REPULSE ON BLACK BLUFF (4381’)
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On Tuesday, July 3rd, 1934, I set out from Penguin at 6.10
a.m. upon an attempt to gain the peak of Black Bluff. I was taking advantage
of a short holiday at Penguin to essay the climb and
At 6.35 a.m. I reached Ulverstone (7 miles) and, taking the Gawler road, I rode southwards passing through Gawler (9 miles), Sprent (13 miles) and Nietta (22 miles) to reach the Loongana turn-off (26 miles) at 9.35 a.m. after a grueling uphill ride and encountering some very steep hills. Fortunately I was in the very height of condition when I began my ride and I have seldom felt more fit and, although I had averaged a speed of less than eight miles per hour, the time was really good, bearing testimony to the steepness of the hills, none of which I was obliged to walk over.
I erred by not taking the Loongana road and I did not discover my error until I had ridden about three miles along the Smith's Plains road and sought information at Dalco's Timber Mill. Here I was told that a very good track existed at the end of the road and that the track would bring me right on to the top of the mountain about four miles away. I decided to adhere to this advice and remounted my bicycle. Two miles farther on the metalled road ceased and merged into a muddy cart track. Soon after passing the homestead at the end of the road, a track turns off on the left, just before the true route crosses a small creek. Hereabouts several small cart and foot tracks lead off on the left while another cart track shoots off on the right and it is near here that the true track to the mountain is located. For identification purposes it is a foot track in good condition but has not been used by carts owing to it narrowness.
I had abandoned the bicycle soon after passing the last homestead and, after changing my cycling shoes for my more durable heavy boots, had commenced my foot journey at 10.30 a.m. A quarter of a mile had sufficed to put me in possession of the foot track which I fortunately located without the slightest difficulty. The track led me westwards and at an easy grade to the top of the plateau of the Black Range. It was then 11.20 a.m. and I had left my bicycle nearly three miles behind. An unusual feature about the track was the plentiful supply of quartz through which it passed and indeed the whole rock formation of the range in that quarter seemed to vary considerably in composition to that of other mount¬ains with which I have become acquainted.
Then commenced a long walk across the uneven and undulating surface of the plateau towards the north-west where Black Bluff was visible. All the morning the pinnacle of this mountain held a small cloud cap but, with the increasing velocity of the easterly wind, cloud conditions steadily became worse. Clouds were hanging low all around me and the only view from the plateau was towards the south-west where a couple of nearby peaks were able to be seen. I pressed on along the plateau as fast as possible and after covering about two miles I passed between the eastern edge of the plateau and a deep gully which almost bisected the range and descended away to the south-west. Another two miles of walking and climbing and zigzagging to avoid thick sheets of snow brought me to the foot of the pinnacle of Black Bluff at 1.10 p.m.
The clouds had surely became thicker and hung low all over the plateau and if I had not been within what I thought to be a reasonable distance of the peak an hour before, I would have retreated. With only about five or six hundred feet to climb I could have added yet another mountain to my list of achievements but a mile back I had began to doubt whether this really was the highest point of the mountain as an elevated point on the plateau farther northwards with a thick covering of snow appeared to outrival the other peak in altitude. However, I have since learned that the first peak is the true ‘pinnacle’ of Black Bluff (4381’).
The clouds rapidly thickened and I could see no more than twenty yards in any direction and it was plainly obvious that the time had long since expired when I should have began my retreat. I struck out at top speed in an effort to retrace my steps by the way I had come but, without a compass or a familiar landmark to guide me, it is not surprising that I was soon in trouble. After covering about a mile I arrived at the edge of a deep gully running away to the right. As I had lost altitude somewhat since leaving my former position, the clouds were not nearly so thick and I could see that the gully was rather steep and deep. Unless I had turned in a circle, which was hardly likely, it was apparent that a gorge leading to the right was heading westward and at all costs I should not take that direction as it was many miles to the nearest homestead and the bush is reputedly thick. Therefore I wheeled to the left, following the gully up and crossing it. While ascending the other side, I was subjected to cramp and it took quite a time to force it from my legs although I continued all the while.
Then, luckily for me, the clouds thinned a little overhead and for a brief moment the blurred outline of the sun appeared. Only for a moment was it visible before the clouds again thickened but that brief instance was quite long enough for me to pick up my bearings. At first I had been travelling south-west and then had turned southerly. The track lay about three miles somewhere to the south east but there appeared little prospect of picking up with it again under such conditions, so I decided to take no chances and, heading due east, I soon arrived at the edge of the plateau at 1.50 p.m..
I was on the edge of a steep cliff - how steep the clouds refused to reveal - but the sooner off the plateau the better for me so I looked about for some way of descent. Then followed my best climbing achievement to date. With the aid of the few bushes which managed to obtain a precarious existence on this almost sheer rocky wall and using what opportunities the ledges and crevices on the cliff-side afforded, I slowly wormed my way down the precipitous mountain-side. I reached the foot of the cliffs (about six to eight hundred feet high) about a hundred yards on the south side of a waterfall which plunges over the same cliff.
