Wednesday, 8 January 2020
Day 4 looked a lot more like what I had expected for day 3 - blue skies and sunshine. We packed up and left at about 9.30 and had a lovely walk back to the car - it’s a mostly smooth flattish track & duckboards until the final climb up over the ridge.
Loddon Swing Bridge
Right:At the top of the last hill
checking out the last 5k on the map
So we set off at about 9.15 and made our way back to Barron Pass. The smoke created an eerie atmosphere and the views were very much obscured.
After about an hour the smoke seemed to have magically turned into heavy clouds and it started to drizzle, followed quickly by heavy rain. We were taken quite by surprise and had to scurry to put on pack covers and rain coats. By the time we were back at the pass we were all pretty soaked and keen to just keep moving. The rocks and roots which were grippy the day before were now slippery so we had to be extra careful descending.
Going over Barron Pass. The visibility was so bad that Alexa didn't even realise we had done it.
Zali and Jett thinking about how much they love hiking
Eventually we arrived back at the Vera Hut campsite just as the rain was clearing. We’d taken about 3.15 hours so we were a bit quicker than the day before - mostly due to not stopping to admire the views I think! Everyone was keen take the afternoon off so we set up our tents on the platforms again and got completely changed our of our wet gear before enjoying lunch in in the hut. Jon and Jett didn't have pack covers so Jon quickly set up his own laundry and hung all their stuff out to dry.
For the rest of the day we amused ourselves with reading, frisbee and other games - it was a really lovely afternoon and a much deserved break.
Playing platform-to-platform frisbee. By the evening all the camping platforms and much of the hut space was filled.
The clouds were still very low so anyone trying to get to the top of Frenchmans that day wouldn’t have had much view if they tried that day. Despite the downpour we were very lucky.
Tuesday, 7 January 2020
Due to a long toilet queue, we were the last to leave the Vera Hut campsite at about 9:45.
getting ready to go
Firstly we had to skirt around the lake (which sounds easier than it is, as even that serves up plenty of tricky walking, ups and downs and tree roots to navigate). Andy was NOT looking forward to the next bit.
From the end of the lake the trail stops mucking around and just starts to head up. And Up. And Up.
Amazingly though, we all survived just fine. Andy was probably the most knocked around by it due to his combination of old leather blister-inducing hiking boots, and ill-fitting heavy rucksack.
All the kids did really well, although these happy photos are slightly misleading - they weren’t that happy all the time - it often looked more like this:
Zali nursing a bleeding nose from overheating, and Jett dead-on-his pack.
everyone looking exhausted
I’d warned everyone about the next section (as the mistake I’d made last time was expecting it to be a cake-walk down to the next hut - so the toughness of it was amplified by the discrepancy between my expectations and the reality). In the end it was fine - in fact with the great views, once we’d got past the most arduous section, most of us were able to appreciate the amazing botanical garden type terrain and incredible views. We could see people up on Frenchmans Cap way above us, and we could see all the way back to the Lyell Highway in some spots. As the weather was so nice we stopped a lot - unlike last time when it was a bit wet to linger anywhere.
After another 2ish hours we arrived at the beautiful new hut at Lake Tahune. I’ve got photos of both here so you can appreciate how much better it is now.
After tidying up our mess we packed small bags the headed up to the summit of Frenchmans Cap. It’s a steep 1.5k track but compared to what we’d already done with full heavy packs, it felt completely doable.
We made it to the top about an hour and a half later - the views were amazing in all directions. We were really lucky!
After spending a while up there absorbing the sun and the amazing vistas we scooted back down the hill again arriving back at about 6. Some of us had a quick swim in Lake Tahune before dinner.
It was a long, tough but ultimately very satisfying day.
Monday, 6 January 2020
I last hiked Frenchmans Cap in 2017 with Clare and her family. You can read about it here, here, here and here.
This time I did the 4 day walk with my family as well as Andy, Alexa and 12 year old Lyra. I knew what I was in for but they didn't, and the first day's walk doesn't really give a fair indication of what the 2nd and 3rd day have in store.
We left the car park at about 11:30, after noting that about 7 people had headed off already that day. I was a bit concerned about it being quite crowded at the huts and campsites as many other trails are still closed from last year's fires.
