August 10, 2002

Winter at Frenchmans Cap


Date: August 10th to 15th, 2002
Written by: Brendan , edited by Allan, member of the 1996 winter trip.
The Team: Brendan, Brandon, Evan, Willie, Rosie, David, Jeremy, Samara and Maurice.
Frenchmans Cap: 7 Points
Sharlands Peak: 2 Points
Clytemnestra: 4 Points
White Needle: No Points
Bulmers Bluff: No Points
Philps Peak: 4 Points
Revisiting one of my favorite winter destinations is one not to be missed. It would be my sixth trip to "The Cap", and apart from Maurice, the rest of the team would be making the trip for there first time.
Friday 9TH, Driving from Launceston to Derwent Bridge
The first car left Launceston at 5:15pm in the evening, arriving at Derwent Bridge at 7:50pm. A meal was obtained from the Wilderness Hotel with the usual gruffness but the food was reasonably good.
We stayed overnight at the Derwent Bridge Chalet's - run by Murray Jessop - Where we received wonderful service. The cost per night is between $30 to $49. We slept in a double story unit called 'Olympus'.
Saturday 10th, Walk start to Vera Hut (8 1/2 hours, tough walking)
By 8am we had left the chalet, and arrived at the walk start around 8:30am. After the traditional team photographs, we hit the track at 9:00am.
Out on the track, we quickly became quite strung-out, however we had the advantage of radio contact between the various groups. The "sodden Lodden" lived up to it's name, by lunch stop at 1pm most of the team was covered in mud.
We made radio contact with the front group as we neared the end of the plains. They had organized for David to continue on to the hut to get the stove fired up, while the other three would drop back down the hill to help carry our packs. The rendezvous was made at the bridge over Philps Creek.
The final section through to Vera Hut was completed shortly before 5.30pm. It had been a long 8 1/2 hours on the track and we were all very glad to reach journey’s end. It was probably the longest first day walk into Vera Hut that I’d ever had to endure. Most of us were very weary, but I’d tried to make it clear to everyone that this was always going to be the toughest day and that things would improve in subsequent days.
Sunday 11th, Rest day for some, White Needle and Philps Peak for others (9 Hours)
We awoke to over cast conditions that made the prospect of a rest day in the hut most appealing. However, in true peak-bagging spirit, five of us prepared to set out on our planned objective. So at 9am and in light rain, we set off to White Needle and Philps Peak via Barron Pass.
Along the lake, I noted with admiration all of the recent track work. In places, steps had been cut into logs of fallen huon pine and placed in position.
At Barron Pass we looked for a route below the western cliffs of the White Needle but such a great loss of height loomed that we gave this idea away and began looking for a more direct route up through the cliff face. David’s hands had now become very cold and he decided to head back down to the hut. I was similarly cold and favored following him down. Brandon’s forays up the rock revealed that there were a couple of difficult sections to negotiate before easier ground was reached. Weighing this up, along with the prospect of further deteriorating weather and my increasingly cold hands, I decided to give the climb away. I watched the others progress for some time from Barron Pass, wished them well over the 2-way, and followed David’s footprints back down towards Lake Vera.
The bubble of domestic hut life was broken around 2pm when the boys radioed in from the summit of Philps. This was exciting news, as it meant they had successfully negotiated the ‘unknown’ section of the circuit between White Needle and Philps Peak. They favoured closing the circuit by returning via Bulmers Bluff.
We were not able to get radio contact again till late in the afternoon, close to 5.45pm. By then, Brandon had made it back onto the main walking track on the high plain about 10 minutes from the hut. At 6pm they all arrived back, tired but obviously pleased with what they’d achieved.
Monday 12th, Vera Hut to Tahune Hut (3 Hours, medium walking)
Around 7.50am we departed.
Evan made the fastest climb of the day, arriving in 1 hour 20 minutes from the hut to Barron Pass. Conditions at Barron Pass were once again poor with nothing to see amidst the bleak surroundings.
Climbing out of Artichoke Valley we continued towards Tahune Hut, arriving at 10.55am.
The track work around the lake and up to the pass had obviously aided our progress. I was also impressed by our performance, especially considering the 20 minute break we’d taken at Barron Pass.
Maurice decided that he was up to the side trip to Clytemnestra and he set off with Brandon at 1.30pm. We were able to talk with them via the radio as far as ‘Chatwin’s Crack.’ (A feature of the ascent where the track goes between a narrow cleft in the rock. We’d given it the name in 1996, in honor of one of our summit team). Once communication was lost we knew that the next possible opportunity would be from the summit of Frenchmans Cap on the following day.
