ALONG THE MUELLER RANGE
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.
This was a trip upon which last minute withdrawals reduced the number of our party from four to two, but the co-operation of Jack greatly assisted us in our plans to make a complete traverse of the Muellers. On Friday, March 4th. 1949, Jack and Trevor Daniel and myself left Arthur St., Launceston about 7 p.m. in fine and warm weather, but with a declining barometer and, using the Main Highway, and Derwent Valley road and the new Australian Newsprint Mills road from Kallista, arrived at a point well along that road (960'- midnight) and made camp for the night.

Astir soon after 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, we were away at 7.10 a.m. making a further 2 miles progress by car ere the unformed section of this well-graded, well-surfaced road rendered car travel impossible (1300'- 7.20 a.m.). The morning was warm with hardly a cloud above when we took our leave of Jack at 7.27 a.m. on the understanding that he was to wait for an hour in case we found this route towards the Adamsfield track impracticable. Jack was to return on Sunday night in the car to the Port Davey track entrance to pick us up on our return from Mt Mueller.

The half-formed section beyond had its muddy patches and gave frequent indications of coming to an end but, fortunately, it carried on in deteriorating fashion until it entered the Adamsfield track (1680'- 2m.- 8.5 a.m.) not far below the top of the Divide which we soon reached (1850'- 2m.- 8.17 a.m.). At 8.20 a.m. (a little before the time when Jack was to set off in the car), we struck off into the bush behind the site of the old Divide hut, using an old 'roo pad to improve the relatively easy going to the top of the first ridge. The ensuing flat, however, had its quota of ti-tree, bauera and cutting grass but we made the open button grass on the north-east slopes of Tim Shea (3m.- 8.58-9.5 a.m.) and had a clear easy ascent to the summit of Tim Shea (2900'- 3m.- 9.36 a.m.).

It was hot work ascended in the warm sunshine without a suspicion of a breeze but, soon after our arrival, clouds drifting in from the westward began settling down all around. The early view was grand - the Needles, Mt. Mueller, Field West and the Rasselas Valley peaks showing out to marked advantage. A hurried check on the nearby points revealed the following magnetic positions: Field East, 63 deg.; Florentine Peak and Wherrett's Lookout, 49; Field West, 48; Wyld's Craig, 35; Reed's Peak, 309; Mt. Wright, 302; Stepped Hill, 288; The Thumbs, 282; Needles, 211; High Rocky, 173 (approx.); then clouds.

With the clouds capping all the nearby peaks of any altitude and a developing uneasiness concerning weather possibilities, we left Tim Shea at 10. a.m. and descended south-westward to the button grass saddle connecting with the Needles. A steep but clear climb up the Needles ensued and soon we entered the cloud zone and gained the summit (3400'- 5m.- 11.5 a.m.). A snack on top and a recording of directions presaged our departure at 11.45 a.m.. A light wind had sprung up from the south west and was lifting the clouds gradually, both Tim Shea and the Needles being cleared at 11.35 a.m. but Mt Mueller was coated thickly. Unlike the grassy symmetrical dome of Tim Shea, the Needles present a most attractive appearance with many of the quartzite outcrops adopting spiral formations, giving eloquent proof to the aptitude of its name. The quartzite spires and chimneys accompanied us for some distance eastward (75-80 deg.) paralleling the Fields, before we inclined to the right and descended slightly to the trough of the saddle linking up with Mt Mueller (2720'- 6m.- 12.37 p.m). The course was then south (183 deg.) towards High Rocky, whilst the hitherto open button grass was replaced by low alpine scrub and cutting grass.

Passing over the brow of the first little rise, we descended a little right of our true course to enter a green shallow gully near a myrtle clump in search of water for dinner, but the recent dry spell caused us to be disappointed. Swinging back on to our course up the succeeding rise through increasing scrub, augmented by gum, ti-tree, etc., we reached the brow of that rise to overlook a heavily wooded gully dividing us from the slopes of High Rocky. Descending diagonally to the left towards where we believed a reasonable "col" must exist, we encountered tough going through dwarf myrtle, bauera, cutting grass, etc., gradually dropping down into the head of the gully below. Reaching the bed of the gully not far below the "col", we found we were too high up to encounter the water we were seeking but just a little way up the other side we successfully dug for it at a small soak and stopped for dinner (2700'- 8m.- 1.55 p.m.).

