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Tassie Blitz Part 1: Frenchman's Cap
12:01:21 PM
WE’VE GOT TWO SEVERED ROPES!! I yelled upwards.
DO YOU NEED A TOP ROPE??? came the reply downwards.
YES I THINK SO!!! was my response.

It had all gone so well, too. Perfectly in fact, up until the point the letterbox-sized boulder came crashing down on the belay. Craig and I were the second pair of ropes of the 4 of us, on pitch 11 of the Sydney route, on Frenchman’s Cap. Now we had a little problem.

How do you get in this situation? One step at a time, of course. That one step had started mid-morning on Saturday, when we got out of Craig’s car at the trailhead near the Franklin River, in South-west Tasmania. The trip – Martin’s idea the previous November – had been to walk in to Frenchman’s Cap, the 400m-high sheer face that’s two gruelling days walk from the nearest road, with enough food and books to last out the notorious bad weather and tick the objective.

That one first step was a warm one. Tassie was getting a mid-summer spell of fine weather, and it was 26C, sunny and warm when we weighed the packs in the car park. We were all just under the 30kg mark each, which didn’t seem too bad for the first half hour or so (never does), but by the time I hit the unexpectedly steep rise over the final pass before descending to Lake Vera later that afternoon, I was soaked in sweat, counting the steps and making all sorts of vows to get properly fit before taking on any more of these trips. Next time.

But what’s a poor desk jockey to do except get out of the office on Friday afternoon, load gear and packs into the car, drive onto the overnight ferry and start walking the next morning? What the hell. We’ll get there eventually. It can’t be that bad.

Craig “My Heart Will Go On”

First glimpse

I had my GPS with me and was counting the distance down to Lake Vera Hut. 600 metres. 500 metres. 400 metres. I was eventually relieved of my pack about 5pm and let my sore shoulders go into spasm for an hour.

It was a gorgeous evening. A splash in the lake, dinner followed and there wasn’t much else between me and bed.

Fellow hikers outside Lake Vera hut

Chef Dave’s risoni with peas and salami was a highlight.

The track from Lake Vera to Lake Tahune looks easy on paper. Only 6km. Pfiffle. How can that be hard? Well, from Lake Vera you rise about 500m, steeply, over logs, tree roots and other obstacles to emerge, battered, at Barron Pass. Then, despite only being about 2km from the hut as the crow flies you’ve still got a serious slog up and down the difficult trail before descending very steeply down to Tahune.

The ascent to Barron Pass.

The path heading to Lake Tahune.

Come to think of it I’ve never seen one fly in a straight line but let’s not get distracted now.

I’d recovered enough from the day before to kid myself it wasn’t so bad. At the pass it was cloudy and a little misty. I saw some sun patches down in the valley below and expected it to clear. Then the clouds parted and we got our first Up Close look at the face. It’s big.

We arrived at the hut for lunch and were off up the hill not much later to go and check out the route.

We headed up the walker’s track then skirted around to descend under the main face. It’s one of the most impressive pieces of rock I’ve ever stood under. Not the biggest, sure, but in many ways harder to visualise. Shit, is it possible to climb it? We tried to suss out the lines. Martin scrambled up a steep buttress while the rest of us dropped down around the base then up a scree gully. We eventually found the start of the original route, but more importantly the start of the Direct which looked better. The weather outlook for the next day was perfect. We were on.

Skirting around the face to find the start of The Sydney Route

A 5:15am alarm got us going. It was just after 6 when we left the hut in the faint dawn. By 7 we were at the base of the route. The plan was for Martin and Dave to lead as a pair, and Craig and I follow them as a separate pair.

Dawn on the approach.

Martin leads off.

Martin dispatched pitch 1 fairly quickly, Dave followed and I was ready to lead off behind him. By the time I reached the belay they’d nearly finished reracking and Dave was off again. However, the grassy corner didn’t give up protection placements easily and Dave baulked at stepping off on the left wall without some gear. Eventually some gardening solved the problem.

Dave expressing mild concerns on P2.

Pitch 3 turns out to be a walk and scramble across to the base of the “real climbing”. However the first part of the real climbing was still steep and grassy, and it was the middle of pitch 4 before I started noticing the steepness and exposure. Dave had belayed on a good ledge, Craig joined him while Martin lead off, and I came up fourth.

Pitch 5 gets a bit more exciting, with a steep bulge and plenty of loose rock giving cause for concern. Again the Martin/Dave team led the way. I led up the juggy crack when it was my turn, made a step-across onto an unprotectable slab, then up into a corner, running it out some more to avoid rope drag. So I was a long way out from my last piece when I hit the steeper and more fragile rock below the roof, and made sure I had two good pieces in before continuing.

