The Stirling Range Ridge Walk: everything you need to know!

Ellen Peak Atlas Introspective

The Stirling Range Ridge Walk is a challenging and spectacular multi day hike, located in the south-west of Western Australia. The big draw-card is Bluff Knoll, the highest peak in Western Australia. But if you’re after a bigger challenge, and have a few days up your sleeve, give the Stirling Ranges Ridge Walk a try. With some preparation (and a bit of luck with the weather) you’ll experience a truly unique hike.

If you are planning on hiking the Stirling Range Ridge Walk; you may also be interested in How to Complete the Stirling Ranges hike in 3 days.

The Stirling Range National Park

Located within the Stirling Range National Park (Western Australia), the mountain range is 337km SE of Perth / 95km north of Albany. Over the course of the Stirling Range Ridge Walk you will hike 23km. However, the trail is difficult and largely unmarked with no designated path. Expect the hike to take 3 days.

There is no managed route, camping ground or toilet facilities in the Stirling Ranges National Park. Hikers must take responsibility for their own safety and show respect for the environment. Competency with navigation and navigation equipment is essential and knowledge of basic first aid is highly advisable. Try to minimise your impact on the landscape and take all your rubbish home with you (including food scraps).

Bluff Knoll vs Stirling Range Ridge Walk

If you don’t have three days to spare or want to gauge what the trail is like before tackling the ridge walk, try the Bluff Knoll hike. It takes 3-4 hours, dependent on weather conditions and personal fitness.

The Stirling Range Ridge Walk: Planning your hike

When to go

view from Stirling ridge Atlas Introspective

The best time of year to hike the Stirling Range Ridge Walk is early Autumn or late Spring when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Direction

The hike is a one-way trail, commencing at either Bluff Knoll or Ellen Peak. I recommend starting at Bluff Knoll. It’s easier and faster to reach the ridge from this end, as it’s the only part of the hike with a set trail.

Time

In total, the Stirling Range Ridge Walk is approximately 23km from beginning to end. But due to the up and downhill nature of the trail, it is a time-consuming journey. Allow for 3 full days and two nights on the ridge, and add an additional day if you are travelling to the region from Perth.

Navigation

The trail is unmarked and it’s easy to get lost. Hikers who take a wrong turn, and then back-track, create ‘false trails’ which adds to the confusion. Before attempting the Stirling Range Ridge Walk, consider consolidating your navigation skills.

AT Morphet “Mountain Walks in the Stirling Range: Part 2”

The arrows Atlas Introspective

AT Morphet’s book, ‘Mountain Walks in the Stirling Range: Part 2’ is a popular resource but has been out of print for years and copies are difficult to find. Unfortunately, my copy got wet when I was caught in the rain on the trail, but I’ve since borrowed the book from my local Perth library using an interlibrary request. Network with other local hikers and you may have luck borrowing a copy or tracking down a digital copy. The Stirling Ridge Walk facebook group is another useful source of information. See the ‘files’ section for documents shared by fellow hikers.

Maps available from the Department of Parks and Wildlife are also a good resource. There’s no substitute for a physical map, but a free smartphone app that accesses the built-in GPS in your phone is also available via Smartreka. Smartreka maps can be viewed without a network connection.

view from the Stirling Range ridge Atlas Introspective

Fitness Training

Prepare for the hike by building up strength and cardiovascular fitness. If you’re based in Perth, Jacobs Ladder (Kings Park) is a great place to train and prepare for the up and down nature of the trek. Wherever possible train in your hiking clothes and with a full backpack and aim to wear in new hiking boots for a few months beforehand.

Weather

The Aboriginal name for the ranges is ‘Koi Kyenunu-ruff’ which means ‘mist moving around the mountains.’ This is spectacularly beautiful, but can hamper the ability to navigate if caught in a white-out. High temperatures are just as dangerous. Avoid the Stirling Range Ridge Walk if there is a fire risk. Many hikers require rescue each year and sudden weather changes and hypothermia are often to blame. If the weather gets hairy, don’t be a hero. Find one of the escape routes and make your way to safety, you can always try the hike another weekend. Note the escape routes: the four exit points from the ridge are at Bluff Knoll, First Arrow, Moongoongoonderup ridge and Ellen Peak.

The Arrows Fiona Atlas Introspective

Dress for the Weather

Weather on the Stirling Range Ridge Walk is unpredictable and is also the only place in Western Australia that experiences alpine conditions. It’s worth preparing for extremes. The combination of wet weather along with wind chill can result in low temperatures and hypothermia is a real possibility. The clothes you pack should reflect this, merino base layers, fleece and waterproof outerwear, such as, jackets and pants should cover most weather conditions. Gaiters are another worthwhile investment. They’ll keep the rain out of your boots and protect your shins from the scrub.

Packing for the Stirling Range Ridge Walk

To read more about my favourite travel gear: Travel Gear for Multi Day Hikes.

