Date: 29th October 2019 – Summit: 1369m
Nestled amongst Legges Tor and Mensa Moor, Ragged Jack is one of the more accessible of the Ben Lomond group of Abels. The short, well marked and relatively easy track is ideal for those new to bushwalking, offering a variety of terrain and commanding views at the summit.
Time taken: 2hrs 15mins total including breaks and photos, about 1hr 30mins moving time (return trip was mostly running though!)
Difficulty: Easy, though in inclement weather the climb up the scree field would become quite difficult.
Type of track: Old 4WD track, then a well-marked and cairned informal track. Final approach to summit plateau is over scree.
Access from: Small vehicle track off Ragged Jack Road.
Ragged Jack – along with its neighbour Ben Nevis and the obscure Mt Maurice further north – had been a glaring hole on my otherwise completed North East section of The Abels Vol. 1. Tracey had already closed her North East chapter, having done a number of the peaks the previous year with her walking group. For a while I’d been planning a big, three-summit-day to knock the lot off, going light and trail running where possible to cover the distances more quickly. All I needed was a day off work.
The day came, finally, but alas a busy day and late night before meant I didn’t have my act together come the morning, and didn’t get away from Launceston until near 8am – hugely late by our standards. While Ragged Jack and Ben Nevis lie a short half-hour drive from each other, the trail head to Mt Maurice has to be accessed further north via a maze of old forestry roads and a dubious bridge crossing that would eat into my already shortened day. With standing commitments for the evening too, I found myself driving to the start of Ragged Jack with Maurice already crossed off the list.
The trail head to Ragged Jack is accessed from conveniently named Ragged Jack Road, via English Town Road just north of Deddington. This a massive logging coup which appears to be being prepared for regeneration, however the gravel roads are still in good condition and are suitable for 2WD vehicles with due care. A rough track is taken on the right about 500m after crossing the River O’plain Creek, with parking for a couple of cars a couple about 100m further up. Do make sure you park your car and make your start on foot here; while the rough fire trail does fork to the right and continue towards the mountain itself, it gets very rough and boggy soon after, and the locked gate of the National Park boundary will prevent further driving anyway.
The fire trail in question actually encircles the northern and eastern flanks of Ragged Jack, providing access to an apparently private block of land and hut that lies in the valley. The track then continues south to the Park border in Myrtle Vale and rejoins Fishers Tier Road; it was from this end we summited Mensa Moor via our western route earlier in the year.
After passing the gate the track wastes no time gaining altitude, with the track climbing sharply. I’d run the entire track with a couple of friends some years prior and remembered it quickly reducing us all to a walk within minutes. Extra layers for the cool morning start were quickly shed. The incline was only broken by the crossing of the River O’plain Creek, where my over-chlorinated town water was happily ditched for the mountain’s own.
As elevation is gained the tree canopy opened up to reveal the the summit itself and its impressive northern cliff face and apron of scree that would have to be circumnavigated soon.
After about 2km of climbing the track flattens out suddenly, and soon after (2.3km on my Garmin) a series of smallish cairns present themselves on the right, indicating the point to leave the fire trail and head south.
I was pleased to discover the ‘route’ south up towards the mountain itself was actually a well worn and quite clear pad, marked with numerous reflectors, cairns and the odd piece of pink ribbon. Pleased particularly as today I’d traded in heavy boots and gaiters for trail runners and shorts – all in the name of speed, of course – and the rapidly warming morning sun would no doubt be bringing out the snakes soon enough. Any excuse not to stomp through thick scrub with naked legs was fine by me.
The track proved to be easy to follow, and quickly gains elevation, crossing a mix of fairly open and dry alpine eucalypt forest and short boulder sections. This section continues for about 1km before popping out on clear plateau of mostly low alpine heath that provides a clear view of Ragged Jack’s well-known apron of scree that provides the route to its summit.
Progress was made across the low grass on a well worn pad before attacking the first of two major sections of scree, separated by a small patch of alpine vegetation. From here the cairns seemed to become irregular or disappear altogether, as walkers invariably choose their own path up towards the ‘notch’ in between the two sizeable cliff faces along the mountain’s northern face.
After negotiating the awkward patch of vegetation the climb proper commenced up the second scree field. In wet or otherwise slippery conditions this section of an otherwise easy Abel would likely become very hard and possibly even dangerous. Fortunately today the sun was now shining brightly and the combination of dry rock and grippy trail runners made the going fast and enjoyable.
Much climbing and sweating later, the notch in the northern cliff face was reached and negotiated over; Tracey had warned me that this section was awkward, and her and the other ‘height-challenged’ ladies required a little assistance over some rocks when they did it. Your mileage may vary, though wet conditions would definitely complicate climbing over it.
Once through the notch, the ridgeline is accessed across a series of steep steps until I was standing on top of the cliffs. From here I made my way to the now-visible summit cairn to the west along the cliff edge, though those more affected by heights might prefer to pick a less precarious path through the heath off to the side.
Approximately 1hr 15mins from leaving the car, the cairn was under the palm of my hand and the incredible 360-degree views were mine to savour. As was the surprisingly nippy 40-knot winds I was now exposed to!
Now thoroughly chilled from the brisk wind, I wasted no time getting back down, taking a slightly different route down the scree to avoid the worst of the scrub (didn’t really work out) but otherwise retracing my steps back to the old fire trail where I could easily run the last couple of kilometres back to the start of the trail head.
With Ragged Jack now bagged, I wasted no time jumping in the car and heading north-east towards my next target – Ben Nevis…