Sunday 26 April 2015

Four Lakes and a Mountain: Part 4

If the weather is going to relent, we’re hoping it will be today. Today we plan to climb Mt Rogoona on our way over to Lake Myrtle. It’s our only mountain for this trip. And while we’re putting in weather requests, we’d quite like it to stay fine for our night by the lake shore. It is a sublime place, but certainly at its best when the weather is calm and kind.

[Climbing Mt Rogoona: It's not always like this Long John!]

We wake to an overcast sky. At least it isn’t raining, and hasn’t since early evening. These are hopeful signs. Then as we finish up breakfast, the grey clouds yawn and stretch, and quite soon they’re taking their leave.

With new optimism we slather on sunscreen, shoulder our packs and step outside to start the uphill climb. The sun strikes the still-wet shingle roof of the hut and generates a swirl of steam. By the time we reach the high point of the saddle we’re doing the same. There we drop our full packs, swig some water, and put essentials into day packs. From here it’s off-track and uphill to the summit of Mt Rogoona.

The contrast to our previous days is stark. The rain has been routed, with just a few wisps of cloud clinging to the mountain tops. The sky is an intense cerulean blue, and there is barely a murmur of wind. It would be churlish to complain about the hot climb, but we do have to work hard to gain the summit. If we needed encouragement the intricate alpine gardens, miniature tarns and dappled slabs of dolerite are an ever-varying delight.

[A mountain rocket garden on the slopes of Rogoona]

Rogoona’s is a summit I will never tire of visiting. The views stretch from tonight’s lakeside campsite far below us to the distant peaks of the Overland Track: the Pelions, the DuCanes and even Mt Olympus. As we stand on the sharp-edged summit, Long John and Libby, first time visitors here, are slack jawed, overawed.

[Group bliss on Mt Rogoona] 

Tim, Jim and I are enjoying it afresh, and also reminiscing about earlier visits to the summit. For the three of us a previous highlight was a close encounter with a young wedge-tailed eagle, which had “buzzed” us several times. As we settle down to today’s mountain-top lunch, a shadow falls across our improvised table. The eagle – or another eagle – is back!

[Close encounters with a wedge-tailed eagle]

Can there be such a thing as calm panic? If there is we approximate it, letting out gasps of awe, scrambling for our cameras, and doing our best to take in these brief moments in whatever way we can. The eagle flies directly over us, less than 10 metres above our heads, glides silently away, then circles back a few times. It has striking eye-like markings on the underside of each wing. It’s as though there are four eyes watching us.

Of course the eagle is just doing what comes naturally to a top predator. It is checking to see what is happening in its range. We could represent food, or possibly threat. For us, seeing an eagle at close quarters is anything but business-as-usual. The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax fleayii) is Australia’s largest bird of prey. It is a larger and heavier sub-species of the mainland wedge-tailed eagle, and has a wing-span of more than two metres. It is among the royalty of birds, world-wide, and we feel deeply privileged to be allowed such an audience. We had merely asked for a fine day on the summit. What kind of excess is this?!

After a few minutes the raptor drifts off westward, and is soon just a dark crease in the blue sky over the Du Cane Range. We return to the banalities of eating and taking group photos, but can’t resist talking about this epiphany all the way back to our packs. Even as we set up beside the still waters of Lake Myrtle, cradled beneath the now more distant peak of Rogoona, we’re reminded afresh of that visitation on the mount.

[Evening reflections, Lake Myrtle with Mt Rogoona]

If our hopes for a perfect, calm evening at the lake are realised, the wee hours bring a return to our earlier weather. In the morning we pack up slowly in persistent rain. It may be inconvenient, uncomfortable even, but having just experienced Rogoona/Myrtle perfection, it’s water off a duck’s back.

We follow a lesser-known route down from the lake to our cars. It is steep and wet, and the leeches make a spectacular comeback, keeping our stops to a minimum. But that’s fine, as we’re on a mission to get the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm in time for lunch. Our bodies have worked hard, our souls have been filled to overflowing. Now it’s time for some hot food!

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