Bender & Xing

Abel Adventures

Millers Bluff

Millers Bluff stands proud of the eastern edge of Tasmania’s central plateau area, surrounded to the west by the valley of Lake River, and lowland plains on the other three. The high point, on the northern end of the ridge, offers great views of the Great Western Tiers and is a manageable walk within easy driving distance of Launceston.

Date: 14th July 2019Summit: 1211m

Distance: Approx. 5.5km return.
Time taken: About 4 hrs, including a few short stops.
Difficulty: Fairly moderate. The fire trail climb up to the trail head proper is steep but open if your vehicle can’t make it all the way. The track itself is reasonably moderate, though rough in parts and definitely steep. Ice over scree and boulders in winter definitely made for slow and careful progress!
Type of track: Informal but reasonably well marked (ribbons and the odd cairn) and easy enough to follow.
Access from: Access from the north as described here is through private property. Through The Abels Vol. 1 the landowner has very generously made their phone number available, where a date and time can be arranged to borrow a gate key and receive instructions to access the track that leads to the trail head. This is an extremely kind gesture by the landowner towards the local bushwalking community. Please, ensure this graciousness is reciprocated by accessing the track only with permission and respecting the private land so that future generations of walkers can continue to enjoy easy access to this wonderful Abel.

Kicking off halfway up the fire trail. Our pretend SUVs were eventually thwarted by the eroded fire trail, but capable 4WDs will make it up to the start of the single trail.

Millers Bluff is the most eastern Abel of the Central Plateau section, within close proximity of Parson and Clerk Mountain, Mt. Patrick and Mt Penny West. Being about an hour’s drive south of Launceston, and a short track of approximately 3km one way, it was the ideal walk for a Tasmanian winter’s day short on daylight hours and heavy on snow and ice.

A few day’s prior, the Central Highlands had received the first solid dumpings of snow for the season. Tracey and I had spent a couple days enjoying the winter wonderland at our family shack. Because of this we’d had to leave unfashionably early that morning and drive back off the plateau at a snow-chains mandated crawl before meeting up with the rest of our group at Cressy.

In the original edition of The Abels, access to Miller’s Bluff was described from the southern end of the ridge, approaching from the western side, then traversing the rough plateau between the southern and northern high points. The former is officially – and confusingly – named “Millers Bluff” on old TASMAPs, but lies a mere 2m lower than the northern peak, whose location bears an Fire Watch Tower, heli pad and communications equipment.

A shorter and much more straightforward access track to the northern summit has since been made available to walkers by the land owner of the property that surrounds Millers Bluff. A few weeks’ prior we’d been in contact with the land owner to arrange access on our intended day; other than restricted access during the deer season for obvious safety reasons, and no camping, permission was granted without fuss or (as of the time of writing) fee. The owner is keen to see the mountain summit visited and enjoyed, and has been a firm supporter of The Abels series since its inception. Such generosity is a rare gift to the Tasmanian bushwalking community and should be carefully guarded by all who visit; ensure gates are left as found, drive with care as to not to damage the private roads, leave infrastructure un-interfered and definitely do not leave any rubbish behind!

After our group of seven assembled in Cressy, we picked up the gate key at the impressive Connorville homestead before continuing further south down Lake River Road until the gated turn off with the private Millers Bluff Road. As per the owner’s directions, we followed the series of good gravel roads until the intersection with the ‘summit’ fire road which leads up to the actual trail head about 2km further south. This rutted track would be manageable with a decent 4WD but proved a bit too much for our low-riding city SUVs. After Haydyn’s Tiguan bottomed out alarmingly, we ended up parking half way up the fire trail and continuing on foot.

Following the fire trail up into the morning mist.
A few steep pinches and soon enough, no one was complaining about how cold it was. Funny that… 😉

Conditions were decidedly grey as we made our way up the fire trail, with low cloud clinging to the higher reaches to the south. The surrounding snow gums were sparse and fleeting views to the east could be seen as the morning sun attempted to poke through the clouds.