Slowness in obtaining water and boiling it delayed our dinner preparation and we did not resume until 3.10 p.m. with the sky very much overcast. Half way up the side of this rise, we encountered some old blazes which we followed for some distance before losing them. At the top of the rise (2900'- 8m.- 3.44 p.m.), there is a break in the gums, taken over by a small level patch of low scrub beyond which the mountain proper is contacted. The early ascent was not so good but, with the scrub dwarfing with mounting altitude, the bauera, cutting grass and myrtle lost its nuisance value. We reached the top of the ridge rather abruptly beyond tree-level (9m.- 4.40 p.m.) to find the rocks just beyond. Mt. Mueller was quite clear of cloud, which had lifted considerably. A short walk across a small flat and we climbed up the rocks to gain the plateau (4.50 p.m.), then swinging to the left to reach the summit of the central peak of Mt., Mueller, (3960'- 9m.- 4.53 p.m.).

What a glorious view must be able to unfold on suitable occasions! Even with the abundance of cloud and the approach of nightfall, we were able to score glimpses of all the nearby treasures. A sweep around the horizon revealed the Snowies, Jubilees, Picton, Hartz, Snowy, Weld, Adamson's, Pinder, Precipitous, Ironbound, Federation, Lot, Anne (178 deg.), the Arthurs, Bowes, Franklands, Wedge, many unknown ranges, Wing's Lookout, Clear Hill, Thumbs, Stepped Hill, Wright, Denisons, Needles, Wyld's, Tim Shea, Field West, Wherrett's Lookout and Field East and then low clouds intervened. The eastern peak of Mt. Mueller (at 113 deg.) and the detached south-west peak (245 deg.) both appeared higher points of the mountain than that which we occupied. The south-west peak, which is completely hidden from view in the Maydena valley, surprisingly appeared the highest and, in spite of approaching nightfall, we decided to ascend it prior to making camp. Leaving the central peak at 5.20 p.m., we descended to the "col" between the peaks. Then, discarding our packs, we clambered up the rocky wall of the south-west peak which rises steeply on both east and west sides to gain the summit (4080'- 10m.- 5.50 p.m.).

The encroach of twilight curtailed our stay on this summit and we departed at 6 p.m., reaching the "col" (10m.) at 6.18 p.m. and, resuming our packs, descended down the slope to the where a reasonably sheltered camp-site was apparent amongst the snow gums and artichokes on the stream-side below. After examining several sites en route, we were satisfied with our choice and pitched camp in the gathering gloom of the short alpine twilight (3240'- 11m.- 6.40 p.m.). More of the old blazes appeared in the vicinity of our camp and it is probable that these and those encountered farther back on the range represented a re-blazing of the old E.G. Innes 1896 track which evidently followed our route from the Needles to Mt. Mueller and then descended through the "col" and followed the small stream southward to reach the Port Davey track near its junction with the Gordon Bend track. There was no shortage of wood or water nor abundance of mosquitos to mar a pleasant night but time prevented the securing of a floral mattress to cover the bare earth. The night was cold but fine.

Arising at 5.30 a.m. next morning (Sunday), we found clouds covering all peaks of Mt. Mueller and not far above us, but they had risen substantially when we set off at 7.15 a.m.. The barometer, too, was rising. We climbed up to the top of the central peak once more to re-check on altitude (3960'- m.- 7.45 a.m.), resting until. 8 a.m. to permit the aneroid time to stabilise itself. Then we pushed on eastward to the next peak (3970'- 1m.- 8.10 a.m.) and then the easternmost peak of all (3960'- 8.15 a.m.) and, without waiting for a final compensation of aneroid readings later, it became obvious that the south-west peak was the highest point of High Rocky. The easternmost peak overlooks a pretty lake at its eastern foot (80 deg.) and, after fixing our course towards what we believed to be the Styx-Fourteen Mile Creek divide at 90 deg., we left at 8.25 a.m. and descended via the north-eastern slopes to swing back and reach the eastern shore of the lake (3180'- 2m.- 8.50 a.m.). The finding of some fine samples of marine fossils in the rocks at the water's edge plus the abundance of anaspides (our living fossils) in the water prompted our naming this lake "Fossil Lake". Situated in a delightful, sheltered setting underneath the steep cliffs of the eastern ramparts of High Rocky, Fossil Lake was one of the most charming spots encountered on the route.

