I remember a few years ago, I sold a set of Black Diamond nuts on Gumtree and when the buyer came and picked it up, we had a bit of a chat. He mentioned that he was buying another set cause he was going to go up Bluff Knoll to do Hellfire Gully. I thought to myself at the time… Why the hell would you want to climb up Bluff Knoll?! There’s much better things to climb that are more accessible.
Bluff Knoll standing at 1099m above sea level, it is one of the tallest peaks in Western Australia. There’s a tourist track that goes around the back of it taking about an hour to walk to the summit. However, there’s also a number of lines on the various faces and Hell Fire Gully is the most obvious and prominent line on the North face. It is graded 14 and earned itself a Very Severe rating in the UK books. It is known to be chossy with alot of vegetation, poor quality rock and lack of protection. The first ascent was done in heavy leather boots with rope length run outs cause there simply wasn’t any protection.
I few years later I started getting into multipitch at Gibraltar Rock and West Cape Howe. I did a few in the States at Joshua Tree and Yosemite and I was hooked. I want to learn to be faster and more efficient with rope management and transition at the belays and the only way to get better was to do more.
Coming from a bouldering background.. I’m lazy and not a fan of long approaches. I want to park the car, pull out the mat and off I go. Hence never even considered Bluff Knoll..let alone the tourist track.
Coming from Europe and the alpine scene, my buddy Nish kept bringing up Bluff Knoll in long car rides. He definitely planted the seed in my head. The first 2 times he talked about it.. I was like.. No way! But as time went by, the thoughts kept coming back into my head… This would be the next challenge and will get me one step closer to the Nose.
One day at the gym I said,
“hey Nish, you working this weekend?” “no not this weekend, what are you thinking?”
“Bluff Knoll” I said with a smile,
“I was also thinking about that too”
So here we are, two crazy men on a mission to do the climb up the North face of Bluff Knoll .. Well I’m the crazy one, he’s just experienced and loves long approaches.
So we have a window of perfect weather on Saturday to make the ascent before storms start developing late Sunday. We make the first part of the drive up Friday night and continue Saturday morning.
We had breakie and left from the car park around 8am.
The turn off to the approach track is probably 20min or so into the tourist track, after the Creek where you start heading right and up the steps,
you kinda get near the top of the steps and there’s an obvious trail on the left. Up we went. The track was pretty good as you ascended the rocky steps until you hit the rocky “nose”.
We kept going a bit further up and the track headed left.
A bit of bush bashing to traverse across and we were there! At the base was a wooden cross which i suppose was the marker. The approach took us about 90mins.
I decided to take the first pitch and racked up. We brought double ropes which was a great idea due to the rope drag experienced, brought a double rack of cams… From #0 C3 to #4 C4 which we surprisingly used so many times! One set of nuts.. Although we only used small nuts about 3-4 times throughout the whole climb so I question how useful they are… Leave the cowbells at home as we didn’t use them.. We brought three 120cm slings and about thirteen 60cm slings with biners which was spot on.
I kicked off the first pitch. It was about 50m. I scrambled slightly right of the gully to avoid the vegetation. The climbing was run out, ~10m at a time however the climbing wasn’t very hard and didn’t find that I looked down to check where my last piece was… I kept my focus on going up and finding the easiest path… before I knew it, there was an old black abseil rope in my face under a roof. From there I headed to the arete and corner to my left and belayed 5m above the roof.
The second pitch continued to follow the gully going slightly left to avoid the vegetation where required… You past a small roof on your right and follow a sweet hand crack that’s well protected and end up at a massive Terrace which is the Prickle Traverse. Time check.. 11:45am
Looking up from the terrace, you can see a roof and a spike to the left of it.. About 6m under the spike is the next belay was so it was pretty straight forward.
The 4th pitch went between the spike and roof and then onto the spike before continuing up and slightly right of the gully until you’re below a cave.
Pitch 5 was interesting and my favourite! You climb up towards the cave and do an airy traverse left for about 10m. There’s solid feet and hands but you just gotta mentally relax and go for it as you’re going to find minimal protection going across. Such an amazing feeling and exposure! Continue up the loose chimney before trending left. I ended up belaying at a massive ledge.
Pitch 6 was basically straight up the corner and follow the easy terrain before going for the top out! The climbing took us about 5hrs and 15min.
We chilled out at the summit to enjoy the view and the afternoon sun before making our way back down. It took about 60min to head down so all in all, carpark to carpark was about 7.5hrs. What a day! Such an amazing climb and adventure! Will have to come back =)
Beer o’clock never tasted so good! Huge thanks to Nish for planting the seed!