April 13, 2006

Frenchman's Cap Trip

Marian Harradine
We left the car in the car park on the Lyel Highway parked with some other vehicles and noticed broken glass from a previous broken into car or two. There was also a sign warning of previous vandalism. We decided to chance it anyway and I prayed a prayer of protection as we left.
We got on our way at about 10.15. It was a sunny clear day and very warm with our backpacks on. After about 5 minutes we crossed the beautiful Franklin River on a suspension bridge. Then there was an extended wooden sleeper type track, which went on for about 10 minutes at least. We got to a boot wash creek about 15 minutes after leaving the Franklin River and stopped to scrub our boots.
From there on the track started to climb through beautiful green, mossy and ferny sassafras forest up the slopes of Mt Mullins.
I forgot to take notes on the times on the way in, but I know that we got to the Loddon River at about 12.45. We met a young man there having his lunch who had left Lake Vera that morning. He told us he had his tent and therma-rest stolen from Lake Vera Hut while walking for the day.
We crossed the large river on a strong suspension bridge, and decided we may as well have lunch in the cool shade. While we were eating a ranger came with a German girl volunteer.
He suggested that it was a nice day walk to Frenchman’s from Lake Vera and suggested we camp at Lake Vera for two nights rather than taking our packs up to Lake Tahune. That sounded good to us.
We were on our way again soon after 1pm and started making our way across the Lodden Plains which were sodden and very muddy. It seemed to go on forever. We would get to a dry area and think that was it and then the mud would start again. I even washed my boots and gaiters thinking we were at the end of it at a nice shady creek (the first crossing of Philps Creek), but we had another two more stretches of mud to negotiate! Our main problem, besides the mud, was that it was very hot in the area with no breeze or shade.
I think it was about 4.40 when at the other end of soggy Philps Lead, which came after the Loddon Plains, we crossed Philps Creek for the second time and finally started climbing into the shady bush up Pickaxe Ridge. What a relief! When we got to the top of the ridge we started descending through more forest and eventually came onto some more button grass plains, with wooden walkways over the wet sections. The buttongrass really looked very attractive when walking above it and not having to negotiate mud. Within 25 minutes we passed a toilet and then Vera Hut, just before 6 pm.
There were quite a few people in the hut. One chap told us that he and another member of his party had a tummy wog from the water they had drunk- vomiting and diarrhoea. I hoped that wouldn't be our fate as we had filled our bottles out of little clear creeks where it looked as though they may not have had a long history. I had drunk at least 2 litres of it in the heat.
We found a nice camping spot across Vera Creek, next to the track and set up the tent. It was so mild that we did not bother about putting the fly on the tent. After our tea we had a refreshing cold bucket wash and went to bed at about 8.30, very happy to be there after our hot tiring day. There was a lovely concert of birdsong all around us. It was very comfortable and a good night’s sleep was had by both of us.
We were both happy at the thought of camping at Lake Vera and walking without our backpacks up to Frenchman's tomorrow.
We got up at 7 am the next morning, and left at about 8am. It was a lovely day, clear and sunny. We got to the top of Barron Pass by 9.50 and to the Artichoke Valley at about 10.30. We got to Tahune Hut at 11am.
After looking about and filling our bottles with fresh tank water we set off at 11.15. and got to the top of Frenchman's at 12.45, having found a cool spot for lunch on the way up under a rocky overhang of the Cap with an amazing view south east.
It was a very clear day everywhere except towards the southeast and the north West Coast. We were up there for an hour and ten minutes sharing mountain identification knowledge with some interesting people who were there too. They made us glad of our quiet night in the tent, as apparently there was movement in the Lake Vera hut till 1am.
While we were up there a young man and woman looking super fit and lightly clad ran up. They had run from the road that morning leaving at 7am,and were doing a return trip in the one day, running where they could, practicing for the overland track race. We were all green with envy with their level of fitness. I think it was about 1.15 when they got up there and they left for the return run soon after.
We left the top of Frenchman’s at 1.55, got to Tahune Hut at 3pm and after a little rest by the side of beautiful Tahune Lake we resumed our return to the camp, getting to Artichoke Valley at 3.25 and the top of Barren Pass at 4.25. We took our time as it was a lovely walk and it was quite warm.
