Pokana Peak: 1-4 January 2021

Pokana GPS route. Yes, it looks like we camped in the Lake. We didn’t. We camped at the intersection of the three tracks and it was definitely dry land! Unfortunately it added a good 1.5km on to each way of the walk.

Pandani club walks to mountains I’ve not yet climbed are few and far between and so I got very excited when I saw Simon had put this one on the program. I nearly forgot to sign up in my newly developed forgetfulness, but was reminded by a comment from a friend. Fortunately there was still a spot for me AND I still had use of Graham’s kayaks, though it would likely be their final trip with me. As the date approached the fact that it was an awesome way to start the new year became apparent and my excitement grew further. As always, the more excited I got and the more invested in the possibility of climbing new mountains I became, the more I started to get concerned by potential barriers. For this one, I was concerned that we had a large group, nine in total. All were strong walkers, but that becomes irrelevant past a certain size, as more walkers exponentially increase the time things regardless of ability.

Getting unloaded and all packed up ready to launch. Just a few of us – what a great group to be part of!

The weather was looking ok, but not brilliant according to the forecast. There was talk of climbing both The Pleiades and Pokana in the one day, although the trip was initially advertised for just Pokana. Both might be achievable by a solo walker in 24 hours, but would be at least a 30km round trip according to the map, and longer in actual distance walked. The terrain looked mostly open, but with some scrubby pockets and some reportedly big button grass clumps. Together that felt like a big ask for a large group, and even Pokana alone would be a long day.

Clear Hill behind Bianca and Tim… stunning place to paddle

The wise thing was to acknowledge the wisdom in Murphy’s law and plan for the worst. I asked Tim, who’d asked me to give him and his kayak a lift, if he had the 4th of January off. He didn’t, but worked a bit of magic, managed to get hold of the right people between Christmas and the New Year and got a day of leave approved. And so we had ourselves an extra day to climb whatever we might not get up on the Saturday. Simon, as leader of the walk, gave us the nod of approval. With all eventualities controlled for I settled back to let the trip play out however it would.

The cliffs of Stepped Hills with dead trees in the flooded Lake Gordon. They were pretty, even if they were long dead.

We had a relaxed 9am meet up at Granton, and picked up the final two members of the party at Maydena and an otherwise enjoyable drive down to the northern end of Clear Hill Road, with plenty of philosophical conversation to keep us both awake. For a large group we were pretty efficient at unloading and packing our kayaks, had a quick bite to eat and then began a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable paddle out on Gordon Lake in the early afternoon.

Tim has a smile on his face most of the time, even when he’s pushing through scrub

The mountains were lovely, with Clear Hill and Stepped Hills dominating initially, but the sharp, craggy point of Center Star soon stealing the limelight. As we paddled through sections of dead trees Tim mentioned how weird it felt to be paddling through the forest, and he was right. It was beautiful, but slightly haunted in a desolate kind of way. If it wasn’t for the blue sky it would have been colourless seemingly lifeless. If you looked closely though there were lots of swallows, the odd spider on trees in the middle of the lake, and a whole heap of bees that I suspect had chosen one of the old trees for their hive.

There were some big trees in the lake.. and some that moved a lot in the water, waiting to fall over.
Center and South Stars as Simon and Mark paddle past. I do like the look of those cliffs!
And there she lies… Pokana Peak dead ahead.

The fact that the water level was something like 27m below maximum capacity meant all our maps were inaccurate and we had to navigate around raised bits of land that should have been under water. After one false lead, we pulled up on a flat and not too boggy spot that looked like it had been burned out in the recent fires. It would be about as close as we reckoned we could get to where we’d ascend into the ridge that would ultimately lead north to Pokana or south to The Pleiades. The maps technically had us camping in the water, 1.5km from where the edge of the water should have been! Out we hopped, and spent the next 30 minutes pitching tents and getting ourselves sorted.

This looks like a pretty good place to camp.
Sitting around at dinner time… chatting the time away while Pokana sits in the background.

‘Now what?!’ Jess asked. We lamented not having any cards or twister or even a frisbee, but entertained ourselves sitting round eating, telling stories, talking mountains and throwing bits of caked mud at a central cup. Time flew by, barely noticed. As the mountains and then clouds started to sport a bit of colour we migrated to the lake shore with our cameras and continued our conversations, almost as if uninterrupted. People stepped away every now and again to take a photo before returning to resume partaking in the chatter. It was a lovely way to bring an end to the first day of the year. I retired to my tent to read, but was too tired to keep my eyes open, so fell asleep to the pleasant chorus of frogs instead.

Evening light on Clear Hill from our campsite.
A last little bit of colour off the side of The Pleiades. Good night…

The day dawned bright with no sign of rain and only a few clouds. Much better than anticipated, but a bit too good, as it would turn out. The mornings entertainment began with news that something had stolen the power bank Ben used to take time lapse footage! It seemed there was a rascal about the place and it wasn’t the last we’d hear of it.

Early morning light on the ridge that we ascend in order to get to Pokana Peak
Looking the opposite way, towards Lake Gordon and Clear Hill. It’s a pretty morning.
Early morning sun on Goondie tents.
All lined up at dawn

We set off at 7, across the plains that were, on the map, supposed to be underwater too. Heading northwest we set our sights on a ridge that looked ok, and managed to weave a way there that avoided most of the scrub. Six black cockatoos flew overhead, calling as they went. It had all the makings of a good day. I felt light on my feet and happy in my heart. I was completely at home out here amongst the crunch of button grass and the occasional waft of lemon-scented boronia as the sweat began to run down our faces.

Setting off at 7am, we traipse across the plain that is supposed to be under water, heading for a clear ridge off to the left of this photo. Pokana Peak is the high point to the right.
Simon leads us through the first bits of scrub.

We made slow progress, held up mostly by all the photos we wanted to take and on occasion by discussions about our chosen route. Later, when we started to climb up the ridge, we were slowed by steep, uneven terrain with thicker than expected scrub and a day that was already proving to be hot.

It’s a long, hot climb and we take plenty of breaks and examine lots of different flowers. How cool is Bianca’s hat, btw?!

We had numerous rest breaks and lots of chatter about everything under the sun, as is bound to happen when you have experts in organic chemistry, physics, science, physiotherapy and IT amongst your numbers (and that’s far from an exhaustive list!). We pondered why button grass reflected the sun so well and where the tanins came from that stained the water, and I learnt that there are genetically different pepper berries, some that produce the peppery compound, and others that don’t have it (don’t collect your leaves from Mt Field if you want peppery ones!). We had questions about long legged flies, frogs, and why cicadas were so much smaller here than on the mainland. We enjoyed the blanfordia, which was looking stunning in its prime and even found a couple of isophysis (formerly known as hewardia). Clearly, we mused over and examined all the important issues!

We make it onto the first ridge, the hardest and steepest bit of the climb done, and reap the rewards of some stunning views. Pokana sits in the middel of the photo here.
Blanfordia, aka Christmas Bells. They were just pefrect!

In this fashion it took us two hours to reach the ridge we were attempting to climb on to. We turned along it to the right, where the walking wasn’t bad but equally wasn’t the easiest underfoot. We followed it all the way down to a river, which was a welcome relief from the heat of the day. Slogging back up the far side all the way to the ridge that would take us to Pokana was hard work, now in the heat of the day, although Mark chose a brilliant route and did the bulk of the bash. The reward was a late lunch in the shade of rocks.

It took us two hours to get here. Turning right, we walk along the ridge, always on the western side of the rocky and scrubby buttresses.
It’s stinking hot, but at this point we’re not sure where our next lot of water is going to come from. I’m grateful for the 3 litres on my back. Mark takes a swig from his bottle.
Tracey doesn’t like having her photo taken, but I reckon she looks pretty happy here, in amongst the mountains! You can see the less scrubby ramp we used to ascend on to the ridge on the left – it sits in the middle of the photo.
While the going wasn’t easy, it was pretty. Pokana Peak peaks between the rocks.
Jess leads the way forward. She has a particular knack of walking onto pads!
Looking back at the ridge we’ve just walked along. You can see why we sidled just under the rocky bits, it’s where the scrub is easiest.

I think we all knew we weren’t walking fast enough as a group, but it wasn’t easy to call it even though an early turn around and a swim in the lake may have been a more sensible use of time! Two turned around first, then a third, and finally, when we realised we’d be returning to camp in the early hours of the morning if we continued, the last of us also sensibly called it quits.

More sidling, looking back south. It’s not easy walking and we became rather strung out despite the regular stops. It was time to call it.

We all met back up at the creek and walked the rest of the way back together. We retraced steps except that we chose a different ridge to descend, which proved less scrubby and more direct. Dinner was at 10 followed immediately by bed. I got a glimpse of our cheeky furry friend that evening and thought it was a quoll. I was mistaken, but didn’t discover this till the following evening.

Having turned around we head slowly back, choosing a different ridge to descend. It’s a wise choice and we make it down to the bottom before it gets dark. We just had to walk the plain by moon or torch light.

I woke to find one of my clogs had been relocated, but was fortunately easy enough to find. I shook my head with a smile on my face, then got busy getting ready. The others had multiple items relocated as well. They were all due to paddle out, but Tim and I had our extra day. We figured we’d make the most of our bashed pad and head back for another crack at Pokana. Determined to learn from our very recent lesson in what not to do we’d decided to set the alarm early so we’d be ready to leave at 6.

The morning starts off well, a red glow to wake us up and plenty of cloud cover to keep things a tad cooler than the day before.

We said our goodbyes to those of the others who were awake early and headed off, noticeably fatigued from the 15 hours we’d been on our feet for the day before. We were sure we could move faster with just the two of us, but weren’t arrogant enough to be confident of this, and so we hit the slopes of the ridge hard. I was drenched before we got half way up because while it wasn’t a hot day yet, and the sun was still behind the clouds, it was humid.