I joined Martin on an airy perch, sensational belay. Dave led up the steep exposed chimney above. Craig soon caught up and we waited for the way to clear.

Craig seconding pitch 5.

Dave leads up the chimney on pitch 6.

Pitch 6 was certainly terrific, and pitch 7 which followed was one of my highlights. A clean, steep corner at about grade 15 with bomber hand jams and good rests. I didn’t quite keep enough big gear for the end, though, but managed OK. At the little belay ledge the other two were getting organised. I was starting to get worried about the timing, as it was afternoon and we still had 6-7 pitches to go. I was assured the last couple would be easy and go quickly.

Craig on belay on pitch 7.

Pitch 8 is terrific, but scary and solid for the grade I thought. An exposed and daring traverse leads left out of the corner into no-man’s land, then somehow upwards. The ledge was too crowded for Craig to join me so he hung out a bit below us until Martin started seconding the pitch.

Dave, quite happy to be on the other side of the traverse.

Pitch 9 (described as pitch 8 in the published writeup) is the crux, the “Devil’s Staircase”. By the time I got up there Martin was doing battle with the crux, but as it’s the last part of the pitch I didn’t really get any good beta, apart from a small wire being useful. It looked run-out and intimidating. I got up there, got a little gripped, placed a 3RP that was actually not bad, and got across to the safety of the hand crack, big cam and large hex at the ready.

The sloping belay ledge at the end is a hoot. Martin suggested I get Craig to hold off until there was more room. You belay mostly off a small sharp spike of quartz, with Craig’s dental-floss dyneema slings giving me little comfort. I backed it up with some small cams in the horizontal below, then convinced Martin to leave me his mid-sized cam, somehow not noticing I still had a red Dragon on my harness. Craig followed, then we did the tango changing leads on the small ledge.

Craig seconding the Devil’s Staircase. Exposure for him, and me!

Pitch 10 is a scary downclimb and traverse, still about grade 16 and probably worse to second than to lead. So I got it both ways. We somehow got across intact in the exit gully, with Martin and Dave now slightly ahead of us.

I was expecting the rest to be a doddle and we still had enough daylight. So I chugged up the loose grassy gully, not bothering to place any gear for about 8-10m until Craig pointed out that, deeper in the gully was a narrower crack where I could get some gear. As the climbing had gotten steeper I decided this was a good idea.

Problem was, there was this large, letterbox-sized boulder perched in the gully where I wanted to step. There was no way I was going to stand on it, so I did some sort of a bridging move where I could get further into the chimney and step over it carefully.

Which I did – but it didn’t help. Standing on some of the loose gravel inside the chimney somehow transferred a small amount of force onto the boulder, and that was enough - it was off. F&CK! ROCK!

Craig had no-where to go, lashed to the belay directly in the firing line 10m below me. The rock bounced a couple of times, landed on the day-pack and belay sling, then bounced onto the stack of rope. Craig somehow stayed out of harms way, but I didn’t like the look of those sharp edges landing hard on about 100m of 8.5mm nylon.

Craig had a bit of a look and couldn’t see any damage. I was cursing my luck but figured there was no way out but up. I asked Craig to check the rope as he fed it out. About 10m higher he reported some sheath damage on the yellow, so I placed gear on the green. At about 50m he yelled that the green was f&cked, so I belayed at the base of a steeper wall and yelled up at the others – by now a pitch above us and out of sight – that we might need help.

They paused, Craig joined me, and we got to use my belay knife for real work for once, severing 10m of damaged rope from the end of the green. The yellow was damaged, but still useable, and Craig led through.

The damaged rope.

The last two pitches were surprisingly stiff, I conclude the ‘original’ route probably goes up the chimney and left, whereas we stayed on the right wall. Good climbing and a recommended finish. Dave left gear behind on his lead of the last pitch, which I was happy to clip and save a little time. Then we were coiling ropes, scrambling up the final ramps and making our way to the summit proper for some sunset shots.

Views from near the summit.

The summit shot of the team.

We got back to the hut around 9:15pm by the light of head torches. We were ready for a celebration. Dave confessed he’d stashed some Jameson’s whisky in his pack, and I admitted to 1.5 litres of shiraz, so the party was on. Unfortunately another 4 or so walkers had arrived and were already in bed. Dave went down and found a peaceful spot near the helipad to set up and cook dinner, so we had a small soiree there with hot food, were all too smashed after one glass of wine to contemplate anything else, and packed it in.

