Thursday, August 26, 2010
Mt Bartle Frere, Qld, Australia
At 1622 meters, Mt Bartle Frere is Queensland's highest mountain. Best time to climb it is during the dry season which is winter. Even then the mountain is often shrouded in clouds. We are lucky, the day Ricky and I climb it, the weather is mostly sunny.
This is a truly great peak on the Australian continent. On the north, there is nothing higher until New Guinea. On the west you have to cross the Indian Ocean to find a higher peak in Madagascar in Africa. On the east is the Pacific Ocean. On the south, there is nothing higher until you reach the Brindabella Ranges in ACT.
Some information on how to climb it...
We take the more popular eastern approach. The trail head is at Josephine Falls carpark near a small town called Miriwinni on the Bruce Highway .
There is a western approach from the Atherton Tableland. But the hiking distance is longer and the trail is not so well defined. It is possible to start from one side of the mountain and descend the other. But the logistics of arranging transport at both ends is not easy because of the large distance involved.
Tyrone Thomas' book (the bible for Australian hikers) has a good description on how to climb Bartle Frere. The book has a long title: "50 Walks in North Queensland World Heritage Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef"
The 1:50,000 Topographic Survey map is "Bartle Frere, Sheet 8063-2". But this map is not much use as the track is not marked on the map. More useful is the "Bartle Frere Trail" map issued by the Queensland Government. Do a Google search and you should be able to find it on the internet without much difficulties. But actually, you don't need a map. The track, though narrow and at some parts over grown with vegetation, is not hard to follow. At many places there are red triangle markers nailed to trees or rocks to guide you. Keep an eye out and you shouldn't get lost.
To get there:
On the Bruce Highway, about 2 km south of the small town Miriwinni, there is a large sign pointing to Josephine Falls. Turn into it. (If you are coming from Miriwinni, it is turning right into a country road.) Keep following the "Josephine Falls" sign and you will come to a carpark. This is the start of the trail to both Bartle Frere and Josephine Falls. The country road to the carpark is good. It is paved all the way.
If you are driving from Cairns, it takes about an hour to reach this carpark.
It is 7.5 km to the summit. Return trip is 15 km.
Day trip ... and don't be fooled by the 1622-meter elevation. It doesn't seem high, but then you are climbing from almost sea level height. In his book, Tyrone Thomas said the return trip would take about 10 hours with minimal breaks and a short rest at the top.
We did it in 8 hours 45 minutes
It is a long hike. Even in winter, the weather is warm and humid in this part of the world and you lost a lot of water through perspiration during the climb. Hence it is recommended you carry 3.5 liters of water (if you don't intend to drink from the creeks).
We start the climb early ... at 6:00am, nice and cool then.
The first 3.5 km is level-ish through lush green rainforest. There are a few large-ish streams to cross. As it is not the rainy season, water level is low and we can cross them with ease by stepping on rocks jutting out in the middle of the streams.
After the 3.5 km of gentle hike, the trail turns steep, at times we are on all fours climbing over tree roots!
There are plenty of leeches even quite high up in the mountain. Luckily Ricky took along a spray-can of insert-cum-leech repellent. We spray plenty of it on our boots and the lower part of our trousers. Even then some leeches still manage to get onto Ricky's body.
Halfway up the trail, we meet a good looking female ranger coming down the mountain. We are most surprised on how she manages to get to the top and down faster than us. It turns out she helicoptered in; dropped off near the summit and walked down. Cheating!!! Wish we could have taken the helicopter ride with her!!!
At the 7 km mark we come to an emergency cabin and the helicopter pad where the ranger got off. This is also where one should be able to get a better view of the coastal lowlands than from the summit which has trees blocking the views. Unfortunaly even though it is sunny everywhere, a bunch of low lying white clouds is hugging the mid level of the mountain blocking off every thing below. But looking down from where we are, the clouds are stunningly beautiful ... see the photos below.
This is also where the trail ends. The final 0.5 km ascent (300 m in elevation) is mostly clambering over large boulders. Climbing them is quite a challenge even when sunny and dry. But if it is wet, it will be extemely treacherous because the boulders will become slippery. You should abandon the climb if this part is covered in clouds, because the boulders will then be wet.
At 11:00am we reach the summit. This is pretty good considering we practically ran up the Walshs Pyramid the day before!
We had a 40-minute lunch at the top before retracing our steps and is back at the carpark by 2:45pm.
In summary, the climbing timelines are:
06:00am - Start walking from Josephine Falls carpark.
10:10am - Reach 7 km point where there is an emergency cabin and helicopter pad.
Rest for 10 minutes.
10:20am - Start final 0.5 km ascent through the boulder fields.
11:00am - Reach summit.
Lunch for 40 minutes.
11:40am - Retrace steps back to Josephine Falls carpark.
14:45pm - Back at carpark.
Total trip: 8 hrs 45 minutes
I'll let the photos do more of the narrative. To enlarge a picture, click on it.
1: Start of the trail to Mt Bartle Frere summit. It is about sea level here, and it is 1622 meters at the summit. Distance to the summit is 7.5 km oneway. The 1st 3.5 km is level-ish. But the next 4 km is steep!
2: Typical lush green rainforest scenery
3: A clear mountain stream
4: Plenty of blood sucking leeches in this mountain!!! Tons and tons of them!!!
5: Halfway up the trail, we encounter this good looking ranger who helicoptered in, dropped off near the summit and walked down. Now, that is the way to conquer this mountain!!!
6: Need to scramble over these tree roots ...
7: ... which took the wind out of me.
8: View of the summit.
Here the trail ends. It is climbing over boulders for the final 0.5 km ascent (300 m in elevation).
9: Me - In the midst of the boulder field
10: Me - Clambering over the boulders. It is tough going through them. On some rocks, the park authorities have kindly installed railings for you to hang on to ... like here.
11: If you click on the photo to enlarge it, in the distance, you can see the emergency cabin and the helicopter pad just in front of it. The female ranger in the earlier photo, helicoptered in and got off there in the morning.
13: This is the summit. We made it after 5 hours - very good, considering we practically ran up the Walshs Pyramid the day before!!!
14: I rig my camera on top of a backpack to take this photo, which explains why we stoop down to fit into the frame.
15: The weather is sunny over this part of the world. But there is this bunch of white clouds hugging the mid level of the mountain. Otherwise, here near the summit, we could see all the way to the Pacific Ocean and the Great Barrier Reefs. But still, this is really a fantastic sight !!!
17: Small flowers at the summit
If you still have energy after the climb, you can take a stroll to the nearby Josephine Falls which is only 700 meters from the carpark. It would be most refreshing to immerse yourself in one of the many waterholes there after such a hard climb.
The next day, I drove to Undara to visit the lava tubes and to climb Kalkani Crater. It was an interesting experience of the Australian outback. A write up and photos of the trip are in: http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2010/08/undara-kalkani-crater-qld-australia.html
Post Script - State-8 Peaks:
This is the start of my mission to climb the highest peak in all 8 Australian States & Territories.
The other 7 peaks I will climb are:
- 2011 Jan, ACT - Bimberi Peak
- 2011 Feb, Tas - Mt Ossa
- 2011 Mar, Vic - Mt Bogong
- 2011 Apr, NSW - Mt Kosciuszko
- 2012 Jul, NT - Mt Zeil
- 2012 Aug, WA - Mt Meharry
- 2013 May, SA - Mt Woodroffe