The adventure through Karijini National Park continues and instead of scrambling, down, down, down into gorgeous gorges, today I am taking you on a scramble up, up, up to the very top of Punurrunha or Mt Bruce.
Grab your water bottle, slap on your hat and slop on some sunscreen. We are off to scramble up a bloody great hill…
Punurrunha is the second tallest peak in Western Australia. At 1 235m it is not all that high by World standards, but it looks pretty high when you consider most of the surrounding countryside is almost dead flat. So please excuse me if I refer to this knoll as a mountain. It seemed pretty damned mountainous at the time.
Apparently in days long past, Punurrunha was the central meeting place of the Banyjima, Yinhawangka and Kurrama Aboriginal people – the traditional owners of this part of Australia. The mountain has strong spiritual significance for them as it is where “the Dreatime birds and animals placed their songs (marka) for safe keeping. It is also believed that Minkala (God) descends from Punurunha (also spelt Bunurrunha) to check that the country is being properly maintained” . Source.
For visitors like us, hiking up Punurrunha provides a nice contrast to adventures deep down in the gorges. Instead of feeling cool, shaded and protected, this hike is all about the wide open spaces and the full blast of sun and the wind.
Starting from the carpark, the path leads up a few gentle slopes before the real-lung busting climb commences. Our travelling party of 12 did not even make it to the trailhead with only seven of us bundling out of the minibus willing (crazy enough?) to tackle the walk. Within a short time, this dwindled to just five. I’ll put my hand up here and say that this path is not for the fainthearted and I am not sure I would have been game enough to tackle it without our guides and some handy local knowledge.
Up we climbed, pausing every now and then to catch our breath and admire the view. It’s hard to believe that the massive Marandoo iron ore mine could blithely operate in the centre of this national park (they even have a dedicated easement that neatly splits the park in two), but that is proof of the power of mining in Western Australia. The iron ore trains stretched far into the distance – a physical representation of money being shovelled out of our ground and being sent on its merry way to export.
The path alternated from narrow, clear trails along the top of ridgelines to rocky outcrops which required you to switch to 4WD-mode using hands and feet to stablise all upward movement. As we climbed up, groups of energetic young things bounced past us on their way back down to the carpark. They had been up to the very top of the mountain to watch the sunrise. While that would have been beautiful, and I admire their enthusiasm and bravado, there are some sections of this hike that I would definitely not like to navigate in the early morning dark.
Up we went again. Yes, this hike is one of those mongrel ones where you are sure that every summit must be the last one, only to reveal yet another. OK then, if that is the way it is going to play out, I will just have to pull up my big girl panties and climb some more.
Things started to get interesting as we left the open ridgelines and started an almost vertical climb. Loose rocks tumbles away underfoot and you had to double check that each foothold and handhold was secure.
Up a bit, sideways a bit on a narrow ledge, up a bit more and stretch to the left. I realised things were getting more serious when chains were attached to the cliff face and you stepped across clear air to work your way around another ledge, up a chimney, up another cliff face, and all with sweet nothing behind and below you except fresh air. It was at this point that I thought to myself, ‘I’m glad my mother can’t see what I’m doing’!
As you can imagine, the higher we climbed, the more panoramic the landscape became until we were overwhelmed with 360° of smoky blues, rust red and other dramatic colours of the iconic Australian Outback. My photography skills do not do it justice.
The climb had been worth every drop of sweat, every puff, every pant!
If you decide to stroll up Mt Bruce/Punurrunha, here are a few tips:
- Distance and Time: This path is approximately 9km long and they recommend you allow 6hours return.
- Rating: This walk is rated 5/5 – the highest, hardest rating. They state that ‘these trails are difficult and a high level of fitness and agility is required. Trail markings are minimal and steep sections with vertical drops are common. Expect to encounter natural hazards, including large boulders and narrow, high ledges’.
- Heights: I would not recommend the full walk if you are afraid of heights. There are some hairy sections, as described above, in the later part of the walk, however you could enjoy the first few kilometres without too many nerves. The views are glorious.
- Tallness: Without wishing to offend, shorter-statured people may struggle with some of the rock climbing sections as you must stretch and reach some distance to obtain hand and footholds.
- Water: Take plenty of water with you. This is thirsty work and there is no water anywhere on site.
- Protection: Take a hat, sunscreen and fly spray. You are really out among the elements here.
- Footwear: Solid footwear is recommend to provide good grip on the loose surfaces underfoot and provide some protection from any slithery friends you may come across.
- Facilities: Composting toilets, picnic tables and a little shade are available in the carpark. There is nothing on the mountain itself except a small amount of interpretive signage.
This is not an easy day out, but so, so worth it. Don’t miss it if you get a chance to visit.
When have you received amazing reward for effort?
What: Instead of hiking all the way to the top, two shorter options are Marandoo View (over the iron ore mine) 500m, 30minutes return or the Honey Hakea Track – 4.6km and 3hours return. Both paths deliver a range of beautiful views.
Where: Punurrunha is located approximately 50km West of the Karijini Visitors Centre.
When: I would recommend an early start for this walk to make the most of the cooler temperatures and soft early morning light. Even in mid-Autumn the days were very hot and the sun was unrelenting.
Why: For a slice of the most breathtaking landscape, rich Indigenous history, vivid colours and endless space.
How: There is no public transport in the National Park and you will need a car to get to the trailhead. A 4WD is not required, but take it slow on the dusty and very corrugated roads.
Who: This walk is for those who don’t mind raising a sweat, don’t mind heights and stretching their comfort zone a little, and those who enjoy a fine view.
Related Posts: For a much easier walk with a swim on the side, don’t miss Karijini’s Dales Gorge.
Related Blogs: Alissa and Don also enjoyed hiking up Mt Bruce. By the look of their beautiful photos, they tackled it early in the morning.
Read About It: This trip to Karijini came about because our plans to hike to Everest Base Camp were Covid19-cancelled. So in honour of what should have been, grab a copy of Into Thin Air by Jon Krakeur. The most eye-opening and mind-boggling account of trying to climb Mt Everest. Go straight to Book Depository.
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