Tasmania for me holds a strong allure. Coming from Queensland, the rugged wilderness offers so much new & exciting terrain, flora & fauna to explore. In May 2016 I was fortunate enough to have a photography job that culminated in Hobart, a perfect excuse to tack on an extra week to go for a walk! My good mate Kai was very easily roped into flying down from Brisbane for a week, so just like that the wheels of adventure were in motion.

Spoiled for choice, Tasmania is a hiking paradise after-all; we narrowed down our options to either the classic Mt. Anne Circuit or the hike out to Frenchman’s Cap. The pull of the Cap was too strong, plus a rather wet forecast meant the option of having huts to shelter in was very appealing. As a side objective I wanted to scope out the climbing routes on the face for future endeavors.

Frenchman’s Cap is a proud peak rising to 1443m above sea level. It lies within the Franklin – Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, which is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. The massif  rises gradually from one aspect, then suddenly drops off with a 450m vertical cliff on the other side. In short this is a rather epic mountain that lies amongst some seriously awesome wilderness. The return journey takes in about 46km of hiking & is often tackled over 3-5 days.

Image Credit: Tas Tails, http://tastrails.com/frenchmans-cap/

Image Credit: Tas Tails, http://tastrails.com/frenchmans-cap/

Making a late start from Hobart our approach towards the mountains heralded some rather wet & chilly weather. This helped finalise our decision to spend the night at the Derwent Bridge Hotel, enjoying a pint of dark ale & large cooked meal by the roaring fire. The cavernous timber hall is a sight to behold & the hospitality was simply excellent. The next morning after an early start, well not too early we did have to enjoy an extensive breakfast at the hotel, we found ourselves pulling into the trail-head by the Lyell Highway. The sun was out & it seemed the weather gods might actually be granting favour to our journey.

Day 1 Lyell Highway – Lake Vera Hut

After the obligatory final glace backwards, we left the hire car in the car-park & silently hoped it would remain there until our safe return. We’d completed the usual final gear shuffle & pack adjustments, finally the walk could now begin in earnest. The trail culminates by heading down-hill but very soon reaches the mighty Franklin River. For me this felt like the real start of the adventure, crossing the suspension bridge a seeming gateway into the wild beyond. The river was flowing fairly fast, sparking a discussion about how grateful we both were that it was there. Below us the swift water looked cold & savage, swimming across such a beast is not how I’d like to start a trip such as this!

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Selfie whilst crossing the mighty Franklin River

After about an hour of steady climbing from the river valley the trail crests not far from the peak of Mt. Mullen’s. Keep your eyes peeled here for some dramatic views of Frenchman’s Cap in the distance. For us the scattered cloud offered some fine views, although the summit of the Cap was lost in the dark canopy above. Regardless our optimism for the rest of the trip being clear & dry was at this stage was still intact.

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Our first view of the Cap from Mt. Mullens.

Just over the crest, we found an ideal lunch spot and quickly proceeded to attack the most gourmet spread of food I’d ever be audacious enough to pack on the hike. Smoked Salmon, barrel aged feta, fresh baby spinach… this was ridiculous. But my stomach was incredibly happy that our pre-hike shopping trip to woollies in Hobart had gotten a bit out of hand. Resisting the urge to lay down for a siesta in the sun, we loaded up & continued down the trail. It has to be noted that the track condition thus far, and for the entire trip was outstanding. Dick Smith in Partnership with Tasmanian National Parks inject an incredible amount of time & money into track maintenance & upgrades, which Kai & myself were very appreciative of. The track was mostly dry, but the water-filled drainage channels reminded us that there had been considerable rains recently & that this was indeed a very wet part of the world.

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Gourmet lunch beside the track at Mt. Mullens.

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L: Hiking towards Pickaxe Ridge. R: Crossing the Lodden River.

The next couple hours saw a gradual decent into some more vegetated areas, another suspension bridge over the Lodden river this time & some fine views up to the near-by pick-axe ridge. Old tales of the hike to Frenchman’s Cap are filled with tales of hardship crossing the infamous ‘Sodden’ Lodden Plains. Luckily for us, a by-pass of this section has been constructed, which takes higher ground & is much quicker. Somewhere along this newer section we were granted another view of Frenchman’s Cap, this time the weather that had been slowly closing in threated not olny our optimism, but our dryness. Alas the late afternoon light was fantastic for the final few km & we arrived at Lake Vera hut not long before sunset.

