Snow in Western Australia

My snowchase of August 30, 2005

Having so recently missed out on a good snowfall (August 18th), I was keen not to repeat the experience. When another cold front with snow potential loomed less than two weeks later, I booked two days off work and made sure I was there to see it.

Cloud-filtered sunrise over Ellen Peak, viewed from Bluff Knoll
Cloud-filtered sunrise over Ellen Peak
viewed from Bluff Knoll

I arrived at Stirling Range Retreat shortly before the cold front passed on the evening of Aug 29. It was a ripper, bringing eight metre swells to the south coast and very strong cold winds to the south coast and adjacent areas. The wind buffeted the caravan I was in so much I hardly slept, so getting up at 2:30 am wasn't hard. There wasn't as much rain as I would have liked, but the 4:00am temperature of 6.0 degrees "down on the plains" meant it would probably be cold enough for snow on the summit. I fortified myself with a cooked breakfast then drove to the Bluff Knoll car park where it was 3.5 degrees, with occasional drizzle.

Above the creek/waterfall it was 2.0 degrees, and had fallen to 1.0 where the track crosses the small scree slope. At this height the occasional light drizzle turned to snow showers, though the first snow on the ground didn't appear until shortly after the left turn onto the summit ridge, near a prominent rock formation. I reached the summit around 6:30 am just as the sun rose to bathe the 1cm snow cover in a glorious golden light, filtered by the thick cloud obscuring it.

Eastern Stirlings from Bluff Knoll shortly after sunrise
Eastern Stirlings from Bluff
Knoll shortly after sunrise

The snow depth may not have been excessive, but the conditions were very wintry. A temperature of -1.0 was reinforced by winds of 60 to 80 km/h (estimated) with occasional stronger gusts, and - mercifully - the occasional lull. This produced wind chills down to -20, making it the most savage cold I've experienced in Western Australia. Being a bleak weather freak, I found it exhilarating.

Frequent clear spots in the cloud led to some lovely views shortly after sunrise, so photography and exploring occupied some time. Another bloke reached the summit about 90 minutes after me, and I was pleased that somebody else was there to experience the snow before it melted (I met a few others later on my way down). By 9:30 am the temperature had reached zero, and beyond that the snow deteriorated, despite occasional light snow showers. On this trip I'd brought my mini Trangia stove so that I could test it's reliability in cold and windy conditions. It performed well, and I refuelled with soup and Thai chicken curry before slowly descending after 11:30 am.

Maximum temperatures that day turned out to be 11.4 at Albany, 11.3 at Albany Airport, 11.0 at both Mt Barker and Ongerup, and 10.0 at Katanning.