The next morning we were blessed with our fourth straight day of perfect weather, but after being on the go for the last 3, we wanted a rest day. Which has different meanings for different people. Ours involved a day walk, sidling under the south-east face and around to the south col, traversing the south-west slopes, climbing back up to the summit again, back down to the hut, then deciding to pack up and hike the 4 hours down to Lake Vera. Not exactly much of a rest day, was it?

From left: Billy Westbay, Jim Bridwell, John Long …

The plan had changed. Since everything had gone so smoothly, we now had some extra time on our hands. And there were a couple of other stunning objectives in Martin’s mind that we now had time for. So it was off back to the road the next day, then down to the Tasman Peninsula for some further adventures.

But that’s another trip report …

We were pretty happy about those new duckboards – or are they Dickboards?

1:16:09 PM
Great trip report, looking forward to the next instalment!
5:28:22 PM
Great TR & photos

Looks like you had a great time - well done!

6:09:42 PM
Awesome! Such a rad place...

6:53:44 PM
>From left: Billy Westbay, Jim Bridwell, John Long


Main difference is Jim Bridwell has bigger balls than u guys ...

: D

8:13:59 PM

Geoff must be taking the photo ...

: P

9:39:42 AM
Actually I was the fluoro-lime-green Wiggle on this trip .. and yes it had occurred to us.
9:57:20 PM
(bump) Updated the images to decent resolution; original posting had everything compressed to bits to fit under the 65k Chockstone limit.

10:12:28 AM
On 18/03/2015 gfdonc wrote:
>(bump) Updated the images to decent resolution; original posting had everything
>compressed to bits to fit under the 65k Chockstone limit.
Looks great now, but want to know how you got away with posting higher res photos!

10:38:01 AM
Upload them to another source (eg Facebook) and use the URL in the code when adding the photo.

11:18:36 AM
Following on from the reply I made at the end of your 2nd part of the blitz write-up...

How do you rate the efficiencies of climbing as two parties on the same route at the same time?

I have not been to Frenchman's Cap, but everything I have ever heard or read about the place would make me very hesitant to follow another party up it, unless I was on quite an independent route...

I'd be interested in a gearlist of what you (and the other party), took, particularly the rack/s, as sub 30 Kg packs including climbing gear for that (potentially longer) length of time is very impressive in my opinion.

How do you find using the double chest-harness style of gear-sling on major adventure lines? Is it the only time you have used it outside of aid style routes?

Re the offending letter-box rock.
It appears Martin and Dave avoided it though they were ahead of you. Is the 'line' sufficiently open (wandery?), at that point that they were on a face of that area instead of in the trench?
11:56:44 AM
On 15/04/2015 IdratherbeclimbingM9 wrote:
>How do you rate the efficiencies of climbing as two parties on the same
>route at the same time?
Not much of a disadvantage, you just need to give the lead party 30-45 minutes head start to let the leader get one pitch in front. As always, depends on how quickly you climb .. balanced against the safety factor of having a second party close by.

>I have not been to Frenchman's Cap, but everything I have ever heard or
>read about the place would make me very hesitant to follow another party
>up it, unless I was on quite an independent route...
Some loose rock was a concern (and some was dodged on the lower pitches). there's higher risk with a party above you, although in a few places The Sydney Route traverses so you're not always below the other party.

>I'd be interested in a gearlist of what you (and the other party), took,
>particularly the rack/s, as sub 30 Kg packs including climbing gear for
>that (potentially longer) length of time is very impressive in my opinion.
Two half ropes each.
Double rack of cams plus wires and hexes. Probably close to a 'standard' multipitch rack but I don't normally take a double set of cams. Left the bigger cams at home.
I have a full list of my pack contents, might dig it out and post if there's interest.

>How do you find using the double chest-harness style of gear-sling on
>major adventure lines? Is it the only time you have used it outside of
>aid style routes?
Borrowed one of these on Ozy last year and decided I liked it.
Then bought a Metolius version and it didn't sit as well. Have gone back to the BD one and still like it.
Craig usually just racks on his harness. I find changeovers are more efficient with a rack sling.

>Re the offending letter-box rock.
>It appears Martin and Dave avoided it though they were ahead of you.
I think the comment was made that they thought about trundling it (we might have still been off to the side) but didn't want to risk it.

12:37:41 PM
Thanks for the feedback, and I agree with you that gear-slings make for efficient change-overs at belays, though I have not found many who like the chest harness style.

I reckon a couple of your pics would be great contenders for 'photo gallery' on this site.
What camera / lense?

There are 13 messages in this topic.


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