We were back at Lake Vera before six oclock and the hot hut occupants were disinclined to go inside to cook as it was 31 degrees on the thermometer in there. Some were sitting in the creek below the hut 'communing with nature'.
We had our bucket wash before tea to cool ourselves as well as clean ourselves enjoyed our meal and the quiet evening. We were in bed by 9.30.
We were having a lay day the next day and I decided to use it by going up to Frenchman's Cap again and enjoying the day again. Brian was not too keen on doing that and decided he would potter around Lake Vera and the area for the day.
We got up at 6.45 and at 7.15 I headed off up Barron Pass again. I started climbing at 7.35 after the first crossing of the creek. The top of Barren Pass was reached at 8.42. I sat up there taking in the views and vegetation for a few minutes and was on my way again at 8.50. The Artichoke Valley was reached at 9.30 and Tahune Hut at 9.55. There was no one at the hut and after reading the flora chart abd checking Lake Tahune, I left at 10.15. I got to the top of Frenchman's Cap at 11.25. I only spent 15 minutes up there this time as it had become cool and breezy. I had the place to myself. There were also a few drops of rain. The views were still good, but not as clear as yesterday.
I was surprised again how close Queenstown and Strahan were and Macquarie Harbour. I identified again Mt Sorrel, Mt Darwin, Mt Jukes and Pyramid Peak, Mt Huxley, Mt Owen and Mt Lyell, Mt Sedgewick with Mt Heemskirk in the distance.
I descended just enough to be sheltered from the wind coming from the southwest and found a comfortable rock on which to sit and have my lunch. It was a lovely vista north.
I did not dally long at Lake Tahune and resumed my walk along the track back to Lake Vera. Who should I meet when I was just past the Artichoke Valley but Brian. We briefly discussed going back up to the Cap together, but then decided that it would make us too late getting back to camp so we walked back towards the Barron Pass, enjoying the flora and the views and the freedom to take our time as there was plenty of that.
In my walk that day I took in more than what I noticed the day before. When we got back down the Barron Pass and near Lake Vera we were especially surprised at discovering Huon Pine growing around Lake Vera in quite significant numbers, most hanging in the water in their usual fashion. I don't know why it isn't mentioned in the walk notes on the trees and flora - I am sure it was Huon Pine it looked very much like what we've seen at Tarkine on the edges of the Huon River. The variety and number of wildflowers was amazing too on the whole walk, flowers I had not seen before that would look good in any garden. Beautiful geums, which looked a bit like a large strawberry flower with hairy strawberry leaves, lovely clusters of butterfly flags, red flowering richea and the odd waratah and the mountain lilies, growing often in seemingly impossible situations.
Anyway it was about 5.30 when we finally got back to camp to find the place deserted. After a look at the sky and remembering the forecast for rain we decided to pack the tent and go into the hut if no one had come by 7.30. We had tea. We then pulled the tent down and took everything into the hut.
It was very warm in the hut and by the time we went to bed at about 9 pm after another bucket wash, I was wishing we were back in our tent as the mosquitos were also in with us in great numbers. I slept much better in our little tent without their company. They seemed to be really attracted to aerogard! Also it did not rain more than a few drops in the night.
We had breakfast and packed up our bags, swept out the hut, and were on our way by 9.10, rather reluctant to leave. As usual it was much easier walking out than walking in, not just because of the less weight but also because you get fitter I think. It was also more enjoyable because it was cooler. We have found that the temperature can have a big effect on walk times.The hotter the slower.
We couldn't believe it when we got to the end of the Loddon plains and to the Loddon River at 12.50. I thought we were only halfway it was so easy in comparison with the trek in. The weather was overcast and cooler, good for walking.
The Loddon Plains were not as badly sodden, due to the hot dry weather in the last couple of days, although we sank down deep a few times due to unexpected depths!
One amazing sight though was when in the middle of the mud, from out of nowhere, a young chap appeared wearing very open sandals (with only two bands of leather across the foot). They were spotlessly clean and so were his feet. Brian looked at him in amazement and asked him where his boots were. He replied that what he had on was quite adequate. I wondered later if he was real or a clean footed ghost!
We got to the Franklin River at about 3.45. The car was undamaged in the carpark.
What a great way to spend four days!

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