Nescient Peak and Mount Oana: 27-29 September 2020

Back at the tent at 2pm and it's a completely different world and feel.. time to pack it up and head back towards the car to make day 3 a quick 2 hr walk out.
GPS route to Nescient Peak and Mount Oana
GPS route to Nescient Peak and Mount Oana

Once again, some consistently snowy, wet and windy weather had thwarted a planned 5 day solo trip, so when a 2.5 day weather window popped up on days I had few other commitments I jumped at the chance. Especially knowing the first few days of another extended trip planned from October 1 were looking very foul as well! The choice was easy, there was only a small window and not many trips I could do something productive in such little time. As it was I wasn’t entirely sure I’d have enough time to get all the way out to Layatinna. It would all depend on the weather and how easy the terrain was to negotiate, which I wouldn’t know till I was committed. Oh well, it’s about the journey and having a crack more than the destination or success, isn’t it?

The 3.5 hour drive up was smooth and uneventful aside from a lovely sunrise and a swamp harrier. There was no one in the carpark, though people had been in recently according to the log book. I was off walking by 9, dressed in board shorts cos I figured they were going to get wet. Not so much from the light sleet that came and went throughout the day, but more from pushing through snow laden branches that were bent across the track. I didn’t see any point in getting both them and my overpants wet, so the latter stayed in my pack for the morning. Probably a tad silly, as the dry overpants came at the expense of my legs, that quickly turned bright pink from the double assault of the freezing snow and the scratchy scrub.
The track itself was hard to recognise from when I was last in. I’d forgotten about the fires and it had been hit hard. Someone had been through and chainsawed the worst of the trees, and erected track markers where the track was most indistinct but it was still easy to step off it in some spots. Some opportunistic lower storey scrub had started to grow back, but by and large the landscape was 50 shades of grey and rather barren looking. It was lovely to get to the pockets that had survived intact, so much so I couldn’t even get frustrated with the bauera or scoparia as it tried to trip me up and scraped at bare knees and thighs. It was as if even this walk, much like this year in general, was echoing the same sentiments about being grateful for what is, because you never know when it’s going to change for the worse.
I'd forgotten all about the fires. Starting out the walk was vastly different from the last time I'd been here years ago.
I’d forgotten all about the fires. Starting out the walk was vastly different from the last time I’d been here years ago.

I plodded along, eating a late breakfast as I puffed my way up hill. I wasn’t in a huge rush and I was happy to go at a continuous pace rather than trying to break records. I enjoyed the light sleet and sunshine both at the same time, the birds twittering away, and even the cold wet slushy snow as it ran down my legs, inside my gaiters and eventually had my boots squelching. It was good to be back out.

It didn’t take long to reach the open button grass plains and the turn off to Nescient Peak. It had evidently been a slightly green and scrubby climb, but now it was just a matter of avoiding getting too close to the sharp and black burnt remnants. It was easy enough to weave through an open route, although I did discover close to the summit that there was actually a cairned and taped route. I tried to follow it back down but it wasn’t easy since the fire had been through and I actually found it better to pick my own route. The benefit of the fires were a clearer view through the skeletal remains of trunks to some familiar snow capped peaks. It was a lovely little winter wonderland kind of walk, and it brought back memories of climbing Howells Bluff in the snow with Graham. There was a little less snow this time, but the terrain was similar.
Nice to see the button grass plain was still there. Nescient Peak (on the right) looks like it's a tad less green than it would have been.
Nice to see the button grass plain was still there. Nescient Peak (on the right) looks like it’s a tad less green than it would have been.
Mt Rogoona commands attention (and features appropriately in many of my photos!)
Mt Rogoona commands attention (and features appropriately in many of my photos!)
The summit of Nescient Peak is a tad barren. I imagine the views are easier to see as a result.
The summit of Nescient Peak is a tad barren. I imagine the views are easier to see as a result.
Rogoona from Nescient Peak summit (or close to)
Rogoona from Nescient Peak summit (or close to)

Reunited with my pack I set off on a much longer plod to as far as I could get towards Oana. I said hello and goodbye to Rogoona as I passed by Lake Myrtle, awakening more, somewhat hazy, memories. And then I was on new terrain for me. Just in time for the sleet to pick up and the scrub to occupy more of the track. By the time I got to Lake Meston I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic about heading off track at the southern end and climbing up through scrub onto Chinamans Plains. My fingers were cold and struggling even to undo buckles. I decided I definitely needed the overpants, and chided myself for not starting out in them. It would have saved me a lot of hurt, and probably time as well! They went on slowly – my fingers were moving at the pace I seem to move in bad dreams. But they warmed up as I walked, moving much faster now through the overgrown bits of track. I reckoned I had a couple of hours of off track walking, which should get me well and truely on the plateau. I didn’t like my chances of actually getting a tent up if I kept going much after 5pm, even though there would be almost two more hours of daylight – that’s how fast the temperature can drop in the late afternoon and being alone makes you realise how much more vulnerable to these things you are. I was also pretty knackered, even though I’d not walked as far as I hoped.

