Mt Bartle Frere - Western Approach

Wooroonooran National Park

Climb to the summit of Queensland's highest mountain (1,622m) provides a challenging way to explore this part of the World Heritage-listed rainforest of the Bellenden Ker Range. This is not a race, so allow yourself two days to walk (recommended), climb and enjoy this trail. The fabulous summit views include the township of Innisfail and the coast to the east, and to the west, the undulating landscape of the Atherton Tableland.

Waterfalls
Scrambling or Climbing
Rainforest
1551m
Maximum Elevation
2253m
Total Climb

Getting there:

This is a challenge in its own right and unless you camp at Junction Creek the night before you climb, you should not attempt to complete the climb in one day.

About 5km east of Yungaburra on the Gillies Highway, turn at the Gillies Roadhouse into Lake Barrine Road and follow this road for 6.3km before turning left into Topaz Road. Follow this road for 19.5km before turning left onto the dirt track of Gourka Road, which you follow for 9.7km to Junction Camp. Gourka Road is 4WD only unless very dry.

Due to the nature of the Gillies Highway (includes 20km of very twisty uphill driving - known as 'crash alley!), this would be over two hours' drive from Cairns (84km).

Atherton and Yungaburra both have a selection of accommodation options and there is a camp site at Eacham Lake, which is signposted off Lake Barrine Road.

Maps:

http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/bartle-frere/pdf/bartle-frere-trail-map.pdf

Route/Trail notes:

 The trail starts at 700m and rises to 1,622m, but the first 2km are pretty flat and it is only at this point that the real climb begins. Orange reflectors have been placed on trees to mark the track, as well as painted arrows on boulders. Where there are gaps, kind fellow bushwalkers have added pink flagging tape.

Junction Camp to North West Peak (3.5hr, 5.3km) - a short distance (1.75km) from the start, is a turn-off on the left to the picturesque Bobbin Bobbin Falls. The trail to North West Peak is steep, rising 700m over 3.5km. This part of the trail has occasional rock/boulder scrambles and long sections of continuous uphill walking. in places, you climb under the granite boulders.

North West Peak to Western Summit Camp (1.5hr, 2.2km) - on a clear day you can enjoy excellent views of Bellenden Ker Range and the Mulgrave River valley from an exposed outcrop of rocks .5km from North West Peak. The trail continues to Western Summit camp, which is a very small clearing beside a creek, where you can camp overnight (room for 4/5 two-person tents), replenish your water supply or as a resting point before you climb to the summit.

Western Summit camp to Bartle Frere summit (1hr, 0.5km) - the trail becomes a scramble over and through numerous granite boulders to the broad summit of Bartle Frere. This part can be very slippery when wet. If camping at Western Summit, then an early start can provide a spectacular sunrise from the top.

From the summit you can return the way you came, or continue down the Eastern Approach to Josephine Falls.

Permits/Costs:

There is no costs unless you camp, in which case there is a small fee to pay, which can be obtained online from National Parks. See link below.

http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/wooroonooran-goldsborough-valley/index.html

Other References:

None found.

Comments:

 The Bartle Frere trail is not for everyone. Walkers have been lost for several days in the area, despite widespread searches. You need to be well prepared and responsible for your own safety. Although the trail is well marked, it is unformed and very steep; walkers being prepared for rock scrambling in places. Only experienced and fit bushwalkers should attempt this trail.

Always let someone know your plans and when you expect to return. In the event of an emergency, satellite phones and personal locator beacons (PLBs) are the most effective, as mobile phone coverage is unreliable. Always carry a torch or headlamp.

There is guaranteed clear cold water supply at Western Summit Camp, but you should still carry at least 3lt supply each with you.

Leaches can be a problem and you need a suitable repellent. Apparently once over 1,000m the numbers thin out considerably!

 

Comments

Fantastic, challenging and loved it all. Limited campsites though on eastern side. Ended up finding flatish spot in rainforest. Only one tent site near helipad.

Kylie Burke on 7 Sep, 2019

Leeches and rain and no views today - 9.5 hrs return

Michael F on Jul, 2019

Solo 1-day return walk to summit of Mount Bartle Frere by 77yo on 8 October 2017.
In a caravan trip in North Queensland in October 2017 to the Atherton Tableland I saw a map with a walk trail, east of Malanda, to the summit of Mt Bartle Frere, elevation 1622 metres. I remembered my walk to Mt Bellenden Ker from a cane farm on the coastal side, near the Bruce Highway, in 1967 as a surveyor aged 27 in mapping control for the proposed cable-car.
Now at age 77, the walk on Mt Bartle Frere would be solo with no mobile phone signal.
The Malanda information centre gave me a ‘Bartle Frere trail map’ and I took my caravan to Junction Camp with a plan to start the 17km walk next day at 6am, turn round by 12 whether or not at the summit, and be back by 6pm. The Camp has no facilities and was empty.

