Sunday, 28 April 2013

Frenchmans Cap - Four Seasons In One Hour

Clytemnestra seen from the summit of Frenchmans Cap - 1st Feb 2013
Clytemnestra seen from the summit of Frenchmans Cap
Frenchmans Cap is one of the most spectacular walking venues in Tasmania. The area is very steep, accessible with any ease only along one actual track, and potentially subject to the full variety of Tasmanian weather even in the middle of summer. Most trips take three to five days, with longer itineraries allowing more chances to climb the peak and obviously reducing the daily effort required. Overall, the walk is more challenging than walks like the Overland Track, and requires good foul-weather gear. Fortunately, the mud of the famed Loddon Plains has been partly tamed, and will shortly be largely circumvented by a new section of track.

I have provided a full walk description here which has some more photos.

My recent visit

This was my third visit to the Frenchmans Cap area. My first two were in 1998 and 1999. The first was an ill-conceived attempt by two only barely fit blokes to do Frenchmans in three days. The weather cracked up, and we were met at Barron Pass by horizontal sleet and hail, then found the creek had risen about two feet and broken its banks at the bottom of the hill when we returned there. My second visit was the next year, but was planned over five days, and in glorious weather I climbed Frenchmans Cap twice and wandered around the ridge towards the Franklin River. I was hoping for a repeat this year, but the weather forecast wasn't optimistic.

Lake Vera hut
Lake Vera hut
In the event, I had an enjoyable although occasionally uncomfortable walk, and spent an hour or so on and about the summit in chilly weather which included snow and hail. Day one was a little drizzly, with occasional moments of rain, and I walked into Lake Vera. The track has been significantly improved, and a new segment of track up Laughtons Lead is apparently nearly ready for use. I couldn't locate the ends of it, otherwise I'd have used it in preference to the southern part of the Loddon Plains and Philps Lead, which were somewhat wet and muddy, but not too bad. I heard that the new track was supposed to be opened in March, but I haven't seen it in the news. When it is complete, most of the mud will be remediated or avoided, making it a much more pleasant track.

Lake Tahune hut
Lake Tahune hut
Day two it at least drizzled all day, and was often raining properly. I climbed Barron Pass and made my way to the Tahune Hut. They have installed a stove, and this was superb for drying out wet stuff. It makes the hut a much more comfortable place. There were even some fire lighters there to give it a good start. It was very pleasant and snug sitting in the hut while the rain and hail fell around.

View of misty hills from the slopes of Frenchmans Cap
View of misty hills from the slopes
of Frenchmans Cap
Day three was quite clear although chilly at around 4am. I should have headed up the mountain then, because by 7am the clouds were swirling around again and drizzling. However, the sun broke through regularly, and I set off up the hill towards the col. After about ten minutes, a solid, lengthy shower of hail caused some indecision but it cleared quickly and the sun came out, making it feel quite like summer. The clouds cleared more as I traversed the terraces high above Lake Tahune, and the sun shone on the hills to the north, making for good photographic opportunities. At the summit, there was initially no view, and it shortly commenced snowing on me. However, after a brief descent and return, the clouds cleared quite a bit providing views to Clytemnestra, Lake Burbury and other points. The summit, at the edge of the huge cliff is a spectacular and exhilarating place, and is well worth a visit. The views are great on a clear day, and even with only partial views the precipitousness of the whole landscape is obvious.

View downwards from the summit
of Frenchmans Cap to Lake Cecily.
Returning to the hut, I decided to stay a second night and see if the weather was clearer in the morning for another trip to the summit. It hailed now and then through the afternoon. The sunset was quite attractive and I broke out the tripod on the helipad. The next morning the weather was actually worse, so it was time to head back to Lake Vera. There were occasional views down to the lakes in the valley, but drizzle accompanied me most of the way back to the Lake Vera hut. My final day was relatively clear, with just occasional drizzle and some rain. I couldn't locate the southern end of the new track segment, so I had to plod down Philps Lead and up the Loddons again. A hamburger at Derwent Bridge for late lunch was very welcome.

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