Author Archives: benlcollins

Mountain Climbing in Tasmania, 2018

Frenchman’s Cap

2nd – 4th January 2018

An account of a week in Tasmania with my brother, in early 2018.

Day 1: Trailhead to Lodden River Camp (6.5km)

The rain that had threatened all day finally arrived, just as we pulled into Frenchman’s Cap trailhead car park, in the heart of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. We packed our gear between rain showers, taking three days of food with us.

Ahead lay 23km to the summit of Frenchman’s Cap, and another 23km return to the car.

The weather was kind enough to briefly grant us several minutes of sunshine as we took our first steps on the trail (who likes setting off in the rain?). To say we were giddy with excitement would be an understatement.

Frenchman's Cap trailhead

The initial km of trail passed easily beneath our feet as we conversed, chewing the fat like long-lost friends. Rain showers came and went. Jackets were donned. The mist obscured any long distance views but the atmosphere lent an air of mystery and suspense to our project.

Above all, it was terrific to simply spend time with my brother out in the wilds again.

Frenchman's Cap trail near Franklin River

Still all smiles about an hour into the hike. The packs were not too heavy and the trail was easy on day 1.

Happy hikers

Camp was established alongside the Lodden River, amongst the trees. There was no-one else around and the only sounds were the occasional bird song. The river was wide, slow and meandering, and made no audible sound at camp.

Campsite at Lodden River

We turned in after a couple of welcome brews and a surprisingly good hot meal. (We always have an interesting debate after these trips with friends and spouses about the actual quality of camp food. Is it only good because of the setting and one’s hunger? Or is the food half decent in its own right? My brother and I are probably of the latter opinion: I think we’d both still enjoy a camp dinner at home!)

That night I found a leech gorging itself on my leg, which caused a ripple of alarm between us. He was easily burned off with the lighter, but we were more careful to check for them at day’s end during the rest of the trip.

Day 2: Lodden River Camp to summit of Frenchman’s Cap and camp at Lake Tahune

We struck camp by 8am after a morning brew. Joints were stiff. Eyes were puffy. I was plainly not used to this camping malarky anymore. It had been almost 3.5 years since I last slept in a tent. (Just the way the cookie crumbles. I still see lots more hiking, camping and mountains in my future.)

Wild Tasmanian Forest

It was still misty as we traversed above the Lodden plains on the new trail (avoiding the infamous and suitably named ‘Sodden Loddens’, of old). Our path was wet enough thank you very much!

We stopped at the Lake Vera hut for a hearty cheese and ham lunch. Then it was back into the thick forest and shortly after, the steep climb up to Barron Pass. It was tiring work with the packs and general lack of mountain fitness.

The climb is relentless and, just when one is getting utterly tired from the exertion of it, one emerges onto the chilly pass and a sweeping new panorama of lakes and mountain summits.

Frenchman’s Cap summit was still slumbering under a cloud when we passed through Barron Pass.

Barron Pass lookout

An open path traversed across the shoulder of Sharlands Peak and onto the ridgeline adjoining F.C. It was a superb section of walking that we romped across. Some more ups and downs before the path deposited us at a misty, atmospheric Lake Tahune:

Mist at Lake Tahune

The situation was wild!

The Lake Tahune hut was in the process of being rebuilt, so it was a construction site up there, but we found a tent platform and pitched our tent as the rain fell. The trees provided some welcome cover. The wooden tent platform had an innovative chain & nail system in place of using pegs. It took a little while to figure out but we soon had the tent pitched taught.

After a brief rest and refuel, we decided to go for the summit that same afternoon, given the weather was relatively good (only cloudy and showers, but little wind). Who knows what the next morning would be like?

On the shoulder of Frenchman's Cap

Best of all, we could leave the bags at camp and travel light, just taking a water bottle and snack in our jacket pockets. The climb began up a steep gully from the opposite shore of Lake Tahune, with a few scrambly sections. Beyond it was an airy, zig-zagging path over rocky terraces, which reminded us of days in the Dolomites, with the swirling mist.

Summit signpost

Sadly there were no views at the summit. We were still elated though. It was the first summit we’d climbed together in years and it’d been quite a journey to reach the top.

It had all the classic elements of a good backcountry adventure: enough hardship that we felt like we earned the summit, enough beautiful scenery to remember for years to come and, of course, the (literal in our case) brotherhood of the shared journey.

Summit of Frenchman's Cap

On the way down off Frenchman’s Cap we dipped beneath the clouds and enjoyed the most spectacular views of the trip thus far. Just stunning!

View from shoulder of Frenchman's Cap

Looking down on Lake Tahune. Our camp was at the L edge of the lake, hidden amongst the trees.

