Published on 23rd October 2018
I have just returned from an impromptu trip to the summit of Frenchmans Cap. By impromptu I mean a trip with just a few days notice after making a crazy decision with @kristykearneykk (from here on known as KK) on a Monday afternoon (straight after I arrived back from a long trip to Sydney / Melbourne from a series of events and workshops) to leave early on the following Friday morning to take the 46km walk through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park in the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area. With less than 3 days of planning it was a bit of a rush to get back to Hobart from Launceston (where I had flown back into), get all of the information we needed, prepare our camping and walking gear, get my camera gear ready, shop and cook and dehydrate our own food to take with us, and get mentally prepared for what we initially planned to be a 3 night / 4 day trip through this beautiful region of Tasmania.
Now I will admit I have been in two minds about writing this and posting any imagery after the article I published earlier this year around the environmental impact of photography and the crazy amount of media coverage (and the stress that stopped me from writing anything for quite a while afterwards) that came in the weeks after. But I think it is also important to share imagery and the experiences we have in these beautiful parts of Tasmania and elsewhere to help educate people on how precious these amazing places are. There is a difference between the commercial promotion (for example tourism boards and their sole aims of increasing visitation numbers and tax revenue) and using our voices to help educate people on how precious these protected regions of the world are. Recently there has been a lot of new track work (funded through both private and state government investment) within the area which has made it more accessible than it has been previously.
This region of Tasmania is supposed to be protected forever through its World Heritage status. The more I experience these incredibly remote parts of our state through the trips I am making, the more I feel they should be left untouched and difficult to access so they remain pristine and do not become mainstream tourism destinations like much of our state has now become. There are a lot of different points of views to consider for this argument and I don’t want to get into the politics of that too much here. But I do feel we need to protect our World Heritage regions and ensure they are not commercialised through the large scale tourism marketing and development that has already happened in some parts of the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area.
Throughout all of the information we read and through the advice of several people who had made the trip we were told that 4 to 5 days would be a good amount of time to allow for any issues with weather, to maximise photography opportunities and to not be rushing or pushing our bodies too hard. As I mentioned above we initially planned for 4 days, but ultimately decided to complete the trip in 3 days due to pain I was experiencing in my right hip. I don’t recommend doing it this fast if you really want to experience and explore the region as much as possible. Both myself and KK are reasonably fit and even still for both of us we were pushing our physical and mental limits in the last few hours of the walk out, especially with the amount of gear we were carrying.
Franklin River Suspension Bridge
Day 1 – Lyell Highway to Lake Vera
We set off and commenced the walk at 9.10am on Friday morning. The first day of the trip is a 17km walk (6 hours estimated time) from the Lyell Highway to Lake Vera where a hut that sleeps 20 people awaits you. There are a few climbs throughout the day including a climb to around 600 metres over Mount Mullens, but firstly you will cross the Franklin River suspension bridge, and pass through a beautiful rainforest section to get to this point. The thick, dense, mossy forests throughout the entire walk into Frenchmans Cap is the environment that I enjoy the most on my journeys throughout Tasmania.
As you pass over Mount Mullens you are met with a nice descent all the way down to the second suspension bridge you will cross on the day at the South Loddon River. For KK and I this was the perfect place to stop for a bit of a snack break. From here on it is open plains and newly boarded walks for the majority of the day through a section of the track known as Sodden Lodden. This section of the track has had substantial upgrades through a series of private investments from Dick Smith (who first walked the track in 2008 and decided to commit some of his own money to the upgrades) as well as state government funding. After reaching a junction which leads you through a new section of track called Laughtons Lead (previously you would follow the old Philps Lead track which is now closed) an uphill walk of a few kilometres will take through some beautiful, lush forest and onto the first hut at Lake Vera.
