First Ascent of the Face of Frenchman’s Cap

This is a very imposing face and it is slightly higher than the face of Bluff Mountain. But on this face, the lines of weakness are slightly more obvious. So, for a climber, the face is just a little less scary. But, even so, the face of Frenchman’s Cap is a magnificent sight.
Jack Pettigrew and I made the first ascent of this face just before Christmas in 1964.

Our Route on Frenchman’s Cap

I had only seen a few pictures of Frenchman’s Cap before going there. But Jack had been there before, so he was the one who knew how to get there.

A Distant View of the Cap

Me walking in with huge pack

We took food and supplies for 10 days – so we should have had plenty of time. But this meant our packs were incredibly heavy. So we took 2 days to walk-in to the face.

As you can see, there was a wonderful hut here made from the local split-timber. I suppose now it was a privilege for us to spend so many nights in such a beautiful hut in the wonderful scenery around Lake Tahune.

We spend the first day checking out the access route to the face, the summit and the way off the summit back to the hut. Then the next day we would start on the route proper. As you can see in the photos, there was still hardened snow in the protected gullies. We had to be careful here.

But then it rained continuously for 7 days – Tasmania is like this. We spent much of our time doing chin-ups on the rafters of the hut’s ceiling. Jack, being a keen naturalist, took me down to the rainforest in the valley, where the Tasmanian petrified horizontal trees grew. I suppose it is wonderful to see how many forms of life can blossom here in such a fecund situation – all competing against each other for a chance to live on this perfect Earth of ours.

Me and Jack in front of the hut with all our very ancient gear

Me on the hard snow with the face above

But personally this situation is not my kind of scene. I would prefer to live in a more barren region and try to bring some life to such a region by using the advances of modern science and technology. The thought of competing against all these myriads of forms life in a confined area – simply scares me silly. I prefer the more barren regions higher up, where there are not too many trees. Each to his own on this very complex matter – but I would just hate to have to live in a rainforest.

Fortunately the rain eventually stopped – giving us two days to do the climb. On the first day, the rock-face was still fairly wet. We made our way to the bottom of the climb. We could avoid the wetter rock on the main face by climbing a steep ramp on the right, slightly detached from the main face. We did two pleasant pitches up this ramp. We then abseiled off hoping that the main face would dry out completely overnight.

The good weather continued and we returned to the face the next day. The whole face was now dry. We repeated our two first pitches of the day before and then we had to climb on the main face (which was much steeper).

I’m afraid I don’t remember any of the details of the next 5 or 6 pitches. But the one photo, which Jack took, does give an idea of how the climb went. The climb was always very steep, the climb was never impossibly hard, but on the other hand the climb was never easy at all. We had to just battle upwards.
          But finally the climb had a feature. As I remember the situation, there was first a steepish wall leading leftwards. On top of this, there was a scary ledge going left. This ended with the airiest belay you can possibly imagine (the newspaper cutting shows me moving onto the belay – I have lost the original photo). This was a superb pitch (I think that this pitch is now referred to the “traverse diable”).

Me climbing upwards on the steep stuff

Me – finishing the traverse

Another guy on the traverse as seen from above

The climb now becomes quite straightforward. From this belay you can scramble around and down into a steep gully of rock. Three of four pitches then go up the steep rock-gully. Finally the gully finishes almost directly at the top of the mountain itself. So this climb is a very fine direct route up the highest part of the face.

Jack called the climb “A Toi la Glorie”. But most people just call the climb the “Sydney Route”. This climb is still a very popular route.

A view of the route as seen from the path on the way out

Me – about to fly out from Hobart

The Article in the Mercury after we left

You might now like to look back at:
either my “Home Page” (which introduces the whole website and lists all my webpages),
or “My Climbing” (which introduces my climbing),
or “My 3 Famous Big First Ascents” (which introduces these ascents).

My next normal webpage is “First Ascent of Ball’s Pyramid”.

Updated on 11/11/2016.