French Fried

Trip reports, stories, track notes. Multiple/large photos are OK in this forum.
Forum rules
Posting large/multiple images in this forum is OK. Please start topic titles with the name of the location or track.

For topics focussed on photos rather than the trip, please consider posting in the 'Gallery' forum instead.

This forum is for posting information about trips you have done, not for requesting information about a track or area.

French Fried

Postby Mechanic-AL » Mon 04 Apr, 2016 8:20 pm

A four day forecast for Queenstown in early January looked like just what was needed to give an eagerly anticipated walk into Frenchmans Cap the green light. Daytime maximums between 21 and 24 degrees and no overnight minimums below 8. In a word, beautiful. Unfortunately in the 3 days it took me to get my ducks in a row things changed a bit. By the time I left Hobart Queenies forecast had morphed into 2 days in the high twenties followed by a couple expected to get into the mid 30’s. Not a deal breaker in it’s own right but more alarming was the recommendation from PWS that bushwalkers state wide should consider postponing planned walks due to an increased bushfire risk. The idea of grinding up Barron Pass in hot weather did little to excite me and my usual levels of enthusiasm were nowhere to be found as I headed up the Lyell Highway to the start of the walk. The plan regardless of the weather had always been to start late in the day and have a night by the Lodden River so it was well after 5pm before I slung my pack on and set foot on the track. As I crossed the Franklin River I thought it maybe in danger of losing it’s status as a “wild River “. The gentle flow of water meandering down the lowest reaches of the river bed bore very little similarity to the wild torrents captured in some of the WHA’s most iconic images. The Franklin Rivulet may have been a more fitting title. Soon after I spied my first glimpse of the distinctive Frenchman’s beret from the slopes of Mt Mullens and I got an inkling of why it proved to be such a formidable destination for early explorers and bushwalkers. That evening the tranquillity of my campsite by the Lodden River was so complete. With only the occasional drone of a bush fly and the far off call of a bird, everything was so still. As I sat eating dinner in the middle of the bridge, sucking in that cool highland air it felt good to be out in the bush again. My enthusiasm was finally on the rise!
The next morning dawned clear and equally still and I was soon leaving the bush for the new boardwalk across the Lodden Plains. With no small amount of help from Dick Smith I found myself passing the southern junction of the old track without so much as a speck of mud on my boots. As much as I was enjoying the new track it left me feeling as though I was somehow cheating and I wondered how different things might have been if I had been down there in the mud ? It’s fair to say that some sections of the new track are so good that it would be possible to ride a bike along it. As I made my way up Laughton’s Lead I was swiftly overtaken by one of Tasmania’s most mysterious bush creatures. A very spindly looking Van Demonous Endurance Runnerus bound past at an astonishingly brisk pace sporting a surprisingly small day pack. He obviously wasn’t out there for the long term and I envied his lightness of being as he disappeared up the incline. The extremely dry myrtle forest I had been walking in soon gave way to dry scherpyl forest before I dropped down onto the wide open expanses of Rumney Plains. Before reaching the western end of the buttongrass I swung to the south with plans to spend a night somewhere on the upper slopes of Aggememnon. By the time I had crested the second ridge line going up I began to appreciate just how much the day had warmed up. With the added challenges of being off track and the sun doing it’s best to drill a hole in my head I came to the conclusion that a change in plans maybe warranted. Aggers could wait until the return journey and hopefully some cooler temperatures. That evening I found myself setting up my tent amongst a few others just on from Vera Creek. Before long Van Demonous Endurance Runnerus came sprinting back along the track at an undiminished pace. It was around 5.30 pm and I’m glad it was him heading for the carpark and not me! I sat on the Vera helipad eating dinner that evening listening to the quiet murmur of voices from the hut and gazing up at the silhouette of Phillips Peak as the reflections on Lake Vera slowly faded to black.
The next morning I was up early intending to get up Barron Pass before the heat of the day made things uncomfortable again. As I made my way from the tent to the dunny I encountered a very large and loud America bloke (as if there’s any other sort !). The only reason he stood out from the others that morning was because of the peculiar bow-legged gait he employed in getting around. A rather stiff legged lurch that suggested he may have be touch late in anticipating his need to visit the thunder box ! Turns out him and his girlfriend had made the return journey from Lake Vera to Frenchmans summit and back in one go the day before. The result of his exertions had left him looking like he may possibly need some major surgical intervention before he had any hope of getting back to the Lyell Highway under his own steam. I began to quiz him about his trip to the top. He constantly refered to his walk through the “jungle’. When I light heartedly told him we call it the bush in Australia he levelled a steely gaze at me. “Dude, I’ve been in the bush”, he drawled. “And I know what it’s like.What I saw up there was the JUNGLE”. Who was I to argue !
