DOWN THE PILLINGER TRACK
by
Keith Lancaster
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Note: The reports have been scanned in as written. I have included the height and distance indications, e.g.:
(1000'- 12m.- 4.45p.m.)
which read as follows: height in feet - miles for the day - time.
Christmas 1948, was just another such occasion when I found myself without a hiking partner and was obliged perforce to undertake a solo jaunt. Taking advantage of securing a couple of passengers to Queenstown, I chose trying conclusions with the mountains down the Pillinger track, carrying my bicycle to help towards that end. Accordingly, on Friday, Dec. 24th., I left home at 6.10 p.m., picked up my passengers and was away at 6.20 p.m.. The weather had been very warm but, unfortunately, a cooler change was forecast. The usual route via Deloraine, the Lake Highway and Lyell Highway was followed, only one stop being made and that near the King William Creek hut (2580'- 114m.- 9.55-10.5 p.m.). I deposited my passengers at their Queenstown destination (160m.- 12.5 a.m.) and left 10 min. later, stopping near the West Lyell turn-off for the night (1400'- 164m.- 12.35 a.m.). The sky was overcast and the intermittent sprinkle of the last two hours was still in evidence as I turned in at 1 a.m..

I was astir again about 5 a.m., leaving at 6.35 a.m.. The sky still was cloudy, although clear to the east and the wind blew from the north. I was permitted by the management of the Royal Hotel at Linda to garage my car in the large derelict theatre which they used as a woodshed (900'- 2m.). Taking my hefty pack, I set off per cycle at 6.55 a.m., reaching the Pillinger track (1 m.) at 7.7 a.m.. The "road" is what remains of the North Lyell-Kelly's Basin Railway Line after the rails and sleepers were removed and the passage of time with the recent growth of scrub, several washaways, burnt and flood-affected bridges, etc. plus no maintenance and practically no traffic has left its mark. It is possible for a car to be driven as far as the Governor River but, for such an adventure, one would. need to possess good driving skill, no concern at the loss of duco sustained or the tyre damage and a certain amount of luck.

In my first few minutes on introduction to the Pillinger track, I encountered a very loose, stony surface with washaways, water pools and deterioration in scrub encroachments farther afield. After passing some huts about two miles out, the course forsook the hillside and struck out across the button grass where I lost 15 min. with tyre trouble. Soon after, I entered a wooded area above the King River which swings in through a forested gully. The going was sloppy in this area and the track rather overgrown. The King River Bridge, a single steel span over a broad, shallow, swiftly moving stream, was the next conspicuous landmark (720'- 7m.- 8.30-43 a.m.).

A little further along, car transport is halted by the absence of a bridge across the Governor River. A track swings upstream to the left where log-crossing exists and, leaving the bike on the homeward side (8m.- 8.53 a.m.) as the track journey appears negligible owing to the close approach of Mt. Jukes, my first selection. I crossed the stream and located the track on the other side at 9 a.m.. Leaving the track a little further along (750'- 1m.- 9.15 a.m.), I crossed the Baxter River almost immediately, ascended a bracken-covered hill on the other side and then over a couple of more small hills to reach Traveller's Creek at the base of Jukes (780'- 2 m.- 9.50 a.m.).

The sun was out now and the day was hot and sultry. After consuming some chocolate, I resumed at 10.2. a.m., climbing steeply to the top of the foothill ahead and, edging to the right, to the top of another ridge to descend slightly to a tiny creek and have lunch (1400'- 3 m.- 10.50-11.30 a.m.). Topping the next ridge, I discovered the way to Jukes barred by a deep gorge and I investigated the prospects higher up the ridge. When things looked blackest, the col between the ridge and Jukes proper was revealed and, although the reaching of this narrow "North Col" was hard work indeed, its attainment paved the way for an easy ascent of Jukes from the N.N.E. (3800'- 4m.- 2.9 p.m.).

