Thursday, 26 September 2019

West Mount Barren (Fitzgerald River National Park)

A small mountain walk in Fitzgerald River National Park, this short trail rises to the summit of West Mt Barren. Starting along boardwalk, the trail then rises up a moderately steep trail before a more gentle approach to the summit. Featuring commanding views of the Fitzgerald Coastline, the walk is at its best during the wildflower season when a profusion of colourful flowers can be seen all the way to the summit

Distance: 1.7 km (return)
Gradient: A continual ascent and then descent, with a short but steep initial ascent and then more gradual gradients to the summit
Quality of Path: A well constructed and maintained single file walk track
Quality of Signage: Generally well signed and clear, with a good trailhead some directional information along the way
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 1 Hour
Steps: Many
Best Time to Visit: Spring
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply.
Getting There: The trail starts at the West Mount Barren car park. Access to the area is off South Coast Hwy (National Route 1). Take the unsealed roads along Devils Creek Rd, right onto Pabelup Dr. After Mt Maxwell look for the signed turn off right onto West Mount Barren Access Road. The trailhead and car park are at the end of the road

Being a West Australian employed by a Victorian company, I found myself in the odd predicament of having the Friday before the Grand Final as my public holiday in September instead of the Queen's Birthday. While most Monday long weekend public holidays are compatible with Alissa's four day working week, having the Friday off meant I had the day to myself. While I toyed with several ideas (another attempt at the Stirling Ridge Walk, redoing a night or two on the Cape to Cape Track), I eventually decided to take the Thursday off and drive down to the west side of one of my favourite national parks in Western Australia - Fitzgerald River.

Alissa and I had visited the east side in April this year after first visiting the west side's Mamang Trail in 2016, so it was a bit of unfinished business to complete some of the shorter walks. To begin with, I decided on West Mt Barren, the small 'mountain' walk on the west side that mirrors the Hopetoun end's spectacular East Mt Barren.

Considered the lesser of the two peaks, I knew that I'd timed my visit perfectly to experience West Mt Barren with a bit of extra splashes of colour from the wildflower blooms that make Western Australia its most gorgeous in the springtime.

Even in the first 100 metres of the trail, I was not let down by the spectacular variety of wildflowers on display. When Alissa and I did the Mamang Trail, we were absolutely floored by the variety of flowers we were seeing along the trail, and West Mt Barren was offering a similar experience.

From the lower slopes of the mountain, I could see more peaks to the east. Just a few kilometres away is Poorijungup/Mt Bland which does not have a trail but is sometimes visited as an off-track bushwalk. In the far distance are the Central Wilderness Peaks, which are restricted from being climbed due to their biodiversity values.

Being only a meagre 1.7 kilometres long, it felt like I had barely started the walk when the summit appeared to be just in reach. Walkers should keep in mind that while this is a short and relatively uncomplicated walk that this is in fact a false summit, with a relatively greater amount of ground to cover.

Closer to the false summit, the trail becomes more rugged, with exposed quartzite protruding out from the dense heathlands creating a rougher trail surface.

While these rocks are less densely vegetated, it is a marvel to see wildflowers growing in even the tiniest of crevices. It is amazing to think that West Mt Barren is so named due to the belief of early European explorers that the land was barren, and yet it is the poor soils that have resulted in the staggering biodiversity that has made Fitzgerald River such a magical place.

Getting closer to the summit, it was interesting to see that West Mt Barren has a few lower peaks to the south. One does wish that the trail was perhaps a bit longer and explored more of the area like East Mt Barren, however given the biodiversity values the more direct trail does make sense.

Another false summit came into view as I continued up the small mountain, and at first I was disappointed to see the wildflowers appear to dissipate slightly in a section of low Eucalypts.  

This was only a temporary reduction in colour. Continuing along, the heath once again picked up in wildflower colour to the point that it even surpassed what I had seen earlier on. 

Heading through a section filled with a profusion of orange flowers, another false summit came into view. At this stage, the trail levels out and is quite easy going so I was not fussed about whether this was the summit or not; I was enjoying the the spectacular wildflower display, which was something Alissa and I missed about our trip to the eastern side earlier in the year during non-wildflower season. 

Looking down along the southern slopes, this area of West Mount Barren featured a high number of Royal Hakea. While fairly small examples, these were some of the nicest looking along the walk - looking every bit like the 'Traffic Light Bush Kale' described in Life of Py's account of this walk

Passing the second false summit, it is an easy walk through am immensely beautiful natural garden of wildflowers to the summit. 

Although fairly small, West Mount Barren is nevertheless the tallest peak in the western side of the park and thus provide commanding views of the surrounding landscape. While less impressive than the close up coastal views along the Le Grand Coastal Trail, it is lovely to see the Fitzgerald coastline from the peak as well as the yellow wildflowers the were everywhere around the summit. 

The views are also excellent looking east towards the Central Wilderness Peaks, and I was reminded of just how outstanding the multi-day coastal trail was going to be had it been built as planned

After spending some time enjoying the spectacular scenery, I made my descent of the mountain. While there are some loose sections of scree along the trail, it is far less extreme than on the descent of East Mt Barren where I actually fell on the way down. 

Along the descent I was able to enjoy spotting even more wildflowers than I had failed to notice on the way up, which made for a thoroughly enjoyable return walk.

I've come to always expect greatness from Fitzgerald River National Park, and West Mt Barren did not let me down. While a fairly short mountain walk (and barely a mountain at that), this was a spectacular walk that rewarded with some of the most impressive wildflower displays you are likely to see in this great state. Unlike East Mt Barren, West Mt Barren is a lot less interesting in terms of geographical features, and this I think it is a walk that would not be as enjoyable outside of wildflower season. In wildflower season though, this is a fantastic walk that I thoroughly enjoyed. Highly recommended. 


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