Easter (2019) saw us take on our most ambitious multi-day walk yet – Frenchmans Cap. We set our sights on this mountain when we were up in the Labyrinth in 2018.
Driving to Lake St Clair/Leeawuleena
We drove by our usual route, arriving at Lake St Clair by mid afternoon. On our way we enjoyed a civilised lunch stop at Longford. JJs Bakery Old Mill Cafe was a good choice. We highly recommend it.
Where to Eat at Derwent Bridge
We arrived at Lake St Clair Lodge cafe too early for an evening meal so we ordered a cup of tea and soft drink. Shock horror – not much change from $20! I also thought the Lodge was looking a little neglected, too. So we decided to look elsewhere for an evening meal and camp site for our van.
A quick reconnaissance revealed that the Hungry Wombat Cafe in Derwent Bridge would be the best value for dinner. However by 3 pm the cafe had stopped serving meals. I also noted a for sale sign in front of the cafe.
Our only dinner option was the Derwent Bridge Hotel. We were reluctant to eat here because of our previous poor experience with high prices. However we were keen to have a fresh hot meal before starting our walk the next morning. Apart from the cost ($90) we enjoyed our soup (Graham and I) and chicken parmy (James) in front of the struggling fire.
It turns out that the hotel is for sale with approval to build an accommodation resort with 125 units. So perhaps there will be a better choice for meals in the future?
Where to Camp before Starting the Frenchmans Cap Walk
In recognition of the predicted slow nature of our perambulations, we wanted to make an early start the next morning. However, camping in the Frenchmans Cap car parking area was unappealing. There are no toilets here. Lake St Clair, being almost a 30 minute drive, was too far away. So we chose to park our campervan at the Franklin River Nature Trail close to the Lyell Highway. This picnic area with tables and toilets is just a few km from the Frenchmans Cap car park. As a bonus there is easy access to the clear water of the Franklin River to make your coffee.
I use the description of our van as a campervan in a loose manner. There are no creature comforts – just a sleeping mat and a mattress on the floor!
For those brave souls wanting to sleep overnight in a tent, there is a rough tent site about 500 m from the start of the Frenchmans Cap walk. But it might be tricky to find in the dark.
Day One: Walk to Lake Vera Hut
After overnight rain we started the day at 08:30 under a cloudy sky and misty rain. After signing the log book we were committed, and on our way!
Crossing the Franklin River
There was a gentle introduction to the trail via a forested descent to the Franklin River. Of course, stepping down rough log steps was really easy at the beginning of the day – but tortuous at the end of the walk!
BTW the 15 min return walk to the Franklin River is more like 30-40 min, unless you are a trail runner without a backpack.
Climbing Mount Mullens
After enjoying open button grass plains the trail begins to climb through tea tree forest.
Frenchmans Cap Revealed
After we climbed for about three km, the summit of Mount Mullens opened up. My advice is to catch your breath and admire the majesty of distant Frenchmans Cap. Although 20 km away, we could almost reach out to touch it!
The descent down well-constructed steps of white granite was steep as the staircase wound its way down to the river below. The trail then gave way to a rougher forest track as we re-entered tea tree forest.
It was here, where the track clung to the side of the mountain, that James saw a snake! He backed off and waited for Graham and I.
The shade of the forest was a good spot for our first break with a hot coffee and snack.
The Loddon River & Plains
Graham had walked this trail in the 1980’s and declared that he would never return! But here we were. So what changed? Previously walkers had to negotiate about six km of degraded track through the Loddon Plains often knee-deep in mud. Certainly the Sodden Loddon was memorable, but not enjoyable.
Dick Smith to the Rescue
Pip and Dick Smith said this track looked like 100 ferral pigs had gone crazy! In response they made a large donation to Wildcare to assist with the upgrading of the trail.
In recent years the track has been diverted away from the wetter button grass plains to higher ground. The trail now follows the Laughtons Lead track. This is a picturesque easy walk surrounded by the foothills of Pickaxe Ridge.
I think we were near the half-way mark (~8 km) on the trail when we decided to stop for a short lunch break. The track was deeply cut into the button grass and narrow so it was easy to sit on the bank! We were feeling hot and tired and still had a long way to go.
The Cruisy Rainforest Section
From here the track climbed steeply through dense rainforest. Some much younger walkers skipped past us. But for me with the added challenge of a surgically-altered knee it was a slow, hard slog. The tree roots were wet and slippery. Some of the steps were 600 mm deep and there were few reassuring trees to cling to, because the trees were slimy too! I am reminded that one young man we met on the track earlier in the day described the rainforest section as “cruisy”.
