Mount Bartle Frere - Eastern Approach

Wooroonooran National Park
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Mount Bartle Frere is Queensland's highest mountain. The eastern approach is a serious undertaking - after the Hannel Spur route up Mount Kosciuszko (1,800m elevation gain), it has the second most elevation gain of any summit in Australia (1,500m). Objective hazards include the boulder field below the summit which, due to the fact that orographic lifting means that the summit spends the majority of time in the cloud, is usually wet and slippery.

Lookouts
Picnic Facilities
Toilets
Scrambling or Climbing
No Dogs Permitted
Camping Permitted
Rainforest
1622m
Maximum Elevation
1500m
Total Climb

Getting there:

Head north up the Bruce Highway from Townsville to cairns and 15 minutes after passing Innisfail you come to Miriwinni, turn off near hear and follow the signs to the Josephine Falls National Park.

Maps

No good ones found - the National Park leaflet (Josephine Falls Section) and the Bartle Frere summit section leaflet. You can download a map from QTopo website (Queensland Government website for topographic maps - http://qtopo.dnrm.qld.gov.au/desktop/ -  which does show the trail on it, or you can order a topographic map from www.cartodraft.com.au for approx. $10 (order map for Bartle Frere section) but this does not show the trail on it. 

Route/Trail notes

The walk should only be attempted in the "dry" cooler months of August to October. It is the wet tropics so expect to get wet. The summit is usually only visible for 5 - 10% of the year with the rest of the time being shrouded in cloud.

Start the walk as early as you can, you don't want to be returning in the dark. It is possible to camp on the mountain, but you'll have to carry all your gear. the lighter your pack the easier it will be.

There are two main sections to the track, in the rainforest and above the rain forest in the boulder field. The rainforest section is wet muddy and steep and probably accounts for about 2/3 of the track and you get no views through the thick trees.

The boulder field is very open and exposed, but provides excellent views over the coast (depending on the cloud cover). There is a marked track through the field and ladders and chains in places to assist. There is also a helicopter pad due to the high number of rescues over the years. At the summit there is a 10 minute climb through some thicker trees obscuring the view where the sign is indicating the summit.

There are several other routes including one to Broken Nose.

Permits/Costs

Free! - but you'll pay for a few days after with sore legs. make sure you let someone know where you are going and register in the book at the start of the track and also when you return.

If you wish to camp, a camping permit is required for a small fee of $5.25 per night. You can order by phone or online at Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing (DNPSR). 

Other References

http://www.townsvillenet.com.au/mountains/bartlefrere.htm

http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/parks_and_forests/find_a_park_or_forest/bartle_frere_trail_wooroonooran_national_park/

 

NB: Toilets are only available at the start of the walk (Josephine Falls car park).

Comments

0600 flight to Cairns from Brisbane.
Started this "walk" solo at 1230 and reached the helipad and evac shelter at around 1830.
Stopped to collect and purify water at the 3km mark. There's room to set up camp there but nowhere else until 7km. I set up camp roughly 30m past the helipad at 7km. Cooked dinner in the emergency shelter to make life easier. It started raining at 1am (not quite sideways.. more like slightly uphill.. no leaks thankfully). I ate breakfast at 0800, packed up my gear inside the tent and put on my wet weather gear, boots and a fresh pair of socks. I stored my pack in the evacuation shelter while I packed up my tent, then stored the tent there aswell.
Hiked to the summit with no gear except a PLB, protein bar and my phone for a photo of the summit.

Fairly decent false summit above the boulder field with ample room to set up camp if there's no room at the helipad area. I'd convinced myself I went to far in the fog and rain but sure enough there's some more root climbing to do and a very obvious park sign in the trees that marks the highest peak in QLD.

The hike down took about 4.5 hours and was pretty brutal on the legs with a pack. There were roughly a billion tiny leeches from top to bottom because of the rain, but I applied liberal amounts of 80% deet to my hips, wrists, neck, ankle area (socks and skin) and even outside my pants around my knees to stop them climbing up. Not a single one latched on until I sat in my car in a pair of thongs.

