Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Darryl climbs Mt Bartle Frere

While we were up North in September, Darryl had decided to climb Mt Bartle Frere, the highest mountain in Queensland and part of the Bellenden Ker Range just north of Innisfail.

This is the story he wrote for the Bushwalker's newsletter:
Bartle Frere
Despite living in its shadow for 23 years, I never attempted to climb the impressive mountain until I was living in Townsville and had joined the Bushwalkers. On my first attempt with the club we made it to our intended campsite near the old miner’s hut which is about 40 minutes from the summit and set up camp for the night. That afternoon, the clouds that engulfed us dropped below our campsite to provide us with a magical sunset over the cotton ball like clouds that stretched as far as we could see. The path to the top from there passes over large moss covered granite boulders which become very slippery when wet and unfortunately it rained during the night. Following the advice of our leader we descended the next morning without making an attempt on the summit.
Campsite near Miners Hut 1976 

I also tried again the following year but was beaten again when I cramped up and damaged one of my knees when I forced myself to continue. I had a terrible night at the old miner’s hut with a swollen and painful knee. Some of the group made it to the top but I was forced to limp down with the aid of a crutch made from a tree branch.

I trained for about a month before the third attempt by running up and down stairs with a large pack full of books on my back. This attempt was planned as a day walk and the date chosen was supposed to be the centenary of when it was first climbed. I found out just recently the actual date was ten years later. We camped away from Innisfail the previous night and arrived at the base about 8:45 for a very late start. When we arrived at the base there were several adults waiting at the bottom as the scouts were climbing as well. The return trip usually can take 9 to 12 hours and the miner living at the bottom tried to stop us from doing the walk as it is advised to start the walk about 6:30 in the morning.

It was agreed beforehand that I could make the attempt at my speed and after initially remaining with the group, picked up the pace. Somewhere along the way, the miner’s dog which was walking with a group of scouts chose to follow me to the top.

I carried minimal amount of water and went straight to the miner’s hut to have a break and refill my water bottle at the creek beside it. I did not want to do the last 600 metres alone but after waiting for over half an hour, I left the shelter of the rock walls with the dog and scrambled over the large rocks to the summit. I gave up waiting after about ¼ hour for the clouds to reveal the landscape before descending. The dog soon left me to return to the top with other walkers. I used two discarded sticks for a rapid run/walk down. The sticks helped to decrease the impact on my knees as I knew from past experience that the constant effort on the knees made them feel like jelly close to the bottom. On arriving at the bottom I was hounded by anxious parents wanting information on their children and the old miner who would not believe that I had made it to the summit in the time it took. I eventually gave up trying to sleep in the back of my car and ran to Josephine Creek Falls for a swim. The rest of the bushwalkers returned just on dusk.

30 years on and on the 11 September 2007

I decided to take the opportunity of Chris attending a High School Reunion that she was organising for Charters Towers to make an attempt on Bartle Frere again. I started watching the 4 day weather charts on the BOM site to determine if it was suitable for an attempt and fortunately the conditions seemed ideal. 

On the 11 September, Chris dropped me off at the base and I left with an overnight pack to spend the night near the old miner’s hut. The drop off point at the bottom now has mowed grass, toilets, sheds, tap water and National Park Officers to maintain the popular tourist destination. 
The first 3 km of the walk is relatively easy through the rainforest and the track is well marked with red spots of paint and reflectors. I did not see the first kilometre mark but the rest are stuck to rocks and help to indicate your location on the track. 
The first three kilometres cross about 11 creeks with three of them having a large flow of water. The track meets the first major creek at a fork in the creek with large moss and orchard covers rocks. There is a good campsite beside the next major creek just after the three kilometre mark. Here, the track divides just after the campsite with one going to the left up to Broken Nose. Broken Nose appears to be a large rocky outcrop that protrudes from the mountain usually below the clouds and is visible a couple of times through the canopy on the way to the summit. From the campsite the track crosses the creek and starts to follow the spurs.

 Once on the spur, digital signal may be picked up with a mobile phone and increase in strength with height. Most of the track is over clay and broken granite soil held in place by tree roots. Considering the track has been used constantly for many years, initially by tin miners with their donkeys and more recently by walkers wanting to take on the challenge, it is still in good condition. From the creek, the track following the ridges steepens and it is not until the 5 km marker that it seems to level out. 

There is the occasional steep or almost vertical section but there are stretches between them to recover enough to keep walking without resting. From about the 6 km mark –which is behind a large rock on the way up- the clouds often cloak the trees in moisture making the trees shorter and the branches covered in hanging long growths of moss and fungus which constantly drip water. This time, the top of the trees showed evidence of severe damage from cyclone Larry and most of the fallen logs had only recently been removed from the path.

I knew that there was a helipad and rescue hut near the top but it was a shock to walk around a rocky outcrop to find them at the 7 km mark. I left my pack near the helipad and with camera and small amount of water headed to the top. From the helipad it is about 500 metres to the top and a plaque claiming it to take about 30 minutes. I was also surprised to see the National Parks had attached foot and hand holds to some of the rocks to improve safety for walkers in the wet. I took it easy over the large rocks and it took me about 40 minutes to make the summit. 

There is now a small clearing at the top with a sign indicating it to be the highest peak in Queensland. All up, it took me about 5 ¾ hours to make the summit. 

I sat on the large rock which provides the only view from the top to take video footage of the scenery below and then headed back down to my pack to set up camp on the bare, hard, ground. I used the walking stick as one tent post and found a broken branch for the other. I used dead branches for pegs and strings from my pack to hold the tent up.
I went to bed at dusk to escape the cold but was kept awake most of the night by the cold, hard ground, and the noise of the tent buffeted by the wind rising over both sides of the ridge.

I snuck out of the sleeping bed once to look at the lights of the towns below and take some footage. Unfortunately the lights were not bright enough to be seen on video.
At sunrise, I took some more footage and pictures of the sun rising above the clouds and packed up early for the walk down.
Just after the 5 km mark I passed three fit young men who were averaging about 22 minutes per kilometre for a rapid ascent. I also passed a lone middle aged walker about 10 minutes later who had left 30 minutes after the group of three and making better time but seemed to be showing signs of the effort. I started the walk from the bottom with about 3.2 litres of water and still had enough to make it unnecessary to refill at the creeks on the way down. It took me about 3 hours and 10 minutes to walk down with several stops to take pictures.

I had morning tea at the picnic area with Chris and then walked to Josephine Creek Falls for a cold but refreshing swim. This was one of my favourite places during the hotter months and it felt good to relive my past and slide down the rock slide. This time I did it sitting down.
We took some pictures of the mountain as we drove away and the sky was surprising almost free of clouds.

Next time I am up this way I think I will try for the lower and shorter option of walking to Broken Nose with a possible campsite beside the creek just after the 3 km mark.

Darryl Wright

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