The dim light in the forest was difficult for photography and I was feeling pressured to keep walking. So I left the tripod in my backpack.
Then this high-tech track appeared. Sections of good track are most likely to appear just before reaching the hut – right? Wrong!
We had a sigh of relief when eventually the landscape opened out onto a button grassed saddle. Here the track was crunchy, mostly dry, white granite. Then a final steep descent of well-made steps landed us at the Lake Vera Hut at 4:30 pm.
Two Nights in Lake Vera Hut
There is an amazing set of wooden stairs down to the hut. About half-way down and still at least 100 m from the hut is the toilet. One hundred metres – ladies! in the dark of the night… Too awful to contemplate – probably worse than the back yard toilet of my childhood. Although I didn’t have to negotiate cane toads.
Many years ago, when I had just moved to Tasmania, I asked a young shop assistant in a Launceston outdoor store about bush-walking clubs. She replied, “You would be looking for a ramblers group? I don’t think there is one here. The Launceston bushwalker’s group wouldn’t suit you.”
I have never felt comfortable with the implicit competitiveness of serious bushwalkers in Tasmania. It makes me feel anxious and less-worthy and scared of failure.
This walk was no different. I started out with a knot in my stomach. I felt pressured when other walkers passed us on the trail. I felt guilty (embarrassed?) to walk slowly, sniff the air, take photos and observe my surroundings. Head down and keep going. Silly I know, but I can’t help it. For in reality I imagine most walkers on the track would have taken little notice of us. We would be long forgotten by now.
Avoid the Crowds
I really do prefer solitary walks. Because then, I can relax and take my time. We didn’t expect to meet many people on this walk, but the hut was full. I think there were 15 people in the hut and six outside in tents.
To avoid the school-rush, we chose to start the walk on the day before the school holidays. We didn’t meet any other school-aged walkers. Instead, most of the walkers were 50 plus. Perhaps they were trying to avoid the school rush too?
The Harder it is…
When James arrived at the hut before us, he was basically ignored. No smiles, no welcomes. In the evening the conversation centred around who had completed the most difficult walks in the remotest (and most expensive) locations of the world etc. Tin Dragon team nerd were definitely not in the same cohort as these adventurers. But we stalwartly held our place at the table and quietly ate our dinner.
It goes without saying that we were “stuffed” by the end of day one. The bush-walking hards discussing how day two is so much harder than day one gave me nightmares. The talk of steep rocky slopes and mountainsides of crumbly shale, fed straight into my feelings of insecurity.
My left knee–the over-compensating knee–was paining. Graham had some back pain. So we decided to stay near lake Vera for an extra day.
We spent a few delightful hours exploring Lake Vera. I love those wooden tree ladders. They were so easy to walk climb up and down.
OMG! It was a slow ramble. Now this is the type of walk that I really enjoy. I had time to use my tripod and to frame shots. I won’t inflict too many photos on you here. Probably best not to mention the leeches. But this was a small price to pay.
Crazy Trail Runner
Near mid-day a man in light clothing came running along the Lake Vera track. He stopped just momentarily to inform us that he had started at the car park that morning and was returning from the summit of Frenchmans Cap. We were shocked and amazed.
Day Three: The Long Walk Back
What a beautiful start to the day.
This is why we love to walk. It was a good decision to spend a day near the lake rather than walk on to the summit.
The track through the rainforest was cruisy! Why didn’t I notice this on the first day? What a difference a day makes.
But later in the heat of the day, Mount Mullens felt insurmountable. Do those steps ever end?
With reluctance, I dragged myself up and turned my back on Frenchmans Cap.
The Home Stretch
Damaged Toe Nails
For me, this last stretch was a bit of a blur. My big toes were paining. In fact several weeks later they are still paining. One toe nail is opaque and loose and the other is a dark purple-blue colour. I guess I will lose at least one of these nails. BTW this also happened to me on the Overland track. Dear reader, do you have any advice? How might I prevent this next time? What should I look for in purchasing new shoes or socks?
Fueled with a few cups of strong coffee and high-carb snacks we landed back at the car park by early afternoon. By the time Graham and I arrived, James had set up camp and was sleeping!
We grabbed a quick fast-food meal at the Hungry Wombat Cafe. Then we were home in own beds by nightfall.
If you wish to learn more about our tourist accommodation in North East Tasmania, please explore our Tin Dragon Cottages web site. We look forward to hosting your next stay in Tasmania!