Lake Meston.. it sprawls a long way to the left and right of this photo too!
Lake Meston.. it sprawls a long way to the left and right of this photo too!
The hut at Lake Meston
The hut at Lake Meston

I’d be lying to deny that I thought about turning around as I stood on the track to Junction Lake at the point I was due to plunge into the scrub. I didn’t rate my chance of climbing both mountains the next day too highly anymore and momentarily wondered why go to all the effort for just one if I’d still have to come back. But I think that was more an excuse to avoid the cold and wet scrub bash with a full pack than anything else. After all I was out to walk as much as to climb peaks, and I’d return just as fresh regardless of where I actually got to. I chuckled at my stubbornness as I hauled my weary body up and over the scrub and rocks, and worked on enjoying it for what it was. I smiled at the small reprieve as I popped into a section of myrtle forest with a thin blanket of snow on the ground, and breathed a sigh of relief at finding a perfectly fallen tree across the Mersey River. And of course I cursed and swore as I was stabbed, tripped up or lost my footing in the scrub. I missed having company, it makes an especially huge difference in scrub.

I let out a whoop when I broke out, up and over the edge of the plateau, and checked my watch. I’d see how far I could get in 45 minutes. Probably not far enough, but I found a nice little spot tucked out of the wind next to a largish tarn that I couldn’t pass up. And then ensued the process of getting dry and warm, cooking a new dehydrated recipe for Moussaka (5 stars from me!) for dinner and discovering that I would have at least a 12 km walk ONE WAY just to get to Layatinna the next day… oh dear, another early start I guess, and a lot of playing things by ear.
After another hour on the track, and a fair bit of time pushing up hill through scrub, and I figure this looks like a good enough place to call home. In the middle of nowhere. I wonder if anyone has camped here before me?
After another hour on the track, and a fair bit of time pushing up hill through scrub, and I figure this looks like a good enough place to call home. In the middle of nowhere. I wonder if anyone has camped here before me?

I set the alarm for 5, but everything was frozen and I couldn’t bring myself to put on wet gear straight away. The world looked like someone had come along during the night with a great big sieve and dusted the land with a very generous layer of icing sugar! Instead I dozed a bit, made a cup of tea and then couldn’t put it off any longer. I actually put my socks in hot water and poured some into both boots. They weren’t frozen because I’d put them inside the tent but I figured I could at least be warm and wet. It worked quite well actually!

At 6am the next morning everything is frozen solid. It's a painful, brittle world for a while.
At 6am the next morning everything is frozen solid. It’s a painful, brittle world for a while.

I set off shortly after 6, crunching my way between tarns, contour lines and trying to stick to rock or alpine heath. It took a little while to read the landscape. The satellite imagery hadn’t been super helpful so I was relying a lot on reading the terrain accurately and a bit of guesswork. I ended up taking a decent route with only two slightly scrubbier patches, but even then it was the kind you could mostly weave through. It was nice to be accompanied by the frogs and lots of different types of birds. I was especially grateful to the olive whistler who made me smile when I was going through a tougher patch of scrub. They do have a pretty good wolf whistle equivalent!

The sun warms the day up and the clouds gradually disperse, but the icicles remain in the shade
The sun warms the day up and the clouds gradually disperse, but the icicles remain in the shade
More icy patterns on scrub
More icy patterns on scrub

From the southern end of Eagle Lake the direct approach to the summit of Oana looks horribly green and scrubby. I headed southeast first, climbing onto the ridge that leads to the summit where the contour lines were more gradual. It was a longer distance to walk, but again the going was pretty open. The final meander up the flat, rocky ridge to the summit was lovely. There were better than expected views too!

On the summit of Mount Oana, which has surprisingly ok views given you can't discern an obvious top to the mountain from below.
On the summit of Mount Oana, which has surprisingly ok views given you can’t discern an obvious top to the mountain from below.

Looking from Oana towards Layatinna Hill. It's a LOOONG way off. I'd planned to climb it this day, and while it was only 9:15, I'd been walking for 3 hours already to cover a similar distance. I didn't think I was up for a 12 hour minimum day. As it turned out, I made it into a 12 hour and 26.7km day - imagine how much longer it would have been if I'd headed all the way out there?The downside to this was that Layatinna looked awfully far away. And although the going is supposed to be pretty good (despite looking green!), I was still not moving fast enough. It had taken me 3 hours to get to Oana, and I had at least as far again to get to Layatinna. I um-ed and ah-ed over whether I should opt for an epic day or whether I should save Layatinna for another day. I’m not one to leave mountains I set out to climb, but I was feeling tired, and although I knew I could push through and walk as long as needed, I wasn’t sure how strong my mind was going to be if I had to route find in the dark when I was well and truely knackered. I’ve also been working on slowing down, so I went with the sensible option and sat on the summit enjoying the views. It was the first time I’d set eyes on Lake Malbena in person, and it was interesting to actually be there while thinking about the proposed developments.