From the summit of Jukes the north wind had a cooling effect, whilst light clouds and haze were increasing. A very extensive panorama unfolds itself from Jukes. My compass shots were rather hurried and, consequently only approximate owing to a loose screw in the box: Mt. Dundas, 333 deg.; Mt. Lyell, Mt. Geikie, 353; Mt. Tyndall, 355; Mt. Murchison, 356; Mt. Sedgwick, 358; Mt. Huxley, Mt. Owen, 360; Quartzite Hill, 19; Eldon Peak, 22; Pelion West, 33; Eldon Bluff, 35; Mt. Ossa, 38; High Dome, 43; Rifle Sight, 44; Acropolis, 47; Guardians, 50; Mt. Gould, 52; Mt. Manfred, 55; Mt. Cuvier, 59; Mt. Byron, 61; Gould's Sugar Loaf, 64; Mt. Olympus, 66; Mt. Hugel, 72; Mt. Rufus, 74; Mt. Gell, 77; Mt. King William 1st., 85; Frenchman's Cap, 110; King River bridge, 68; Clytemnaestra, 115; Fincham, 114; Mt. Darwin, 170; Kelly's Basin, 180; Mt. Sorell, 185; Mt. Strahan, 207; Macquarie Harbour entrance, 250; Queenstown aerodrome, 325; "North Coll", 333.

Leaving Mt. Jukes at 2.53 p.m., I moved southward along the plateau towards Mt. Darwin, the next objective, hoping to establish camp reasonably close that night and to gain Mt. Sorell also, via the low ridge connecting both mountains. It was fairly easy going with little scrub to hamper one. I descended to the lowest part of the Jukes-Darwin saddle and chose to camp near the headwaters of the Andrew River in the button grass on the leeward side of a slope which was at the foot of a steep ridge rising towards Darwin (1600'- 7 m.- 5 p.m.). A light sprinkle had commenced soon after leaving Jukes and it was obvious that the expected cool change was about to materialise. Low clouds were settling all around. With plenty of time for camp preparation, I prepared an excellent repast and a substantial button grass mattress and retired about 8 p.m..

Rain came down steadily during the night, but the new one-man japara tent stood the test well. Up about 5.30 a.m. in the morning (Sunday, Dec. 26th.), I prepared breakfast and packed with little hindrance from the weather and, as I left at 6.45 a.m., it appeared that the weather would improve. But, alas, the rain was soon on again and clouds were dropping down all around as I ascended the hill (Conglomerate or Snake Peak) ahead. Reaching the top of the hill (2400'- 1 m.- 7.35 a.m.), the cloud-fog was so thick that visibility was confined to a few yards. I descended at 200 deg., hoping to locate a high col connected to Mt. Darwin. A short descent brought me to the expected col and a further scrub-free ascent brought me to the crest of the long clear ridge leading towards Darwin and which I had seen yesterday. This ridge was followed to the S.E. until it started to fall away.

The persistent dense cloud-fog would permit no clue to Darwin's whereabouts, so I chose a descent to the S.W.. Soon I located a stream at the plateau edge, below which a track could be seen descending below the cascades. I decided to keep the track in mind for the return journey. Continuing to the S.W., I crossed another rise and descended to a larger creek, again coming from the N.W.. As there must be some nearby high ground to feed these streams, I inclined my course to the westward and, practically immediately, found myself ascending something really high and, fairly obviously, it must be Darwin at last.

The early climb was steep and the higher I went the more I became a victim to the strong north-westerly, which persisted in blowing my cape over my head, exposing my body to the elements. The climb tapered approaching the top and the last couple of hundred yards were very easy going (3050'- 4m.- 9.23 a.m.). Normally the view from Mt. Darwin's exposed summit must be very fine indeed, but today a 20 to 30 yds. limit was imposed by the omnipresent cloud-fog. I was thoroughly wet through and the cold westerly wind with the continuous rain made conditions most unpleasant. My plan had been to descent Darwin to the west and use the narrow low saddle to gain Mt. Sorell but, with the hazard of finding the low saddle in the fog increased by a defect in my compass, it seemed unwise as well as unattractive to adhere to my original plan.

