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Frenchmans Cap - A Tasmanian Icon

Few walks in Australia have a reputation that precedes them in the same way that Frenchmans Cap does. This reputation is not for its hike in being a difficult drawn out slog or even for its dramatic views inspiring generations of walkers. No, this reputation is all about the Lodden Plains a geographical feature seeming so mundane it would hardly warrant a mention. The sodden loddens have to be the most well know section of muddy trail in Tasmania if not Australia. It was more than 12 years ago that I first was told of it  and only just last week when I decided to see what it was all about.

However, the sodden loddens are no more. Extensive track work has all but bypassed the mud bath thanks to a $1,000,000 donation by Dick Smith and a matching $500,000 commitment from the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. The work was set to take more than 8 years to complete thanks to the difficult terrain. It does sound like a crazy amount of money to spend on a walking track but considerations like its remote location and poor weather render it all but inaccessible for large equipment. Helicopters are required to carry in all the equipment including palates of wood for constructing the board walked sections was well as a small digger required to move the large amounts of earth and clear trees.

The new section know as Leaghton’s Lead opened up in July 2013 and considering the alternative is a pleasant stroll. Leaghton’s Lead winds though notafagus forrest, button grass plains while contouring along the side of a small hill rather than the valley below. The obvious result being for the majority its a well drained and compacted track. There are some flat sections that are fast becoming muddy and after a full season they are surly set to be notable obstacles. But the comparison between the old and the new sections is I’m sure night and day.

I would like to think that the sodden loddens would have taken us many more hours and taken so much more effort than what the new section of track did. But despite the bypass we arrived just over the 6 hours described in the track notes mainly due to our casual speed, occasional botanising and mandatory tea stops. The steady rain for much of the day and steep forested section approaching lake vera meant that we arrived at the  hut very much tired and wet to the bone regardless.  

The summit of Frenchmans was a demanding return day walk from the hut at Lake Vera. We had not planned it this way, we had been rained in for a full day at lake vera reducing our trail time to 3 days. Spending a day in the hut was very comfortable and it was Jen's 30th birthday after all so a rest day was more than appropriate. It was well stocked hut with playing cards and a dutifully filled in log book which made for good reading and large windows allowing us to take in the surrounds and some lazy birding. 

As the next day dawned the weather had not improved and at the higher altitudes of the walk heavy snow had fallen during the previous night. As we climbed out of valley the track transition from a steep humid forrest climb to an open subalpine track exposed to the wind. Sweat that had been trying to cool us was now freezing cold and the overgrown snow covered vegetation beside the track dumped snow on us. The leader brushing off a quantity that would stick to them and then as the branches recoiled wet slushy was flung at the follower.

It might be a miserable sounding prospect to some but while it was less than idea conditions to walk in it was undoubtedly some of the most beautiful walking I had ever done. Mist covered towers of quartzite surrounded us, domes of richiea scoperra topped with white snow and burnt out king billy pines packed with snow on their westward sides lined the track. It was, aside from the mild discomfort of being covered in fast melting slushy snow and freezing cold wet clothing, simply stunning.

The sight of the lake Tahune hut just a few meters in front of us was cause for celebration and a hot cup of tea. The party that had stayed in there the previous night had been very cold and as we stepped inside and changed into some dry cloths the temperature inside was just 4 degrees. It was still a good deal warmer than outside and by all caparisons luxury.

Preparing to set off for the summit after this short break was exciting with the only daunting prospect ahead being the task of putting back on the cold wet clothing and frozen shoes. All that was required to get back up to body temperature was a good fast assent of a steep hill, luckily, this is all we had ahead of us.

From the top of the climb out of the valley it was possible to see back down to the hut and far into the south west as the clouds had lifted and began to break up. Up until this point we had not seen much of the surrounding landscape so these brief openings inspired us to keep going. Higher the track became completely covered in snow and was sometimes coved by deep drifts up to a mitre deep.

However, as we climbed so did the clouds and on this very last section of the summit track we were reminded of everything we had done to earn these views. The first days walk falling way short of the tracks previous reputation of mud, a solid day of rain keeping us in the hut on the second and the third days slog up through the forrest and snow. All these giving us this new perspective over the southwest not only its landscape and not only the kind of weather it can dish up but just how unimaginably beautiful it can be.

Snow capped peaks breaking out of the forrest as far as the eye could see drifting in and out of the cloud cover and shimmering in the occasional spotlight of sun that broke though the clouds. The iconic alpine plants of Tasmania richiea scoperra, pandannus and tortured snow gums made more of a sight by the dusting of snow. Combined with the challenging final climb to the summit of the perpetually impressive Frenchmans  that loomed mysteriously all around.

We had such luck just to have these brief revealing of the world around us and it was impossible not to stop and stare in wonder. What more could a bushwalker want from a few days out in the wilderness.