Next morning, October 8, there was no breeze or rain, the ground dry, light from the full moon, some mist in the trees, and the temperature about 15c, ideal conditions to walk.
At 0545am I left Junction Camp, reached the summit at 1145, had 5 minutes there in cloud, started the return descent and arrived at Junction Camp at 5.43 pm, weary but OK.
I stayed there again overnight in the caravan and then left early for Malanda.

The following list has my walk times to significant features on the trail, up and down. Slow, but may be useful as a time guide:
0545: started walk from Junction Camp (soon saw a black pig, heard bird whip-calls).
0607: track on LHS & heard Bobbin Bobbin Falls.
0629: old blazed tree with a ‘W2’ aluminium plate to inform that the distance west to Junction Camp is 2 kilometres.
0650: another track on LHS.
0704: W3 aluminium plate.
0715: track through arch of 2 large rocks. Took photos until 0720.
0729: hard climb over rocks.
0746: large smooth skinned Kauri pine tree with resin/gum in pile at bottom of trunk.
0804: W4 aluminium plate.
0824: trees smaller, more grass, air thinner.
0841: track through arch of 2 large rocks. Still no breeze, cloud blocks sun.
0904: on a flat 100metres, breeze in tree tops, then downhill over rocks.
0915: uphill over rocks, then down.
0924: in sidling, down over rocks.
0934: on flat narrow saddle ridge.
0940: going up on ridge.
0951: stopped for rest until 0956.
1000: a narrow shelter in rocks on left next to path.
1040: W7 aluminium plate.
1100: at Western Summit Camp, the entry and exits tracks are close.
1145: At ‘Summit of Mt Bartle Frere’ sign, in cloud. Young Cairns group of 6 here.
1150: close to noon, so I started my return down. Cairns group stayed.
1158: W8 aluminium plate.
1229: LHS wrong track (maybe track to Josephine Falls ??).
1247: tadpoles in creek, water running left.
1250: Western Summit Camp site.
1317: W7 aluminium plate.
1443: through rocks in arch. Cairns group overtook me near here.
1600: through rocks in arch.
1645: W2 alum plate.
1708: on right, saw a track and heard Bobbin Bobbin Falls.
1743: arrived at end of the trail at Junction Camp. Weary, the walk took 6 hours each way.

Comment: The track is marked by plastic arrow heads and pink plastic tape but some sections in the top half need remarking, for direction if clouded in. Stainless steel posts and hand rails/chains would help where the trail is on large boulders lying on boulders and there are open voids 3-4 metres below a walker. The aluminium ‘W’ markers 6, 5, and 1 for the distances west, in kilometres, to Junction Camp were not seen but may be there.

This walk was prompted by memory of my walk in 1967, aged 27, from a coastal cane farm near the Bruce Highway to the summit of Mt Kellenden Ker as one of 3 surveyors in a Commonwealth team making a control survey for aerial photography to map the route for a cable-car to service the proposed PMG communication and TV microwave transmission tower on the summit of Mt Bellenden Ker. Mt Bellenden Ker and a cable-car were considered after a hard ground survey the year before found a route for a road on nearby Mt Bartle Frere was not feasible.

Story by Robert O’Sullivan, Townsville, email: osbob@hotmail.com.

Robert O'Sullivan on 8 Oct, 2017

This is by far the biggest challenge we have ever taken on; to climb the Western Summit Track of Mt Bartle Frere in one day, having aborted the attempt last year. We camped at Junction Camp overnight (watch for snakes) and started the climb at 7.15am.

It took us a surprisingly long time to get to the summit by making sure we took the right track (6.5hr), but also spent time talking to other climbers that had camped at Western Summit overnight, enjoying a snack and breather at North West Peak, taking photos and enjoying the views and surroundings. And adding pink flagging tape markers! We did loose are way once dropping down to Western Summit Camp and lost half an hour (now well pink flagged!).

We were lucky, that the cloud and mist cleared just as we got to the summit, allowing us glimpses of the surrounding vista. With time not on our side, we left the summit at 1.45pm and pushed hard on a now familiar route non-stop to Junction Camp, arriving just as the sun set at 6pm (4.25hr).

We travelled light, with just 3lt of water each, but did leave a small backpack with extra water at the 3.5km mark, where you pass under the granite boulders. Did the leeches get me, you bet; two of the blood sucking bastards.

Not wishing to spend another freezing night at camp, we quickly packed our tents and headed back to Cairns for a well deserved shower and an 'Irish' couple of beers!

We have provided a GPS track, but be aware that it does not cover the last 200m to the summit.