Roughly 15kg pack most of the way up. Probably 12-13kgs on the way down

List of items:
55L Denali Meridian pack. (I wouldn't recommend this pack I've had to pop rivet some stainless steel to the aluminum frame to stop it from deforming and jamming into my spine)
3 dry sacks
Tent (Zephyr II)
Ultra light inflatable mattress
Down sleeping bag (rated 4°c)
Sleeping bag liner (silk cotton)
Inflatable pillow
Jet boil 0.8L personal cooker
Ultra light titanium cutlery set
LED LENSER headlamp
Rain coat
Rain pants
Spare change of clothes and socks
6L MSR dromedary (2L from car to creek at 3km mark, 5L taken from the creek at 3km mark to evac shelter and then back)
Water purification tablets
3 protein bars
2 gel sachets
Freeze dried meals: (back country meals regular size for dinner and small for breakfast) I should have stopped on the way down to eat another meal I had but was rushing.
First aid kit: (emergency blanket, ibuprofen, panadol, antihistamines, snake bite kit (3 bandages), 2 non adhesive dressings, 1 haemostatic tampon, 12cm strip of adhesive fabric dressing with pad, 12cm length medical tape).
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
Lightweight Trowel (for digging #2 hole)
Biodegradable wet wipes
Dry sack for garbage
Oil of Clove essential oil to deter rats at camp.
Scarpa, leather, full shank mountaineering boots.
Battery bank for phone and headlamp

All gear except my boots were packed into 1 large compression dry sack and another 13l dry sack with a spare for garbage. I used ziplock bags for my first aid kit and personal items (wallet).

Mitchell Biggs on 19 Aug, 2021

Perfect sunny cloudless day with prior 3 days of no rain so track was not slippery and had no leaches. Was tough because of distance and constant climbing on the 'root' track. Took 6 hours up and 5 hours down, with only a few photo, snack and rest breaks, and a swim in one of the pools for a semi fit 55 year old. Was 19.2 km return according to my locus maps gps/track recording. Trail is well marked but the distance markers seem to measure the horizontal distance. Had a great view from the top as it was a cloudless sunny day.

Monte Hague on 22 Jul, 2021

We’re two girls in our late twenties of above average fitness and decent hiking experience. This took us just about 8 hours return as a day hike - 4 hours up and 4 hours down, but our descent was slower because of one dodgy knee. We hiked on a clear day in May without much recent rainfall. The first 3K had minimal elevation gain but it got steeper after that. From about halfway up the ground was wet but not too muddy. From the start of the boulderfield onwards it was much colder, wetter, quite windy and very misty, no real views from the top for us today!
We took around 4L water each but didn’t need that much, only drank ~2L. We also took light fleeces as well as waterproof jackets which we were glad to have at the top. In terms of leeches we were pretty lucky, only found about 20 each, mostly on our legs and most before they had attached properly - we had thick socks, wore exercise tights and liberally sprayed 40% DEET, reapplying a few times during the hike too.
After reading previous reviews, we were initially worried that we’d bitten off more than we could chew trying to do this as a day hike within a reasonable time frame, but it’s definitely achievable if you’re relatively fit and well prepared!

Neha on 16 May, 2021


Left Toowoomba at 1am got to friends by 3am plane arrived Cairns at 10.15am started Climb at 2pm on no sleep!! And Josy just came off ten days straight! Got dark at 630pm did most of the difficult scrambling in the dark! With our $2 kmart torches and 15kg packs I would recommend that! Then got to campsite at 830pm!! Got back 24hrs later at 2pm

Beautiful mountain that is the hardest physical accomplishment we have ever done.

Lots of leeches need gaiters, salt and deet to stand a chance.