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Our last & closest view of the Cap before entering the clouds.

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L: Enjoying the last sunshine we’d see for almost three days. R: Negotiating one of many, many puddles.

Within minutes of our arrival at the hut, the weather gods decided our dry spell was over & begun an onslaught of rain & wind, well at least we were dry for the first night… After a rather protracted session getting the stove to light with damp fuel, we managed to get a decent coal fire going just as the temperature began to drop. Dinner saw us finish off a bit more of the gourmet food, mixed with some timeless hiking fare, couscous. Kai looked a bit perplexed when I announced that I’d like a cold beer just before dinner & proceeded to walk outside & grab one. I’d stashed a porter out there to chill it a bit. The weight was totally worth it. Falling asleep to the sounds of heavy rain & wind battering the hut was peaceful, but signified a very likely turn for the soggy on the morrow.

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L: Cooking up a feast at Vera Hut. R: Fancy cuisine for hiking…

Day 2: Lake Vera Hut – Lake Tahune Hut

Waking with the increasing light, as the sunrise was very well hidden by a rather heavy blanket of cloud we awoke to a damp world outside. After breakfast, all gear was well sealed in dry-bag, full rain gear was donned & the walk towards the Cap continued. Much of the first section of the trail was deep in the canopy of the forest, with some brief glimpses of Lake Vera early on. The damp underworld was covered in rich green mosses, brightly coloured fungi & ancient tree roots. There was water everywhere, with the track running like a small creek at times. Climbing up the steep slopes & in numerous steps towards Barron Saddle.

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Passing a rather turbulent creek whilst climbing towards Barron Saddle

An elevation gain of about 350m over a mere 3km got our legs working. Cresting the ridge at Barron pass saw us leave the relative calm of the protected forest & transition into a wild windy rigged world. The views were limited but enough to offer a hint of the raw wilderness that lay ahead. Kai’s pack-cover decided it wanted to learn how to fly & made a daring escape attempt. Luckily a nearby tree grabbed it & a rather sketchy rescue effort was launched. This comical episode served to remind us that this was an unforgiving place, and that the weather rules all.

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L: The moment Kai’s pack cover decided to make a getaway. R: A hasty & ultimately successful rescue operation.

We started off down from the saddle, traversing the ridge beside towering rocky spires feeling vulnerable but elated at the rugged beauty of the landscape. The cloud was quite low and at time we were surrounded by it’s swirling dampness. The views were not expansive but this mystical world we found ourselves travelling through was unforgettable & beautiful in a different way. When the vast vista is not vying for your attention I find myself looking at the smaller details more closely. The plant life we passed was decidedly pre-historic looking & the small clumps of snow caught in some of the bushes reminded us that temperature was lowering, whilst the altitude was rising. Quite suddenly we came upon Lake Tahune hut nestled in the trees.

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L: Impressive track work like these stairs just kept coming R: Walking through the clouds made for an eerie experience at times.

This was a welcome sight & we were very glad for the refuge. Once again the hut was empty so every bit of hanging space was quickly colonised by wet clothing & gear. The whole hut was a touch damp throughout, so that meant the small amount of kindling stored to get the coal stove started wasn’t exactly cooperative to our efforts. Alas, the hut was small & we had plenty of warm clothing to keep warm. A few times in the afternoon & evening I ventured out hoping for a glimpse of the Cap that was towering somewhere above, but the cloud was stubborn & the mountain shy.Determined to venture to the summit regardless, we set the alarm for about 4am & crawled into our respective down cocoon’s for the night, meanwhile the world continues to rage outside, promising a wet adventure soon to come.

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Drying out all our wet clothes in Tahune Hut

Day 3: Lake Tahune Hut – Frenchman’s Cap – Lake Vera Hut

Crawling out of bed at about 4am, the hut was a cold dark damp place, but that it was still a world more appealing than what awaited outside. Luckily the track leading to the summit of Frenchman’s Cap is well marked and even in through the darkness & minimal visibility was possible to follow. Our hopes of the weather miraculously clearing were all but gone by this stage, but the path onwards beckoned nonetheless. It began to get gradually a bit brighter, but our world remained limited to the small circle of visibility. The climb alternated between a steep walk & a scramble, but provided care was taken; the rock was grippy enough to navigate safely in the wet.

