WARNING: Do NOT attempt this walk if you don’t like A) heights; B) snakes; C) wildflowers; or D) looking uncool!
Whether or not D) applies depends to a certain degree on physical fitness levels – and possibly hiking fashion sense! Although tragically that’s not a factor if you’re like me – red face, heaving chest and death-rattle puffing after ascending several steep staircases and precipitous pinches through the 470 metre elevation (~1560 feet) of this hike – are guaranteed to immediately counteract the effects of even the most fashionable hiking gear!
Sadly, the terrific general store in Grampians town Halls Gap sells everything BUT badges that state ‘Don’t Panic! I’m NOT having a heart attack!’
So wielding a camera as if you know what you’re doing is a far better antidote to D) as it’s possible to surreptitiously catch your breath under the guise of admiring and photographing the view.
Thankfully, there are a lot of views to admire on the 3.6 km (2.23 mile) trek up the escarpment from the trail-head behind the excellent Halls Gap Caravan Park to the Pinnacle, one of the most popular vantage points in the Grampians National Park.
But admiring the staggering view from the truly impressive vantage point of the Pinnacle doesn’t come easily.
The jagged rocky outcrops forming the distinctive Halls Gap skyline towering above its main street appear impossibly high up and far away (see above). But the sharply pointed spur of rock with fuzzy edges – the safety rail – jutting out from the clifftop along the line of peaks above the town IS attainable!
Of course a ‘Hard’ grade hike requires preparation. So before you climb, take a trip to the marvellous Halls Gap Bakery, chocker with ready made sandwiches, rolls and apple shortbreads (me) and vanilla slices (Pilchard). Although these are readily interchangeable with the Lumberjack cake (me) and Hedgehog slice (Pilchard). But I digress …
Passing the grave of baby Agnes Ffoulkes, tragic victim of the hardships faced by pioneers in this once-remote spot, the track immediately ascends to the first of many staircases that make the first leg to Mackeys Peak a pretty stiff climb. Stop to admire and photograph (yes, that’s a euphemism!) the fine views of Chatauqua Peak and across the valley to Boronia Peak – both fine walks for another day. At this point, you’ll be looking up at them.
BUT … you’ll soon be higher than both!
If you keep going, that is. There’s no shame in returning to Halls Gap at this point – as we did in 2011 – but why forgo the excitement of an uncountable number of steps; steep drop-offs and cliffs; wildflowers; and possibly even snakes?
And if you’re already a victim of D), you’ve got nothing to lose by carrying on …
Finally the stairs even out and the heavily wooded track winds almost horizontally through a scattering of impressive rocky outcrops, some with scary looking rock-climbing paraphernalia attached at crazy heights (see below). Don’t underestimate (or under-utilise) the many opportunities available in this section to further reduce the impact of D) by stopping to photograph the numerous wildflowers along the trail.
That’s if you’ve been smart enough to take the hike in spring!
Although the Grampians wildflower season lasts for several months, we scored the most we’d EVER seen in 20+ years of Grampians visits in late October 2012. And the most snakes … but that’s another story!
Trust me – you’ll be grateful you took those D)-preventative photographic precautions as the track emerges from the forest and into the open amongst the distinctive weathered granite peaks and crags that epitomise the jagged mountain ranges of Grampians.
Why? Because the track winds steadily up along rocky spurs, through narrow ravines and along ridgetops towards the Pinnacle. A red face and shortness of breath just can’t be helped here – unless you’re one of those frightening fitness-fetishists largely responsible for the high rates of low self-esteem amongst the less young and agile …
But the scenic splendour now unfolding all around more than makes up for any residual effects of a life-long love affair with country bakeries. Staggering views across the valley emerge with Halls Gap nestled WAAAAAY below and Lake Bellfield glinting in the sunlight – although neither lake waters nor sunlight are guaranteed!
Tempting though it is to keep your finger on the shutter button as the panorama unfolds, take my advice and save yourself for the 360° vista from the Pinnacle, if your nerves are strong enough to negotiate the safety-fenced narrow neck of rock sticking out over– well – nothing!
Unless you count the Fyans valley just under half a kilometre below …
If there are any left, combine the bakery goods with a breather that’ll return your complexion to normal hues before taking the proof-I-made-it-to-the-top shots – but keep a wary eye on the marauding Australian Raven … The grab rail safety fence is sturdy enough to lean on for the obligatory photos but the view from this vantage point is just WAAAAAY too big to effectively capture in one shot.
Although its virtually guaranteed you’ll have time to spare while you wait your turn on the Pinnacle – tedious ‘Titanic’ type photo shoots are becoming de rigueur!!!
Before the landmark-altering flooding rains of January 2011, descent options included a round trip through a series of natural rock formations known as ‘Wonderland’; or continuing along the ridgetop before descending to the valley. Just how impressive that ridgetop is can be clearly seen from the well known Boroka lookout high on the range behind Halls Gap – a shortish drive and a 50m stroll and this magnificent panorama will give you all the context you need for your Pinnacle assault!
But not the same sense of satisfaction!
Now, unless you’ve got the stamina for a further 9.5 km hike to Lake Bellfield, and another few km back to Halls Gap, the shortest return option is to retrace your steps.
Keep a close eye on those killer knee-wrecking stairs as you descend to prevent them becoming killer neck-breaking stairs!
And make way for the show-offs idiots really fit people who JOG down!!
If it seems a long way down, console yourself with the thought that you’ve SO earned more Bakery opportunities at the end of it.
And that D) will no longer be a problem …