Chesspeople on 4 Dec, 2020

Tough walk, but well worth it! Not too many leeches going up the summit, but plenty on Broken Nose. Don't keep any rubbish or food in your tent because there are rats that will eat through. If you are up to it, give it a shot. Make sure you have the appropriate equipment as it is a tough hike. Best to go in a group.

airmatmaster on 10 Oct, 2020

Extremely well marked track, would be very difficult to get lost. The walk can be broken down into 1-3km - moderate walk with occassional steep parts, 3-4km - becoming steep, 4-5km - very steep, 5-7km becoming less steep, reach your first boulder field just before the helipad. 7km to summit - scrambling up a big boulder field. None of it is technically difficult, and certainly not navigationally difficult, but it is constant uphill for hours on end. I found the boulder field was about as difficult as the one up Cradle Mountain. Was great to briefly be the highest person in QLD, even if I was freezing and wet and had no view due to the clouds. Excellent hike, I highly recommend it! I also recommend preparing for a lot of leeches if it's wet.

Vonsnrub on 12 Sep, 2020

Don't attempt this hike unless you're confident on your feet and are at least moderately fit! This is a difficult climb and after tiring yourself out on the first 7 kms and feeling like you're almost there, you hit the boulder section near the top which is hectic!! Then, you reach the top of the boulders to find there is another section of mountain still ahead. If i had known how scary the top section was, I probably wouldn't have started the climb! Pushed past my terror to reach the summit, and so glad I did!

Elese M on 11 Sep, 2020


Did this hike today. I’m not sure how “average” people managed to get up and down the east trail in 5 / 7 hours as some have commented. I would consider us fit and experienced hikers and it took us 11 hours including a total of about 1hr in breaks. It is so steep in sections that I don’t know how you could possibly go faster (literally hands and feet climbing up root ladders). Regardless - we were lucky to have a view and yes it was spectacular. But what others have said is true - it’s long, steep, tiring, the boulder field is tricky with lots of big deep holes, there is a false summit of sorts too (when starting the boulder field, it looks like the summit but once you get to the top you see there is in fact another saddle and small rise to the true summit where the Bartle Frere sign is), lots of leeches on the way up but none on the way back down, practically bathed in bushmans 80% deet before leaving and seemed to do the trick as plenty were on our boots but none latched on to skin. Wear full covered clothing if you can, I spent a lot of time sliding on my bum down rocks etc and there is a fair bit of bushes etc on the track, plus plenty of stinging nettle at the beginning on the track. It was wet in the forest to begin with, cool wind on the summit but quite warm on the descent as the sun had come out. As for distance - I recorded the trail on Wikiloc and it was more like 20km to the top, not 7.5km, it is possible the recording was slightly off but I doubt by over double, and unlikely on two different devices (my battery died so I continued with another phone, and both combined were 35km). The distance markers on the trail seem significantly more than 1km between them. We passed a ranger on the way out and asked about it.. he assured us it was accurate but also mentioned it was measured 20 years ago using a cotton string.. which to me seems VERY inaccurate and would take the most direct route rather than how a person would ascent, so perhaps it’s more like 15km “as the crow flies”?? Anyway, I don’t say any of this to deter people, just to inform them of what to expect before setting out on what was one of the most challenging hikes we’ve done, but enjoyable and worth it if you’re willing to put in the effort :)

gabemma on 11 Sep, 2020

This was an awesome hike! Creek crossings, root ladders, boulder fields!! It was like walking glacier rock (reasonable), then smith’s track (steep as), then the pyramid (hard but fun) - and then back down again. We were a groups of three women in our 30’s and 40’s, not overly fit but had completed a few preparation hikes.. we took it easy as one of the hikers had blood sugar levels to manage. We made it to the top in 5 hours and back down in 4.5 hours. I will attach some photos as the weather was perfect, zero leeches as it was dry for a few days leading up to the Sunday and no rain or clouds on the day of our hike. My toes were hurting on the way down and they are really bruised and painful today - but it was totally worth it! We each took around 3.5L of water, loads of snacks and two massive sandwiches each. Still starving by the time we got back down. We also wore gloves to help with the abrasion from climbing and rock hopping. I’d do it again one day but not too soon as I’m in a bit of pain right now 😆

