A brief perusal of the Tasmanian Parks Service website will give the impression that the bushwalk to Frenchman’s cap is second only in difficulty to the ascent of Everest. It will take at LEAST 3 long, hard days. If you have not spent your life walking in Tasmania and do not have insulated GoreTexTM underwear you will most likely fail miserably and hobble back to your vehicle on the brink of hypothermia. Finally do not even consider an attempt outside the summer months of December – February.
With this in mind myself and a surprisingly tolerable American, Kaleigh Carlson, decided to do the walk in two days over the last weekend in April. Upon rendezvous in Launceston on Friday night two potential and related problems reared their heads. The weather forecast for the following day was absolutely dire and Kaleigh was well prepared…for a stroll around city park. Following the ‘she’ll be right mate’ mantra we managed to obtain, before we left at 5am, equipment that most certainly would not be recommended by experienced bushwalkers; a $15 Kmart jacket along with my work boots worn with wetsuit socks to make up for their lack of waterproofing.
So it was that at 8am on Saturday morning these two foolhardy foreigners stood at the start of the track that leads over 27km to the summit of one of Australia’s most iconic mountains. The hail, rain and sleet began almost from the start as did the transatlantic character assassination which was the major source of conversation for the remainder of the trip. Rivers were clearly in flood and in a number of locations the track itself had become a significant tributary to the Franklin river. We made good progress to the Loddon Plains, by which time the weather had begun to improve a little. This section of the track used to be a total nightmare but has recently been boardwalked and then diverted in its second half. This could be described as a little boring but is undoubtedly preferable to wading through thigh deep mud.
Before the morning was out we had reached the lake Vera hut, which for many people marks the end of the first day of hiking. With only 2 days available we would need to reach the second hut at lake Tahune by that evening if we were to have any chance of reaching the summit. After lake Vera the track enters what I would describe as it’s most beautiful section, heading steeply up a narrow valley through beautiful rainforest alongside a roaring mountain stream. Here I managed to outpace my companion for a while and enjoy the peace and solitude of this wondrous place almost untouched by man. Near the top of this climb it began to snow lending the scene a beautiful and unique flavour that would be absent from most peoples perception of Australia as a dry and hot continent.
At the top of the climb begins the traverse of a lengthy ridge with the cap now in sight, an awe inspiring monument of bullet hard quartzite that captures the mind and loosens the bowels of any aspiring trad climber. The scene from this ridge is almost indescribably magnificent and awe inspiring; jagged mountains clothed in thick rainforest punctured by lakes stretching to the mist shrouded horizon with no sign of human habitation. A primeval landscape that is one of the last survivors of the ancient flora of Gondwanaland, a super continent that broke up around 250 million years ago.
Now the snow had really begun to come down hard and we were glad to reach the hut at lake Tahune around 3pm after 7 hours walking. This is a basic prefabricated building that mercifully contains a small stove for burning coal that has been choppered in and left outside. For some inexplicable reason we decided, after getting warm and drying a portion of our gear, to take a swim in the lake just outside the hut. I use the word ‘swim’ in the loosest possible manner meaning in this case wading into the water cursing and screaming while a rather bemused elderly bushwalker took a photograph to prove our ‘bravery’.
Rising at dawn the next day we hiked up through the clouds to reach the summit around an hour after sunrise with the sun trying hard to break through and give us the 360 degree views that we had hoped for. This was not to be. Nevertheless it was very beautiful with a diffuse orange light bathing the wintry scene and setting my heart on fire with a deep love for the wonderful isle of Tasmania that I have been fortunate enough to call my home for a year.
The walk back to the road was rather uneventful although not as energised as I had hoped due to Kaleigh’s insatiable appetite for my personal chocolate supply. Of course as we crossed to Loddon Plains on our way out the cloud finally cleared to reveal the imposing white monument in all its precipitous glory.
The following lessons can be take from this trip;
1. If you come from West Wales or Michigan the conditions in Tasmania are really not that severe provided you are well equipped with the cheapest protective gear that can be purchased in Launie at 5am.
2. Once in a while you may meet an American who does not need to be gagged to provide tolerable company. (Sorry Kaleigh, I have to deal with various Pohmmy stereotypes on a daily basis. Its only fair that you share and possibly understand my pain at the injustice)
3. National Park estimates of a walks difficulty are aimed at complete soft cocks who have trouble climbing into bed.
4. Lake Tahune is cold and possibly not the best place for a swim, especially when there is snow on the ground.
5. I need to develop much bigger balls before I consider climbing at Frenchman’s.
Dickon Morris – Wales, UK.