Thursday morning 16th December 2021, I drove to Queenstown. After Tullah on my way towards Mount Tyndall, I stopped for a quick photo opportunity at a lookout below Mount Murchison on the Anthony Road. Due to Covid-19 the PWST introduced a permit system for popular walks. Even with the state borders still closed, the slots for Frenchmans Cap were fully booked until March. Just by accident we got two remaining slots on a short notice a few weeks ago. But as we just had finished the Three Capes Hike four days earlier, Kristy decided to not join on the Frenchmans Cap hike, as she still had her knee problems. She even wanted to cancel the reservation for the permit, and called the PWST, but somehow they didn’t care as the reservation system was done via a third party provider.
In the evening I started my hike from the Frenchmans Cap carpark at about 17:30 o’clock. We almost had the longest day of the year, and sunset was due to almost 21:00 o’clock. Thus, such a late start wouldn’t be of any problem. After a few minutes you cross the Franklin River. Nowadays it has a convenient suspension bridge, you no longer need to use a Flying Fox or swim through it. But it had really low water level. Due to La Niña, the predominant rain fall was no longer in the South-West of Tasmania, but rather in the North-East, and as such the southwest was already quite dry for the end of Spring.
The track is well marked and maintained nowadays. You can’t miss it. And also after the re-routing of the original track a few years ago, which was a few kilometres to the east directly through the Loddon Plains, and freshly cut of Laughton’s Lead the time of waist-deep boggy holes is gone. Due to the frequent usage, the old track was a real Tassie boggy mud trench. Nothing of those old adventures can be found anymore on the current track. After crossing the Franklin Hills and getting out of the forest, you can already get a first glimpse of the nearby Frenchmans Cap. Then you descent to the Loddon River. Loddon River was literally not flowing and just a black mess. There are campsites on both sides of the river, as well as there were at Franklin River, but I decided to continue. After the Loddon River, you enter buttongrass plains. Despite the fact that it was so dry, the track routing is now away from the bog holes. Yes maybe you get muddy shoes, but that’s nothing compared to boggy peat. Furthermore, I also have to say, I’ve never seen so dry buttongrass plains before. I was even wondering if and when they would start to burn. It’s not the first time that those dry buttongrass plains get lid in the World Heritage area by lightning strikes.
I camped behind small creek before the ascent of Laughton’s Lead starts. There is a small bridge over the creek, and the freely running creek provided plenty of fresh water. I even found a wooden platform next to a yellow toolbox, about 150m behind the creek. It took me about 2:30 h from the carpark to get there.
On Friday morning I continued my walk and headed up at Laughton’s Lead towards Vera. The track is in a really good condition, properly benched, and trenches everywhere, so that the water can flow freely away and doesn’t produce sever washouts. At about halfway you meet the junction to the now overgrown old track towards Philps Creek. The last few kilometres towards Vera Hut provide now even a boardwalk. I made a brief stop at Vera Hut and had a quick walk around the campground, but except an empty tent, there was nobody there.
After Vera Hut the track becomes a bit rougher. The walk along Vera Lake is quite hard, and involves several climbs over numerous root trees. It’s not as smooth as before. Then the steep climb through the forest towards Barron Pass starts. It’s in sections really steep, but not exposed. In the beginning you walk next to a small creek. You can’t miss the track, and nothing is really exposed. In the end it took me about 2h to get the 400m elevation gain.
The weather at this day was really good, and once at Barrons Pass great views open up to Frenchmans Cap and Clytemnestra on the other side of the valley, as well as to Lake Cecily and Lake Getrude directly underneath it. To the south of the pass you’ve the White Needle peaking out, and to the North it’s Nicoles Needle.
You continue by traversing below Sharlands Peak. The terrain is steep, but, again, well maintained. Nothing to hard, and not even really exposed. After this 30min traverse or so, it gets a bit easier. You’ve a nice view back to Barrons Pass, as well as to the Vera Valley and Donaghys Hill (from there I saw the first time Frenchmans Cap – almost 11 months ago) in the North. From here you could do a side trip to Daverns Cavern, but I couldn’t be bothered doing 2km of trackless bush bash. After crossing the Artichoke Valley, and heading through a small saddle, you’ve almost reached Tahune Hut. Along the way you always get glimpses of Frenchmans Cap. There’s a short ladder to overcome a steep section just before the hut.
Tahune Lake lies in a cauldron and the hut is nested just at the edge of it. Tahune hut was just built recently. Thus, it’s a very modern hut, and has a great view from the lunch area. I left my gear at Tahune Hut and headed up to the summit in the late afternoon, making use of the good weather conditions. The old track along the gully is closed due to excessive erosion. The new track makes a big zig-zag at the bottom of the mountain before a sharp left turn and getting up steeply through a couloir. Once you gained this, the rest of the walking up to the summit is basically straightforward.
If you miss the turn off (as some other walkers told me, they did in the first instance), you basically walk over the North Col another 5 km to the Irenabyss at the Franklin River. You could even walk out via the Raglan Range, which requires an additional 10km of trackless bush bashing. And last but no least before that, swimming through the Franklin River with your packraft (which need to be carried in and out), or any other device which gives you additional buoyancy for your heavy backpack, for example your inflatable mattress. Somehow that wasn’t appealing to me, I wonder why…
The view from the summit of Frenchmans Peak was just stunning. It provides a real 360° view. I could see Lake Burbury to the West, Bathurst Harbour with Sarah Island to the south, could guess the Prince of Wales Range to the South, and King William Rang to the East, and Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain to the North. Basically all my mountains and points I’ve been to, I could see from here. All these fond memories of Tasmania seen from a single point, my final summit.