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Climbing up the Cap in darkness, this was not long before the ‘dawn’.

Following the trail was easy enough, with plenty of markers when needed. At the North Col of the mountain a track splits off to the right leading towards the Franklin River, whilst our path to upwards continued to the left. The rapid gains in altitude became even more obvious when we passed a couple of snow patches & before long could see nowhere higher left to go. To be honest is was a rather anticlimactic summit. Our reward, instead of a grand sunrise vista showcasing the wilderness in every direction, was cold sleet & more swirling clouds. Alas, the mountain simply didn’t want to share her hidden secrets this time.

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Faithful boots on the summit, the Scarpa SL Active on the left & Delta GTX on the right.

Hoping for a miraculous break in the weather, we hung around for a while whilst the day just got brighter & the wind even decided to pick up. Accepting that the view was unlikely to improve, we begun downwards retracing each step back to the hut. The weather didn’t relent so despite the onset of day, the world of towering rock above us remained quite hidden. This was dissapointing but my take is that the climb had simply become more about other factors. The elements, the textures of the rock & the sheer remote ruggedness of the place.

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L: Summit selfie, somewhere below is the 450m drop. R: heading back down past a snow patch.

After a quick breakfast & packing our bags, the return journey began in earnest. The rain was relentless, but by this point we’d just come to expect this as the norm. Traversing back along & below the ridge towards Barron Saddle was fun as expected. Once over the saddle we began steep decent back towards Lake Vera & sit became very obvious just how much water was filling the small streams. At times the track disappeared underwater entirely where the streams filled beyond their usual banks. Water was simply everywhere! One great advantage to this was only having to carry a small amount to drink, then simply stopping to re-fill the bottle at any one of thousands of opportune places.

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L: Filling up with some fresh rainwater. R: Apple pie for dessert on the last night.

Day 4: Lake Vera Hut – Lyell Highway

Awaking early our final day on the track begun much the same as the previous, couple, looking outside to find it was still raining. Alas we both knew the day’s walk wasn’t too strenuous & that a meal in Hobart beckoned. Feeling energetic, it was agreed that we’d set a fast pace & haul it back to the car. The biggest obstacle was the ever-present flooded sections of the track, never dangerous deep or fast flowing, but enough to make picking a line through a fun challenge. About two thirds of the way back to the car, the weather ahead began to break, with even a fleeting few moments of sun breaking through. It was about this time that I noticed the clouds behind us taking on a rather dark hue. A distant deep rumble confirmed that indeed a storm was afoot & seemingly chasing us! At least this new development was change from the monotonous rain… We continued onward, but soon glancing back a white wall of water could be seen approaching. When tiny balls of ice begun whizzing down around us, It took a moment to realise that it was hail. Hiking through the Tasmanian wilderness with the sun on my face & hail peppering my Gore-Tex jacket was certainly memorable.

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L: Sunny in front with the surprise storm approaching behind. R: Hail back-lit by the sunlight.

The storm soon passed leaving scattered clouds & only a few light showers for the rest of the hike. Crossing both the Lodden River & later the Franklin River, we surpised at just how much the water level had risen. The churning white water below did not look inviting, sparking another conversation about how glad we were to have the swing bridges to cross. The same hike that only days ealier had taken about 6 hours (with a lot of stops…) took only on the return, we must have been keen for a pub meal!

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Re-crossing the Franklin River, this time with a lot more water!

In summary the hike to Frenchman’s Cap was very enjoyable, rewarding and certainly memorable. Sure the relentless wet weather & limited visibility wasn’t ideal but as I’m learning, that’s the nature of walking in regions like Tasman’s Southwest. I’ll be back for sure, maybe next time with a trad-rack & a few more days to wait out the weather if needed.

For more information on the walk & up-to-date track conditions, check out THIS link. I’d also highly suggest grabbing a copy of the TASMAP Frenchman’s Cap printed map.

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

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