High on the mountains that look over the village of Halls Gap juts a formation called The Pinnacle. In reality it’s just one of the rocky spurs pointing out into the empty air of the Grampians National Park, a blip on the landscape of jagged cliffs. However, for visitors to the park The Pinnacle is a milestone, one of the most impressive views and one of the most interesting hikes for a challenge.
So, of course, Dean and I had to tackle it.
Muscles still sore from conquering Chatauqua Peak the day before, Dean and I wake on a Saturday morning to a tent full of ice and chill. The night has been cold, colder than any I’ve ever had half a mind to camp out in. I’ve come off what was probably the most uncomfortable 11 hours, from sunset to sunrise, lying rigidly still, shivering occasionally to remind myself I’m still alive. It’s almost a relief to see the sun starting to rise over our frosty campsite, so I can extricate myself from my layers and wobble in the early morning sun.
After a bolted breakfast and what is effectively a mainline of very hot tea and coffee, we head for the trailhead. My throat is blistering, but I relish the only warmth I seem to be able to muster. The trailhead is almost the same place we started our walk from the previous day. Of course what we don’t know at this point is that we’ve chosen the most difficult way to get to The Pinnacle. We are about to find out.
There are two options to get to The Pinnacle, and we take the one advertised at 3.5km as the ‘easy way’ not realising it’s the stepper and more challenging path. The stairs start almost straight away, and Dean bounds up ahead looking to gain the higher ground and catch a shot of the fog that has enveloped Halls Gap in the early morning. I puff on behind, wondering just how I was roped into this ‘adventure’. The air is freezing, and soon I sound more like a geriatric dog than a mid-20s girl.
Up and up and up we go. Our first stop is a lookout point where we are positively blinded by the rising sun. Through the glare, we can see the blanket of fog over Halls Gap. The mist is thick and soupy but totally gorgeous. I very nearly miss the opportunity to photograph it because my camera is condensed from being in my bag against my back and the air is freezing. It’s a rookie mistake, but thankfully the temperatures are even and I’m able to recover it. I snap a few quick photos from my rocky perch. It’s already high and I’m feeling apprehensive. Behind me, the strairs stretch on.
I barely have time to really catch my breath Dean has us off again. We are both motivated by wanting to be the first, or almost the first, people to The Pinnacle. We’re counting on the fact that it’s a Saturday morning, and most people won’t be quite as eager as us, but with a mountain ahead there are no guarantees.
The stairs are a mix of natural stairs, either cut into the stone or augmented from the landscape, and metal platforms. There’s a distinct lack of railings, and both Dean and I are almost crawling in some sections. Dean’s vertigo makes any height an interesting challenge as he can’t look upwards without losing his balance. I don’t lose my balance from looking up, but the more stairs that pass under my feet the more I feel like my legs have turned to jelly. Stability is a distant memory.
Still, we keep on with our hike, slowing down and speeding up in the traditional ebb and flow of the walk. We stop at the lookout points and I freak out every time Dean walks to close to the edge. It’s a habit that’s hard to break. The higher we go, the more it feels like we’re heading straight up the stairway to heaven. As the path winds up and around the mountain, there’s no clear idea of where we’re going except up.
The landscapes are truly incredible as we climb and by the morning light there’s a certain kind of magic to the entire thing that’s hard to explain. The fog hangs around longer than we expect on the village far below, giving us the distinct impression that we’re wandering well above the clouds. To our delight we’re quite alone on the path and don’t see anyone until we’re several kilometres in and thinking we must be nearing the end. To my surprise it’s an elderly gentleman with a walking stick. He’s local and tells us that, thankfully, we are nearly there.
You can just see The Pinnacle over there, this is the first vantage point.
He’s right. In the distance, jutting out from the cliff edge, is a rock with a rail around it. There’s no mistaking it, and with that in our sights we soldier on.
We approach The Pinnacle from the side as we get closer, having finally reached the heights on which it is located. Thankfully, we are the only ones there. Still wobbly as anything, we both venture out onto the point of the jutting Pinnacle lookout. It’s terrifying for two people who are unapolgetically pretty concerned about heights, but after the hike we’ve been on it’s totally worth it. We take our victory shots looking out over the tapestry of the Grampians National Park and Halls Gap, with Lake Bellfield even more prominent than it was from Chatauqua Peak.
What’s to be said standing at the top of such an incredible location and looking down? I feel like I’ve conquered something special. Edmund Hillary said that it’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves. A sentiment I feel to be very true in the moment, standing on the edge and looking down on unsteady legs. It’s one of those moments where I can see what motivates people to go after those higher peaks, those bigger challenges. It’s a rush.
Silent Street + Grand Canyon
We sit alone on the top of The Pinnacle for a grand total of 15 minutes, but it feels like a lot longer after a busy morning of being on the move. A woman and her young son summit coming from the same direction as us, and looking just as exhausted, but happy to hear how impressed we were. To give the their own moment alone at the peak we wander aside and spent a moment stretching and relaxing on the rocky outcrop, and enjoying the winter sunlight.
In the distance, down towards Wonderland Carpark, we can see the beginning of what looks to be a steady stream of people making the shorter hike from the carpark to The Pinnacle via Silent Street and Grand Canyon. Our morning serenity is not going to hang around for long, but we’ve already had our moment in the sunshine without anyone else cramping our style. After a quick refuel of water and snacks we’re ready to go again. For something different, and not trusting my jelly legs on the many stairs, we decide to go back via Silent Street and Grand Canyon to Halls Gap. Tightening our laces and adjusting our packs, we head off down the new track.
Silent Street is something like the slot canyons I’ve seen pictures of from the States, but smaller in terms of height and length. Still, with the morning sun just rising above us, walking through is quite beautiful with sharp rays of morning sun puncturing the trees and rocky outcrops above. From a photography point of view, it’s a bit of a nightmare. The sun is so bright that it casts everything else into shadow, and I can hear ahead of me the sound of people approaching, meaning I have less time than I would like to capture the scenes. Still, I manage a few of my fallback ‘walking behind Dean’ shots before the hoard is spotted on the horizon.
Everyone is struggling at this point, with the majority having come from Wonderland Carpark. It’s the second or third time on our trip to the Grampians that we wonder how the signed distances are measured. Certainly, people we chat to on the way down are dismayed to learn there’s still some distance to go, and many are not outfitted for the walk.
I certainly feel among the strugglers as I hit the downward paths, begging my legs to continue to carry me as they shake and shudder with ever step. We make the Grand Canyon and can see more clearly the path ahead, littered with people on their way up. There’s not much sign of the rising sun in the shadows, and despite myself I shiver, sweaty and exhausted even in the cool morning air. We opt to return via the Halls Gap path, taking a right off the main track before reaching Wonderland Carpark. It’s a beautiful walk, a proper stroll compared to the hard slog up the mountain. I would say that I prefer it, but you never really get the feeling of climbing, or of great heights along the way. Following the river, it’s a stunning wander in the bushland, and perfect for the return journey.
We arrive back at our campsite in Halls Gap positively exhausted. Our distance walked, according to the signs, was around 8km but our fitness watches measure a distance of more than twice that. We aren’t sure what’s correct, but we’re definitely done for the day. Neither of us is keen to repeat the world’s most uncomfortably frozen night sleeping in the tent, so we decide to pack up and head home a day early. It’s a smart choice, and as the Grampians fade into the distance, it’s safe to say we’ll be back again in the future.