Monday 20 October – Wednesday 22 October 2014
Originally I intended to do the walk to Frenchmans Cap over 4 days which was the usual time I had taken most visits, but after considering some of the things I needed to get done later in the week, a 3 day excursion sounded a better fit. The weather forecast had been insisting two very fine sunny days followed by most of the third one which gave me great hopes. Neville had been in contact but only had two days free, but in the end I decided that my mind had become set on this walk and I wanted to see what it was like with the new track. Graham was interested but couldn’t go til Wednesday and that would have left me with too little time to get ready for another trip and besides the weather was just too promising to pass up. I mentioned all this to Sue and she reckoned I should stick to my plan, and that helped with the decision.
When I pulled into the car park there was another vehicle and a reasonably young fellow getting ready to depart on the walk. We chatted for a while and established that our plans were fairly similar, including going for 3 days but with food for an optional 4th day. I set out first expecting him to soon overtake me and wondered why I didn’t hear him closing the gap as I ascended mount Mullins. However I was most surprised that he didn’t turn up whilst I had lunch at the Loddon River. He talked about photographic equipment so perhaps taking photos was the reason. However he didn’t get the lake Vera that night and I did feel a little worried about him; Alasdair I think his name was.
That first view of Frenchmans from Mount Mullins is always breathtaking.
Although the bogs had all been hardened prior to the Loddon, it was once over that the main work on the new track begins. Initially it follows the old route, with the worst bogs hardened and just a few not as bad sections waiting to be fixed. After some 1.7k a sign was reached indicating Laughton’s Lead and at this point it is a completely new track of really good quality that winds around the hills. It is mostly north facing and so is in a good perspective for drying. Much of it is built up from the excavation of often deep drains with soft sections boarded. There is a photo of the machines used for the work in the huts. Anyway it is excellent although the end joining to the old Philps Lead is still under construction. The surprising thing is that it feels to be mostly uphill, but on the return walk you realise that there is quite a few short uphill bits that way as well. On checking the map this new track starts at the 400 metres height and joins Philps at 500 metres so for a distance of 4 Kilometres it only rises 100 metres, but it certainly feels like it was more.
I had completely forgotten how many steps up it was on the Philps Lead part. The other surprise was coming upon a group of seven walkers here; I read in the log that there was such a party but that their departure was the previous day. They were from the mainland and had arrived by bus latish in the afternoon and because it was raining had camped by the Franklin, so had really only set off today. They were a pleasant lot and I had a bit of a chat to them at the Vera hut after I had finished my tea and gone to see if Alasdair had arrived; which mysteriously he hadn’t.
Nicoles Needle comes into view during the latter part of the climb to Baron Pass
Shortly before I set off on this trip I decided to go for 3 days rather than 4 and said I wouldn’t be worried if I didn’t get the summit of Frenchmans. The area is spectacular with the sharp quartzite spires and massifs and just being there is sufficient.
I was conscious that I would need to keep to the times in my notes, which I was able to do. In fact I was ahead but without a big pack that as not unexpected. What I didn’t sufficiently allow for was rest breaks, and being keen to get to Lake Tahune with ample time for Frenchmans Cap, arrived feeling a bit tired.
I weighed up the options and decided just to go part way up to North Col to get the view down on Lake Tahune. The decision was for me the wise one as it gave me a full hour for lunch and able to ensure the day was much better than if I was tired and rushing. Even so I didn’t get back to camp until 4:30 after leaving that morning at 7:20.
I never felt any regrets and still haven’t; perhaps it might be different if I had never been to the top before. I have freely admitted that it takes me longer to get to places than once and I guess this is just acknowledging that I am not able to do as much either.
Barron Pass flanked by Sharlands and Philps Peaks
Whilst sitting back at camp I heard a voice and walked over Vera hut to find a couple there, Barry and Hu. Barry was telling me he had camped at Barron Pass with a photographer named Dan; well there surely could be only one bushwalking photographer with that name. It transpired that Barry and Hu had also started the same day as me but later and had camped at a nice grassy site on the western bank of the Loddon. They also mentioned meeting a walker returning who hadn’t gone all that far, which solved the Alasdair mystery; although he didn’t explain why he was returning.
Well the weather for return walk was again fine with no clouds and it eventually got quite warm by the middle of the day. The climb up Mullins seemed to be seemed steeper than the impression when coming in; a common theme. A few minutes resting and taking in the last views of Frenchman before going over the other side and back to the car. That last bit of track between the creek at the bottom of Mount Mullins and the Franklin River certainly felt a lot longer than it did on day one.
Frenchmans Cap on the approach to Lake Tahune with North Col
A few people queried me about the safety of leaving a car at the parking area odd the Lyell highway and I answered to the effect that I had heard of no problems in recent years. Nevertheless this did put that uncomfortable feeling in my mind. It was good to not see any broken glass there when I arrived, but during the walk I did think a few times about the possibility. I asked the last two who arrive at the Vera hut if the cars were OK and then as I was departing Barry said he hoped my car was not up on blocks. Although said in jest it caused me to think how I would cope with such a situation; not very well I think. I was pleased to find the car OK when I did arrive back.
In Car to Lake Vera 5:20 inc 30m lunch = 4:50 15.25k
Lake Vera to Lake Tahune 7k 3:30 with a 15 m break = 3:15
Lake Tahune to Lunch 0:55 Vera 2:20 inc break 15m = 3:00
Vera to car 5:05 inc break at Loddon 10 min = 4:55
A photo album can be viewed by clicking the image below.