Frenchmans Cap (TAS)


The hardest of Tasmania's Hut-based Great Multi-Day Bushwalks, the Frenchmans Cap Track climbs to the summit of Frenchmans Cap - an outstanding, prominent 1446 metre mountain in Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, which itself is part of the wider Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. 

Located across Lyell Hwy south-west of the famous Overland Track in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the track heads through dense rainforests, button grass plains, glacial lakes and stunningly rugged mountain ridges to the summit. Unlike the Dolerite-dominated landscape of the Overland and Walls of Jerusalem, the jagged mountains of the area are composed of gleaming white Precambrian Quartzite similar to the mountains of the West and East Arthur Range. 

While most great multi-day walks are of a linear nature (Cape to Cape Track, Overland Track) or a circuit (Walls of Jerusalem Circuit, Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit), Frenchmans Cap is a there and back walk to the summit, which means the 20+ kilometres must be walked both ways. While this is not usually the ideal, the changeable weather and the sheer beauty of the lush temperate rainforests between Lake Vera and Barron Pass means that the return walk can just as eventful and fulfilling as the walk in. 

Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service warn that Frenchmans Cap is 'considerably more arduous than many other Tasmanian walks, including the Overland Track'. This warning is entirely justified as it is substantially more difficult than the Overland or Walls of Jerusalem, and it is best for walkers to gain experience on one of those easier alpine walks before tackling Frenchmans. The track's difficulty is however amply rewarded; the wild scenery is truly spectacular, and is arguably even better than the Overland Track. 

Amazingly, the track that exists today is considerably easier than it used to be, with the track of old even referred to by some as 'endless torture'. As part of a ten year project, philanthropist Dick Smith provided $1 million in funds (backed up by an additional $500,000 by the state government) to improve Frenchmans Cap. Walkers no longer have to trudge for kilometres on end through knee deep (or worse) mud along the 'Sodden Loddons', with firm, dry track and the improved 'Laughtons Lead' reroute replacing the worst of it. There is still mud and tangles of root in the rainforest, but it is now no longer needlessly difficult. 

With the superb 360° views from the summit Frenchmans Cap being the ultimate goal of the walk, itineraries are generally designed to provide a wider window of opportunity for clear weather. While three day itineraries are common enough, a four day itinerary allows for more flexibility, with a summit either in the afternoon of Day 2 or the morning of Day 3. Due to the changeable weather, one should be prepared for anything from searing hot heat to rain and snow even in Summer. If attempting the walk in Spring or Autumn, it might be advisable to add a fifth day to allow an even greater window and allow for severely inclement weather. 

Fortunately for those waiting out bad weather, the track features two outstanding huts. The hut at Lake Vera is very similar to the hut at Kia Ora and the Pine Valley side trip on the Overland Track, while the new Lake Tahune Hut is an outstanding, modern hut in the lineage of Bert Nichols and the Three Capes huts but on a smaller scale. The first walker's hut in Tassie to be powered by hydro-electricity, the hut features lighting, passive heating panels and USB charging points - very deluxe compared to even the best huts on the Overland Track! The huts best feature is its outstanding views - at 980 metres above sea level and with views of the mountains of the Overland out the front and of Frenchmans Cap from the back, the hut arguably has the best mountain views of any hut in Australia. 

Our Successful Summer Summit of Frenchmans Cap (2018)

Alissa and I walked Frenchmans Cap in December 2018, starting on 21st December exactly two years to the day from our first day on the Overland Track, and finished four days later on December 24th. Our itinerary was based on the most commonly used for four days. As with the Overland Track and Walls of Jerusalem, we returned to the illustrious John Chapman and used his indespensible book, South West Tasmania. This is the best written guide to undertake the walk with. The Tasmap Frenchmans Cap map is also recommended for more detailed topographical information. 

While the Overland Track is world famous and generally attracts a large number of walkers from the mainland and overseas, the lesser known nature of Frenchmans Cap means it is still predominantly visited by locals. That being said, visitor numbers are growing steadily and the there and back nature of the track means there is a bottle neck at Lake Vera hut which was at capacity on both days we stayed there, even though Lake Tahune hut wasn't even half full. Both huts have excellent tent platforms that can provide a welcome alternative to a crowded hut, particularly at Lake Vera.

