matty's tasmanian adventures - index


Frenchmans Cap

Walk - 2 Oct to 4 Oct 2009.

2 Oct 2009 - After slowly packing all the previous night, I left home at 4.30am.  I had a nap 15km east of Derwent Bridge for an hour and reached the car park at 8.20am.  The weather varied between rain and light drizzle.

I headed off at 8.45am and felt pretty good.  I was constantly taking my coat on and off as the rain stopped and started or when I was overheating going up hills.  I was trying to avoid sweating too much under the coat because when you stop the sweat gets you really cold and you dehydrate quicker.

I caught up to a man and woman near the Loddon River.  They were discussing whether they had reached the Loddon Plains or not (they hadn't).  They were only wearing walking shoes with no gaiters and I knew that they were going to suffer in the bog.  They didn't have walking poles or even a stick to test the bog depth.

The man also said that he had a sore ankle.  They were moving slowly and had camped somewhere near the Franklin Hills.  At the speed they were travelling, it would be very late by the time they reached Lake Vera Hut.  When I reached the bog and found how bad it was, I thought that they would turn around.

I coped with the bog alright and only got stuck a few times.  On one section of bog I almost trod on a yabbie.  It was out of its hole in a clear pool of water.  It had a blue colour to it.  There were lots of frogs making a sound that sounded like sheep and there were tadpoles in the pools of water as well.

My right knee was a bit sore but I tried to look after it as I walked. [I had surgery for torn cartilage/right medial meniscus, 2 months before]

I was getting quite sore all over and was cold and tired as I reached the water filed trenches towards Philps Lead.  I lay under a bush in the button grass to shelter from the rain to rest.

In the rainforest up the hill of Philps Lead, I slowed down to pace myself.  I was feeling stuffed and kept having rests that were getting longer and longer and the distance I covered between the rests was getting a lot shorter.  I had a few snacks to try and re-fuel.  I was soaked to the skin and my thermal top and coat were both soaked.  The goretex jacket wasn't waterproof any more and the thermal top was merino wool.  [I have since stopped using the merino thermal because I felt that it was keeping me cold and the regular thermal kept me warmer]

From the top of Philps Lead it was pouring down.  I crossed the next buttongrass plain, down the steps past the Lake Vera toilet and into the hut.  There was no-one else around.  I quickly got out of my wet clothes and got dry.  I was shivering and got into my sleeping bag and ended up sleeping for 2-3 hrs.  I was disappointed that I didn't get any views of Frenchmans Cap as I walked today - due to the rain and low clouds.

I woke up on dusk at 6.30pm and I was aching all over.  I made a hot drink of orange tang and then had a pasta meal and then tried to get the fire started.  If someone hadn't left behind some metho, I don't think I would have got the coal heater going.  The thermometer in the hut said it was 8C but it felt like 0.

After about 5 tries at lighting the heater I finally kept it alight and warmed the hut up to a glorious 20C.  I hung all of my clothes up so that I wouldn't have to start in cold, wet clothes the next morning.

I was going to take a day pack up to the summit on a day walk rather than carry a full pack up Barron Pass.

While reading the log book in the hut I found that someone had printed out the trip report from the walk to Frenchmans in 2007 that I did with my dad - Tony Watton.


3 Oct 2009 - I set my alarm to go off a few times during the night to try and keep the heater going.  I topped it up at 1am but I slept through the 3am alarm.  When I got up at 6am, the hut was slightly warmer than the outside temperature.  I cleaned the hut in case someone turned up during the day and packed my daypack.

For the summit trip I took: compass, track notes, epirb, satellite phone, food bars, nuts, raincoat, thermal top, mittens, camera, mini tripod, spare batteries, water and cap.

I left Lake Vera Hut at 6.45am and made good progress up Barron Pass and reached the pass at 8.30am.  The weather was fine and I was immediately struck by the awesome sight of Frenchmans Cap with snow on all surrounding peaks.  Even though this was my 3rd trip on this track I had never seen the peak because it had been hidden by cloud the previous 2 times.

The track descended into the forest for a while below Barron Pass, under Sharlands Peak and it was very cold in the shade.  Eventually the track came back up onto a ridge and undulated to Artichoke Valley.  The sun was out with clear skies.

