Keith Lancaster
Mountaineering in Tasmania 1931-71 Volume I, pp 30-32

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Note: This report has been scanned in as written. I have included the height, distance and time indications where used, e.g.:
(1000'- 12m.- 4.45p.m.)
which read as follows: height in feet - miles for the day - time.

[30] At 9 o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 25th 1934, I left Launceston alone on another effort to account for Stack’s Bluff. The weather seemed ideal for the project as not a single cloud intruded in the bright blue above, nor was the faintest breeze in evidence to mar the tranquility of the morning. Weather conditions had never appeared more favourable and to me it seemed apparent that, barring accidents, Stack's Bluff would at last favour me with its ascent. Upon the journey out the long contour of the great Ben Lomond plateau stood out in bold relief from the pale blue beyond while the bright sun illumined each peak and cranny in deep contrast to the intervening gorges and crevices. The very mountain itself seemed to smile a welcome.

I made easily the best time yet to Englishtown, accomplishing the journey in about two and a half hours. I had a hasty lunch, changed my footwear, made use of the camera, repacked and, after leaving my bicycle at Mr. Brown’s homestead, commenced my mission along the Ben Lomond track. At 11.55 a.m. I passed the timber mill which had just recently been erected near the creek, half a mile in from the road. Good progress was made along this familiar path which I found to be in good condition. Near the site of the previous trappers' hut, a new log but has been constructed but has no roof as yet. Perhaps one may be provided later on or the occupiers may prefer a portable canvas covering.

About 2p.m., a mile farther on at the southern end of the Bald Patch, which was just a grassy marsh at the time, I had my first spell since leaving Englishtown. A new wire fence has been erected here extending from Ragged Mountain to the Ben Lomond plateau with a branch fence veering to the south and finally turning westward where it reaches a chain of hills, the southern extension of the Ragged Mountain range. Another wire fence has been built from mountain to mountain crossing the track about two miles prior to the Bald Patch. The time of arrival at the Bald Patch and the subsequent time references are only approximate as I was without a watch. The above time, if correct, would put up new figures (five hours) for the total journey to this location but, even allowing for a substantial under-estimate of the time, our previous best figures would be easily eclipsed.

Across the clearing to the right, the eastern peak of Ragged Mountain rose rigidly above, its grim jaggedness being particularly pronounced and arresting. Running away towards the south, the mountain chain continues for about two or three miles but at a much lower altitude. Nevertheless, it loses none of its raggedness and, near the southern peak of the range, a curious thimble-shaped crag rises abruptly for about fifty feet (from memory) above the range. Owing to its steep sides this finger of rock may prove a difficult climbing proposition but that is difficult to ascertain at such a distance. I have previously observed this unique protuberance from the Main Road but imagined it to be on the Ben Lomond plateau.

On my other side Magnet Crag rose to a height of 4700’, only three hundred and ten feet less than my objective. South of here is a wide break in the level of the plateau, I having previously referred to it in my resume of our first Stack's Bluff attempt. After a ten minute respite I resumed my way which now led over unfamiliar and trackless country. I headed for the peak which brought up the southern limitation of the afore-mentioned mountain gulf and in due course I was in close proximity to its rocky walls. And what rugged walls they were too! Rising almost perpendicularly they presented a grand spectacle with their bare cliffs culminating in a ragged summit. But perhaps the most salient ‘feature' about them was the huge rock, about twenty feet high and five feet broad, that stood poised on the cliff edge, a few inches detached from the rest of the rocky summit, indicative of some future crash to the talus below.

[31] From here onwards the plateau continues at a more or less uniform height for some distance and, skirting the plateau edge, I followed it closely along. I had expected to reach the Nile a couple of miles from Bald Patch but as I plodded along I soon realized I had considerably under-estimated the distance. Since leaving the clearing I had descended slightly for about a mile and then kept on at about the same elevation. Naturally my route lay over fairly rocky country but I was not troubled by excessive tree-growth, although this was much in evidence in the gully which was descending on my right. Later on, however, the trees considerably limited my view and when, at length, I rounded a corner of the mountain wall and entered Speke Gorge, I found the vegetation much thicker. Fortunately, in keeping to a fair height, I was not unduly hindered by the growth in the gorge and I continued along at the same elevation well into the gorge so as to effect a ford as high up as reasonably possible and avoid making too early a descent and consequently a greater ascent on the other side.

