Volunteers go the extra mile as hikers get off to a rough start to the new year on Bluff Knoll

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Liam CroyAlbany Advertiser
Bluff Knoll in the Striling Range National Park.
Camera IconBluff Knoll in the Striling Range National Park. Credit: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

Bluff Knoll has maintained its reputation as one of the most underestimated hikes in WA with a double-header of rescues on the first weekend of 2022.

The first call for help came about 1pm on New Year’s Day after a hiker ran into trouble one-third of the way up the track.

SES personnel and volunteer firefighters were sent to Bluff Knoll to help with the rescue.

It is understood the hiker fainted, but was able to recover and walk off the mountain under their own steam.

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The next afternoon, emergency services were called out in relation to a hiker who had become stricken with cramps on his way back down Bluff Knoll, about 500m from the summit.

A ranger from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions decided that the hiker needed help getting off the mountain.

The hiker, who weighed about 118kg, had to be stretchered 2.5km to the carpark.

Twenty-two volunteers were involved in the operation, from Albany SES, Gnowangerup SES, Albany VFRS and Mt Barker VFRS.

Once they had reached the hiker, they used a “mule” wheel unit to get him back to safety over the course of several hours.

After receiving the emergency call about 6pm, Albany SES volunteers arrived home about 4.40am.

“Being a night rescue, it’s always got its limitations. It’s a slow process lowering the stretch down over those steps,” Albany SES operations manager Nathan Anderson said.

“The wheel does the bulk of the holding, but sometimes we don’t have the space to walk alongside the stretcher.

“Where possible the wheel does the work but you have to take some of the weight.”

The weekend’s rescues follow a flurry of similar incidents last year which prompted a plea from local police in May for hikers to know their limits.

Reports of such rescues on Bluff Knoll are often met with critical comments on social media from people who suggest hikers should be billed for the rescues.

But Mr Anderson said the volunteers knew what they had signed up for.

“As much as it’s taxing on their bodies, they enjoy what they do and they enjoy helping everyone out,” he said.

“We love what we do and enjoy giving back to our community.”

His tips for would-be mountaineers included bringing plenty of fluids and keeping an eye on the weather conditions.

“That hill does get a lot of people,” Mr Anderson said.

“It’s not the easiest of hills. Since they’ve done the revamp there are a lot more steps and that makes it tough.

“It’s a beautiful view from the top but the walk is gruelling.”

According to Trails WA, the Bluff Knoll walk trail is a grade 4 hike, requiring a moderate level of fitness and experience for the 6.8km return trip.

Trails WA notes there are “lots of steps” along the trail to the top of 1099m peak.

The mountain’s popularity has reached new heights since the rebuilt trail was reopened in May 2020, with COVID-19 restrictions leading more West Australians to explore their State.

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