Nescient Peak has one of those unfortunate reputations of peaks whose Abels’ status is merely one of mathematical chance rather than any long standing historical interest in climbing its summit. An old TASMAP I have of the area from the 1970s simply labelled the high point “1100”. Owners of the original 1994 edition of The Abels Vol. 1 will find it notably absent from its pages too. Its qualification as an Abel was not discovered until years later, and its now-official name ratified in 2008 in honour of this oversight, so the story goes…
Date: 3rd January 2020 – Summit: 1125m
Distance: About 11km total (including the short run down to Lake Bill).
Time taken: Approximately 3 hrs.
Difficulty: The Abels says ‘medium’ and I’d tend to agree. While short, the initial climb up the Lake Myrtle Track is quite steep and, as of the time of writing, there’s a considerable amount of trees blown onto the track to clamber over too. There’s apparently a cairned/taped route from Blizzard Plains to the summit however I didn’t come across it, and found off track walking through the slowly regenerating forest a painless affair.
Type of track: The initial section along the Lake Myrtle Track is a formally marked pad. Off track/cairns for the final kilometre.
Access from: Mersey Forest Road.
Being a low, tree-covered summit in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park – where oh so many other, higher peaks with better views lie tantalisingly nearby – probably hasn’t helped Nescient Peak’s reputation. Nor, I suspect, old stories of frustratingly dense scrub to push through as the summit was neared. The devastating fires of 2016, however, burnt out much of the understorey around the Lake Myrtle Track and the approach to Nescient Peak from the north-east, and for the short term, access is now much easier.
Tracey had previously summit’d Nescient Peak with her walking group and – describing the walk succinctly as “really, really boring” – couldn’t be convinced to make a second visit so I could add the peak to my tally. Drizzly weather and a similar lack of enthusiasm in our group thwarted any attempt on our return trip from Mt Rogoona back in 2018, and so it sat on my ‘solo trips’ list patiently, waiting for circumstance and a few free hours to oblige.
Eventually that chance came on a return trip from Cradle Mountain, after dropping our brother-in-law and a mate off to commence their Overland Track trek. With a 50K race in New Zealand coming up in February, any chance to don on the trail runners and get in some decent training was more than welcome. The standard day-pack was ditched for a running vest, though the gaiters were packed at the last minute in case the snake risk was deemed too high for bare legs 😛
Whilst making the less-than-minor detour through Sheffield for fuel before heading down to Mersey Forest Road I noticed increasing amounts of smoke filling the air. A quick check of the Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS) website confirmed this thankfully wasn’t a fire burning in the area, but instead smoke blown across Bass Strait from the Victorian and NSW fires that sadly had been raging for several weeks over Christmas and New Year.
The Lake Myrtle Track commences from Mersey Forest Road about 6km further south from the recently improved – and extremely busy – Walls of Jerusalem car park. The dilapidated sign-in book was a true indicator of the state of the track itself, with dozens upon dozens of fallen timber strewn across the track to climb over in the first couple of kilometres. This wasn’t much a problem for moi with a lightweight vest on, but I did feel sorry for the stream of tired guided walkers completing their week-long WoJ tours trying to negotiating the mess of timber on the very steep bank.
Both the fallen timber and sharp climb eased somewhat after the first kilometre, as the track snaked its way south through the fire-ravaged euculypt forest. Regeneration in this area will be slow; while the bracken fern and understory was green and vibrant, the trees themselves still bear the damage from almost four years ago.
The track veered south west as the initial climb is completed and the understorey opens up to low grass. The otherwise obvious track got vague in a couple of spots around here where I briefly lost it, but came across an old relic for former forestry in the area in the process.
The track meandered its way up a gully through denser brush for about 500m until the northern end of the Blizzard Plains was reached, barely 30 mins from the car park. This surprisingly large, open expanse of marsh drains down to the picturesque Lake Bill. The pad skirted the north-western rim for a couple of hundred metres until I came to its westernmost extent.
I knew at this point the summit of Nescient Peak lied almost exactly one kilometre west-sou-west. My plan was skirt just north of the lower hill that lies slightly south-east of the main peak, drop down into another open marsh just behind it, then make the final climb to the summit itself. Apparently there is a cairned and taped route from around this point, but I found no signs of any worn pad, so with gaiters donned and the Garmin locked on the summit, I started walking a straight line to it.
The first few hundred metres of button grass and fire damaged tea tree presented little issue, as did the initial climb over the minor hill. The fire has left the soil bare and rocky, making for easy walking but a rather desolate environment to be in. The only real obstacles encountered were the mess of dead and dry timbers. Oh, and I got a minor scare when a huge swarm of bees or wasps suddenly buzzed overhead. Fearing I’d disturbed their nest I gained pace rather noticeably for a moment until realising I wasn’t their target!
Soon, I’d arrived at the small marsh just east of the summit. This area is notable for its lack of fire damage, compared to the areas either side of it. This is fortunate as a fair stand of irreplaceable Pencil Pines lies to its western edge. Far too many examples of this exquisite but painfully slow-growing alpine tree have been lost to fires over the last 100 years.
Pushing further west through small section of dead tea tree, the route steepened sharply and I found myself climbing up a very barren, rocky section almost entirely devoid of notable regrowth. A minor rock outcrop provided a relatively clear view north of Lake Rowallan and Clumner Bluff, as well as the encroaching smoke from interstate.
With trees still densely shielding the top of Nescient Peak, despite the fires, it was hard to gauge where the actual top was as I approached. After about 1hr 30mins the summit cairn appeared suddenly and un-dramatically into view.
Suffice to say, I’d duly suppressed my expectations for views from the top, and while the bushfires have no doubt opened up the surrounding forest canopy compared to its former glory, a clear vantage of pretty well anything interesting is hard to come by. Lake Rowallan can be made out to the north, to the south the shape of Mt Rogoona, but barely. To the west, the forest canopy that survived the worst of the fires blocks any meaningful view of other peaks in the area.
With nothing much else to gaze upon, I made my return journey, retracing my steps back to Blizzard Plains without difficulty and of course with gravity lending a hand. The day was turning out to be another scorcher, so having made good time so far, I decided to quickly run south to Lake Bill to check it out and refill my near-empty bottles. The water from the lake proved disappointingly warm however the views were apt compensation, with the shapely Mt. Rogoona providing a worthy backdrop to the lake.
Curiosity and whistle whetted, there was nothing left to do but make the return journey back to the car. The now-downhill route providing great trail running and a change to stretch out the legs. Predictably, the return journey was much quicker and I was back at the trail head comfortably within three hours.
While the usual reward of a stunning mountain view isn’t really to be found, Nescient Peak is still a worthy hike and shouldn’t be written off as just a ‘box to tick’ by Abel-baggers. The walk itself is pleasant and relatively easy – there’s enough elevation to make you work for it – and while much of the forest will take a decade or longer to return to its former glory, it’s still lovely to walk through and see the process in action.
Only the dedicated would make a special trip just to claim its summit, maybe, but as a side trip on longer adventure to Mt. Rogoona et. al. there’s no real excuse. All mountains are worthy – even the ignorant ones 😉