F.A.B. on 28 Aug, 2016

I'm an athletic and experienced bushwalker (especially in rainforest), so I was looking forward to a challenging hike. I can agree that it is reasonably "difficult" for the average Australian. To those masochistic bushwalkers who enjoy a refreshingly strenuous climb, this is where the "fun" begins - you know who you are. It is mostly an uphill walk (a few relatively flat sections in the beginning and close to the top) with some climbing over massive (impressive, awe-inspiring) granite boulders. It is truly beautiful undisturbed bush; I didn't see any stinging trees along the trail and the wait-a-while was also at bay. At higher elevations, the large grasses along the path do a nice job knocking off blood-engorged leeches and cleaning the blood off of the legs...reminded me of a carwash in a way. So fresh & so clean!

National Parks estimates a ~12 hour return, but recommends to do it over 2 days. I left Junction Camp at ~8:30 AM and returned at ~5:30 PM--this due to a ~2ish hour "detour" when I overshot the summit and went over the boulder fields, past the heli-pad, and into the bush on the eastern side. This was all worth it, I tell myself, because I saw the endemic skink species (Techmarscincus jigurru) on the rocky outcrops which I may have otherwise missed. It is only found on Bartle Frere >1400 m!

I carried ~5 kg (3 L water + extra layers, food, flashlights, batteries, and emergency chocolate just in case I had to spend the night on the mountain - I hiked alone and wanted to be prepared - ain't no one gonna come rescue after sunset). I barely stopped on the way up except to snap a few photos and hydrate. There's one clearing/campsite a km or so before the 'official' western summit campsite - but no water there! It took me ~3 hours to reach the western summit camp. There is indeed a lovely stream beside it to fill up on water, and I highly doubt you need to treat the water. I've never treated mountain stream water in FNQ or in PNG. That said, it's beside a campsite, and previous hikers have left some garbage on the mountain and might also be irreverent enough to release their waste in the stream, so keep that in mind...it never hurts to walk upstream a bit to refill.

I made it to the summit in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. I overshot summit and kept going because the sign of the summit is small, close to the ground, and in the trees - better seen if approaching from the east, and I was coming from the Tablelands. Also, a friend told me that I should have to scramble over a large boulder field. There are definitely boulders to climb up and over from the west, but the expansive, exposed boulder field is on the 'eastern' (actually it might be north) side of the summit. I was also told that you first descend a bit before hitting the summit, so I figured I needed to keep going to find the "steep incline". The final ascent wasn't as steep as I expected based on previous reports. I found the final ascent from the eastern approach more challenging due to the boulders. It was misty, but I didn't expect much visibility this time of year, anyway. I don't know if there's much of a view from the summit on a clear day; I hear the view is better from the exposed boulders and rocky outcrops. If it's cloudy when you hike and approach from the west, then realize the summit is pretty anti-climactic: there were a couple of fire pits made by previous hikers, a couple nice rocks to rest upon, and a small yellow sign. (There are also signs from national parks on the eastern side to let you know you're almost there, but not on the western side.)

Of course, I was so high on adrenaline given I let all the leeches bite me (for the first time EVER - and I mean, hundreds of the blood-thirsty buggers) that I kept pushing through. Can't stop. Won't stop. I hiked across and down the massive boulder field. This section slowed me down. I reckon it was the most difficult (and fun!-reminded me of hopping on rocks in rivers as a kid, loved it) part of the hike because it was SLIPPERY and those boulders are well-eroded and somewhat broad making it difficult at times (for those of us who are relatively short) to reach good holds. It will no doubt be easier on a dry, sunny day (and delightfully chock full of sun-basking lizards - a herpetologist's dream). I had to use bouldering skills and slid down a few on my bum (not as technical) to ensure I didn't fall into the DEEP GAPS between the rocks. Seriously - take it easy and be prepared to use all your limbs; it is easy to get hurt in this area, not to mention that the granite can be sharp. For some reason I kept exploring beyond the metal heli pad and emergency hut on the eastern side of the trail, which is just beyond the boulder field, before realizing that I had already summited and turned around and headed back toward the tablelands.

Approaching the summit from the east, I clearly saw the little yellow SUMMIT sign. I did bring a GPS and a topo map (got the map from the charts shop in Cairns), but I didn't need to use them as the trail was very well marked by bright orange triangles, orange spray paint, or orange/pink tape - nice work & many thanks, Queensland/Nat'l Parks!

I re-summited around 2 PM. There is CELL PHONE SERVICE on the summit (the only place I tried - and I'm using Optus at the moment, so I was even more surprised that I could phone my pick-up as well as my parents in the USA.

