Frenchmans Cap (27-29 Apr 2022)

I had a five day window between jobs and after spending what felt like much of the last year sitting inside, either because of Covid or the weather, I was determined to use the time. After all, my leave balance would be reset to zero, so I needed to get a holiday in while I could. Unfortunately the timing didn’t work for Tom so without that much consideration I decided I would head to Tasmania.

Parks Tasmania introduced a booking system for many of their popular walks during Covid, which included a cap of 10 people starting Frenchmans Cap track each day. So from a fortnight out, I was frequently refreshing the booking site hoping someone would cancel. My persistence was rewarded when one spot became available. Up until then I hadn’t booked anything, but quickly flights, hire cars and accommodation were sorted. It all seemed a bit crazy, but as the youth would say; YOLO.

That’s where I’m going

We had the long weekend away in Mt Kaputar, then I was back at work for my final day on Tuesday, before a 5:20am taxi to the airport on Wednesday morning. I’d been watching the weather forecast and it seemed I was just going to squeeze into a fine weather window.

The forecast – definite incentive to be out by Friday afternoon!

It wasn’t the most relaxed itinerary in the world. I arrived in Hobart slightly later than hoped, had a quick swing by Anaconda for a gas canister, grabbed some lunch, and then hit the road for the 3 hour drive to the trailhead. I should have looked at Google’s route before setting off – or at least got a bit more suspicious as I followed a series of B-roads and then C-roads… and then eventually found myself at a 4-way intersection where the only sealed road was the one behind me. Great. Fortunately the dirt C-road was in pretty good nick, and it wasn’t that long before I was deposited on the A10 highway. I may have even made up some time with my dirt road driving skills, such that it was only 1:10pm when I left the car park.

The trailhead – just after 1pm on Wednesday

The destination for the first day was Lake Vera Hut – 14.5km from the trailhead. I would likely have been more prepared for the hills had I checked the contour interval on my map in advance. As it turns out it doesn’t take very many contours at 40m intervals to make a reasonable climb! I got my first views of Frenchmans as I came over Mount Mullins. It was a gloomy day – but clear enough for views.

First views of Frenchmans (looks a long way off)

The Lodden River marks almost half way to Lake Vera and like most of this section the track was pretty easy going.

Crossing the Lodden River

After Dick Smith’s intervention to move the Frenchman’s Cap trail away from the Lodden Plains (“Sodden Loddens”) the track is now largely mud-free. Admittedly it has been a fairly dry summer in this part of the world, so perhaps I had it better than normal.

Glad I’m using the boardwalk

I had passed 3 individual walkers, and 1 group of 3 on their way out (including one lady who had been to the summit and back that day), but given my late start I wasn’t expecting to see anyone on their way in. I caught up with a group of families as we started climbing off the Lodden Plains. I concluded the kids needed more weight in their packs, as after I passed them they jogged behind me for a kilometre or so, before eventually passing. They must have given up on running as I did eventually catch them again and got to camp about half an hour before them. One of the Mum’s confessed to me later that night that the kids were all very impressed with how fast I could walk.

I decided to tent that night; given there were already 4 people in the hut; I wasn’t sure what the families were doing; and I was planning a particularly early start in the morning. I was very impressed to use the chains on the tent platforms. The chain links would hook into the holes in the platform at whatever length you needed. This is a significant improvement on just hooking around the little nails, which is what we did on the Western Arthurs.

Excellent tent platform ingenuity

I settled down to cheese & biccies and a very fiery sunset. Every time I sat down to relax I had to leap up again to take another photo as the sky had gone even more red.

Fiery sunset from Lake Vera Hut

I moved into the hut to cook, and was glad I had as a fairly intense burst of rain sent everyone in not long afterwards. With about 16 of us in the hut for the evening it was full of energy. Fortunately the rain passed so that we could get to bed dry, though it did continue to drizzle on and off through the night.

Since we’d turned in around 8pm it wasn’t that surprising I was awake at 4am. By 6:30am I was walking. Sunrise was at 7am, so it was only just light as I left camp. The previous night when I’d arrived I’d gone looking for Lake Vera and didn’t find it. I was hoping that I would be able to find the track in the near dark! The track follows the edge of the lake in the bush, with a lot of undulating over tree routes, so the torch was back on my head very quickly.

A very early start on Thursday morning

I enjoyed the glimpses through the tree canopy of the sun hitting the peaks above me, but sadly there were no clear views. But topping out at Barron Pass was quite dramatic. A beautiful clear blue sky and views as far as the eye could see.

About to top out at Barron Pass.

Magnificent views from Barron Pass

It was only once I was at the top I had a real look at where the route went. I was pleased from there the track sidled along the side of the range rather than plunging back down the other side. I was so excited about the good weather, and the exhilaration of being out there, that the traverse just flew past.

Looking back to Barron Pass (the low point)

I passed one walker on his way out, and then just as I got to Lake Tahune at 9am there was another walker leaving. I had a quick morning tea in the sun in front of the hut before starting the ascent. I was wondering at there only being 2 people at Lake Tahune the previous night, but then I bumped into two women on their way down from the summit. What a gorgeous morning to have been up there! We had a bit of chat and then I continued on up.