Lake Vera is such a beautiful lake snuggled into the lee side of all those peaks. Maybe it was a bit of over eagerness on my part to be up and going but the walk around the lake to the western end seemed to be taking forever. The far end of the lake seemed to be one of those destinations that always appeared to be just up ahead but never seemed to get any closer. Finally all the tree root hopping gave way to a lovely little clearing surrounded with pines and a better view of the lake itself. I had read accounts of everyone from Jack Thwaites and Keith Lancaster and even J. Philips himself using this little glade as a campsite and I had considered doing the same myself but even in the extremely dry conditions it was still a rather soggy patch and I can imagine many an uncomfortable night would have been spent there in the past.
I have a bad habit of imaging the unknown to always be far harder and more challenging than it really is. Before I set foot on the Ironbounds I had imagined them to be of the same scale as the Annapurnas. The climb up Mount Anne had become the south face of Everest and in my over-wrought imagination getting up Barron Pass was going to be a feat comparable with a direct ascent on K2!! As usual things were nowhere near as demanding as I feared and I found myself in quite a comfortable groove chugging up the pass. The rainforest was beautiful and I had the company of a number of inquisitive little thornbills hopping from limb to limb as I made my way upwards. As I passed below the huge buttress below Nicoles Needle I began to feel the temperatures rising and humidity levels becoming progressively stickier. I was beginning to appreciate the loud yanks analogy with the jungle! Soon there was more blue sky showing through the tree line above. And then in a fashion unique to the Tassie bush I took 3 more steps, left the world I was in and entered a completely new realm. Just like walking through a door!! The landscape I scanned from my little perch in the saddle was stunning. Way below and to the South West lay lakes Gertrude, Magdallen and Millicent just as they had for a million years. To my right was the lofty heights of Nicoles Needle and Sharlands Peak. To my left the nobbly outline of White Needle and Phillips Peak punched the skyline. And directly to the west, Clytemnestra. But it was the sheer cliffs and massive bulk of the Cap itself that dominated the view! The landscape I was taking in had survived the ravages of time and it felt to be immensely powerful. As I sat alone in complete awe of my surroundings I began to feel extremely small and insignificant.
It’s funny how you can have a mental picture of somewhere and when you finally get there it’s nothing like you had imagined. I had thought I would be traversing more open and exposed slopes after leaving the top of the pass. Maybe it was the promise of “easier walking” in John Chapmans track notes that had me fooled but it was not too be. (Not the first time J. Chapman has had me fooled ! ) I found the track from the top of the pass onwards to be more testing than going up Barron Pass itself and the only opportunity to enjoy the scenery was to stop and take it all in. Walking and attempting to scan the views at the same time proved to be a catastrophic combination! Some time after passing below Sharlands Peak I took a short detour off the main track again. With next to no knowledge or information I had surmised that the infamous Daverns Cavern could be somewhere in this vicinity and so I spent the next few hours sans backpack scrambling around hoping to stumble upon this famous grotto with much the same blind luck that Doug Anderson and Aubrey Davern had in 1932. Not surprisingly I didn’t find it but the views to the north across the Franklin Gorge and on towards the Raglan Range more than made up for any disappointment. It had been suggested to me that an area near my present position would be an excellent place to camp and I would have to agree. Unfortunately the heat of the day was taking it’s toll again and the few small creek lines I had hoped to be able to get water from were nothing more than stagnant little ponds. Something else helped consolidate my decision to continue on . I had begun to smell smoke. As I made my way across Artichoke Valley and over the Pine knobs the skeletons of dead trees ravaged by wildfires took on a more meaningful significance. By the time I dropped my pack on the Tahune helipad the views to the north had been cloaked in a dense veil of smoke. The speed with which things had changed was alarming. I found a neat little spot to call home beside the lake and climbed into my tent that night with a thick smoke haze settling onto the surface of the lake.