The first day is longish - 15k, but quite easy with only a few moderate hills to get over. The weather was nice and we stopped at the swing bridge over the Lodden River for lunch. It was a good day to get used to hiking with a fully laden pack again - it's been a while since we've done that.
Looking at Frenchmans Cap in the far distance
We arrived at Vera Hut at about 5pm. Last time we elected to stay in the hut, but the weather was so nice and sunny that it was a lot more pleasant to camp on the platforms out in the sun. We even had a swim in Lake Vera before dinner.
Once the sun went down it got pretty cold. In fact some platforms had frost on them the next morning. This is us making dinner. I'm the only one who knows exactly what's in store for us the next day..
Tuesday, 31 January 2017
We packed up, put on all our rain gear and started heading back to Lake Vera by about 9.30am. Despite the rain, retracing our steps was a lot more enjoyable. Knowing what we had in front of us made it all so much easier - the problem with the day before was the divide between expectation and reality. By the time we made it to Barron Pass the rain had mostly cleared although the track was still a bit wet and slippery.
Even in the rain, that track was beautiful
Why the track was such slow going!
We carefully descended to Lake Vera and made it to the hut by about 1.30. We had already decided to continue on to a camping site by the Lodden River that we had passed on the first day - which would mean we’d just have a 5k walk on the last day. So after a leisurely lunch at Vera hut we saddled up and continued on, with the weather progressively clearing along the way. We reached the swing bridge at Lodden River by about 5pm.
We awoke to blue skies and a perfect day - it would have been a great day to be on the summit but we couldn’t complain - we had an almost perfect day ourselves. Instead we had a pretty easy 2 hour walk back to the cars and home.
Crossing the Franklin on the swing bridge - 10 minutes from the cars
All in all it was a great trip. We were pretty proud of ourselves and 12 year old Leo did amazingly well - he toughed it out from start to finish with almost zero grumbling. I'm not sure Zali or Jett would have had the strength to get up and down Barron Pass, even though they've done the Overland Track - it was so much more steep and rugged than anything the Overland threw at us. Some people choose to tackle the summit by leaving all their gear at Lake Vera, and doing a really long day trip up and over the pass, to Tahune Lake, then up to the summit and back. Whilst it's a long day, you don't have the burden of your pack for the long climb. As Tahune wasn't all that great a place to camp, I'd probably consider doing it that way if I ever did it again. It's the way Clare did it many years ago and she's adamant that it was a lot easier that way.
In terms of gear, everything we had was pretty good - my hiking pack has an annoying squeak I need to investigate further, but my new thermarest was amazingly good - even when we were sleeping on a camping platform - I'm so happy to finally be comfortable in a tent again! Also it weighs a fraction of my old one and takes up much less space in my pack. yay. I probably needed to pack a few more t-shirts and another pair of trousers as I just sweated buckets. I wore new daggy gaters the whole way and they were bloody great - keeping the mud out of my shoes and saving my trousers from the worst of it. As we descended Barron Pass on day 3, we encountered a family of people struggling up the hill wearing running shoes, tracksuits and cotton t-shirts. Amazingly dumb. They weren't carrying tents either, which they were probably going to get away with as there were less people coming in than were going out, but they were certainly taking a big risk - the huts quickly fill up on busy weekends and in bad weather.
Our food preparations turned out to be pretty good, the cup-a-soups I had at the end of each day were my favourite things, and my new found love for Jersey Caramels as a quick trail snack is enduring. We had pretty much the same dinner menu as on the overland track, satay noodles, pasta and marakesh curry - all with the vegetables I'd been deydrating over the previous few weeks.
And that's it - today I have to prepare myself for another trip to the wilderness - this time to Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair as we are dropping Jon of at the start of the Overland Track Run - it's been 4 years in the making!
Monday, 30 January 2017
It took us 2 hours to make it to the top.. this is the final staircase, and Clare and Leo coming up it.
By this time I was the sweatiest I’d ever been but very happy to make it - without a doubt it was the hardest stretch of the pack walking/climbing I’ve ever done - although I must admit haven’t done the really serious Tasmanian multi-day walks (like the infamous Western Arthurs).
It was two hours later that we reached maximum frustration point (as per the prologue). It wasn’t that it was THAT bad, but it was more that the reality wasn’t matching our expectations. We’d walked and walked and huffed and puffed up and down steep pinches, and scrambled over scree, and plodded through mud and we STILL weren’t in sight of the lake. Or even a flat surface that someone could think a lake could reside. It seemed endless.