After an hour on the summit I couldn’t feel my fingers and I figured it was time to head back. It would mean I would have time to pack up the tent and drop back to camp under Rogoona by Lake Myrtle, in turn making for a short third day so I could get back home and open up the beehive to see how the bees had fared over winter!
Off track walking can be very nice, don't you think? Bit too cold for a swim this time though..
Off track walking can be very nice, don’t you think? Bit too cold for a swim this time though..
In spots it was hard to know if you were standing on solid ground. Some of the water channels went deep enough you couldn't see the bottom. I reckon I could have got lost in a few
In spots it was hard to know if you were standing on solid ground. Some of the water channels went deep enough you couldn’t see the bottom. I reckon I could have got lost in a few!

It was a long walk back, and when I started stumbling over my own feet I was very glad I’d left Layatinna this time (and check out the distances at the bottom – I’d have been crazy to have added an extra 10-15km on!). I was back at the tent by 2pm, happy to find everything mostly dry. I wasn’t moving fast by any means. I was concentrating instead on not straying too far from the route I’d taken on the way up, so that I avoided running into drop offs or really thick scrub and so I managed to intersect the river exactly where the tree was down. It was wonderful to finally find my feet back on a track. I could switch my mind off completely and simply just walk. And so I did, all the way to Lake Myrtle.

Back at the tent at 2pm and it's a completely different world and feel.. time to pack it up and head back towards the car to make day 3 a quick 2 hr walk out.
Back at the tent at 2pm and it’s a completely different world and feel.. time to pack it up and head back towards the car to make day 3 a quick 2 hour walk out.
A small patch of myrtle forest was a welcome reprieve from the scrub bash
A small patch of myrtle forest was a welcome reprieve from the scrub bash
Track walking never seems easier than after a long solo off track walk, even if the sun is in your eyes!
Track walking never seems easier than after a long solo off track walk, even if the sun is in your eyes!

The evening was pretty, as were the little flies that danced in groups just above the ground, their bodies glowing gold in the low sunlight. I arrived at the campsite nearly 12 hrs after having started walking that day. There was still an hour of daylight but I wasn’t going to get anywhere nice in that time so I called it a day. I spent the hour pitching the tent, cooking home made and dehydrated creamy pasta and typing up some notes (have you ever wondered why there’s so many typos? Fat thumbs typing on my phone and a failure to proof read ;)!). I was so tired I got no more of my book read than I had the night before, going to bed at 8pm instead!

Will this do for night 2? I always think Rogoona looks like a lion resting on it's paws
Will this do for night 2? I always think Rogoona looks like a lion resting on it’s paws

I made the mistake of leaving my gaiters out on a log where I’d put them to dry the bottom halves out, and my boots in the tent vestibule. I woke to a tent that glittered on the inside and immediately knew what I’d done. My water bottles were frozen shut, the boots were solid and my gaiters blended into the silver log, sporting 1-2cms of frosty growth on their upper side. The whole world was clear and silent, the lake like a mirror with a layer of mist above the unbroken surface. The stars were brighter now the moon had set too. In time, as I set about making tea and porridge, the sun bathed the back of Rogoona in warm orange, and she looked more than ever like a lioness lying down with her head above front paws, calmly surveying the realm before her.

The night was clear, the moon so bright the head torch wasn't needed, and in the morning everything was frozen solid again, even though it had been dry before nightfall. The frosty ice on my tent stayed there until I hung it out on the line at home.
The night was clear, the moon so bright the head torch wasn’t needed, and in the morning everything was frozen solid again, even though it had been dry before nightfall. The frosty ice on my tent stayed there until I hung it out on the line at home.
Perfect reflections and a little bit of steam
Perfect reflections and a little bit of steam
More reflections
More reflections

I had the urge to move quickly, wanting to be back home in time to open up the beehive with a friend while the weather was still and warm. It would be the first time since Graham died, and given it was my first proper time, I wanted some assistance so I could ask all my questions. But the morning case a spell over everything, myself included, and so it took me an uncharacteristic hour before I was ready to go shortly after 6am. A few more photos of the reflections and I was off. It was an easy, mostly flat or downhill return walk on the track, with the major obstacles being my weary feet, the odd muddy section, and slippery, still partly icy roots. As I approached the final descent I expected to see the lake down to the left, and was delighted instead to see the top of low cloud hovering in the valley. It was spectacular, if a little deceptive, as it gave the impression the bottom was closer than it was!

I was back at the car in about two hours, and began the drive home. As I got closer it seemed hard to believe just how far I’d been over the last few days and how easy it was to be in the middle of nowhere and then all of a sudden to be back in the middle of somewhere. The bees were very happy, we found my queen and then I buckled down getting everything clean, dried, and packed for the next adventure (which looks like it’ll be rather wet!). Stay tuned!
A last glance backwards. The fire had been through here too, although it was nice to see so many robins flitting between the lower shrubs.
A last glance backwards. The fire had been through here too, although it was nice to see so many robins flitting between the lower shrubs.
All up:
Day 1: Car to Chinamans Plains: 8hrs, 19.3km, 1162m ascent
Day 2: Chinamans Plains to Oana and back to Lake Myrtle: 11.52hrs, 26.7km, 918m ascent
Day 3: Lake Myrtle to car: 2.15hrs, 7.5km, 101m ascent