I’m not sure what sort of atmostpheric trickery or change in wind direction was responsible but despite a continuing smell of smoke the next morning dawned clear as a bell. A lack of sleep and a dull headache resulted in an unintended slow start to the day and by the time I was heading up to the north Col the few other walkers at Lake Tahune were well ahead of me. Before I had reached the top of the Col I noticed the smoke was beginning to creep back through the valleys below. A couple from Sydney were descending as I began the ascent up the cliffs from the top of the Col and they reported that the smoke haze was creating very limited views from the top. I felt a twinge of disappointment but had heard many stories of people who had done this walk in the past only to be clouded in from go to woe. I was more than happy with what I had experienced already. As I sat gazing out at the grey silhouettes of mountains and ridgelines I tried contacting my father in Hobart. The news wasn’t good. He had heard reports of some 70 odd fires burning state wide but was unsure of what was going in the Frenchmans Cap region. I gave him 15 minutes to do some research and called back. It seemed the main offender stealing my view could be a fire in the NW near Mawbanna. There were reports of fires in the Cradle Valley but these at the time where a bit vague. But of most concern was a report of a fire in the Lodden Range. I really had no idea of just how far away the Lodden Range was as it wasn’t marked on my map but figured it would have to be a fair way south towards the old Jane River Track. I had no info regarding the size of the fire but was aware of a southerly wind change that was due in the next day or two. I was completely ignorant of just how fast an unchecked wildfire can travel or what distances they can cover over a few days. Once again my over active imagination took control of the situation and I figured it was time to be heading home before I became pork crackling. After a bracing dip in Lake Tahune I found myself packed and heading back the way I had came much sooner than expected. My concerns must have been shared as Lake Tahune was strangely deserted as I turned my back on it and started up the staircase leading back towards the Pine Knobs. This day proved to be by far the hottest of the trip and I was more than happy to be dropping back into the shade of the “jungle” as I crossed back over the saddle and down to Lake Vera. I encountered one lone walker heading up to Lake Tahune during the day and his limited command of English provided me with no further info on the state of the fires and it surprised me that he was so willing to press on with the conditions as they were.
Setting up my tent again at Lake Vera I reflected on just how much things had not gone to plan on this walk. I had originally planned a few more days hoping to venture on to Irenabyss. Strangely I had very few regrets. Not getting up Aggmemnon, not finding Davern’s Cavern and not getting down to Irenabyss, all of these gave me a sure resolve that I would be back this way again soon. As everyone was up early and gone the next morning I chose to have a cuppa and enjoy the ambience of Vera Hut by myself for a short while before leaving. The photos I saw in the log book of walkers knee deep in snow and wild weather all around was so far removed from the experience I was having! As I sat randomly flicking through the log book a few entries caught my eye. None more so than a report by 79 year old Phillip Rogers. At the other end of the scale were some brief scratchings from an 8 and 10 year old duo who had accompanied their parents in. There was also a report from a group of Hobart walkers who had ventured up to the summit from the highway in one day only to cook dinner on the top, pack up and walk all the way back out the next day. ( must have been something pretty special going on in Hobart that day !). And amongst the fascinating reports from Terry Reid was a photo of a feral cat shot by a motion sensing camera under the hut!! Wild remote country? Without a doubt. Wilderness?............not for decades. And disappointingly, after reading numerous entries pleading with people not to use the coal bucket as a rubbish bin I spied a skanky pair of undies and an old sock thoughtlessly discarded in the bin!
I could have remained scanning the log book entries for days but the constant smell of smoke triggered my anxiety again and I was soon on the way out. From Vera Hut back to the highway I only encountered 2 walkers heading in. A pommie bloke and his girlfriend who was bizarrely decked out in a pink Dolce and Gabana tracksuit complete with silver sparkly trim ( honest ! ). Yes…… they agreed it was very smokey. No… they had no idea what fires were burning where. And yes …….they were happy enough to continue on and hope for the best. The only other event to occur on my return journey was an encounter with a Tiger snake of epic proportions going over Mt Mullens. This was the granddaddy of snakes.The Nathan Tinkler and Clive Palmer of Tiger snakes all rolled into one !! My usual method of stamping a few times and waiting for it to move off was having little effect on this gargantuan and he was making it obvious he would get off the track in his own good time. I continued on to the carpark and was shoving my face into a pie at the Hungry Wombat by about 4pm that afternoon. A bloke seated next to me was in a TFS uniform. I discovered he was a fire control officer on his way to Queenstown to relieve other people who were on duty there. He filled me in on the alarming number of fires burning across the state and also to the fact that helicopters tasked to fight many of these blazes had been unable to operate because there had been insufficient wind to blow the smoke in one direction or another. The chopper crews were simply unable to see where the fire fronts were burning from the air. He said he had no knowledge of any fire in the Lodden Range but thought I had done the right thing leaving. “It’s just not the time to be out bushwalking anywhere with things the way they are” he advised .

