Frenchmans Cap

Situated deep in Tasmania’s wild west, Frenchmans Cap is one of the most challenging and spectacular multi-day walks in Australia. This pristine environment forms part of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage area and is home to wild rivers, remote rainforests and towering quartzite mountains which have seen relatively little disturbance since European settlement in the 19th century.

Renowned for its steep, muddy trail and relentless rainfall this walk is not one for the faint-hearted. The return journey takes in a 46km, 4 day return walk through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. We visited in late October and were lucky enough to time our ascent to the summit with a short break in the weather.

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Setting out from the Lyell Highway, the trail crosses the magnificent Franklin River after around five minutes, a symbolic crossing into an area of wilderness thankfully still relatively intact after Tasmania’s mid 20th century dam building era. Within an hour, we were well into the steady climb over Mount Mullens, the first of two significant ascents on the 14km trip toward Lake Vera. We stopped for lunch by the Loddon River, a slow moving river notable for the dark, tannin-stained waters seeping from the buttongrass plains that characterise this part of Tasmania.

After lunch we set off across the Loddon Plains, once known for their waste deep mud but now a breeze to walk thanks to a significant donation from Dick Smith. This has alleviated some of the damaging track braiding which had been occurring as traffic increased in recent years, giving the plains a chance to recover. We arrived at Lake Vera Hut after a steady climb through some beautiful temperate rainforest - after six hours of walking it was nice to rest and share dinner before we embarked on the second day’s trip to the summit.

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The second day took us from Lake Vera to the Frenchmans Cap summit before heading back to stay the night at the new Lake Tahune Hut, a surprisingly luxurious retreat given the location deep in the mountains of Western Tasmania. Clocking in at around 11 hours walking for the day, this may be simultaneously the most challenging, yet most spectacular day of walking we’ve done in Tasmania to date. A steep 400m climb through dense rainforest up Barron Pass, on a track consisting of little more than tree roots is no walk in the park.

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From Barron Pass through to Lake Tahune, the walk is really slow going as the trail climbs and falls below Sharland’s Peak and across Artichoke Valley and its skeletons of old pine trees destroyed by a wayward campfire in the 1960s. Escaped campfires like this are the reason all of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage area are fuel-stove only areas - only one small slip up by an individual can result in irreparable damage to this fragile landscape. Please, if you visit these areas, do not light fires!

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When we arrived at Lake Tahune, we feared the weather may have beaten us; we knew a change was forecast for later in the evening and clouds were setting in. Nevertheless, we knew this would be our only chance to reach the summit so set out on the 3km, 4 hour return trip. Almost immediately the track takes a steep turn and climbs relentlessly toward the most spectacular mountain in Western Tasmania.

At times the ascent toward the summit felt more like rock climbing than walking, with a couple of particularly challenging boulders to navigate, in addition to some deep snow drifts left over from the long winter. The effort was worth it as after all of this the clouds parted, revealing spectacular views of the wild and rugged landscapes below. After 23km it was impossible not to celebrate reaching this point, we took a few minutes to enjoy the views before beginning the journey back down toward Lake Tahune.

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Our third day was marked by heavy rainfall and strong wind as we retraced our steps back from Lake Tahune to Lake Vera - keeping our feet on the slippery track and strong winds was a difficult challenge at times, reminding us that the weather in these parts can be dangerous to even the most prepared.

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The weather cleared for our final day of walking, a trip which seemed to last forever once the possibility of a cold beer and hot food began to play on our minds. As we crossed Mount Muller we glanced one final view of the peak we had climbed two days earlier - reflecting on how wonderful it is that places like this still exist, wild and untamed, free from commercialisation. Something worth preserving.

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Brodie EmeryComment