View from shoulder of Frenchman's Cap

Day 3: Lake Tahune camp back to Trailhead (camp at Franklin River)

Not many photos from this day on account of the heavy rain that persisted until lunchtime.

I did not have such a good day. My left knee gave me pain on any downhill section (overexertion, given my lack of backpacking in the last few years) and I had an annoying headache all morning. No choice but to trundle on though.

The dreary day matched my mood. Soon though, one emerges from the other side of such a mood and takes a perverse pleasure in just putting one foot in front of the other and making progress, despite the discomfort.

A hearty lunch and a lie down at Lake Vera hut restored me and I very much enjoyed the easier afternoon walk out to the trailhead. The sun shone on us and mostly dried us off. That night we camped next to the Franklin River, just a few hundred metres from the trailhead.

Franklin River suspension bridge

(Day 4 transfer south, including stop for fish & chips in Hobart.)

Mt Anne

6th January 2018

Our initial plan of trying the whole circuit had been scaled back to just a day hike of Mt Anne. The weather had other ideas.

We sat in the car at the trailhead, listened to the rain falling, and willed ourselves to just get on with it. After some deliberation, with the rain easing, we set off and headed up the mountain.

My knee gave me no problems thankfully. The wind nearly knocked us off our feet in places however!

Mt Anne trail head

There is a small hut on the shoulder of Mt Eliza, which is a satellite peak to the south of Mt Anne. We stopped and enjoyed this convivial, little shelter, chatting with other hikers over lunch. Some had been camped up high last night and told of a wild night.

We set off into the roaring wind once again, getting blown up the ridge in places, but never in any danger. It was enjoyable and refreshing, but we were doubtful of summiting Mt Anne in this weather.

Windy!

One enjoys tremendous views out over Lake Pedder the whole way up Mt Eliza:

View from shoulder of Mt Eliza

Hunkered down on the summit of Mt Eliza, behind a boulder to get out of the wind. It was actually a little less windy on the summit compared to the ridge line, so we spent a little time up on the plateau, exploring the next bump and enjoying the incredible views.

Summit of Mt Eliza

The scenery was simply magnificent (click to see larger):

Panoramic view from the shoulder of Mt Eliza

Prudence is the better part of valor, so we abandoned Mt Anne for another day. It gives us reason to come back to the magnificent mountain region.

Mt Field West

7th January 2018

Our final mountain day was a long walk over the high plateau of the Mount Field National Park, to the summit of Mount Field West.

It was a gloriously sunny day, quite the contrast to the weather so far. Buoyed by the sunshine, we set off in high spirits and travelled light, with the minimum of kit.

Sadly this didn’t include any painkillers and I soon developed a headache again. Nevermind, the scenery was stunning. This was mountain walking at its finest.

Lake Seal, Mt Field National Park

Navigation was easy with Mt Field West visible most of the day. It was deceptively far away though, so we were both pretty tired by the time we reached the summit plateau, dotted as it was with many tiny ponds and scenic tarns.

Tarn near summit of Mt Field West

I had a little nap on the summit (it was that kind of mountain day) and we enjoyed the 360 degree panorama of mountains, forests and lakes. It was the sort of day we live for, and reminded me of our climb up Black Peak in NZ, and also closer to home, of Munro summits.

Summit of Mt Field West

I’m not going to lie, the last few hours of the day were tough for me. My headache worsened and made the walking rather grueling. This selfie just about captures my feeling at the time:

Selfie with a headache

Despite the headache, which faded upon taking painkillers back at the car and descending to lower altitudes, it was still a top-notch mountain day with my brother.

I have extremely fond memories of the entire trip, of all the high and low points. Memories I’ll cherish for life.

Links

Frenchman’s Cap Trail Notes

Mt Anne Circuit Trail Notes

Mt Field National Park Notes

Honeymoon Trek in La Gomera, Canary Islands

A photo essay from the trek my wife and I took for our honeymoon, on the beautiful island of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands. We did this trip in late 2014, and we’ve had two baby boys since then, so forgive my slow progress on this blog…! 😉

We travelled with Macs Adventure, a self-guided walking tour company, who did a brilliant job of organising our accommodation, transport and route logistics, as well as moving our overnight bags from rustic hotel to rustic hotel. This meant we could just enjoy the walking, the scenery and great food. It was our honeymoon after all 😉

Looking back to Tenerife from the ferry to La Gomera. It would be the last time we’d see high-rises, bars and tourists:

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Our first night was in San Sebastian, the capital of the island, with a population of around 8,500. It’s a tiny place, but of course, that’s the charm. Here’s San Sebastian seen from the mountains above, to give you an idea of the scale and setting:

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The Hiking

Day 1: El Cerdo –> Chipudé

Our first day of trekking dawned grey and drizzly, but it was perfect weather to be trekking through tropical forest and I believe it’s pretty typical for the central mountainous area of La Gomera.

