Sunday 19 January 2014

Nights by a Highland Lake: Part 2

The lake says nothing. Nor do the trees, the birds, the mountain. Even the sky is quiet, showing the sun to bed; the moon and stars to their posts.

[Early evening at Lake Myrtle, with Mt Rogoona behind] 

We fuss around getting comfortable, as you must in a tent, before the silence begins to settle on us as well. It is a profound thing to be horizontal and quiet in such stillness.

We surface slowly in the morning; taking our time over breakfast; enjoying the superb scene from the campsite. It is calm and lightly overcast, a perfect morning for walking … and for sandflies. They hover around us in increasing numbers. We don’t have the terror of them that we would in New Zealand, as we’ve not known them to be nearly as fierce in Tasmania. But they are enough of a nuisance to get us thinking about moving.

Our recovery from the previous day’s walk has been good. Although we’re not rushing to heed Mt Rogoona’s “here am I, climb me!” siren call, my optimism is chattering away inside my head over breakfast. Lynne’s is less vocal. She feels good, but a pre-existing knee niggle is lurking.

We decide to go for “a bit of a wander towards” Rogoona. To me that’s code for getting to the top, but I don’t want to push it. We ascend the saddle between Lakes Myrtle and Lake Meston, taking our time, finding much to distract us, from flowering berries to a quickly-disappearing tiger snake.

[Cheeseberry (Cyathodes straminea) in fruit and flower]
At the saddle a cairn marks our turnoff. Once off track I’m prepared to follow my nose. This is my third time on the mountain, and the weather and destination are both clear enough. But we find large and obvious rock cairns on our route, and start to lock onto these. I relate to Lynne my tenuous faith in cairns: they may only tell us where somebody else was when they were lost. But being a newbie off-track walker she’s ready to see them as signposts.

[Pool with pencil pines near Mt Rogoona]
We slow down as the cairns become sparser and the going a little rougher. Our pace is slow, and we seem to spend as much time searching for cairns as actually walking. My for-once-clear memory of the ascent of Rogoona is that it is quite drawn out. And at the top I’m almost sure there’s one of those “oh no … surely not!” extra little scrambles. We reach a high point and sit down for a break. It turns into lunch, and quickly thereafter into our turn-around point. Lynne’s been doing the maths – with an increasingly sore knee in mind – and she realises it’ll be many hours before we get to the summit and back.

[An earlier summit trip, Mt Rogoona with Lk Myrtle below]
I’ve been to the top of Rogoona twice in recent years, so I’m only disappointed that Lynne won’t get to see that wonderful view. On the other hand it’s starting to cloud over again, so we’re not even assured of a view. I make one condition for my surrender: we won’t return via cairns. We’ll take what I’ve always called “the pretty way”. Family legend is that as a young child I used to nag my father to drive home via waterfalls or forested gullies. “Can we go the pretty way Dad??” Some things never change.

By going the pretty way and abandoning cairns we’re soon reaping rewards. The rocky, undulating flanks of Rogoona have been scoured and scooped during the ice ages. At intervals this has resulted in small pools, some fringed with pencil pines.

[Signs of hope: young pencil pines, Mt Rogoona]
For the next hour or more summits, cairns and knees are forgotten as we slowly wander from pool to pool. If we’re “lost”, it’s only in wonder. Each pencil pine discovery is like a significant find. Many hundreds of pines were killed by the 1980s fire in this area alone.

When we find a large mature stand in a sphagnum-filled hollow it feels like a triumph. Upwards of twenty thriving, conical trees are clustered together in perfect conditions. But at the margin of the grove we find several large dead trees. Their blackened trunks signal how close this fire got to taking out the whole stand. Further on we find a few young pines, and are glad at this sign of slow recruitment of trees where conditions are right.

[Pencil pines: survivors alongside victims of fire]
Reluctantly we leave the mountain and wander back towards the lake. But by now we have our eye in, and the return trip is slow, punctuated by stops to take in scoparia here, mountain rocket there, skittering skinks everywhere.

[Scoparia blooms] 
The bonus on our arrival back at the lake is the time and energy for a soak in its immaculate waters. We’ve learned, yet again, that just being among mountains can be as wondrous as being on top of them.

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