January 13-15, 2016
Day1: Lyell Highway Carpark to Lake Tahune Hut – 21km
Day 2: Lake Tahune Hut to Frenchmans Cap summit- 4km
Day 3: Lake Tahune Hut to Carpark – 21km
It seems that it is El Nino we need to thank for this spell of fantastic weather in Tasmania. Today was an incredible 31 degrees for our hike out to Frenchmens Cap with a storm front predicted late in the afternoon. And tomorrow it is predicted to dip to 10 degrees. After finishing the Overland Track and before starting the hike, we spent the night in Queenstown, staying at the Empire Hotel. It is a lovely old pub with an interesting history. We are discovering that pub accommodation is fantastic and so far the places we’ve stayed have had a lot of character. It is much nicer than the generic motel experience.
We decided to hike the Cap when the bus driver taking us to Cradle Mountain last week dropped some hikers off at the start. A bit of research showed it was an out and back 46km walk to a limestone bluff whose southern face is a vertical white wall thought to resemble the old style caps French sailors wore.The trail is located in the Franklin Gordon Rivers National Park and crosses the Franklin River.
We left the car at the car park by Lyell Highway. We had read of many warnings about break-ins and theft from cars left in the car park. But inquiring at the rangers station at Lake St Clair, the ranger assured us that there had not been any problems for the last 10 years, since the car park was relocated.
We descended from the car park to the first suspension bridge, the crossing of the crystal clear Franklin River. The trail from here is through dense rainforest and undulating open grassland which soon gives way to a steep climb towards Mt Mullens. We were rewarded at the top by our first view of Frenchmens Cap.
Hiking through dense rainforest over challenging technical terrain was certainly tough. The vegetation was dense with not as much in flower as we had experienced over the past few days. We were relieved that the trail was well marked. We were walking all the way through to Lake Tahune hut where we planned to spend a day to sit out the bad weather. We just had to reach it before the storm arrived. We got to Lake Vera Hut at half way, in four and a half hours from the car park. It was a lovely, clean hut set back a bit from the lake. Enormous buzzing flies provided the background music while we ate lunch here.
After lunch it was a hard slog up to Barrons Pass lookout. This section has been probably the hardest hiking I have ever done. It was hot and I was carrying a 14kg pack. There was climbing of ladders, sometimes cut into dead tree trunks interspersed by tree roots and rock scrambling. This went on for nearly 3km rising 350m in elevation from Lake Vera. At times it felt like it would never end. Took us almost 2 hrs to cover this 3km section. We were rewarded by fantastic views from Barrons Pass. A string of lakes set in a dense green valley, fringed by the snowy white limestone peaks of Frenchmans Cap and the surrounding mountains. And wilderness as far as the eye can see.
Staying at elevation we scrambled over a fallen rock field before descending some ladders towards Artichoke Valley and Lake Tahune. As we approached the lake we could hear the rolling thunder of the approaching storm. And right on cue, 10 minutes after we arrived, the rain started. Another quite mystical spot, the hut was warm and cosy. From Lake Vera Hut to Lake Tahune took us three hours and 20min. I reveled in the physicality of the Barron Pass climb for probably the first hour finding a good rhythm and stopping occasionally to catch my breath and stop my heart pounding in my ears. After that it was just a hard slog to the end. Hammer was steady all the way and like a mountain goat skirted the rockfield in no time.
We spent the morning of the next day lazing around the hut, reading and eating while a steady rain continued outside. By early afternoon a group of five young guys arrived, cold and soaked. Turns out they were surfers from Avalon. Soon after another two hikers arrived, Pru and Nicole, two ICU nurses from Melbourne.
As the weather was not lifting Hammer and I decided to don our wet weather gear and head to the summit of the Cap. It was hard rock scramble , almost vertical in places, climbing through waterfalls and slippery rocks. As we ascended the wind got stronger and the rain turned to hail. By the time we neared the top the hail gave way to snow. Hard to believe, 31 degrees yesterday and snow today. It was a blizzard on top of the Cap with no view at all. After a brief moment on top we headed back down to the warmth of the hut. The round trip of 4km took us two hours and 15 minutes. The rest of the evening was spend with our lovely hut companions swapping stories of travels and experiences. The next morning, the sky had cleared and we hiked 21km back to the car park. Perfect hiking weather, overcast and not too cold. The first hiker we passed on our return trip was Nye from the US. She had hiked the PCT in 2014. What providence, we stood on the trail for sometime asking questions. If you are reading this Nye, thank you for all the tips and enjoy your Tasmanian hiking holidays.
We made the carpark in 8 hrs and still had time to drive to the Hungry Wombat for a burger before they closed for the day. We would rate this hike as one of the best we have done. A great, well maintained trail over technical terrain in a wild and remote location.