The fire trail was quite steep in places – definitely helping us warm up in the just-above-freezing conditions – but otherwise made for easy walking as it zig-zagged up the northern flank. A turning circle/parking area is situated about three-quarters of the way up.

Summit of Millers Bluff appearing to the south.

With much of the highlands to the west blanketed in up to half a metre of snow, we naturally expected Millers Bluff to be wearing a bit of the same. We instead encountered what looked like hail at first glance, but was actually broken chunks of ice that had fallen from the branches of trees and other flora.

Ice peppering the final reaches of the fire trail before turning to single track.
Ice lining the route.
Approaching the small hut at the end of the fire trail. From here on, the track gets decidedly skinnier!

The fire trail terminated at a small hut/shelter, with a narrow single track marked with pink tape and numerous cairns continuing southwards up the mountain. ‘Rocky and steep’ were the primary descriptors for the day, and the initial section of single track wastes no time gaining elevation.

Picking our way through a dense section of rock-strewn scrub.
Rock dominates the steep trail to the summit.
Negotiating fallen timber and wet, icy rocks on a steep bank.
The route is easily navigated, with plenty of cairns and tape marking the track.

After a series of short, steep climbs over much rock, the tree line soon gave way to scree and splendid views opened to our north and west.

Looking north over Cressy, Poatina and the Great Western Tiers.

From here the track continued to worm its way in between patches of dense alpine shrubs. The broken rock underfoot became increasingly icy as we continued to climb. Much care was needed to keep a secure footing and progress slowed as the final few hundred metres were climbed.

Ice encrusted flora.
The ice-covered vegetation towards the summit was gorgeous.
Looking westwards towards Parson and Clerk Mountain.
Icy detail on the exposed rock.
Haydyn managing the icy scree as we approached the summit. Cold and slippery conditions made for slow and at times precarious going.
The build up of ice on certain plants was impressive to say the least.

Eventually the climb evened out as the summit came into sight. Negotiating the final section of large boulders was tricky due to the ice covering pretty much everything in sight, and freezing conditions as heavy mist descended then retreated from the summit on a minute-by-minute basis.

The summit in sight!

As if on cue, the clouds briefly departed as we finally made the top and allowed us to take in the 360-degree views. There’s no trig point, but the old fire tower, solar panels and wind generator crowd what appear to be the highest ground. A heli pad sits further to the west. It’s not a particularly natural summit, with so much build infrastructure.

Summit fire tower and radio installation.
The Fire Tower doorstep. More emergency shelter than hotel accommodation 😉
The small water tank alongside the Fire Tower was frozen solid – testament to just how cold it had been at the summit.
Installation at the northern summit.

To the north east, Stacks Bluff and the southern end of Ben Lomond could be made in the distance. To the north and north west, the Great Western Tiers continues with the profile of Drys Bluff jutting noticeably. Further west, the peaks of Sandbanks Tier, Parson and Clerk Mountain, Mt. Patrick and Mt. Penny West can be seen high on the Central Plateau, the upper reaches of which were still wearing a fine blanket of snow.

Looking south-east.

To the south, the ‘other’ high point of Millers Bluff can be seen across the expanse of the plateau. Amongst the group there was some, uhem, heated debate as to which summit was actually higher, helped in no part by the conflicting information on various maps. As always seems to the case on these kinds of flat-topped mountains, nearby high points appear ‘higher’ and make you question if you’re actually at the true summit.

Mercifully there was enough phone reception to quickly settle the matter and conclude we could consider the Abel ‘bagged’ as described in The Abels. Which was just as well, as conditions were deteriorating again and the terrain across the plateau was deceptively uneven and wouldn’t have been quick to cross. Instead we bid the peak adieu and began the return journey, retracing our course back to our cars.

Looking south towards the ‘other’ high point some 2km away.

Many thanks to the O’Connor family for granting us permission to pass through their property.

Route taken to Millers Bluff.