Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Peak Charles National Park

 This is our last post on our journey east from Bunbury to Esperance where we are hoping to spend the summer. Like always though our plans and adventures are never quite set in stone! Sometimes I feel our attention span is too active. There is so much to see around Australia. We have now been travelling on and off for 3 ½ years, and I feel we have barely scratched the surface.

We have mentioned climbing and walking over granite outcrops. Many of these walks took less than an hour, some closer to 30 minutes. Before all of these, we went bushwalking all day at Wellington Dam which was great and kickstarted our journey with oomph but after all of these smaller walks, we were starting to feel like we were just ticking the boxes, doing the walks, taking the photos. We wanted to do a longer bushwalk or climb again, one that took us more than an hour to complete. At Norseman we saw a picture of a mountain named Peak Charles located in Peak Charles National Park. It looked like a smaller version of Japan's Mount Fuji, or purhaps Walsh's Pyramid in Far North Queensland upon which we climbed this time last year, October 2015. It is smaller than both of these landmarks, but very similar structure to both of them, and looks like a big triangle. Mount Fuji is 3776m, Walsh's Pyramid is 922m and Peak Charles is just a baby in comparison coming in at only 651m high but still 20m taller than the 2nd tallest building in the world, Shanghai Tower, which is 632m. We decided we wanted to climb Peak Charles as it would give us a sense of achievement after all of the other walks and climbs we had done recently.

From Norseman there are two ways to get to Peak Charles National Park, and Peak Charles. As you head south from Norseman the first road you will come across is heavy 4WD. Although we have Rocky we felt a little uncomfortable on this road, but thankful for 4WD. It was 50km to Peak Charles but it took us 2 hours! It had heavy corrugations, large ruts that were muddy, and it was very stony many of which looked sharp. The first 29kms were the worst as this section is 4WD and the other is supposedly 2WD (still quite large ruts though) as it links to the other entrance to the highway which is closer to Salmon Gums. Needless to say that the following day we took the smoother road back to the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway and it was much better. The reason we went on the rough track was to check the conditions for a friend who was curious about it. The 4WD road continues to King Lake which we were considering doing but 29kms was enough for us and our mates have a caravan so they won't do it either now that they know how bad the conditions are! If we end up visiting King Lake it will be via the sealed roads.
Once we arrived at Peak Charles we read the information signs. There are three sections of this walk/climb. It is rated as difficulty grade 4. The following information is taken from http://trailswa.com.au/trails/peak-charles-walktrail/print.

MUSHROOM ROCK

Moderate incline, rough surfaces, very slippery when wet.
Height: 295 metres Total distance from here: 600 metres return (allow 45 minutes)
The start of the trail is well defined and has no markers. It takes you through open woodland across mildly undulating terrain with loose rocks to exposed rock at the base of Peak Charles.  From this point the trail is marked by white-tipped poles.  Some high stepping onto rocks is required.  This section of the trail ends at Mushroom Rock, one of many intriguing rock formations on the slopes of Peak Charles.

CENTRAL RIDGE

Steep incline, rough, unstable surfaces. Very slippery when wet. Strong winds.
Height: 460 metres Total distance from here 2.2km return (allow 2 hours)

PEAK CHARLES SUMMIT

Exceeds walktrail classification as this section requires frequent rock scrambling.
Very steep, exposed incline. Rough surfaces. Very slippery when wet. Strong winds.
Height: 651 metres
Total distance from here: 3.4km return (allow 3 hours)
This section of the trail is very steep and requires foot and hand placement in crevices to pull yourself up in places.  You must be able to lift your own weight several times.  There are no markers and you mst be able to find and assess appropriate hand and foot holds.  On the descent you have to crab crawl on your hands and feet with your back to the rock.  If you are short you may need to be pulled up in a few places on the ascent by another person and you will have to slide down some short sections of steep on the descent.  The summit is largely bare and marked by a tall rock cairn.

When we got to Peak Charles it was late in the afternoon. There is a campground right at the base of it which our plan was to stay here and set off early the next morning. The campgrounds have drop dunnies, fire pits and some picnic tables.

The walk was challenging but great fun. It took us the recommended time of 3 hours. We took our time, and we enjoyed ourselves. We took about 3.5L of water with us and some snacks. Being granite there were many times we had to scramble to get around, up or down the rocks. This was fine until we came down as we had a brief shower. The shower did not last long and was not heavy, but it was enough to make the granite very slippery, so upon coming down there was a lot more crab walking on our hands and feet.

The final section says 'exceeds walktrail classification'. We got to the final section and continued on. It was more difficult than the 2nd section but achievable up until the final 200m. The final 200m is tricky and requires rock climbing skills. You have to boulder (climb without ropes). For me going up was not a problem but coming back down was difficult even for me who has rock climbing experience. Even if you do take ropes and equipment there is not many places to attach safely to. IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANY ROCK CLIMBING EXPERIENCE DON'T ATTEMPT THE FINAL 200M. While I went to the top Cameron waited for me at a nice cave and lookout. I'm glad he trusted his instincts and knew his limits, but was happy for me to finish it for the both of us. I think I worried him though, as you can't see the very top and I was gone for about 15-20 minutes as I navigated and climbed my way to the top.

Peak Charles can be seen for up to 50km away as the land is quite flat bar some sand hills so the view as we climbed was fantastic. We could also see Peak Eleanora but to get there was also heavy 4WD so we decided against it. There were many clouds around and it was beautiful to see the shadows sweeping the land, changing the colours rappidly.
We returned to the highway that afternoon and the road came out north of Salmon Gums. We decided to camp at Salmon Gums where there is a community run caravan park that only costs $15 per night. It is even powered! Salmon Gums is a tiny country town, but all of the locals are friendly. It was a freezing cold night (the temps went negative) so we decided to warm ourselves at the local pub which had a wood fire. The owners were good for a yarn. Despite being tiny and freezing, we enjoyed our time in Salmon Gums. This was our final night of our journey from Bunbury to Esperance. The next few posts will be about Esperance and the surrounding areas.

Happy travels

- Jeni