South Lodden River Suspension Bridge
Lake Vera itself offers some stunning views across Sharlands Peak (1106 metres high) and over the mountain range that you need to climb to get to Frenchmans Cap. After the 17km walk into here I was very keen to do a bit of exploring and basically dumped my camping gear, took my camera gear out and headed straight down to the lake to see what I could find. I settled on the perspective in the image below and shot a series of images for panoramic stitching as well as a lot of longer exposures for the cloud motion. I could have stayed here all evening if it wasn’t for the bugs and the mud in the lake trying to swallow me and my camera gear up. Thankfully KK was very patient with me too while we were standing here enjoying this amazing view. It’s always good as a photographer when you can travel with someone who is patient and understanding of your needs when it comes to taking photos…..
Views from Lake Vera
Day 2 – Lake Vera to Lake Tahune
After a rather uncomfortable sleep which unfortunately also resulted in quite severe pain in my right hip for the rest of the trip (sorry Sea to Summit but your $250 inflatable sleeping mattress is crap and has been on every trip since I bought it), we packed up our gear and set off on the 6km walk (mostly uphill) around Lake Vera, up Barron Pass and over to Lake Tahune underneath Frenchmans Cap at around 9am. The walk around Lake Vera itself is stunning with beautiful Pandani and moss covered trees lining the shores. The low cloud made for some quite moody handheld shots as we followed the track. Again I cannot state how good it is traveling with someone who can be patient when I need to stop and take the camera gear out to capture what I am seeing. Day 2 is marked as a 4 hour walk, but the extra 1.5 hours that we took to get to Lake Tahune on top of that was mostly just because of me stopping everywhere I possibly could to capture hundreds of images. I guess the tradeoff there is that KK got some reasonably ok images for her own Instagram account as well 😉
Lake Vera Pandani
The forest areas after leaving Lake Vera and beginning the steep climb up into Barron Pass are simply stunning. I absolutely love photographing waterfalls and streams and was able to shoot a few on the way through this section of track. The flow wasn’t as strong as it would be at it’s peak, but standing there listening to the sound of flowing water while being surrounded by beautiful moss covered trees that look as though they haven’t been disturbed for thousands of years soothes my soul. I would love to go back in just to shoot this 3km section of track again during winter when the water is gushing down from the higher mountains. I can also just imagine how amazing this area would be with some snow cover on it…
Forest Stream near Lake Vera
The uphill slog into Barron Pass felt like it would never end, especially with all the gear both KK and I were carrying. But the effort was definitely worth it with the first real views of Frenchmans Cap from the shadow of Sharlands Peak, Nicoles Needles and the beautiful lakes that are on the back side of the mountain range we had just climbed over. Once we reached the top, there was a noticeable change in temperature as the colder wind hit us and both KK and I needed to get our warm gear out. I was actually quite surprised by how quickly the temperature changed.
Views from Barron Pass
I am finding it hard to describe just how beautiful this part of the journey is. From the views over the lakes and around to Frenchmans Cap, to Sharlands Peak itself which we were standing in the shadow of, to Philps Peak around to the east there are just simply amazing views in every direction. This was the perfect place to stop, re-energise and rehydrate before we began the rest of the walk over into Lake Tahune and the hut that would be our shelter for the second night.
Frenchmans Cap views from Barron Pass
Sharlands Peak from Barron Pass
After getting enough food and water into us, and getting warm we continued on for another 90 minutes or so before finally reaching the hut at Lake Tahune. And what an incredible view there is from there!! On signage inside the hut there are claims that it has the best views of any wilderness hut anywhere in Australia. And if there is a better view, I would love to see it. This place is truly amazing. And thankfully, KK and I had it all to ourselves for the night. We only came across 7 people on the entire track, with most of them being at Lake Vera and only one passing us on our way out of the Lake Tahune on day 3. As much as it is great to have good conversations with people on these trips, I also particularly enjoy the peace and solitude that I do not really get at any other time of my life due to the busy lifestyle I live.
Lake Tahune Hut
By this stage of the walk both KK and I were feeling the aches and pains throughout our body. It was great to be able to sit down and relax for a while, but I was also very keen to get out and see what I could find around Lake Tahune. In the warmer months I am very certain Lake Tahune would be a great place for a swim. As it was I basically went swimming anyway. I tend to like getting waist deep or even deeper with my camera gear when I am photographing any body of water or stream. I was quite surprised that the temperature of the water was reasonably bearable while I spent about half an hour looking for compositions to place my tripod down into around the lake.