I arrived at Tahune Hut at 10.15am feeling as tired and sore as I feel at the end of a hard day.  I had a big drink and some food bars to get some energy.  After a rest I started heading up to the summit.  The track climbs steeply straight away and it was very icy with snow on the sides of the track as well.  After a few minutes I reached the junction where the closed track headed straight up the gully ahead.  The new track turns left for a zig-zag and reaches the junction heading up to the summit or straight ahead to the top of the gully and down to Irenabyss.

I kept following the cairns up the mountain.  The sun was melting the snow and water was cascading down the mountain all around me on its long journey from 1450m alt. down to the Franklin River.

As I walked up the mountain in the snow, I kept sinking down to my waist due to the running water undercutting the snow underneath and creating an empty space below the top layer.  As I neared the top, the cairns were well and truly buried so I was following footsteps in the snow but eventually the footsteps disappeared.  I had previously told myself that I would turn around at midday if I wasn't on the top because it would be a slow trip back down (being tired with a sore knee).

At 11.45am I was just below the summit area on the Lake Tahune side.  I couldn't get up to the top level because I was sinking down in the snow too much.  It would have been a piece of cake with my snowshoes.  I made my way out to the edge of a cliff on some exposed rocks.  Looking up at the summit I noticed that there was a big, overhanging cornice or ice/snow, due to the wind blowing across the summit from the south.  I felt a bit nervous sitting below it because if it had 'let go' I would be carried off the edge of a 400/500m cliff.

As I headed back down, I had to carefully kick footsteps into the icy ground to make sure I didn't slide off the edge.  In the safer areas I just sat down and slid down the mountain.  I had to be careful in the tight notch where it covers over you from the left, in a steep gully as you climb down.  This is easy in dry conditions but needs some care in the water and ice.

The water was running down like a waterfall in the spot I had to descend and it was pretty unpleasant but I didn't have much choice.  Eventually I made it back to Tahune Hut and had another drink and snack and then continued.  My right knee gave a nasty twinge every few minutes as I took big steps down or if I twisted my right foot outwards.

I kept plugging away, getting more tired and sore.  I needed lots of breaks and really looked forward to each landmark that I could remember on the track.  At Barron Pass I hoped to only have 90 mins to go as that was the time it took to climb up, but my knee couldn't take me downhill very fast and I had to manage it carefully.

I was thrilled to reach the lake and even happier to reach Lake Vera Hut and let out a cheer when I arrived.  I hadn't seen anyone all day and there was no-one at the hut.  My legs must have known that I had reached the hut because they decided to stop working when I got there.  It took a massive effort to get around and make dinner and start the heater.


4 Oct 2009 - Daylight savings started during the night, so I just slept in an hour longer in the morning.  I had a hot drink for breakfast and when I had to walk up the steps to the toilet my legs were very stiff and sore.

I packed my gear and cleaned the hut and left at 9.40am.  I took slow, deliberate steps and used the walking poles to help.  It was a very slow plod up the first hill away from the hut, past the toilet and onto the first buttongrass plain the into the rainforest.

There were leatherwoods everywhere and a lovely fresh smell.  It was warm and sunny and very pleasant - except for the pain.  I stopped at the camp at the log crossing near the washout on Philps Lead.  After I walked through the washout area the trenches were full of water down to the buttongrass plain area.  The track turned north across the Loddon Plain to the 2 bridges that are close together.

I continued across the bog, walking through the shallow bits and around the deep stuff.  I had regular breaks at the Sth Loddon and Loddon Rivers just before the long climb up Franklin Hills.

While looking at the map I noticed that it had Mt Mullens marked as 960m but it is actually 660m.  On the north side of Franklin Hills I entered the rainforest again and got the close view of the Lyell Hwy (that always looks closer than you really are).

It was great to reach the Franklin River crossing and climb back up to the car park.  I was relieved to find that my car was still there - as I had left it.  I finished at 4.55pm which was 7hrs15mins from Vera to the carpark - due to my dodgy knee. [This took me 4hrs20mins in my Jan 2012 walk with dry Loddon Plains]  Overall it was a beautiful and challenging trip.