Thus it was I abandoned my attempt at Mt. Sorell and left Mt. Darwin at 9.40 a.m. for the track I had seen earlier in the morning and prospects of gaining the plains below before dinner. I descended at 40 deg., managed to locate the point from which I had ascended Darwin, crossed the two creeks and gained the track just below the cascades (2000'- 5m.- 10.15 a.m.).

The track was wide and a very easy grade, looking ever so easy as I started off to the left around the side of the high ridge. The creek, I had just crossed, plunges over a high waterfall just before uniting with the other creek in the deep gorge below to form Allan's Creek. The fall is easily visible and audible from the Darwin settlement below.

I was soon in difficulties on the track - bauera, ti-tree, banksia, cutting grass, cheese-wood, etc. completely overgrowing it in places. I persevered with the track, however, despite the fact that it adopted the form of a huge zigzag and made little descent. Becoming ultimately fed-up with the increasing wet scrub to be surmounted, I left the track and struck out for the button grass patch below. However, I regained the track in a few minutes where its descent was more direct and, although it was still somewhat overgrown, its assistance was invaluable. In one place I thought I had lost the track as I paddled down the stony, slippery bed of a narrow stream but events proved I was on the track all the time. An abandoned hut site was passed on the way down and, eventually, the scrub gave way to open button grass and I entered what was once the Darwin settlement on the North Lyell - Kelly's Basin Railway. The first hut I reached was without a roof, whilst the second was without a chimney but appeared to be used by an occasional visitor. This I chose for my midday habitat (750'- 7m.- 11.22 a.m.).

The rain had eased to a light drizzle and visibility in the low country was fairly good, although all the surrounding hills were cloud-capped. The cloud were dropping even lower into the valleys about 1 p.m.. In the meantime, I had lighted a fire in the shed, secured water from the nearby Allan's Creek, cooked and ate a good dinner, and dried out all my clothes including the tent. At 2.15 p.m., I was off again in a light drizzle, northward bound.

The route along the remains of the old railway track (it was not constructed until about the beginning of the century, but its life was short) varied little from that encountered further north, except that it is more overgrown, wetter and less evenly graded. Little of interest was there to see. A siding to the Crotty copper mine and the site of a hut or two plus a few tracks on nearby hills was all that was left to remind one of the days of habitation. I crossed the Governor River on the logs and pumped up the cycle tubes (730'- 13m.- 4.20 p.m.), but a lifted patch delayed my resumption until 5.10 p.m.. A light sprinkle still persisted and clouds were hanging low.

Crossing the King River (720'- 14m.) at 5.15 p.m., all went well until more tyre trouble occurred in the myrtles. Effecting repairs, I encountered increasing rain and was quite wet through when I reached the paling splitters' huts under the Owen foothills (820'- 18m.- 6.30 p.m.).

With both huts locked, I had no recourse but to camp in the stable. The heavy rain blotted out any hope of a fire in the open and none was possible within the confines of the stable. A cold tea over, I was faced with the problem of combating the myriads of mosquitoes coming in from the button grass. Success was achieved by using a large carton and my tent as a mosquito net and a reasonable night's sleep was obtained.

Next morning dawned fine with the clouds higher, but still covering the sky. A fire, a dry-out and breakfast prefaced my departure at 7.20 a.m.. The remaining journey back to the car at the Royal Hotel, Linda was uneventful, although a light sprinkle re-appeared (900'- 3m.- 7.57 a.m.).

