The Pleiades: 14 February 2021

The Pleiades GPS route. Note the walking started in what is mapped as water, where the slight dog-legg is just above the word ‘Lake’.

There’s nothing like a bit of unfinished business to bump a walk up the list. Especially when you’re about to lose the kayak you’ve had access to for the last 5 years. It’s even easier when you’re not the only one hatching similar plans! The Pleiades had first become a serious target at the start of the year following a club walk to Pokana Peak. It had been discussed as a possible side trip and had certainly sparked interest. It was to be far too ambitious for that trip, but it looked good and wasn’t a mountain easily forgotten… 

Mark went back in in a boat a few weeks later, which I found out after the fact when we were chatting via email on another matter. He kindly shared his route when I told him I was also planning a trip back. Tim got roped in, even though he’s not supposed to be walking until he’s finished an upcoming exam, because he’d lucked out as my partner in crime on the Pokana trip and I was pretty certain he’d be keen. He was, so we locked in the one day we could both do and hoped we’d get lucky with the rain and the wind (or rather, lack thereof!).

After I finished a day shift on the Saturday, we loaded kayaks and gear and headed down to the end of Clear Hill road. The drive this time seemed to take forever, probably reflective of how tired I was feeling and my desire to just be there. We’d tried to make good time, but the last hour was in the dark and the wildlife was more active than I’d have liked. The Mini had its first wallaby encounter in three years of driving. It was certainly easy to pull up when we finally made it, set up sleeping bags and get a relatively solid night sleep in the back of the car.

Both of us had talked about setting alarms, thinking we were in for a decent but achievable day walk, but neither of us remembered. I certainly didn’t have much time between being ready to sleep and being out to it. As a result we were ready to start paddling at 7:30, 1.5 hours after our intended departure time. We sped across the very smooth lake, faster than we’d calculated, but still taking time to enjoy the reflections of the dead trees dancing on the surface of the lake as we wove through. The spiders still hung in their webs at the top of the skeletal remains, this time accompanied by lots of little black dots – their offspring.  

The Pleiades in Greek mythology are the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. To avoid Orion’s lust their parents turned them into doves and placed them amongst the stars, apparently! I’m not sure why this particular mountain ended up with the name, but we were keen to see if the summit would give us any clues. We could see far enough to pick out the clearest line up the first and likely steepest bit of the ascent. It was just as well, we reasoned, that we’d slept in, as we wanted to allow the low lying cloud sufficient time to burn off.

Thats the first bump to get up. We select the least scrubby ramp that runs up the right hand side.

Off we set, initially across the old lake floor, now just blackened mud and quartzite gravel. This gave way to the typical low button grass, tea tree and melaleuca scrub of the south west. The wild flowers had largely done their dash and it was only higher up that we had a little bit of pink in the odd trigger plant to offset the greens, browns and yellows – the ‘spice colours’ of Tassie wilderness as mum puts it.

Taking a moment to catch our breath and glancing back. We’ve gained a fair bit of height already, which is just as well, the legs are protesting! We parked out boats on the tiny black isthmus about an inch in from the left edge of the photo.

It was generally easy going, with only one or two slightly scrubbier gullies/creeks to cross. Even here it was easy enough to pick a good line. Perhaps the hardest part was the sheer incline coupled with slippery went muddy goop underfoot that often had you sliding two steps backwards for each one forwards. In spots the button grass thickened and proved to be unsteady underfoot, requiring more energy than it should to make progress. 

As is always the case, however, we steadily climbed our way up and across and were more than half way up when we figured a breakfast stop was in order. We were nearly at the bottom of the cloud, which was proving to be more stubborn than forecast and were aware of the need to either slow down or to summit with no views. There’s only so much time you can take to eat, however, especially when your shirt is drenched in sweat from the climb and the high humidity and now sticks like a freezing cold icepack to the small of your back.

Where things become a bit more exciting! The slog through uneven button grass is replaced by a bit more of a climb/scramble up into the underbelly of the cloud. I did like this bit!