From my position on its northern wall, Speke Gorge presented a scene of transcendent grandeur. The two mountain walls were about two miles apart at the entrance but they rapidly began to converge and heighten as they approached the interior of the plateau. Both walls of the gorge rose, but not rapidly, to a considerable elevation – the one on the north to probably about four thousand feet with the southern side soaring half a thousand feet higher. The southern end of the latter wall, also the most southerly visible point of the plateau, culminated in a peak, the slope of which bore a striking resemblance to Stack’s Bluff itself but its height would fall easily a thousand feet short of the latter. From the base of this peak a line of hills bore away to the west forming the low-lying chain of the Fisher’s Tiers.

Looking down into the depths of Speke Gorge, the River Nile, a mere ribbon of white, wriggles its tortuous way still deeper into the maze of plants and trees that grow more prodigious as the gorge descends. Higher up this mountain gulf, the river comes tumbling and seething amidst thunderous turmoil over the succession of rapids which continue practically throughout the entire length of the chasm.

After a mile’s ingression into the gorge, I descended to the river and luckily found a fording place and crossed the stream. The time was then about 4.40 p.m. and, as it appeared unwise to pursue my course farther for the day, I chose my camping site and set about preparing for the night.

I was undecided which course to follow from here on the morrow – whether to persist in skirting the plateau edge or to ascend to the plateau and strike out for Stack’s Bluff over the Cotton Moor. If I chose the former course I had a climb of about a thousand feet just ahead of me in order to cross the shoulder which connected Fisher’s Tier to the plateau and beyond that point I could not see what the conditions were like farther on. The transmontane route was equally uncertain but I resolved to favour it with a trial.

I found a well-sheltered spot for my camping place and built my fire against a fallen tree which had accumulated a large quantity of driftwood and debris around it. As the river had cast up a plentiful supply of driftwood on its banks during its flood periods, it was not long before I had a plentiful supply of fuel collected. Towards evening the sky had clouded a little and a strong northerly wind sprang up. After my evening meal the wind reached gale force and howled through the treetops with relentless fury, at times completely drowning the roar of the cataract, only thirty yards away. Later a sprinkling of rain added to my discomfort and continued throughout the night, banishing any prospects of sleep I may have entertained.

And such were the weather conditions throughout the night, but just before dawn the rain ceased. I kept a wary lookout on the [32] river and was prepared to vacate my cheery camp-fire should the waters commence rising rapidly and possibly prevent me effecting a crossing as late as the morning. The wind abated somewhat before dawn but a procession of fast travelling clouds moving up from the south bore testimony to a strong counter current overhead.

I breakfasted at daybreak and abandoned camp about 7 a.m.. The river had only risen about four inches overnight but this was sufficient to prevent me from utilising my earlier ford. However, I succeeded in making a crossing farther up over a large fallen tree. I did not deem it advisable to continue my journey southwards and once again had to admit defeat. The sky was overcast with clouds hanging low over the peaks on the plateau while the rising water in the river threatened to cut off my retreat if I delayed my crossing much longer.

Hoping to cut off a good margin from my outward journey of about eleven miles and gain a little time and perhaps a good view to the south, I determined to ascend the northern wall of the gorge and regain the same route on the other side. The rocks were slippery after the night’s rain and I had a few minor falls. I also had a deep cut inserted in my finger by a very sharp rock. I soon discovered I had erred in making this alteration in my return route for the spur was much loftier and broader than I had anticipated and I must have wasted a little time thereby. I had hoped for a glimpse of Stack’s Bluff from the summit but either the intervening plateau or low hanging clouds frustrated the possibility. The clouds were still hanging low all around and I lost no time in descending to the other side of the eminence and picking up and retracing my outward course.

I had been experiencing some difficulty with some blisters which had formed on both my heels owing to my socks being over-darned. Changing into my lighter pair, I received a small measure of relief but they still continued to impede my progress. In due course I gained Bald Patch and, pursuing the Englishtown track, reached the Halfway Spring, made a fire and lunched. Nearly an hour elapsed before I was again under way and I passed the timber mill at noon. Soon after I reached the road and, pumping up my cycle tubes, I began my ride homewards.

The wind had been increasing again during the morning and when I reached the Nile Road and received the full fury of the gale head on, I had difficulty in making any headway at all. I can never recall such a punishing ride before and I had to exert every ounce of my remaining strength to slowly crawl homewards. It was not until 4.20 p.m. that I reached Launceston entirely spent.

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