What To Pack: Gear

  • Hiking pack
  • Dry sack & zip lock bags
  • Hiking mattress, pillow, tent, sleeping bag
  • Waterproof tape (perfect for repairing tears in your rain jacket or tent)
  • CamelBak, bowl, cup & spork, Jetboil & fuel (cooking)
  • 7-9 Litres of water per person (including cooking water)
  • Meals & snacks (suggestions below)
  • Maps, compass, GPS
  • Lantern, head-torch &/ torch
  • Camera/ smartphone
  • Toothbrush & paste, travel pack tissues for toilet paper, deodorant (travel size), sunscreen, wet wipes
  • First Aid kit: thermal blanket, rock salt, triangular bandages (for use as a bandage, splint, sling, compressor), band aids, gauze, antiseptic, Compeed (blister treatment)
  • Mobile phone &/ personal location beacon
  • Hiking poles
  • Rope. I have gotten by without the need for rope, however if you can spare the weight, it might save you in an emergency. Alternatively thin lashing such as paracord can be useful for lowering your pack on some of the rockier outcrops.
  • Ziplock bags/ plastic bags to store rubbish
Stirling Ranges East Atlas Introspective

Hiking Poles

The Stirling Range Ridge Walk involves steep up and downhill climbing which, combined with the weight of a heavy pack, can throw you off-balance. Hiking poles provide extra stability and help take the weight off your knees. In an emergency situation, they can also double as a splint or tent pole to create a makeshift shelter (along with your thermal blanket).

Most backpacks have loops for you to store your poles when not in use and they won’t add much weight to your pack. But avoid attaching anything else to the outside of your pack that could be damaged by scrub. Foam mattresses are notorious for getting torn to shreds.

Campsite on the Stirling Ranges ridge walk Atlas Introspective

Tent

Hiking tents can cost a small fortune, so borrow one if you can. But for those on a on a budget, look for the lightest tent you can afford. Packing a roll of waterproof tape is also a wise move. It’s invaluable for patching up snags in your tent or waterproof outerwear.

I’ve tackled the Stirling Range Ridge Walk with a basic $24 tent as well as a hiking-specific Marmot tent at the higher price point. Both did the job. Practice pitching your tent at home, in case you have to set up camp in the dark or in poor weather.

What to Pack: Clothing

  • 3 x underwear (not cotton)
  • 3 x hiking socks
  • 1 x pants
  • 1 xshorts
  • Merino base layers (1 x long sleeve, 1 x short sleeve)
  • Fleece
  • Rain jacket
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Hat & beanie
  • Watch
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking boots & gaiters
  • Flip flops / camp sandals for the evening

Water

There is no reliable water source on the ridge, so take enough water for 3 days (including cooking water). Without a doubt, water will form the bulk of weight in your pack. The upside is that your load will lighten as you progress through the hike. There is sometimes water at the barrel on the Third Arrow, but this can’t be relied on.

Meal Suggestions

Attempt to eat on the run for breakfast and lunch and save a hot, cooked meal for dinner. Lengthy meal breaks and clean-up can cost you an hour of daylight, so ready-made snacks to eat on the move will save you time.

  • Muesli bars
  • Sandwiches
  • Dehydrated hiking meals- don’t forget cooking water
  • Scroggin
  • Jerky – read on for my recipe to make your own.
  • Chocolate
  • Pantry cheese & crackers
  • Hot chocolate
  • Porridge
  • Ramen & instant Mac & cheese

Travel Companions

Stirling Ranges retreat JF selfie Atlas Introspective

You can only travel at the pace of your slowest hiking companion, so chose your trekking buddies wisely. It’s important that all group members on the Stirling Range Ridge Walk are of similar fitness levels. Train together if this is possible. Travelling in pairs makes sense from a safety and logistical perspective. Most hiking tents fit two adults and communal items, such as, cooking equipment can be shared to lighten the load. Two heads are better than one, ensure all parties can support with navigation. There will be times when fatigue sets in and morale plummets so sharing this role is essential.

The Stirling Range Retreat

The Stirling Range Retreat is a popular base camp for the hike. Many hikers stay here before and / or after the Stirling Range Ridge Walk. The Stirling Range Retreat provide a shuttle service for drop off/ pick up and you can leave your car while you’re on the hike.

Stirling Ranges Retreat campsite Atlas Introspective

The Stirling Range Retreat, are a worthwhile source of information, regardless of whether you are a guest. They also welcome day guests, for a small fee. So if you’re feeling a little on the ripe side at the end of your trek, you can stop in for a well deserved shower.

Large groups have the option of parking a car at either end of the trail, while some hikers leave their car at Bluff Knoll car park in the afternoon and camp on Bluff Knoll. Whilst a sheltered place to pitch a tent cannot be guaranteed, it gives a 3 hour head start on Day 1.

On the Trail

In Case of Emergency…

Mobile phone signal on the ridge is not reliable and can vary based on the network, but take a phone anyway as a back up for emergency calls, and dial ‘000’ or ‘112’ in case of emergency. In the event that neither of these numbers work, text messages don’t require as strong a signal and may have a better chance of success. Note that phone battery depletes faster when the network signal is weak. DPAW (Department of Parks and Wildlife) recommend hikers take a Personal Location Beacon to assist with rescue.

Setting-up Camp

Wear a watch and make a note of sunset. At least an hour before sunset, start scoping out a spot to stop for the night. It sounds obvious, but there are limited camp clearings on the ridge and it can be dangerous to hike after dark. On that note, don’t camp anywhere near a cliff. Night time can be disorienting and a midnight pee in the bush is eventful enough. There are no restrictions where you can camp along the ridge, but clearings and sheltered areas are few and far between, so make note of recommended camp areas and plan stops with these destinations in mind.

Bluff Knoll view 2 Atlas Introspective

There are caves on First Arrow, Third Arrow and Pyungoorup Peak which are perfect for camping, and if weather permits, you may not even need to pitch a tent. Camp clearings can be found on Moongoongoonderup Hill and the sheoaks between Bakers Knob and Pyungoorup Pinnacle.

Read on: The Stirling Ranges 3 day itinerary for your Stirling Range Ridge Walk.