Keith Lancaster 

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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.

On Friday, March 3rd. 1961, a party of 16 left Launceston at 7.30 p.m. in the L.W.C. bus on a projected visit to the Loddon and King William Ranges. Another party of two was to set out from Launceston on Saturday, pick up two at Poatina and join us on the King Williams during our long weekend excursion. We travelled via Poatina and Miena, but a delay in bypassing a locked gate on the road offset any advantage the new route may offer. We did not reach the King William hut until after midnight.

Astir reasonably early on Saturday, we breakfasted and set off westward in the bus at 8.10 a.m. over King William Saddle and down Surprise Valley, parking the bus just off the highway about ½m. east of the patrolman's hut. Except for three of the girls who were returning to the bus that night, all took 3-day packs and set off at 8.45 a.m. down the southern side of the road. Our first mountain objective, Mt. Ronald Cross, lay at 137 deg. mag., rising steeply above the Surprise Valley. We had planned the trip to take advantage of last summer's fire which had razed the thick forest on the slopes of Mt. Ronald Cross and opened up an accessible route, though badly scarring one of our prettiest forests.

We crossed the Surprise River at 9 a.m., one member entertaining us with an impromptu dive. We made early position to the base of the climb up the mountain and soon were climbing steeply. We encountered limestone outcrops quite soon, some of which were very broken. Several rests seemed necessary at this juncture and along the upper section where we encountered resistance from both the burnt and unburnt scrub. The fire seemed to have ended around the lip of the ridge's escarpment and we found it expedient to keep below the escarpment for a while. On top of this, we reached a semi-clear shelf not far below the summit of Mt. Ronald Cross and, locating some water, we stopped for lunch at 11.50 a.m. Some of us explored a limestone sink hole just over to the east and, with torches, descended for a chain or more until it closed in.

Resuming at 1.10 p.m., we walked southward, reaching the first peak at 1.20 p.m. and the top of Mt. Ronald Cross (3750') at 1.30 p.m. At the same time we entered the cloud level. Despite a cool westerly, the clouds had not lifted all morning as expected and our journey southward along the remainder of the Loddons seemed destined to be hampered by poor visibility. We had brief glimpses of the King Williams and Mt. Arrowsmith, a lake to the S.E. and the next peak along the range, but that was all we could see. Frances, Kay and Margaret left us here to return to the bus whilst the remaining thirteen (was it an omen?) resumed southwards at 1.50 p.m. in the thickening mist.

We continued past the escarpment where we could see the lake to the S.E. laying in a broad amphitheatre, and descended to a low col from which we climbed up through open going to the S.E. to reach the summit of a dolerite peak (quite as high as Mt. Ronald Cross} at 2.20 p.m. Off again at 2.30 p.m., we went down a little, then up and up quite a lot to stop at what appeared to be the highest point of the Loddons (about 3900') at 2.55 p.m.

The mist was still just as thick with little visibility, but the range appeared to continue southward. Leaving at 3.15 p.m., we descended quite a deal and then climbed up to another really high peak at 3.33 p.m. Leaving this at 3.50 p.m., we still continued southward through the mist. We passed over a couple of lower elevations and then over quite a high one (about 4000’ and, from later observations, probably the highest of the range). Beyond this, when the range appeared to be falling away, we curled around to the east and began descending eastward at 5 p.m. in search of the highest col linking up with the King Williams.

I was leading down a rocky incline when a shout behind brought us to a halt. Pushing back, I found that Judith had fallen down a short escarpment when a rock gave way under her weight. Arthur Simons had just made a quick inspection and announced that Judy's leg was broken. Poor Judy! She was more embarrassed by the inconvenience she looked like causing us than the outcome to herself. It was not an easy problem either, as we were in an awkward predicament with the full length of the Loddons between us and civilisation, the rain starting to fall, darkness not very far away and no possible campsite yet in view.

Whilst, Arthur busied himself in strapping up Judy's leg and making her as comfortable as possible with the aid of the party, I set off with three others to secure stretcher poles below and keep an eye out for a campsite. On a ridge below, a temporary break in the clouds revealed a low, broken, semi-clear col leading across to the King Williams. Hastily I recorded magnetic bearings and notes on the terrain. It looked a feasible route and one I would have to consider for the morrow. A little farther down we secured the poles and cross ties, and then climbed slowly back with them to that lofty shelf.

Night was fast approaching as, leaving most of the party behind to construct the stretcher and carry Judy down to the camp, I commandeered all tents, took three of the party and descended the gully, seeking a suitable site. At the first reasonable location, a third of a mile below, we pitched camp. The sites were cleared, tents erected and a couple of fires burned merrily when the stretcher party arrived by torchlight soon after dark. It was 10.25 p.m. when we finally retired to the lullaby of pattering raindrops.

Low cloud and poor visibility were still with us in the morning. This did little to alleviate my major problem as leader, - whether to retrace our footsteps along the Loddons to the Lyell Highway or to tackle the unknown col leading to the King Williams. The Loddon Range route would present many headaches for stretcher bearers with its undulating terrain, broken rocky patches and the steep descent into the Surprise Valley, all of which had to be accom¬plished within two days although it had taken us nearly one day to come in unencumbered. The unknown alternative had perhaps two miles of semi-open going and then two to three miles of forest around the slopes of the King Williams before the open button grass could be reached. If we could penetrate this on the first day, we would have about eight miles open walking left for the last day. There seemed little to choose between the two, but I chose the latter course, hoping the more even grade would cause less discom¬fort to Judy.

It was after 9 a.m. before we set off down the gully on a bearing of 65 deg. mag, with the high section of the col dimly showing out at 90 deg. Exploiting the wombat pads, we opened a track six feet wide for the carriers, using the four tiny hatchets which were all our party possessed. Crossing the small stream in the valley trough, we ascended a gentle rise which led up to the first hilltop, where the course was quite clear. Descending eastward, we could see very bad re-growth in an old "burn" barring the approach to the forest section. Although a little more than half a mile across, it would take hours to penetrate, so we swung down to the S.E., realising we must climb over the steep hill ahead. Bad scrub slowed us considerably, but we hacked away resolutely and, after 100 yds., burst through into a small clearing on the col trough, electing to halt there for lunch (12.10 p.m. and only 1½ miles out).

Water was found down a slope to the south, and momentarily we basked in sunshine. Off again at 1.25 p.m., we cut through a tangle of bauera and low scrub on the steep climb eastward. It was a terribly struggle for the stretcher party with the steep grade and insecure footholds. At last we had clear leads again as we breasted the broad summit and paused to examine a widening view. The clouds had lifted considerably and a few patches of blue sky were heartening. The Spires, Innes' High Rocky, the Prince of Wales Range and Clear Hill were all distinguishable in the south, whilst the cloud-capped peaks of the Reserve showed to the north. A patch of sunshine lit the bare talus slope running down from Mt. King William 2nd., whilst below to the north, we discovered a small lake set amidst dense forest westwards of the gap in the King William Range towards which we were heading. The whole picture was one of extreme wildness.

We descended eastward along more wombat pads and, at the base, turned N.E. through another old “burn” where, fortunately, the re-growth wasn't bad. Soon we reached its end at a small creek fringed with myrtles (4 p.m. - 3m.). This was quite an attractive campsite and would have been considered under different circumstances, but I deemed it imperative, now that it was impossible to reach the open button grass in the Gap that night, to push on as far as possible.

Beyond the creek, large fallen logs made the lot of the stretcher bearers unenviable, and the buffeting received by the uncomplaining passenger must have been equally troublesome. Then we rose a little above the tall timber and pushed along an almost flat shelf beneath paper barks and gums with bauera as underscrub. The axe party was also performing yeoman service as it was very difficult to open up a path wide enough for the stretcher amongst the closely packed paper barks. I pushed on ahead, marking the course and guided completely by the compass as the forest cut out any extended view. I had hoped to reach water before making camp but, as the party was very tired, I halted near the end of this section about 6 p.m. - only four miles progress for the day and still a long way to go.

Water was located a short way downhill to the left and the camp chores were performed in a much better setting and under more favourable conditions than the previous night. Nearby pandanni leaves formed an excellent mattress for the tents and Judy seemed in excellent spirits despite her adventurous journey. After a frank discussion on the need for faster progress, it was agreed to arise early and try for a 7 a.m. start.