Half (?) way up

Not far above the sign-posted junction is a bit of scrambling. The ‘crux’ scramble felt easier for me than a couple of other spots – which I definitely would not want to be doing in the wet. The cloud had started coming in a bit, so I didn’t have full blue skies, but it was still pretty good.

I was a bit confused when I got to the top and it was 10am. Earlier I had calculated how long it had taken me to get to Lake Tahune, and that meant it had only taken me half an hour to ascend. But then realised I had miscalculated the time earlier (only taken 2.5 hours to get to the hut), then an hour for the ascent. I had set myself a turnaround time (whether I’d summitted or not) to ensure I would get back to Lake Vera before dark – didn’t look like that was going to be an issue!

Summit selfie

I had an early lunch on top. By the time I’d finished my fingers were frozen and a few more layers needed to go on. Really I should have descended a little to have lunch as there were some very pleasant sheltered spots not that far below the summit.

Stupendous views from the summit (but it was very windy)

On the way back down (in a sheltered spot where the camera wasn’t going to blow away)

I found the difficulty of the scrambles reversed on the way down. The ones I hadn’t liked going up were fine on the way down, and the ‘crux’ scramble was a bit trickier to descend. I ended up taking off my pack and slithering down the gap on the right, easy enough for a smaller person.

Lake Tahune

Looking back up at Frenchmans from the shore of Lake Tahune

Back at Lake Tahune Hut I had another snack break on the platform in front of the hut. The modern hut looked very comfortable, but I didn’t feel any regret in not staying there for the night. I thought this should be called the Walk of the Hidden Lakes, as both huts are named for the lakes in proximity but neither are really visible. Just before midday I set off on my return trip. I met the families from the previous day, with the kids out the front (of course) not far from the hut.

Interestingly the traverse which I felt I’d glided along on the outward trip seemed decidedly treacherous on the return. Everything felt slightly damper (and consequently more slippery) and I really didn’t remember the amount of undulating. Nevertheless I enjoyed the lack of time pressure to be able to take my time and enjoy the views.

The fagus was starting to turn

Typical (treacherous) terrain of the descent to Lake Vera from Barron Pass

The descent from Barron Pass was hard on the knees, and I was particularly glad to not have a full pack on my back. I was glad to finally get a view of Lake Vera at the base – it’s not an easy lake to see.

The elusive Lake Vera

I’d passed the two women that I’d met on Frenchmans Cap on the descent, and it seemed likely to only be the 3 of us at Lake Vera that night. Given my tent was almost dry from the previous night’s rain I decided to move inside. Having an entire bunk shelf to yourself is a cushy way to enjoy hut life. Annie, Jane and I had a great afternoon/evening, and seemed aligned on our get up times which removed any pressure to be quiet in the morning.

Lake Vera Hut – just 3 of us for the night

We were all up before dawn and Annie & Jane set off just before 7am. I wasn’t far behind them and on the easier terrain I didn’t catch up until one of the tree-root filled descents.

Early morning colour

We continued to pass each other through the morning and got back to the car park within a few minutes of each other.

Weather looking a bit ominous behind us (and Frenchmans is in the cloud)

I got some day visitors to take a picture of me with the hire car when I got there at 11am. I was excited to have the whole day to drive across to the Tasman Peninsula. I had been visualising how the day would play out…. until I tried to unlock the car.

Back at the car before the rain

The keyless entry fob was not eliciting any response from the car. There’s not a lot you can do without a key and no mobile reception. Fortunately I knew Annie & Jane weren’t far behind and were heading towards Derwent Bridge (and mobile reception). They gave me a lift to the Derwent Bridge Hotel where I managed to call roadside assistance. The lady at the call centre clearly had no idea of the logistics of the situation. When I asked how long she thought it would be, she said “oh we like to say within an hour”. Then she said the guy was coming from New Norfolk. I googled the distance after I got off the phone and even if he immediately left it was 2 hours drive. So I settled into a relaxed lunch with Annie & Jane. I recommend the deluxe toastie. We were feeling very smug with ourselves as it was now pouring outside, and we hadn’t used our raincoats at all on the trip.

Annie & Jane headed off, and the roadside assistance man turned up around 2:45pm. (I didn’t get his name, and I should have, because he was amazing. But fortunately a quick search has told me his name is Nic). I was hoping it was going to just be a flat battery in the fob, but that wasn’t the case. The most time-consuming challenge was trying to get into the bonnet – because we couldn’t get into the car (because it’s keyless) we couldn’t use the bonnet release lever. Anyway, after trying many different angles to tackle the issue, Nic had success. Unfortunately through the process it was raining on and off. I was very relieved when he got the car going. He then followed me back to New Norfolk (which was on my route) and checked out the car again before sending me on my way. 5 star review of Nic.

Several hours later… back at the car park with the Roadside Assistance man

Ignoring the car issues this was a great walk, though my knees are still complaining about it!