Maya on 16 Aug, 2020

Did the Western trail on the 9th, then the Eastern trail on the 19th. Certainly had their differences I can tell you right now. For starters, the Western trail was infested with leeches, whereas not a leech was seen on the Eastern trail. This may have just been due to different weather conditions; I took the western trail on a rainy day and the eastern approach on a clear day. Other than that, the Eastern trail provided spectacular views, fun creek crossings in the first couple of kilometres and hectic boulder hopping up to the sumit. The Western trail, on the other hand, provided zero views, and didn't have any particularly interesting features. Additionally, the camp site we stopped at on the Western trail flooded during the night, submerging our tent in water!
Overall, the walks were similar in difficulty, but I'd 100% recommend the eastern trail. If you are confident taking your bags over the boulder fields, there is a great campsite with spectacular views of both the sunset and sunrise. Otherwise, there is a great campsite before the boulder fields, just next to the heli pad.

Pickle on 19 Jul, 2020

From car park to summit & return 5.5 hrs including breaks. 42 years old.
There is regular clean creek water for the first 3.5 kms. Therefore 1.25 Lt of water was ample to carry if you refill. (Less weight to carry)
I applied tea tree oil & got no leaches. Boulder field was treaturous, but not slippery. Beautiful scenery the whole way.
Can be very cold the last 2kms, glad i took a sports jacket.
Creek crossings may be impassable after heavy rain.
QPWS estimating walk time of 12 hrs is ridiculous, maybe 8 hrs for an average person.

Zeeben on 24 Jun, 2020

Mt Bartle Frere my last climb for State8 . I had been told that it is the hardest and I would have to agree mainly due to being tropical and all that entails.
Mt Zeil was interesting as was Mt Woodroffe as there is no trail to follow requiring some Google Earth pre planning. Anyway, all done now and how lucky was I a cloud free day! Mind you, no view from the summit but a good view from the helipad. Time taken 7h 45min. Bad cramp in left leg on the decent slowing me up. Went through over 6lt. of water. Age 62. Thanks Qld for very well maintained Parks and free camps - with showers. Extra special thanks to Ann my ever enduring wife and support team.

George Dostral Wood on 26 Aug, 2019

It took myself and a friend (mid 20s and good level of fitness) 7.5 hrs to reach the summit via the eastern track, including tracks.
We returned back to the Helicopter Pad camp site (would recommend doing this if you hike). There are quite a number of boulders to climb up from 7.5km to the peak at 9km. Descending this first thing in the morning with cloud cover, wet rocks and a pack would be quite risky.

At the camp site there were a number of rats that came for out food. we had everything sealed in zip-lock bags and put away in our pack which was still enough to attract them. Within just 30min of laying down in our sleeping bags they had eaten a hole in my tent. If you plan to camp here I would recommend hard plastic containers and store it away from your pack and tent to avoid it being destroyed!!

Despite doing the walk in mid winter there were plenty of leeches (probably close to 100 per person). We were pulling them from our socks every 20-30mins before they had time to latch on properly. I would recommend thick, long socks, that should give you enough time to remove them before reaching skin.

There is a marker every km up to the Helicopter pad. We were unable to find the 6km mark on the way up, or the way down. It may just be covered by moss.

The rocks and tree roots are extremely slippery, even in the dry season. There are about 10 creek crossings before 4km (the last being at the intersection with Broken nose). Three of the crossing require some caution to avoid slipping into the water or getting your feet wet.

Overall, it was certainly a challenging walk with a lot of steep up hill but rewarding to know that we completed it.

Holly Scott on Jun, 2019

A very hard wet hike. It took 3 fit young walkers with packs, overnight gear and 5L of water (~15-16kg) just over 7 hours to summit including breaks.

Started at 8:30am from Josephine falls and it’s relatively easy for the first 2.5km just watch out for waitawhile. At about 3km the leeches start and you will soon come to a clearing with a large creek crossing and a sign to turn off for the broken nose summit. This is the last creek for water. Kilometres 4 and 5 are very tough with sections almost vertical, try not to miss the markers they are mostly on rocks. After a punishing climb you are rewarded by breaking out of the rain forest and begin the boulder climb. Just before the 7km mark is the emergency shelter and helipad which is a good place to assess how much light is left and whether to summit in the morning. The emergency hut is also the best place to change clothes and cook out of the elements. There is also a clearing big enough for a 3 man tent and gear nearby.