The weather looked anything but promising as rain had been sprinkling on the plateau and a shower or two at least seemed assured that night. I headed towards the north-east where the nearest settlements were located but I found the bush almost impenetrable. Using my weight and doubling up into all manner of shapes, I slowly made my way forward. Betwixt the cliff climb and the bush penetration, my clothes suffered considerably and unless I could greatly increase my rate of progress it was obvious that I would have to spend the night in the bush without food or fire as I had not bothered to include matches in my pack. After I had proceeded for about half a mile, I had the immense good fortune (how else can I describe it but an act of providence?) of stumbling into a wide track. It certainly did not have the appearance of being much used of late but still it was a track and, although it trailed away towards the east, it must lead out upon a road somewhere and almost anything was preferable to facing that stubbornly resisting undergrowth again.
I had proceeded about a hundred yards along this forest path when another track crossed it at right angles. I hesitated a moment to consider which route to pursue - the northerly or the easterly - and my decision favoured the latter trail as it was a little the wider. The other track, I have a since learned, was probably the main track from and to Black Bluff via Paddy's Lake and it would have taken me on to the Loongana road after from one to two miles walking.
As I continued along the track, it became more and more overgrown and trees and logs had fallen thickly over the path. It appeared certain that I was on an abandoned log track leading to a timber mill, possibly also abandoned. My legs were becoming very weary and their strength felt inadequate to support my body but my discomfiture was accentuated by what I attributed to be some rubbish in my left boot. As the day was drawing on, time seemed too precious to lose by inspecting the offending boot so I pressed onwards. Once I had difficulty in following the trail but it became plain again later and the scrub gradually began to thin out. My walk had deteriorated into a limp and I could no longer withstand the pain of my heal so I removed my boot and found that the heel of my thick sock had worn through and, doubling up, had caused a large water blister to form on my heel, the blister in turn being skun. Upon resuming, I soon observed signs of man's recent occupation and later I reached a small ploughed patch in a clearing. Half a mile farther on I limped out on to the road at the Loongana Timber Mill. It was now about 4.30 p.m. and I must have walked about six miles along the track. Throughout the day I had only about three or four spells none of which would exceed five minutes in duration and, but for my excellent condition, I would have not come through so well.
I was in a sorry plight when I gained the mill - tattered, footsore and almost exhausted. Upon inquiring my bearings I was told that the nearest practical route to my bicycle was seven miles :in length and, as that lay mostly through the bush, the encroachment of darkness left my chance of utilising it successfully very remote. I had three alternatives offered me - firstly, I could walk the road distance of eleven miles, secondly, wait until about 9 p.m. and receive a lift to within five miles of my cycle and thirdly, spend the night in a spare bunk at the camp. As I doubted my ability to accomplish the walk under such adverse circumstances and I did not relish riding the bicycle in the darkness over the winding, hilly road, I chose the latter course and gratefully accepted the proffered hospitality so generously extended me.
During the night a few heavy showers fell and when morning broke the sky was heavily overcast. At 9.30 a.m. I obtained a lift in a motor truck from the mill for about three miles, all up a steep rough hill. On the way I had a good view of the Leven River gorge which furrows its way through some wild and very hilly country. It is in this gorge, within easy access of the road, that the renowned Hell's Gates are situated, presenting a unique but inspiring spectacle where the Leven dashes amidst thunderous turmoil between the narrow passage created by those two rocky walls, so close together that one can easily step across the chasm.
At 10 a.m. I left the truck and struck off across a clearing in the direction of Dalco's mill which I passed, at length reaching my bicycle at 11.30 a.m. after a four mile tramp. I found the bicycle none the worse for its night in the rain and my heel felt much easier when I had changed into my cycling shoes. At 11.40 a.m. I mounted my cycle amidst a light shower of rain and at 12.25 p.m. I was negotiating the sharp turns above a pretty gully just before reaching the Central Castra turn-off. The down hill ride was much appreciated and, keeping up a moderate pace, I reached Penguin at 2.15 p.m. just in time to avoid some further heavy rain.
The winter weather to date has been very mild and snow is not plentiful
on any of our mountains in the north but I would say there in more snow
on Black Bluff at present than any other peak in the northern half of
the state with the exception, perhaps, of the high peaks in the Cradle
Mt. area. I had hoped to obtain a good view of the central and western
Tasmanian peaks from the heights of Black Bluff but, unfortunately, the
clouds intervened and denied me the opportunity. From my benefactors at
the Loongana Timber Mill I learned that the main track to the mountain
starts from the second house west of the mill and proceeds by way of Paddy’s
Lake. This trip should not prove too severe for a one-day trip from Penguin
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