen with the neighbouring Porongurups in the distance. When Alissa and I tackled Tayluberlup way back in April 2016 in the early days of the blog, we climbed Talyuberlup in white out conditions and had no real sense of how rocky the summit is compared to the other mountains. 

While our timing was perfect for seeing Talyuberlup and the surrounding peaks in a new light, the view to the summit of Mt Magog was spoiled by it being directly behind the Sun. We could at least make out that the mountain had its own smaller, rocky summit area with a sheer cliff facing south. 

Pushing through a dense tunnel of thick vegetation, Alissa and I arrived at the saddle just below the peak of Mt Magog. This saddle connects across to Talyuberlup, and there is a small wild campsite to the right of the track. A short Talyuberlup-Mt Magog Ridge Walk is possible and will probably become a popular alternative to the Stirling Ridge Walk now that the Eastern Peaks have been horribly disfigured by DBCA's out of control fire.  

At this point, the character of the walk enters its third phase. While the first section was flat walking in the lowlands and the second was an extremely steep climb, the final section of the track is a more gentle walk across the vegetated saddle with a fair bit of scrambling up rocky shelves.  

Walking along the saddle provides some superb views of the surrounding peaks with the mighty Toolbrunup Peak dominating the landscape to the north-east, with Mt Trio visible to its left. 

Alissa and I were led to believe that the summit of Mt Magog was a mess of alternate routes due to overgrown trails, however what we found was a fairly easy to follow trail with wooden peg markers and flagging tape to point hikers in the right direction. Given that we thought navigation was the reason that the mountain was given its hard Class 5 rating, we had not expected quite as much scrambling was required. I love scrambling through rocky terrain so this was a joy to climb, however Alissa is less of a fan and thought I'd been sneaky and not told her about the scrambling on purpose! 

Once we cleared the trees, Alissa and I had spectacular views of Talyuberlup and the connecting ridge between the mountains. Looking carefully, we could make out a faint trail that runs along the ridge, turns left and runs up the north-western side of the neighbouring mountain. It was interesting to see the features of Talyuberlup from this angle, as we could recognise the rocky turret that is just to the left of the trail on the way to the summit. 

The hardest part of the scramble is pictured above, with Alissa and I having to climb onto a narrow shelf on a sloping rock. While relatively straightforward, the slope and smoothness of the rock did make it a bit precarious at times - and somewhat more challenging on the way down.  

As we approached the last push to the summit, Alissa gave me some stink eye due to being sick of all the scrambling.

Every summit in the Stirling Range has its own flavour and points and interest, and Mt Magog is no different. Toolbrunup, Mt Trio and the Eastern Peaks form a solid block of mountains from this angle, and it makes Western Australia look a whole lot more mountainous than it really is. 

An interesting feature of the view from Mt Magog is that there is a lower peak to the west. If you look carefully, there is a summit cairn on this lower peak as well. A narrow, rocky ridge connects the true summit to this lower summit, however it is not an official track and the highly uneven and narrow nature of the ridge means it should not be attempted by inexperienced walkers or in windy/wet/white out conditions. 

While I didn't cross the ridge, I did walk down onto it, and was able to capture the above photo of the rocky summit of Magog with Stirling Range Dr and Mondurup Peak in the background. With Alissa keen to get down to Denmark to her parents' place, I decided to leave the other summit as something to explore another time - perhaps as part of a Tayluberlup - Mt Magog Ridge Walk now that a retry of the Stirling Ridge Walk has been pushed back a few years due to the fire.  

The return journey down the mountain was pretty straightforward given that it was a mirror of the way up. With scree along the trail, Alissa and I needed to be mindful about foot placement along the descent and even then Alissa did slip and fall over at one point. Once near the bottom of the descent, the gradient drops to a more reasonable angle before levelling out to the lowlands for an easy walk back to the car park. 

With Mt Magog completed, Alissa and I were able to tick off the last of the mountain day walks in the Stirling Range from our bucket list! Having started this mission on the blog back in early 2016 with Talyuberlup, I felt there was a nice cyclical symmetry to the whole process as it meant that we finished with a mountain that has spectacular views of the first one we documented. While steep, Mt Magog was an excellent mountain walk and the ridge connecting it to Talyuberlup makes me want to come back another time and complete this alternative ridge walk in the Stirling Range. 

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