Procrastination exhausted and fingers turning yellow and numb, we continued up the ridge. It got a bit interesting from here on, all the more so because we couldn’t really see what we were in for… entirely! Just that there was a lot of very steeply sloped rock with scrubby channels running vertically in the gaps. Once we got the hang of it and safely extracted ourselves from a scrubby gully we’d got caught in, we found it to be much better going. It wouldn’t be much fun for people not comfortable on steeply slanted rock with not a lot of purchase in some spots though! Oh, and it would be pretty miserable in wet weather too.

Head in the cloud, the summit materialises as we approach. We duck out of the wind and wait…

Once we were past this bit the ridge top walking resumed and the scrub diminished as we ascended, eventually to be replaced by cushion plants, pineapple grass and the likes on the summit plateau. By this stage we were definitely walking in the cloud, although we could tell we were right at the bottom of it and knew it would have to lift sometime soon. So we wandered over to the high point, aided initially by GPS and then by the unmistakable cairn, and then ducked over the edge to sit out of the wind. 

Glimpses of view are promising. It’s a beautiful, gnarly kind of land out here.

It was only 1.5 hours after we’d had breakfast, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have something more to eat as we enjoyed the wait. There were plenty of little white quartzite mounds scattered around the otherwise fairly flat summit plateau, but I’m not sure there were exactly 7. The naming of the mountain will remain a mystery I think!

Summit cairn, rocky outcrops and a hint of Lake Gordon
The best view we were going to get to the southwest. The ridge here is a longer but perhaps less climby way up.

The sun broke through intermittently, deliciously warm on our legs and backs, gradually drying our shirts. We got tantalising glimpses of the view before it clagged back in, worse than it had been. I began to despair, but Tim didn’t seem to be in too much of a rush (despite plans to study on his return home) and so we waited some more. It was worth it in the end, even if we didn’t get views to the west, where the wind and clouds were coming from. The ones east down to the lake and mountains beyond and north to Pokana were lovely enough.

On the way back down, just a short walk from the summit. Perhaps this is one of the sisters?

Eventually (1.25 hrs after arriving) we dragged ourselves away, keen to get back before dark. We were much faster on the descent, which was largely downhill, although the views meant we (well, to be honest, I) stopped more frequently for photos. The cicadas were out in force and our trampling through the scrub disturbed a number. It’s always been a familiar sound that evokes warm memories from childhood and again it had me smiling.

Sidling around the edge of the steep rocky and scrubby section. It’s much easier than on the way up

We chose a slightly better route in spots, did our fair share of sliding and only got mildly distracted by what turned out to be three kayaks dragged well inland. It looked like a family were also out having lots of fun, so we left them a smiley face made from rocks on the upturned belly of one. 

The cloud still grazes the tops of the mountains to the east. Stepped and Clear hills are pretty impressive looking
One last glance back, now that the summit is clear. The high point lies on the plateau behind the rise on the left.
It’s beautiful walking on the way back and I’m guilty of pausing many a time to enjoy it! Look at that lovely ridge to walk along…
I do like colours, textures and lines. Stepped Hills, the Thumbs and Clear Hill stretch out across the eastern horizon.

Our legs and feet were grateful to be back at the kayaks, looking forward to an hour of rest. I, of course, had to add to the excitement by doing what could have been classed as a well executed parkour move while attempting to get in the kayak. It ultimately resulted in me moving from one side of it to the other, complete with a 360 degree horizontal rotation. I did not manage to do this while staying entirely dry and I’ll admit the landing could use some work. The kayak, fortunately, stayed upright. Tim was most disappointed to have had no time to get the camera out!

Some brilliant rock up here as we wander down the ridge. Pokana Peak is off in the distance on the right.
And the final ascent down to the kayaks. The going, as you can see, is really pretty good. No serious scrub bashing required if you pick the right kind of line!

One last glance back and off we set, taking only a little longer to get back out than on the way in, courtesy of a bit of a southwesterly breeze and a substantial level of fatigue. We still made good enough time that I was home and unpacking the kayak in the last bit of dusk before it gave way to night.

Paddle: 6.0km one way, 1 hr there, 1:10 back

Walk: 9.3km, 6:34hrs, 890m ascent

P.S. Happy Valentine’s to everyone reading this! I hope you spent it doing a few of the things you love with some of your special people and found time to reflect on why they’re special to you. And if you didn’t, I’m sure it doesn’t matter if you pick a different day ;)!