Yesterday's hopeless weather had forced an amendment to my programme. The prevailing uncertainty in the day's weather hardly merited a return south to Mt. Sorell. It appeared a choice between Mt. Huxley and Mt. Sedgwick and I had chosen the latter. Thus it was I left Linda with a light pack at 8.30 a.m. in fine, warm weather and ascended to the crest of the high ridge of Mt. Lyell to the northward (2500'- 1 m.- 9.42-50 a.m.), and descended into the Comstock valley via the creek which descends steeply through the cheese-wood towards Sedgwick.

Locating a track at the foot of the main descent (10.30 a.m.), I soon exchanged it for a fainter branch which made better direction. This soon terminated in the bed of a small creek flowing into the Comstock, and I was obliged to battle through some bad scrub - the cutting grass being very bad - before I reached its confluence with the Comstock (1000'- 3 m.- 11.10 a.m.).

Immediately crossing to the northern side I followed the creek up a few yards before pushing through the reeds to secure a track running east-west (11.23 a.m.). Parting company with this track after following it a few yards to the east, I headed for Sedgwick to the north through scrub and bracken, soon locating a faint track which crossed a small creek (4 m.- 11.30 a.m.). A better track soon was entered and this led up the valley of the large creek which rises under Sedgwick's peak. Crossing this creek (4 m.- 11.40 a.m.) the ascent commences in earnest as a main track is entered. A well-defined branch on the left led me back to the creek and to the base of a long semi-clear ridge which connected directly with the peak and which I had chosen as the best means of ascent from back on Mt. Lyell.

I had lunch at this creek crossing (1550'- 5 m.- 11.55 a.m.- 12.40 p.m.) in warm sunshine which had succeeded, in alliance with the north wind, in drying out the bush. The track soon faded out on the ridge but, ascending through the cutting grass, I soon located a higher track. These tracks seem to abound in this vicinity and appear to have been used for the extrication of timber, palings, etc.. Unfortunately, they are not very helpful in making progress towards the summit ahead and swing backwards and forwards but make only gradual elevation. By pursuing the last track, I made a little further progress up the cutting grass ridge but soon I found myself above the track country.

It was at this stage that the lack of sleep during the last three nights in compensation for the energy so lavishly expended, was showing its mark. My slow progress soon brought it home to me that time would not permit reaching the top of Sedgwick and return to the car that day.

The ridge ahead, too, seemed to be increasing in vegetation and the looming dark clouds threatened a poor reception for a benighted traveller. It was under these circumstances that I gave up the struggle (2020'- 6 m.- 1.15 p.m.) and chose to return.

Using a slightly different route down the ridge, I regained the main track further eastward, swinging back to cross the Sedgwick Creek (8m.- 2.5 p.m.) at the outward point. Both the north wind and the clouds were increasing now. I recrossed the smaller creek below to emerge at the Comstock just below my outward crossing (1000'- 8 m.- 2.25 p.m.) and elected to follow it downstream until better going showed out on the southern bank. Leaving the Comstock at 2.40 p.m., I had a short battle with some mixed scrub to reach open reed country, but this proved less practicable than expected as the reed was thick and made uphill progress slow and tiring.

I was tired when I reached the track which girdled Mt. Lyell nearly half way up (9 m.- 3.30 p.m.). I elected to follow it eastward rather than attempt the steep climb ahead in my weakened condition. The track was rather overgrown with the reeds but, around the frequent creeks, it was very awkward pushing through the scrub which had taken charge. It was after one such encounter that I left the track (11 m.- 4.30 p.m.), climbed to the crest of the low saddle above (12m.- 5 p.m.), discovered that it extended into a triple ridge beyond, surmounted all three and descended southward via an old logging track I located (5.15 p.m.), later abandoning it and dropping down to a car track from which I gained the Lyell Highway near the water race (13 m.- 5.45 p.m.). From here it was an easy stroll up the road to reach the car (900'- 15m.- 6.15 p.m.).

About an hour later I drove out to the King River Picnic Ground to camp for the night, which provided further rain.

After dinner next day, I returned to Queenstown, collected my passengers and returned home to Launceston, arriving there about 9 p.m..
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