Monday, January 10, 2011

Day 57: Stirling Climbs

January 10, 2011

This latest diversion has made a marked improvement on our moods. We both seem more content, gentler with each other. The 6AM morning light through the thin veil of gum trees to the surrounding peaks has a further balming effect. Suddenly we want nothing more than to stay put.

The Stirling Ranges are not only spectacular to look at – they are a pocket of dense biodiversity that is rare on the planet. 150 species of birds, and 1500 plants are found in the park, including 80 species not found anywhere else in the world. A billion years ago the range used to be a shallow sea and evidence of the rippling water has been fossilized in many of the rock formations in the higher peaks. As the Australian continental plate drifted into its neighboring plates, the land buckled and up went the Stirlings, an anomaly in this otherwise flat landscape. This amazing history is all the more evident from high up, which is why, I suppose, all the hikes in the park are climbs!

The beautiful morning has worked its magic on us and we decide to stay another night -- which gives me the opportunity to hike Bluff Knoll. Though it is 43 meters higher than Toolbrunup, it’s rated a Level 4 hike; still a challenge, but not as steep as yesterday’s trek. With an early 9am start, the west side of the mountain is still in shade, providing a pleasantly cool hike up. It’s a much more scenic hike with a stunning array of flora, protruding rock formations and spectacular views.

Coming from behind the summit, you can understand where the knoll gets its name. The slow angular trek up its spine through alpine-like meadows ends abruptly with a sheer drop, 640 meters back to the carpark. I lay flat on my belly and look straight down. Try as I may to outwit my brain I can’t lose that bottoming out feeling in my gut, an irrational fear that I’ll be pulled over the edge to my death.

I spot Johan in the carpark through my binoculars and ring to tell him I’m on the top. He gets out his binocs but can’t spot me until I stand up and wave my arms, a feat I only just manage before collapsing to safety on a rock seat behind me.

What takes an hour and three quarters to ascend only takes an hour to come down. By noon I’m tired and hungry so we drive down to the Bluff Knoll Café and buy ourselves lunch. The lovely, relatively new café is for sale – at an awesomely cheap price. We ask the rotund owner with his long grey beard why he’s selling. “I’m not good at the moment,” he winces, and proceeds to tell us about his three surgeries to fix his bad back, which at one stage had left him almost a paraplegic. Each surgery has helped, but the benefit is only temporary and he’s on his way down again. On top of that, he lost his wife, age 53, to lung cancer only a short while ago. He must be running their business on his own.

I’m ready to pull out my cheque book and pay the man the measly amount he’s asking for his four-bedroom home on 17 acres with the roadside business thrown in. At $410,000 it would take you twice that to build it up yourself. Yet this man, despite the furrow in his brow, is wonderfully cheerful and treats us with a cordiality not often found in small business owners these days.

But of course we have our own real estate to sell, which doesn’t seem to be moving any faster than this poor man’s. We get a voice mail message from our agent, who held a home open at Pamelup yesterday afternoon, and get the now-familiar message: no one interested. Seems we’re all shackled by our material wealth and physical limitations. But somehow we both feel less grouchy about our own situation after hearing this man’s story. We wish him all the best and offer a kind smile as we depart.

Bluff Knoll in the morning light

View from the top back to Mt Toolbrunup (pointy peak on the left)

I love mountain climbing -- but don't do well with heights

Spectacular flora diversity

Lunch at Bluff Knoll Cafe

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