I now have a long list of reason to return to this area. Primarily because once will never be enough! Next time though I might just be looking for some light snow falls and cooler temperatures to experience it in it’s more usual state !!


AL
"What went ye out into the wilderness to see?
A reed shaken in the wind"?
Mechanic-AL
Athrotaxis cupressoides
Athrotaxis cupressoides
 
Posts: 244
Joined: Tue 24 Sep, 2013 7:38 pm
Region: Western Australia
Gender: Male

Re: French Fried

Postby Lizzy » Mon 04 Apr, 2016 9:26 pm

Great report! I'm sure you'll be back for more!
I visited a couple of years ago- 1st day in to the Loddon River we were nearly broiled alive it was so hot!!! Then the temperature turned south and it was freezing, wet and hardly a view to be had.... We did get to the top and hoped for it to clear but had to retreat before being blown off... Oh well- hopefully I'll make a return visit too!
Cheers
Lizzy
User avatar
Lizzy
Athrotaxis selaginoides
Athrotaxis selaginoides
 
Posts: 1043
Joined: Mon 16 Nov, 2009 1:13 pm
Region: New South Wales
Gender: Female

Re: French Fried

Postby north-north-west » Tue 05 Apr, 2016 1:22 pm

Good report. Where are the photos?

For the record, Loddon Range is east of Frenchmans. You would have passed a lookout for the Surprise Valley on the winding road west of King William Saddle - usual departure for the Loddon Range is a little way west of that. The range itself is the high ridgeline immediately west of the King William Range.

As for 'not wilderness' . . . well, get off the track and it's wild enough. If you'd gotten up Agamemnon and Philps or headed out to Clytemnestra you'd have found a bit of wilderness.
"Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens."
User avatar
north-north-west
Lagarostrobos franklinii
Lagarostrobos franklinii
 
Posts: 11302
Joined: Thu 14 May, 2009 7:36 pm
Location: The Asylum
ASSOCIATED ORGANISATIONS: Social Misfits Anonymous
Region: Tasmania

Re: French Fried

Postby Mechanic-AL » Tue 05 Apr, 2016 6:43 pm

Yep, you are right NNW. Of course there's wilderness out there and it was a rather harsh judgement on my behalf.
But it probably stems from my amazement and seeing evidence of Feral cats ( as opposed to native cats ) out there !
I'm left wondering how this cat and/or it's relatives got to be out there in the first place? I don't imagine they read the track notes and followed the boardwalk so it is just possible that they have passed through areas we call wilderness.
Once you start experiencing flora or fauna not endemic to the area then aren't you starting to blur the lines on wilderness?

What ever label it has attached to it, it has my complete respect.
"What went ye out into the wilderness to see?
A reed shaken in the wind"?
Mechanic-AL
Athrotaxis cupressoides
Athrotaxis cupressoides
 
Posts: 244
Joined: Tue 24 Sep, 2013 7:38 pm
Region: Western Australia
Gender: Male

Re: French Fried

Postby north-north-west » Wed 06 Apr, 2016 7:55 am

There are feral cats pretty well everywhere in this country, from Cape York to South West Cape, Byron Bay to Shark Bay. Not much stops them and once released into an environment, they adapt and slowly spread.
"Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens."
User avatar
north-north-west
Lagarostrobos franklinii
Lagarostrobos franklinii
 
Posts: 11302
Joined: Thu 14 May, 2009 7:36 pm
Location: The Asylum
ASSOCIATED ORGANISATIONS: Social Misfits Anonymous
Region: Tasmania


Return to TAS Trip Reports & Track Notes

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests