Standing clear and proud between the Pelion and Walls of Jerusalem groups of Abel peaks, the summit of Mt. Pillinger enjoys unparalleled 360-degree views of both ranges as well as the famed Lee’s Paddocks that run between along the Mersey River. It’d long been high up on our ‘must do soon’ list.
Date: 24th November 2019 – Summit: 1286m
Distance: 18.km total (from New Pelion Hut to Arm River, via the Mt. Pillinger ‘loop’ track).
Time taken: About 7 hrs in total, with breaks.
Difficulty: The Arm River track is considered a bit of a ‘highway’ (and rightly so) with much boardwalk and formally built track – other than a bit of late spring mud it is easy to walk and navigate. The Mt. Pillinger loop track is less formalised however with fewer markers but is mostly easy walking, just pay attention as the pad gets vague in parts. The summit track to the peak of Mt. Pillinger is clear and well defined, but gets steep towards the peak, with minor climbing over rock and some mild exposure near the summit.
Type of track: Formal hardened track, grass pad, some rock scrambling.
Access from: Arm River Track
Continues from our Mt. Oakleigh trip…
Mt. Pillinger is an easy day trip for most, heading from the start of the Arm River Track, but I had always figured we’d tackle it on the return leg from a weekend mission into Pelion Plains to tick off some of the remaining Abels in the area. When plans fell into place for a trip to Mt. Pelion West over a weekend in late November, I was hopeful – though not entirely optimistic – there might be the energy and enthusiasm to go via Mt. Pillinger on the way out.
When bad weather scuttled those plans, we quickly made the most of our location and summited the (somewhat) less gruelling Mt. Oakleigh on the Saturday instead. Not having expended ourselves on a long 10-12 hr day, Mt. Pillinger seemed all the more doable. The rest of our group were equally keen – all we needed was the weather to improve!
We awoke early on Sunday morning, and were happy not to hear the telltale patter of drizzle on the tent fly for the first time in 24 hrs. Conditions were still dreary and heavily overcast, but the lack of rain or biting wind from the west filled us with enthusiasm. Before 8am, we were all packed and stepping off the balcony at New Pelion Hut for the return journey along the Arm River Track, and back to our waiting cars.
The heavily rooted and surprisingly muddy section of track between New Pelion Hut and the Douglas Creek – slated for a well needed upgrade soon, based on the timber waiting alongside – was quickly crossed, as was the suspension bridge over the creek itself, and we were soon making our way east along the southern bank of Lake Ayr. This part of the Arm River Track has substantial sections of boarding, and with few other obstacles and little elevation change, progress was zippy even with heavy packs on.
The eastern end of Lake Ayr was soon reached, which opens up in a large floodplain to the south that offered us our first clear view of Mt. Pillinger; the still-overcast skies were high and off the summit, which filled us with hope that we might just get some decent views from the top.
The track continues in an easterly direction, through a section of open myrtle rainforest where elevation is slowly gained. Though regular boarding and other track hardening is featured throughout, the effects of a wet spring were clear to see, with plenty of mud and standing water.
When I last passed through this section of track a year prior, a friend had mentioned that the wreckage of a light plane crash could – allegedly – be found not too far off the track, somewhere east of Lake Ayr… though of course he didn’t know exactly where and, after 53km-odd of trail running earlier that day and evening fast setting in, I was certainly too tired to go searching for it. I’d mentioned it to Tracey as we walked through the area on Friday night, but there was little chance we’d see any telltale of where it lay in the darkness.
By happy coincidence, Carolyn had been there before, knew the point where to leave the track and was happy to show us all on our way out. As it turned out, this mystical hidden spot is neither mystical nor particularly hidden, with a decent cairn marking the point where a well-trodden pad now snakes south across a sizeable open plain of coral fern before heading down a quite steep embankment of open forest for a few hundred metres to where the wreckage lies.
The story goes that back in 1973 the aircraft in question was making a food drop over Lee’s Paddocks for a scout group, when for whatever reason it lost power and crashed into the forest west of Mt. Pillinger. Fortunately those onboard survived, though apparently as the plane was caught in the canopy of the rather tall trees in the area, they had some effort to scale some 7-8m to finally make it safely to ground level.
Evidently much of the wreckage has been recovered (or souvenired) over time, with only the tail section of the fuselage, the engine and a smattering of mechanical ancillaries now littering the area. Nonetheless, it was still a great little side trip and well worth the steep climb back up to the main track, if only to appreciate the stunning forest in the area.
Back on the Arm River Track again, we pushed onwards, up over the open plain area that marks the highest point of the track and terminates with a lovely group of tarns, until we came to the western junction to the Mt. Pillinger Track, just east of the narrow steel bridge that aids in crossing the narrow but deep Wurragarra Creek. Here a small cairn marks a faint pad that heads south-east across another, smaller open plain towards Mt. Pillinger itself. Pay careful attention to your direction of travel as although this track is ‘formal’, it can be hard to follow at times, especially on the initial offshoot from the main Arm River Track.
The pad wanders in a east-south-easterly direction around the northern edge an unnamed tarn and open marshland for about 1.2km before the junction with the Mt Pillinger summit track is met. Again, the pad here isn’t as particularly distinct, with only a solitary stick marking the exit point of the summit track off to the south of the marsh, so it pays to keep close attention as the junction is approached – tracking ourselves on GPS definitely helped.
We dropped our heavy packs at said junction and quickly stuffed the essentials and some lunch into small packs before heading south on the summit track towards Mt. Pillinger itself. By now the morning gloom had finally given away to patches of blue sky and sun – things were looking good for lunch with a view from the top!
The summit track headed south-sou-east in the valley to the east of Pillinger’s northern ridge, gaining elevation steadily through timbered forest. The track is rocky with the occasional small outcrop of scree, and several fallen trees also lay across the skinny but otherwise well defined pad. A number of ribbons also helped guide the way.
After approximately half a kilometre the track comes out onto a flattish plain directly east of Pillinger’s summit, where we turned sharply north-west and began the substantial climb up the mountain’s eastern flank. Here the track quickly gets steeper and rockier, with sections of solid rock slab and several more fallen trees to climb over. The sun was now out with full vengeance; as the treeline dropped with the increasing elevation, we were now bemoaning how warm it was, a mere 24 hours after complaining about the cold and wet! Tasmanian springtime weather at its best…
Within a few hundred metres the northern edge of the summit ridgeline is finally reached, offering the first views over Pillinger’s steep western face, which drops dramatically off into the dense forest below. A short and sharp 100m climb over the bouldery ridge to the south, and within the hour, we were at the summit! We were not alone either, with another group having made a day trip in from the Arm River Track carpark.
The views from Mt Pillinger are rightly lauded as among Tassie’s finest. While the tops of Mt Ossa and Mt Pelion West remained shrouded in low cloud, we had clear views across to Mt Rogoona and Twin Spires the south-east, with the luscious greenery of Lee’s Paddocks in the southern foreground, looking rather like a golf course in the middle of the wilderness. Directly west the still-snow capped peaks of Pelion East, Mt Massif and the Du Cane Range could be seen.
Further north, Mt Oakleigh towered over Lake Ayr, with Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain in the distance. Continuing clockwise, the Tarn of Islands and numerous other small tarns dot the plateau to the north. Lake Rowallan dominates the eastern view, with the ridgeline of Clumner Bluff standing guard behind.
After so many hasty winter summits in lousy weather, it was a real pleasure to relish the views over an extended lunch in the warm sun and a surprisingly gentle breeze. With bellies full and many a photo snapped, we did eventually pry ourselves away from the views and begin the decent back down the track and return to our big packs for the final push out.
Back at the track junction and (regrettably) reunited with our heavy packs, we continued eastward along Mt. Pillinger Track alongside the Arm River itself, for approximately 1.5km until its meeting back with the Arm River Track. Once again, this section of track was vague in patches and more than once, we briefly found ourselves losing the pad in the encroaching scrub. This was somewhat surprising, given the route is the quickest and most direct route to Mt. Pillinger for day walkers; I would have assumed it would receive more foot traffic.
Back on the Arm River Track, we made the drop down the switchbacks alongside the cascading Arm River and, after another kilometre or so, were reunited with our cars at the trail head. Mission complete!
Though the weekend didn’t quite turn out to plan – the prize of Mt. Pelion West will have to wait for another time – it was a most successful trip of Abel bagging regardless, and a great time with the crew from the Launceston Walking Club too. Many thanks to Carolyn for again organising a fantastic trip!