Resuming at 9.23 a.m. with fossils (the non-living ones of course) occupying a considerable portion of our packs (to be augmented during the morning by some tree specimens for seasoning and polishing), we made good progress easterly down lightly timbered slopes until the gradual deterioration in the going, allied to the advent of the bauera and cutting grass, substantially decreased our speed. Arriving at an escarpment overhanging a wooded gully, we descended into pandanni and horizontal but found better going beyond the trickle. Continuing eastward, we discovered ourselves, at length, on the Styx side of the divide and had expectations of reaching the Port Davey track on that side at any moment. As time went on, the terrain altered and we came upon a substantial creek barring our way in a deep gully and flowing northward. We dropped down through easy myrtle to the creek (1250'- 7m.- 1.10 p.m.) and elected to have dinner.

We were confident this was Fourteen Mile Creek (the first creek mapped across our course) and had high hopes of gaining the Port Davey track on the other bank when we resumed at 2.10 p.m.. Our hopes were not realised, however, and we pressed on eastward beyond the ridge until, becoming concerned at our prolonged eastward route and thinking we may have crossed the track in a weak section without recognising it, we abandoned it (1470'- 8m.- 3.45 p.m.) and, turning left, descended into the gorge below and reached the creek in its bed (1130'- 9m.- 3.58 p.m.). This creek, flowing at 40 deg., was a trifle smaller than our dinner-time stream. We followed it down through, at first, easy going through myrtle and young horizontal, but deterioration soon set in. Fallen timber, ferns, and scrub made progress difficult and slow as the gully broadened and altitude decreased. At one stage, we left the creek to seek clearer going but were soon in a worse mixture consisting of ti-tree and macquarie vine. Back again at the creek, we pressed on and on as best we could, hoping to hit civilisation before nightfall. Presuming that the first stream we crossed was Fourteen Mile Creek, we imagined this stream might be the one which crosses the Port Davey track near its commencement at the end of the road and, if so, that we might come out near the car at any moment. However, we were obliged to seek camp in the gums on its bank at nightfall, choosing a reasonably clear spot (890'- 13m.- 7.35 p.m.).

We had tea and dried out our clothes (partly creek contact and partly perspiration) and retired into our mosquito-proofed tent at 10.15 p.m.. The dicksonia fronds made a fine mattress and we were reluctant to rise soon after 5 a.m.. The morning, like the previous afternoon, was cloudless and the barometer was still in the ascendant. At 6.35 a.m. we were under way down-stream. As on the previous afternoon, inability to see anything to give us accurate ideas re our bearings was a disadvantage. We soon encountered a mist-drenched patch of ti-tree and macquarie vine, which presaged our entry into unpopular growth of different characters. Soon we were in a wide valley with three streams running parallel and ultimately converging to form the Russell Falls River. Thick clumps of ti-tree and dogwood, huge fallen trees, bracken and man-ferns blocked the way, the only breaks being to use a tree fallen in the right direction or a dried billabong course. As the morning wore on and warmed up, this tedious mode of progress became more and more irksome, Trevor's worry being accentuated by a badly ripped pair of trousers. A hill resembling Pine Hill gradually came closer on our right and we proposed climbing it to seek our bearings. However, as it was Pine Hill, its ascent became unnecessary as we suddenly emerged upon the old tram track (830'- 4m.- 12.2 p.m.)!

In a much happier frame of mind, we followed the tram track up to the south in pleasant warm sunshine. Gaining the Port Davey track crossing (12.10 p.m.), we turned left along it, passing the old hut, finding a note from Jack and reaching the car some distance along the road (880'- 5m. 12.27 p.m.). It was obvious now that the first creek we crossed on the previous day was not Fourteen Mile Creek but an unmapped stream. On the other hand, the stream we followed down was Fourteen Mile Creek and it is fairly certain we would have reached the track had we crossed it instead and ascended the opposite hill for a while.

Our first thought was dinner and a change and we had both nearly completed when Jack returned from a walk to Maines. It was great lolling around in the semi-nude in hot sunshine after our bush experiences. But time would not permit our indulgence thus for long and we were off at 2 p.m., passing Maydena (820'- 3m.- 2.20 p.m.), National Park (510'- 11m.- 2.45-55 p.m.) and, after a stop en route, Granton (10'- 47m.- 4.40 p.m.).

A further break was made in the journey home at Jericho and we arrived home at 7.50 p.m..

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As no recent check-list of party members' tallies have been recorded, the following is the latest reckoning:
K. Lancaster 92,1,3,1,4,1,3,1 = 106
J. Daniel 38,1,3,4,1,1 = 48
J. Yates 27
H. Daniel 22
T. Daniel 12,3
N. Daniel 11,3
D. Daniel 6
J. Davis 6
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