Lake Tahune Reflections
There was quite a lot of cloud cover and rain that came through over Frenchmans Cap after we arrived at Lake Tahune. It was close to 3pm by the time we had settled down, made ourselves coffee and lunch so the decision was made to wait until the next morning to head for the summit which would take 2 – 3 hours to complete including photography time. This gave us plenty of time to recover from the long couple of days we had already put in getting to this point, and for me lots of opportunity to do a bit of exploring to capture images around Lake Tahune, looking up at Frenchmans Cap and the views across the valley from the front of the hut before turning in for the night and preparing ourselves for the trip to the summit.
Day 3 – Frenchmans Cap Summit and back out to the Lyell Highway
We had planned to get up as early as possible to begin the summit climb to the top of Frenchmans Cap. When we did finally wake up and start moving, I walked outside to check the weather conditions and the front face of Frenchmans Cap was lit up with beautiful golden light of the sunrise for just a few minutes! I think I moved quicker than I had for the past couple of days due to my hip pain as I yelled out to KK to come out while I ran down to the helipad with my camera gear to capture it before it faded. The light lasted all of a few minutes but I made it just in time to get a few handheld images using the Canon 70-300mm f/4L telephoto lens. The cloud cover passed as we stood there so we were reasonably confident of making the trip to the summit and getting some decent views.
First morning light hitting Frenchmans Cap
Sadly though, as we made our way up the steep climb to the summit over the next hour or so, the cloud cover came in extremely quickly again and reduced our visibility down to just a few metres. That combined with the deep snow and ice we faced to get to the top made conditions quite dangerous for us. We got to the top up as quickly as we could and had to turn back and descend even quicker as the temperature dropped to well below zero, the strong winds kicked in and the clouds made it hard to see anything. I am a bit disappointed about not being able to capture some images of the views out over Tasmania from the summit of Frenchmans Cap. But that just means I will have to go back and do it again, and plan for a longer stay at Lake Tahune to allow for the ever changing weather conditions in this part of Tasmania. On the way up to the summit and back down I was able to capture plenty of images of the early morning light, low fog and cloud cover and the stunning mountain ranges we passed through the previous day that surround Lake Tahune.
Views from Frenchmans Cap
We took plenty of opportunity on the way back down into Lake Tahune from the summit to capture the many Pandani that surround the Lake Tahune catchment area. There are also a couple of waterfalls throughout the higher parts that I would love to be able to get into to photograph. Perhaps on the next trip in I will be more prepared to do a bit more exploring here to see what I can find.
Lake Tahune Pandani
After getting back down to the Lake Tahune hut, it was time for breakfast and to pack up and begin the journey home. KK and I had initially planned to stay for another night back at Lake Vera, but once we got there made the decision to continue on to the end of the track and finish a day early. This decision was made mostly because I was experiencing quite a lot of pain in my right hip for most of the trip, and the thought of sleeping uncomfortably on the previously mentioned camping mat for another night just didn’t work for me. All up on the last day we walked just over 27km including the walk to the summit and by the end of it we were both struggling physically and mentally. I highly recommend taking at least 4 to 5 days to do this trip to allow for changing weather conditions and maximise opportunities for photography. We began the walk out on day 3 at 10.30am and signed out at the other end at exactly 6.09pm. It was an extremely quick walk out of there and both KK and I experienced a lot of pain to be able to do this. Again, I don’t recommend doing this at all.
Sharlands Peak path
I will definitely be planning another trip in with a longer stay at Lake Tahune. I could see and hear a few waterfalls in the higher parts surrounding the lake, and would love to see if I can get into them safely. I would also like to get clear views during sunrise and sunset from the summit of Frenchmans Cap as well. I guess that means another long trip into one of the most beautiful parts of Tasmania that I have seen so far.