Tuesday 13TH, Summit Day (4 hours climbing)
It was summit day and summit days are always great days! Although I was looking at climbing the mountain for my sixth time, I still felt really excited at the prospect. I walked outside the hut and peered up at the great monolith. As expected, it was covered in mist. However, three or four inches of fresh snow lay on the ground around the hut. It was just what we had hoped for!
Our team motto for this trip was. 'One up, all up.' We were going to do this as a team. After some discussion we all decided to attempt the climb.
We left at 9.30am. As we gained some height we were able to look down and observe that Lake Tahune was partially frozen over. When we reached the point where the North Col Route diverged from the standard summer route we had a parting of the ways. Jez decided on the North Col Route while the rest us chose the other route. We found it hard to locate the correct route as it zig-zagged up the side of the face. There were no visible snow stakes and all cairns were obviously hidden under the snow. Faint recollections from the last trip in 1999 helped me a little but it was largely a case of just picking what appeared the most likely route upwards and following that.
We regrouped on the rim of the plateau and set off together for the summit. David had the camera out and was able to film our final triumphant steps. It was 11.45am and, although slow, we’d had a great time ascending the Cap.
Brandons voice broke on the 2-way radio. By his estimate they were just some thirty minutes away from the top of Clytemnestra. All was going well. They’d found the cave, had a good night and were not having any problems with their route-finding. We congratulated them on their efforts and signed off.
The descent was rapid. Evan leapt over the edge and we watched his quick slide to the base of the slope. His survival encouraged more of us to give it a go.
By 1.45pm we were all back at the hut, so completing a very successful and enjoyable day. It was most satisfying to have achieved the goal of our team motto for the trip of ‘one up, all up.’
Dinner coincided with a call over the 2-way from Brandon to say that Maurice and he were at Chatwin’s Crack and would be down in about thirty minutes. Their trip had gone very well and a good night had been spent in the bivvy cave. Maurice couldn't find any evidence of anyone else visiting in the three years since he’d been there with Shaun. Talk of the cave provided us with much of the evening’s entertainment as we began a game of ‘Name the Cave.’ It was Rosie’s offering of ‘Poore’s Penthouse’ - Shaun Poore had found it in 1999 - that eventually got the unanimous vote. So ‘Poore’s Penthouse’ it will forever be!
Wednesday 14th, Sharlands Peak
Peak-bagging ambitions still remained. We were keen to climb Sharlands Peak. I was happy to be the guide despite having been to the top a few times before. In return, Brandon agreed to take me up White Needle.
As we climbed out of Artichoke Valley the rest of the team caught up with us. At the point where we were to drop our big packs we spent considerable time with the cameras out, taking in the spectacular views that were appearing through the rapidly clearing mist. The view ahead of the White Needle emerging from the mist was breathtaking indeed!
Heading over the ridge to begin the climb up the lower slopes of Sharlands Peak. We managed to successfully negotiate the icy incline and climb onto the summit for great views.
Thursday 15th, Vera hut to highway then drive to Launceston
We all head down to the helipad for a team photo. We’d done the same thing in 1996, 1997 and 1999 Winter trips to Frenchmans Cap.
By 9:00am most of the team where on the track, heading to the highway. Brandon was first to the finish line in a time under 4.5 hours. The other four had been another 20 minutes behind.
After hot chips and hamburgers from the Derwent Bridge Takeaway shop. It was a further 2.5 hours before we arrived back in Launceston, just before 7pm.
It had been a great trip with a really good team. At the start, I’d had a fear in the back of my mind that, after so many successful winter trips to the Cap, I must be due for a failure. But it had not happened. In fact, it had been one of the best trips ever into Frenchmans Cap and I’d really enjoyed sharing the mountain with a large new group of friends on their first trip in the area. It had been an entirely new experience for ones like Willie and Rosie, requiring much unfamiliar physical effort, which meant that their achievement in reaching the summit had been particularly impressive. For me, I asked the question, "Will this addiction we have ever end?" 

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