Mount Bartle Frere - Eastern Approach

Queensland

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.

Scrambling or Climbing
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/

Comments

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

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

Definitely try for a dry day if you can - it's a choice between leeches and none. Did this one (after ditching the first leech-laden attempt and coming back on a dry day) over a solid 10 hours. Plenty of creek crossings to start with, and towards the top the walk opens up into a grand boulder jungle, well kitted with hand-holds/foot holds where needed. Shorter people and kids might need a bit of a hand in some parts though.

kodama on 2017

Did this with my 15yr old daughter. First 4k is moderate. Kms 4 - 6.5 is hard (ie slightly harder than Walsh's Pyramid), but don't let this get inside your head, it gets better. Kms 6.5 - 7.5 is back to being uphill but okay. At a steady walk, we started at 23min Kms, then slowed to 37min kms, then went back to 23min kms. There is a boulder field before the top which again, slows you down, and another steep bit before the top, but you're not gong to turn around with 500m to go. (GPS had this down as 8.1km to the top) The best views are at the boulder field, in fact getting to the top is a bit of an anticlimax. We did this walk in early July, Zero Leeches, but we did use some 'Bushman's' etc on socks and shoes before leaving. Starting temp was 13 degrees, I only needed a long sleeve T-shirt for the entire day. Despite being winter, I still drank 2ltr of water, you'd have to take double that in summer for sure.

Next time I'll take some bicycle gloves as the rocks, trees and roots etc that I used for 3rd contact points started to get a bit rough on the hands.

In researching this trek before going I was concerned about how long it would take me, a lot of feedback recommends two days: - The trail is better than Walshes Pyramid - and if you are from Cairns, is of a similar quality to the Blue Arrow. My daughter and I are of above average fitness, but not elite. We got to the top in 4 hours fairly comfortably. Obviously coming back down is a bit quicker depending on the state of your knees. This is the best hike I've done and the view is worth the climb.

Beige Hornet on 8 Jul, 2016

Climbed to Bartle Frere summit - 7hrs return (solo). 4hrs up, 2.5hrs down, with half hour at the top.
Going up was a slog, but the track is really engaging due to its various obstacles. Descending was much easier, managed to race down the track - couldn't feel my legs at the end, and knees hurting, but overall was well worth it.

Also, leeches...

veloc on 28 Aug, 2015

I did this walk solo over the weekend with a full pack (approx 15kgs) from the Eastern approach and camped overnight at Eastern camp. The walk up is steep but not technically difficult. Took me (a moderate paced walker) approx. 6 hours to reach the camp then another 45 mins to the summit. From this direction water is an issue. 2 hours in you will come to a creek crossing with plenty of water, but there is nothing after this. I carried 3 litres from here which was not really enough. I would recommend 5 litres minimum (unless you are continuing through to Western camp, apparently there is a creek here with water). Eastern camp has amazing sunrise/sunset views!!! Warm throughout the day but quite cold during the night (needed to use thermals and down sleeping bag). Great walk and worth the effort to carry tent/food for an overnight stay :) was lucky with the weather though, no rain!

Happy Feet on 1 May, 2015

That was wonderful, had clear skies at top, what a view, very tough climb this one. Met some fast packers along the way, lightweight definitely the way to go. If you camp at helipad still try to be minimal weight, it makes a difference.

drewmac on 23 Aug, 2014

Can recommend this one. A decent slog to the top, but the bouders up to the summit are well worth it! A lot of fun. Small leeches so carry some salt.

John on 6 Oct, 2013

Great hike! Lots of rainforest for the most. Section of ferns at the heli pad and lots of boulder climbing to the summit.

Peter on 24 Aug, 2013

did this in 5hrs 39minutes from josephine falls car park to the summit and back to the carpark (where i collapsed, exhausted!!!), including 10minutes for a photo, drink & snack at the summit.. beautiful clear day before i left and when i returned but as other comments mentioned it is very cold at the top (which is nice because the leeches die off, after being present and annoying for almost the entire hike) once you get to the open area & closer to the boulders.. ive done a few around australia and i think this is one of the more challenging of the higher summits..kosciuszko is literally a walk in the park compared to Bartle Frere! if your lucky you will get some fresh water in the creek at the fork but nothing after that so take plenty.. always looking for other hiking partners in the area or happy to give advice on hikes ive done so get me on fb... search my name Lincoln murdoch... cheers and happy hiking!

lincoln_murdoch on 27 Nov, 2010

Very hard going the area has had a lot of rain recently and washed the track out in places. Gradient would average 4:1 and in a lot of places near vertical with us having to drag our self up with exposed tree roots. The leaches were of proportions I have not seen before in my life and were a constant irritation, this walk is not for the faint hearted. We took the eastern approach and reached the summit in 6 and back down in 4. could be done faster if I was not coming of a week of flu sickness leading up to the walk.

Ryan Machin on 6 Nov, 2010

A very hard steep walk or climb. Pity there are aids to climbing now. Spectacular views at top. Well worth it second highest ascent in Australia. Mind you the leeches are vicious!

Laurence Hallam on 22 Sep, 2009

Sean O'Connor.

Dean on Apr, 2004

I think this is when I did it. Check the track condition prior to going as there has been heaps of rain in recent years!

Steven Pynor on 15 Sep, 2003

A wet cold climb in cloud. 24c in the forest but dropped to-2c on the boulder field. Very slippery on way down. Especially around the part where you down climb the roots of the tree. No views but very proud that I climbed it!

Laurence Hallam on 24 Jun, 2003

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