But of course it wasn’t and about 20 minutes past the maximum frustration point (MFP) we descended a set of stairs and suddenly saw a camping platform. Like Lake Vera, Lake Tahune and surrounds were nothing like I’d imagined. There was no nice-open area next to the lake, it was just tight dark vegetation right down to the water, with about a metre wide access point if you wanted to swim. I would have called it a tarn rather than a lake as it had steep sides all around. The hut certainly didn’t look very inviting either - although I appreciate that a lot of work goes on to maintain it. Clare and I were pretty adamant we’d camp rather than suffer the noise (and after all, we’d carried our tent all this way), In contrast to the hut, the camping platforms were actually pretty new and clean - so we grabbed one and put up our tent before the rest of the day’s hikers rolled in. (there were a lot due to the Australia Day long weekend).
Tahune Lake Hut
After some lunch and a short lie-down, the weather cleared (just like the forecast said it would), so it was time to grab our daypacks and head up to the summit, just 1.5km but 450metres in elevation away. It was a steep walk, but absolutely beautiful and we made it in just under 90 minutes. There were a couple of hairy bits, but generally it was a pretty easy climb, if there is such a thing.
Of course the views were breathtaking. And it was great to see 3 generations of Hawthorne’s make it to the top, although not quite all of them at the same time, as Clare found the summit a bit exposed, and retreated before the others made it.
Clare retreating from the moonscape
I wasn’t so worried about the exposure, so I hung around for a while - it wasn’t just great to be at the top, but I also felt a great sense of relief. We’d actually made it! As we hiked in to Lake Vera, and also at the hut, we’d encountered hiker after hiker who hadn’t been able to get to the top due to the weather, even those who waited an extra day at Tahune just in case the weather cleared. There were people amongst them for whom it was their second attempt, and they STILL hadn’t had the good fortune we had. We were very lucky.
Leo and Tom, metres from the edge.
Flowers growing right on the edge. Amazing.
After soaking up the summit for a while I happily ambled my way back down, taking photos of the flowers and views along the way. There was an abundance of them - and these Tasmanian Purple Stars grew right up to the summit - which was amazing considering how delicate they looked.
Anyway - from just a bit further down the road from where we left our cars (Donaghy’s Lookout to be precise), Frenchmans Cap looks like this:
As it was, Day 1 was pretty straightforward (if you discounted the general discomfort of walking with heavy packs). We left at around 11am and had a 14k trek to Lake Vera, where there was a hut and camping platforms. The trail has been hugely upgraded by Dick Smith (thanks Dick), as apparently he walked it in 2008 and was so dismayed by the state of the track (in particularly the thigh high mud in the section called the ‘Sodden Loddens’), that he has contributed almost a million bucks to re-route it, so sections of the first day were now as smooth as the pipeline track. Yay.
The registration point, and the Lodden Swing Bridge
Clare and Greg consulting the map
Trekking under grey skies
It took us about 5 hours to reach Lake Vera. Once there we decided to stay in the hut - I’m not a fan of sleeping in the huts generally, but it looked dry and cosy, and the camping platforms outside looked cold and wet, so it seemed like a good option. The hut wasn’t too bad really - better than some of the overland track huts, and once I’d spread my thermarest out on the inch thin hut mattress, I was pretty comfy and cosy.
Sunday, 29 January 2017
"I should never have come on this walk' said Leo, Clare's 12 year old nephew, as he looked at the staircase stretching up in front of him. "Nor should I", replied Clare, Tour Leader, leaning heavily against a pencil pine which was as dead as her enthusiasm for hiking. "Whose stupid idea was this anyway?", I thought to myself as my boot sunk into foot deep mud, although as the tour instigator, I knew the answer to that question already.
It was day 2 and we'd been hiking for almost 4 hours, which included conquering the utterly relentless climb up to Barron Pass. From there we'd expected to cruise our way down to our next stop at Lake Tahune - a mere 3k from the Pass, but after a further 2 hours of heartbreakingly steep ascending and descending along an impossibly rugged ridgeline, it was still nowhere in sight. In fact it was impossible to imagine that there could even be a lake in the area - the track we were following looked like it was more likely to lead us straight over a 400m cliff, rather than to a lake - although the idea of ending our suffering in such a swift and humane manner was becoming more appealing by the step.