When you do decide to summit there is a rock climb made very difficult by slippery rocks with limited handholds a ridgeline (false summit) and then a final very steep climb through rainforest again to the very top. There was no view as a reward for us but being among the clouds was still a great feeling. It is cold overnight so keep gear dry. The descent while still hard on your legs is way faster only taking about 4 hours from the emergency shelter.

Tips: This trip would have been much better in the dry as there were countless leeches, no views, near constant showers and the track was very muddy.

FNQ Adventure and Bushcraft on 20 Apr, 2019

Started walk at 3:55am and arrived back to carpark at 3:55pm, and had 40 mins at the evac shelter to eat, change socks and remove leeches. Took 5.5L water & electrolytes, drank most of it. Even though it was only around 18 degrees when I started, the humidity is incredible - I was saturated with sweat after less than an hour of walking in the dark. Plenty of wait-a-whiles too - I initially wore a mosquito net which was not necessary and was repeatedly caught.

Tough walk, and at this time of year some creativity was definitely required to cross the creek where the track splits to Broken Nose. No view at the top of course, and the trickiest part was the boulder fields. I left my pack in the evac shelter for this part and although I have done plenty of rock scrambling, this was treacherous - they've been constantly wet for months, so they were super slippery.

As others have said, bring plenty of deet - the leeches are plentiful. I applied cream to ankles & hands, plus made a salt paste which I smeared on my socks and shoes which helped. Also a small tin of spray for topical removals - this was handy when I found one halfway up my back. I'd suggest applying deet to your waist where your pants sit too - I found a couple there. There's a rope in the evac shelter for hanging clothes, so if you bring a spare shirt & socks, you can hang the wet ones there while you climb to the summit.

Overall, great walk, glad I did it, but I have no desire to do it solo again or at this time of year! Dry season is the way to go.

Richard on 25 Mar, 2019

Josephine Falls Solo start at 6:30am, Summit 11:15am, back down 3:30pm. Light rain clouded summit. Loads of leeches and slippery boulderfield. Tried 2 days earlier with my brother but couldn't cross the river at junction point for broken nose/summit, days of rain had really flooded the river. All in all tough climb drank about 3.5L of water, which was all I took and a 400g bag of roasted cashews. Definitely take some deet, was using bushmans 80% plus 75g tube.

Noch on 2 Jan, 2019

Drank 8L of water and had to refill on the way down from the creek. Foot padding guides you the whole way with orange markers aswell. Made it to the helipad for the best views and had to get back down before it was dark. Took us 8hrs.

★ sam ★ on 16 Jul, 2018

A fairly hard climb especially at the top in the boulder fields. I did this walk early September on a Sat and had a nice clear day. It was 27oC at the bottom but needed a thick fleece at the top as it did get cold. No view from the summit but great views from the boulder field below. Passed about 17 climbers of which 10 were camping overnight at the top, which would have ben interesting as there wasn't a huge amount of space to pitch a tent. Took me just over 10 hours to go up and down. Had no issue with leeches. Drank about 3.5 litres of water in all and wish I had more. No place to fill up your water bottle after the 2km mark.

DarSch on 9 Sep, 2017

Six of us left at 5.15am with torches and stars in the night sky, but the rain settled in by 9am. We made the rescue hut by 11am but passing from there over the boulder field to the summit and back again (approx ~400m) took nearly an hour. In the rain the boulders were slippery and dangerous. We ate and rested in the hut - nothing to see but cloud and rain. Left at 12.15 and made it back in record time 3.15pm - a 3 hour descent! The trek was a great adventure - much of the track is truly beautiful, but if its raining wait another day if you can, as the mud, leaches, treacherous boulder field and lack of view detract from just how great a hike this could have been.

lexnlondon on 30 Jun, 2017

Solo trip, 10.5 hours return day trip in the cloud/rain, zero views. Boulder field tricky in the wet, a billion leeches too. Glad I've ticked it off the list, but not one I'll be doing again!

Michael on 4 Jun, 2017

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