The three hour drive had proven to be far less taxing than I had supposed. Perhaps it was the respite of the slightly cooler night air that made the journey less arduous, or the way the clear evening made the road open up before us. Whatever the reason, before I knew it the green glow of the dashboard clock announced the passing of 1am and hailed our approach to our destination. Some time earlier, the full moon had risen above the trees and seemed to join us – a fifth member of our troupe. It illuminated the road creating an eerie, half daylight through which the others rested fitfully as we pressed on towards the mountain which had risen from the inky horizon a little over half way through the journey.
We turned off the highway just before 2am and Bluff Knoll rose above the rolling hills. It was enough to justify a short stop to survey our goal. The road ambled upwards, a twisting line leading towards the track that would mark our ascent. As the others awoke from the slumber of the late night trip from Albany on the South Western Australian Coast, I calculated (from my daytime ascent a week earlier) that we should arrive at the summit just before sunrise – perfectly on schedule.
Before long we found ourselves at the car park with the cliff face towering above. We filled our packs with snacks and water and, considering the descending cool – unexpected in the usually sweltering summery January season – we stashed whatever warm blankets we could find as well. Just after 2am we made our start along the path under the cover of night.
Midnight mountain ascents were the realm of none of us, but we were in high spirits – burgeoned by the excitement of an unknown challenge. Before long, the path steepened and we leaned into our trek, squinting in the meagre light of the full moon, hidden by the mountain. Less than an hour into our climb, the tree cover thinned and was replaced by exposed rocky cliffs and an even steeper gait. I stopped here to allow my companions to catch up and was greeted by the view of the Stirling Range extending to the West. As the others began to arrive we sat beneath a vein of rock and shared a meagre breakfast of muesli bars before pressing on onto the open face and the next section of the climb. This was not an ascent that required great skill, the path allowed for a relaxed climb within 2 hours, but at night safety dictated a longer passage. At around 4am, the first light of morning brought with it a thick layer of cloud – absent less than an hour before – that stretched to the horizon. We met the cloud with despair, fearing the loss of our prize at the summit, however the white ceiling was spectacular in its own way, a solid white wall seemingly blocking our way.
This blank canvas was soon alive with the colour of the coming sun and our spirits rose as we traipsed through the mountain flowers and rugged foliage of what is one of the few snowlines in Western Australia in winter. As we walked the final ridge towards the summit, the cloud settled a few hundred feet below us and the sky opened up ready for our arrival.
Sweating and stiff, we reached a pile of rocks atop the Knoll at around 4.45am and were afforded 20 minutes to rest as sunrise approached. We watched the setting moon fall towards the Western Horizon as the cloud floor soaked up the morning, turning a vivid orange before yielding to the yellow orb and revealing one of the more spectacular sunrises I have witnessed. For a further half hour we rested and watched the cloud dissipate until we were left in the clear light of day and the range spread off before us in all directions.
The radiance of the sunrise lingered in our mood as we began the climb back to the car in the hopes of reaching the air-conditioning before the fierce heat of the sun rose high enough in the sky to make hiking unpleasant.