Shortly after being dropped off at the village of El Cerdo to start the walk, we entered the island’s National Park:

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The hiking was other-wordly, on excellent paths through the misty trees:

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One of my favourite aspects of the hiking in La Gomera was the surprises one encounters around every bend. Buried deep in the middle of the National Park forest is this little gem, the church Ermita de Lourdes:

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We continued through the misty forests all morning, gradually gaining height as we climbed upwards through the mountains, towards the highest point of the island:

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Plaque near the summit of Alto de Garajonay, which, at 1407m, is the highest point on the island. It was pretty wet, windy and wild on top, so we didn’t get any views (or photos). A reason to return!

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We passed some stupendously scenic pine groves on the descent off the mountain:

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The day concluded with us hiking through terraced farmland, past herds of goats, into the tiny village of Chipudé, where we stayed the night in a cozy hotel.

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The church off the central square in Chipudé:

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Sunset from the hotel room in Chipudé:

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Day 2: Chipudé –> Vallehermoso

Again, the day began with wet weather so we set off in full waterproofs. It felt like a typical Scottish hike!

The hiking was along scenic terraced fields, past tiny villages:

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The island is like a time capsule, with original homes and features everywhere. This particular doorway was in the village of El Cercado, which also had a few craft shops selling local pottery that we checked out, before walking on:

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Beyond the village of El Cercado, we traversed across the head of a huge, steep valley, which had been ingeniously terraced. Our path weaved along the terraces:

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Excellent walking, despite the light rain:

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Beyond the terraces we plunged back into the misty, tropical forest:

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We began our descent down towards Vallehermoso, along a wild path descending through the mountains:

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Every so often, we’d see a building and some terraces far off, nestled deep in the mountains, amongst the palm trees and cacti:

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As we approached Vallehermoso, we dropped beneath the heavy blanket of clouds to see the brilliant blue sea in the distance. This photo doesn’t really do it justice but it was a beautiful view. That’s Vallehermoso in the valley floor:

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Approaching Vallehermoso, can you spot my wife in this photo (blue top)?

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Day 3: Circular walk from Vallehermoso

A superb circular hike up the mountains behind Vallehermoso and along their tops, where we enjoyed the wide open sea views:

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The small chapel of Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Coromoto is at the top:

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Stupendous views along the rugged coastline, with the beach, Playa de Vallehermoso and it’s outdoor pool, just visible bottom right:

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Day 4: Vallehermoso –> Hermigua

Bright sunshine and not a cloud in sight! This is more like the weather we expected. Our bags were collected from the hotel in Vallehermoso and we set off to hike to the next town of Hermigua.

We went straight up into the mountains and had wonderful views back across the valley to Vallehermoso:

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This section of the hike along the coastline was spectacular, being so open and expansive:

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Mountain reflection:

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The village of Agulo that we passed on the hike to Hermigua. The village was a maze of narrow little lanes, nestled into the mountainside:

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View of Hermigua from our hotel window. Fabulous, long day of walking! It was glorious to arrive and relax with a view like this. You can just see Tenerife and the peak of Mt. Teide poking up behind the ridgeline:

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The fish dinners in Hermigua were superb:

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Day 5: Circular walk from Hermigua

Another beautiful, sunny day, perfect for more coastal walking:

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Can you tell we were enjoying ourselves?

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Looking up the valley from Hermigua towards the mountains, in the direction we’d be heading the following morning:

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Day 6: Hermigua –> San Sebastian

Today was a shorter hike, but the views were some of the best.

We were back on the east coast of the island again, looking out towards Tenerife and El Teide:

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The hiking was so, so good:

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The view as we approached San Sebastian:

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Day 7: San Sebastian

Back in San Sebastian, we had one more day to relax and look around.

This is the old fort:

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A typical street at rush hour, as you can see San Sebastian is a pretty busy place:

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The main square and church of San Sebastian:

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All in all, one of the best holidays we’ve taken. My wife and I still talk about this trip often and we’ll return one day, of that I’m sure.

Wonderful memories 🙂

Logistics:

There are no direct flights into San Sebastian, so you’re required to fly into neighbouring Tenerife and catch one of the frequent ferries across to La Gomera (takes about 1 – 3 hours).

We travelled with Macs Adventure on this itinerary. They arranged all the logistics for us and transported our bags between hotels, so we could really relax and enjoy the walking.