While walking Frenchmans Cap is free at the time of writing (January 2019), the draft management plan suggests that a permit system is likely to be in place in the near future to manage visitor numbers. Ultimately, this is in keeping with the permit system required for Tasmania's other hut-based walks (the Overland and Three Capes Track), however one hopes that the price will be more reasonable than the latter given it is not really a luxury walk by any stretch of the imagination.

It should be noted that the weather in the area is extremely changeable - even in Summer. Just two days before we started the walk, hikers at Lake Tahune were stuck there for 24 hours due to a torrential downpour. Meanwhile nearby areas were significant impacted by bushfires just a few weeks later. In winter, hiking to the summit can be dangerous or impossible due to deep snow. Alissa and I were extremely lucky, as the weather was perfectly clear for our summit day. Others who waited for the next morning were not so lucky. 

While not as user-friendly as the Overland Track, access to Frenchmans Cap is relatively easy as it starts on Lyell Hwy. Tassielink buses from Hobart stop at the car park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a PM bus on Sundays making a good option for a four day hike starting on a Thursday and finishing on a Sunday. Alissa and I were keen to stagger our arrival to not coincide with potentially higher hiker numbers who would have used the bus in and instead used a hire car and parked at the Lyell Hwy car park for the convenience of our schedule.

At the time Alissa and I did the Overland Track, Walls of Jerusalem and Frenchmans Cap were the next two walks I wanted to do in Tassie. Having completed and loved the Walls of Jerusalem Circuit in April, Alissa and I were pleased to find Frenchmans Cap to be the third straight outstanding Tasmanian multi-day walk in a row.  It was also the hardest multi-day we've done by some margin, however with such lovely rainforests and mountain scenery, Alissa and I agreed that this was the best hike we've done to date.

Comparing it against the Overland and Walls of Jerusalem, the Overland still ranks as the best introduction of alpine hiking in Tasmania. The Walls of Jerusalem Circuit is just as good as the Overland except it is smaller and thus feels a bit less epic, but offers the best reward for effort ratio of any hike I've ever done due to the fact it is very easy once you overcome the steep climb in. The more challenging nature of Frenchmans Cap and the even better scenery means it is the perfect next hike to do after gaining some experience on the Overland and/or Walls of Jerusalem, and is positioned by Parks and Wildlife as the intermediate step between those two alpine walks and the South Coast Track.

The Sections

Frenchmans Cap (TAS) - Lyell Hwy to Lake Vera

The first day of the Frenchmans Cap Track, this first section of the track leads walkers from the car park on Lyell Hwy to the first hut at Lake Vera. Crossing the Franklin and Loddon Rivers via suspension bridges, the track avoids the worst of the Sodden Loddons by following the dryer Laughtons Lead. Featuring lovely Buttongrass plains and lush rainforest, this is an excellent first day on one of Tasmania's best bushwalks...

Frenchmans Cap (TAS) - Lake Vera to Lake Tahune 

Day 2 of the Frenchmans Cap Track, this exceptional section of the track takes walkers from Lake Vera to Lake Tahune Hut. A steep, continuous climb, the track passes through some of the most beautiful rainforest along Lake Vera Creek before reaching the outstanding mountain views from Barron Pass. Heading across the ridge, the track ends at Lake Tahune Hut - the hut with the most spectacular view in the country...

Frenchmans Cap (TAS) - Frenchmans Cap Summit

Generally done on Day 2 or Day 3 of the Frenchmans Cap Track, this outstanding hike takes walkers to the summit of Frenchmans Cap. A steep, continuous climb, the track passes jagged peaks and the spectacular cirque of Lake Tahune. Heading up along some occasionally steep scrambles and zig-zagging switchbacks to the summit. With incredible 360° views, this is one of the best mountain walks in Australia...

Frenchmans Cap (TAS) - Lake Tahune to Lyell Hwy

The third and fourth day of the Frenchmans Cap Track, these days are usually reserved for the return journey to Lyell Hwy. Exploring the same terrain seen on days 1 and 2, the changeable weather provides for an opportunity to experience a different side to Barron Pass, the rainforests and Loddon Plains. With an overnight at Lake Vera, this is a great way to end one of Tasmania's best walks...

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