There was a sharp shower at daybreak and the party started creeping out from 5.30 a.m. Yet it was not until 7.55 a.m. that we started off. This was certainly slow, even allowing for the reconstruction and fitting of the stretcher. However, some of the trail cutters had made a start around the mountain slopes to the N.E. through mixed myrtle and gum forest with various under-scrubs and an endless array of fallen logs.

The sky remained overcast with low mist all around, but little rain fell. I held our altitude for about a mile and had great difficulty in planning a course through the jumble of fallen timber. When the compass indicated the course of the hillside was swinging eastward, I started descending diagonally in order not to be too high above the open plain in the gap. In this way I reached a substantial creek flowing northwards (11.45 a.m. – 1½m.), blazed down its left bank, then crossed it and continued cutting downhill wide of the right bank, arranging for one of the party to make the lunch brew whilst the stretcher party came up. I sighted the open button grass in the gap about a quarter mile below before returning for lunch.

It was a tired but happier assembly during lunch. At 1.10 p.m. I dispatched Arthur Dobson on an urgent mission: to seek assistance from another Club party in the area and return to the bus and bring it as close as possible in case we could still push through that day. The remainder were in action 10 min. later and the task of opening up the few remaining yards proceeded with new vigour, despite the early intrusion of a healthy patch of bauera in our path. At 2.10 p.m. (2m.) we were on the open plain in the gap dividing the northern and southern sections of the King Williams. Mist shrouded slopes rose up on both sides as we pushed eastward. Progress improved immeasurably, and the hatchets were put away. After the first change, one team of stretcher bearers struck up a good 3 m.p.h. for a while, but frequent creeks and boggy patches soon cut the pace back. However, hopes of completing the remaining eight miles or so rose a little. But when we passed through the gap and made the uphill turn northward, progress deteriorated so much that our hopes reached rock-bottom again.

Reaching the crest of the climb, we broke through the narrow gum collar (4.45 p.m.- 4½m.) to more open plain. The weather still looked uncompromising, but it was generally fine and sunny along the plain. About 5.30 p.m. a good mile farther north, we were battling along and I was wondering just how soon I would have to make camp, when shouts ahead sent our hopes soaring skywards once more. We yelled back and 10 min. later were chatting with John Daniel and Peter Johnstone.

From them we learned that Arthur had dashed through to the King William Hut in record time and located the party there. The five had come by car on an old logging road to within three miles of our position, and the other three were spread out nearby to intercept us. This was amazing news and changed our whole outlook as we expected a walk of at least six miles to the highway.

Off again at 6 p.m. in high spirits, we met Dave Pinkard almost immediately and the fresh material for stretcher carrying soon increased the pace. Bob Scott-Young joined us on the plain, but John Wanless, making a wider sweep close to the range, lost contact and returned to the hut. The steady pace continued unabated with the newcomers dominating the carrying. We reached the old road at 7.30 p.m. in the gloom and the car started off in search of the Club bus. Meanwhile we changed and lunched by a huge campfire, setting off for Launceston at 9 p.m. when the bus arrived. It was 1.45 a.m. before poor Judy reached hospital after her trying ordeal. Soon after, the remainder of us-returned to our homes.

The performance and co-operation of all members during this severe operation was remarkably good and I regret it was necessary to keep up the incessant pressure on everyone during the whole of the rescue work. I would strongly recommend the re-listing of this trip on the Walks Programme during the next summer, so that members be given an opportunity of completing the full itinerary planned. The track we carved through the forest from one range to the other should make a future trip so much the easier.


Misses Mary Morwood, Judith Neate and Helen McGeachie and Messrs. Arthur Simons, Arthur Dobson, Arnold Rowlands, Hugh Johnstone, Ken Church, Chris Cane, Terry Gill, David Atkins, Peter Moore and Keith Lancaster (leader).
Misses Frances Dobson, Kay Johnston and Margaret Grills.
Miss Alice Sidler and Messrs. Peter Johnstone, John Daniel and Bob Scott-Young.

Keith Lancaster



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