Trip Map

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Frenchmans Cap

Frenchmans Cap was an amazing experience! It is one of the best treks in Tazmania and also one of the most difficult ones. The trek just topped 1000 visitors a year for the first time last year, compared to the famous Overland trek here which allows 60 people per day on it. There were about 6-10 people at each of the campsites while I was up there, so I saw maybe 20 people total in the huts, and rarely while hiking. The two parts of the trek that make it difficult are the Lodden Plains and Barrons Pass (and the infamous local weather, of course!) more about those later. The Cap itself is white quartzite which is in stark contrast to the black rock below. The cap looks snowcovered from the ocean and was a landmark for early sailors. It is shaped somewhat like traditional British golf cap, but is supposedly named for a old French cooks hat.

My backpack isnt really made for trekking, so I had to strap things all over the outside, but it worked well enough :) I packed food for 5 days, rented a tent and few other camping items that I didn't have and was dropped off at the trailhead by Tazmanian Wilderness Adventures... with a hearty 'good luck'!

I was actually quite lucky to get very fabulous weather, and the first 3 days were clear, calm and hot. The weather is very tricky in Tazmania, and can change within an hour. It is really a maritime environment on the west half of the island, and any storms moving across the island build up quickly and dump all their rain - and the Frenchmans Cap track is usually right in the middle of it! The trail was about 18 miles in, so I made the first campsite at about 10 miles the first day. There is quite a nice hut built there, but it was good weather so I camped out. Took a very refreshing swim in the high alpine lake and recovered from an exhausting 6 hr walk in. I actually had it fairly easy because usually about half of the first days trek is in very muddy conditions (knee high is common and waist deep happens!) Fortunately it has been dry, so I didnt get over 8" of mud, which my gaiters took care of. The 'Lodden Plains' (affectionately known as the Sodden Loddens) that the trail crosses are very fragile button grass so they erode very easily, after only 100 walkers or so, and mud tracks are created very quickly. To protect the area wooden paths have been laid across many of the worst areas, but still plenty of mud to get through! There is an immense amount of track work done and I cant imagine how difficult the trail must have been 20 years ago, especially in wet weather! These Tazmanian trails average between $40-100 PER METER to build, so you can imagine how difficult the environment is considering that most of the trail isn't built up.

Day 2 wasn't as bad as I was mostly out of the mud and wet areas. The trail went along the lake, climbed through a beautiful cool rain forest, before breaking through Barron Pass, which is the first real view of the Cap and quite a spectacular point of the trail. It was a lot of vertical up the pass, but it was cool and protected so it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. From there it was 2 hours to traverse along a rocky ridge and high alpine vegetation to the hut. It was a lot of climbing and took about 4.5 hours to reach the upper lake and hut. The upper camp area is only at about 1000 meters elevation, but the trails are constantly up and down - there are very few flat stretches, so it probably climbs double the total elevation gained. I was very happy to see that there was actually a small beach on this lake and after another very much needed dip I made good use of it! It was probably in the 80's and damn hot on the unprotected upper section of the track so it felt SO good to cool off! The upper lake sits right under the dome and is a wonderful place to relax and take in the surrounding views.

It is another 400 meters or so to the summit, with the first half being steep steps and winding trail and the second just scrambling up the rock cap. I was able to make the summit in 40 minutes with a light pack (felt really good about passing everybody else that was going up- I think my legs are probably in the best walking shape of my life after toting this pack around for 10 weeks!) and spent about 3 hours just enjoying the scenery. The sun started setting in the West and the full moon came up in the East and it was absolutely beautiful! I stayed until almost dark and then started down. It was quite easy in the dark because the moon lit up the white rock brilliantly and made for an easy decent to the bottom. I camped alongside the lake and spent the next morning lounging around, just taking it all in. Finally left early afternoon in time to get back to the first hut near dark, and spent the night inside the hut, as the weather report called for heavy storms. Fortunately I listened to them because a howling wind came up at about 10:00 and torrential rain started at 2 am!

I had to be on the trail no later than 7 to meet my ride at noon, so I was trying to sleep thinking about how much fun the walk out was going to be! Again, I got lucky, because the rain stopped about 6:30 as I was packing up. I put on all the rain gear I had, wrapped everything else in trash bags and took off. Even without rain, after 2 minutes walking down the trail it might as well have been pouring, as I was the first one down the trail through the thick vegetation. It was probably upper 40's F so not too bad and it was comfortable walking in the cool temps. There was water everywhere and you pretty much just wade in and plan on getting water over the tops of your boots... there isn't any other way! Most spots weren't too bad, but across the Loddens (they were sodden this time!) I went up past my knees a few times in mud and nearly lost my boots, too! The water runs down the tracks like a river so I pretty much walked in water all day, so I can see how miserable that would be if it were cold! Arrived safe and sound back at the road just before noon, as the sun came out so I had a little time to remove all my wet outer gear before my ride arrived, and was reflect on how lucky I had been for the good weather, great scenery, and no close snake encounters! Many people trek all the way in there and either cant summit or summit and cant see anything because it is socked in, so I hit it just right.

All in all, quite an experience and I have a ton of pictures and video that I want to upload but for some reason this website wont accept them at the moment. I have posted a few of them on facebook - locate my profile by my email- if you would like. Hopefully the next time I sign in I will be able to download some. Now, its off to Cairns to try scuba diving and hopefully dive on the Great Barrior Reef!

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