Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bartle Frere: Knee Replacement Anyone?

Mount Bartle Frere at 1622 metres is the highest peak in Queensland. The only conceivable reason I can think for anyone to hike to the summit (we went from the higher trailhead on the west) is to tag Queensland’s highest peak. Otherwise, the steep, twisty, turny, rocky, rooty, loggy, bouldery trail is only for those who enjoy a good knee-knackering ascent and descent with scant views.

From Junction Camp, a small cleared area without any facilities at the western trailhead, the trail descends – yes, as in goes down – for about 1.5 km where a short, steep, equally knee-knackering trail branches off to Bobbin Bobbin Falls. From this junction, the Bartle Frere trail begins an earnest climb, gaining almost 800 metres in 3.5 km to the North West Peak (a grandiose name for a minuscule clearing in thick timber) at 1476 metres. It took us about 2.5 hours to get to this point, progress of just over 2 km an hour, and surely the slowest I have ever gone on any trail. But this trail is really impossible to go fast on. While not continuously steep – there are some level sections and even some downhills before North West Peak – the wriggly nature of the trail (I'm not sure it goes straight for more than 5 metres at a time, and then only in a couple of short sections) combined with all the logs, roots, rocks and boulders that must be surmounted en-route slows even the most sure-footed hiker.

The only way you can tell you are at the North West Peak is to pass by it, as the trail notes indicate that there is a view of the Atherton Tableland from a cluster of boulders one kilometre past the North West Peak. When we got to this viewpoint, we realised that the small flat area with an old camp-fire scar where we had a five minute cold egg and bacon breakfast, was the North West Peak. We duly scrambled up the boulders for a view of the Atherton Tableland and the real summit of Bartle Frere (not overly impressive), that truly was not much better than the view from Lammins Lookout that you drive past on the way to the trailhead.

Continuing on we were dismayed to find that the trail descended for what seemed a long distance. Down, down, down we went, finally dipping into a creek where we hoped that the trail would go uphill so we could get this climb done with. But, alas, the trail climbs out of the creek and descends yet again to a deeper creek. By this second creek is the “Western Summit Camp” a slightly better equipped camp than Junction Camp as there is a clothesline and a nearby creek for water. At last, the trail went up, steeply, as in jungle gym kind of steeply. We swung off trees, scrambled up huge boulders, and generally got a full body workout on the last 750 metres of track to the top.

Luckily, a sign announces that you have reached the “Top of Mount Bartle Frere” and the “highest peak in Queensland.” Truthfully, apart from the fact that the track then plunges precipitously down the east side, you can barely tell you are on top of anything. There is a view to the east if you scramble out on to a boulder. We could see Cooper Point and the Frankland Islands that we had paddled past a few weeks before, and, also the Barnard Islands, another of our kayak locations. Innisfail and the Johnstone River were also visible.

Finally, no more up

After a half hour stop during which we ate cold sausages (that Paleo diet again), we began the descent, and what a knee-knackering descent it was. Of course, after the first steep downhill to the Western Summit Camp you have to climb back up again to the North West Summit. We did manage to creep our speed up over the two kilometre/hour rate on the descent but that was at the cost of a few falls on the steep slippery ground. Finally, just as I guzzled the last of my two litres of water, we reached the turn-off to Bobbin Bobbin Falls. Doug wanted to check the falls out as he thought the creek would be good for a swim, so down we went on another precipitous track. There really isn't much of a pool at the base of the falls for a swim, but, given that we had hobbled down, we weren't going back without getting wet, so we stripped off and, by lying full length as flat as we could and holding our breath, we managed to wet most of our bodies.

And then came the steep climb back up to join the main track, and the final 1.5 km uphill hike to the trailhead. Imagine that, a trail that takes you to the top of Queensland's highest peak and manages to be uphill in both directions!

 Atherton Tableland

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