At 2:15 I headed back toward the trailhead @ Junction Camp. It took 3 hours and 15 minute to return - the same amount of time it took to hike up. I think the return took as long because going down can be much more dangerous as the surfaces are slippery (I estimate that it's reasonably wet up there even during the drier winter months) and because the steepness makes it very hard on the body. I'm conditioned to steep mountain hiking from fieldwork in PNG. Usually I cut a walking stick from a tree branch to use...such a thing would have helped on the descent of BF. It's really not so difficult (if you like climbing)...but expect to use nearby trees to "repel" down the trail and across slippery boulders in a few places. (Have I mentioned yet that the boulders on this mountain are fantastically awesome?!) I'm 28 years old and in good shape, but the hike down was stressful on my knees and hips...it kicked my arse and I'm quite sore today. I guess that is why it is recommended to hike the return over the course of 2 days (also, to take it all in and enjoy yourself rather than curse the rainforest all the way down). So....to summarize:
1. If you hike solo - not recommended (my friend couldn't make it) but definitely possible -have a plan for pick up times/have a buddy system with someone off the mountain in case you are injured and don't make it down by a certain hour.
2. There is cell service at the summit and potentially other spots, but it's a good idea to bring a beacon, spot tracker, or satellite phone.
3. Carry 2-3L water and refill at the stream at western camp.
4. The summit is not far (15-30 min) from western camp - though a bit slippery/sketchy. Look for fire pits and the leftover garbage of bogans.
5. Look for lizards on rocky outcrops! And bright orange slugs on tree branches!
6. It is possible to hike to the summit <4 hours, but don't expect to hike down much faster.
7. The leeches are incessant. Don't bother with chemical repellants. Always check your hands before wiping your face lest you wipe one right into your eye.
8. Expect to get soaked in sweat/rain/mist/water on the foliage.
9. The bush is dense but the track is very well marked - so keep to it! You probably wont need a GPS or topo map because of the markings, but I will always recommend to be as prepared as possible.
10. Carry a flashlight, batteries, and a back-up light when hiking in the rainforest - even if you plan to be back in daylight, you just never know what can happen.
11. Enjoy yourself, the incredibly ancient montane rainforest, and the challenge.

Charlotte K Jennings on 31 Dec, 2015

Turned off the Gillies Highway at Lake Eacham (not Lake Barrine) followed the written instructions without too much difficulty from there. Camped at the trail head in the rain. Saw a cassowary before setting off on the trial. Hiked through relentless rain and leeches until reaching the western summit camp. The hike itself wasn't too bad, even with our packs and gear, however, the leeches were very mentally draining. We had planned to camp at the tip top summit but due to the rain, we decided to camp at the western summit. Spent 18 hours in the tent before heading back down (without ever going to the summit due to the rain). The leeches on the way down were worse - my partner had 1 in his eye for about 1.5 hours. Was a harrowing experience. We will attempt it again but only during the dry winter months.

mucky buggers on 21 Nov, 2015

We were staying in Cairns and having done a reci of the access the day before our intended climb, I pulled the plug on the whole thing at 3.30am (Cairns departure time) for safety reasons. First the dangerous drive in and out in the dark. Secondly, there was no phone coverage, so had we decided to camp, which we were equipped for, we could not let anyone know that was our intention. And lastly, I questioned our ability to complete the climb in one day in day light.
Not to be outdone, we climbed Walsh's Pyramid instead!
We will be better prepared next time and it was for this reason, that we created the Mt Bartle Frere - Western Approach, as we considered that it was significantly different to the Eastern Approach.

F.A.B. on 2 Sep, 2015

I did Western approach in a group of people ranging from mid 20s to low 60s over a weekend. It took us around 5 hours to get to the Western Summit camp from the parking lot of the Junction camp. The Western Summit is a small flat patch by a nice creek. The camp is big enough for three to four of two-person tents. This year is one of the driest on record, but the creek was running, with plenty of drinking water. It is safe to drink, unless it is raining, in which case who knows what is being washed into it from the soil around it. So, drink the rain water instead.
I have done the Eastern approach before (in one day with a light backpack, took 4 hours to the top, 3 back to Josephine Falls). I found the Western approach with a full backpack to be quite a tough one, but not as difficult as the Eastern one. The trail was overgrown in places, but with paying attention one can spot the orange markers reliably. You can make it to the Western Summit camp with a minimum of 2 liters of water, knowing for sure you will get nice clear cold water by the camp. There are camping spots on the way, but no water. Make sure you have a headlamp, not only for the camping or emergency walking at night, but also to make your way to the summit in the early morning, to see a spectacular sunrise from the large rock near the summit. Swim in Millaa Milla Falls after the walk will fix your aching muscles. Go for it and enjoy.

sochi on 3 May, 2015

Military adventure training, as always done too fast to enjoy the scenery, some small native rodents in the forest seem to enjoy army food so much they had no problem crawling into the tins without fear.

Brad on Apr, 1999

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