We’re on the ridge in 1.5 hrs this time, drenched, but happy to have the big climb done.

We made good time along the ridge heading north to Pokana and found ourselves at the point we’d turned around after 4.5 hours of walking. We were almost moving twice as fast. This took a huge amount of pressure off and so we slowed the pace down and took longer rest stops. It was probably just as well, poor Tim had an unsettled gut and I can’t imagine how he managed to walk as he did in between loo stops. I was at my limit and I was fighting fit!

At the point we turned around in nearly half the time, we’re feeling good enough to slow things down. We decide to pop over the top of the ridge, then duck over to the eastern side. It proves to be a wise decision. Isn’t there a stunning rocky backbone to this ridge?

As it transpired, we’d turned around having done the hardest part of the walk. The ridge we were on was one with a rocky spine that hadn’t been any good for staying high. So we’d traversed under the rocky outcrops on the western side, which had been to that point a messy and slow process. But we were at a spot now when it made sense to climb on to the top of the ridge, and sure enough, the way forward was much easier. We scrambled down, crossed to the other side of the ridge, and then cut off the corner as we started heading more WNW on an intersecting ridge that would take us to the summit.

On top of the ridge, looking towards Pokana on the right. The going looks (and is!) easier from now onwards.

The scrub was mostly ankle to shin high, but in spots was deeper and thicker, making us lurch across the terrain like a pair of drunkards. It didn’t matter though – as tired and as ready as we were for some easier walking, the summit suddenly seemed closer and more achievable. Up we plodded, drenched in sweat and no extra energy in our legs, determination propelling us on. We climbed the final rocky outcrop to discover the summit cairn wasn’t a cairn but one of those concrete markers! It was 12:15 – we’d made it just in time for lunch.

Tim leads to just shy of the summit, then insists I do the honours.

We ate, let the others know we’d made it, chatted and enjoyed the views and the feeling of slightly drier shirts! It was hard to know what to look at: the Spires, the Dennison range, the POWs,or the more popular Western Arthurs, Frenchmans, Mt Anne and even Federation Peak. All were visible from the summit and it was understandably a tough one to drag ourselves away from.

On the summit, looking back along the ridges we’d walked. The tents are out of the photo to the left, where you can see just a little bit of the shore that should be underwater.
Looking towards the Dennison Range
North of Pokana the ridge looks like very nice walking. Pity we hadn’t had more of that!
The summit pillar of concrete. Lake Gordon and Clear hill in the distance

We had no choice though, if we wanted to get back for a swim before dark. The return is much of a blur. We took it in turns to lead, swapping after rest stops. Conversation came in short bursts, both of us focused on getting down and having very little energy for anything more than simple observations. We hadn’t done a huge amount of walking together, but were figuring out what worked in a relatively smooth way. Tim was another one of those easy to walk with kind of people (probably more so than me!).

A glance towards Humboldt on the way back.. I just liked the lines and patterns here.

We arrived back at the river at 5, all set for a 7-7:30 arrival back at the tents. It proved to be closer to the latter, largely because neither of us had knees that wanted to get up! We had entertained the idea of a flying fox on numerous occasions on this walk, but sadly one hadn’t materialised.

Plodding back, it’s a long way!

Across the ridge we moved, the slight incline feeling more than slight! And then finally it was time to drop off and down. We did plenty of sliding in the steeper parts, some bits more controlled than others. And then we were at the bottom, with just the open flat left. It had felt like an age the day before and it was no shorter this time round.

Finally, we just have the down to go!

A little red breasted robin greeted me at my tent as I set about sorting myself out in order of importance. Aching feet were keen to get out of boots and I couldn’t wait to get in some cold, cleansing water, even if it was now much cooler all round. It was absolutely wonderful! Dinner followed, and while I had plans of many grand things to fill the evening with I fell straight asleep for a couple of hours. I woke to the sound of the cheeky furry animal dragging one boot away and discovered it was in fact a Tassie devil! We had a few moments before he scampered off. I decided I’d best not leave anything in the vestibules!

We had entertained the idea of climbing the Pleiades before paddling out on our last day, but had called it off with Tim’s upset gut. Regardless, I’m not sure either of us wanted to see any more button grass and melaleuca for a while! So we had a lazy morning with no alarms to wake us, pottered around a bit, waited for the sun to peak out between the clouds and eventually packed up. All of this was accompanied by a chorus of frogs and the twitter of little birds.

The paddle back started off seriously, but part way along as the wind died down and the sun came out we drifted along chatting more than we paddled, neither of us in any great rush to leave the mountains for a whole heap of washing and packing away that we knew awaited us. A late lunch at the Possum Shed rounded off a pretty good trip – we can both recommend the Possum Shed BLT!

All up:

Day 1 paddle: 7.6km, 1:44hrs

Day 2 attempt: 16.3km, 14:55hrs, 1116m ascent

Day 3 actual summit: 19.7km, 13:21hrs, 1453m ascent