Located 50km south of Cairns, Mount Bartle Frere is the highest mountain in Queensland with an elevation of 1,611 metres. To be precise, 1611m above sea level is the official height of Mount Bartle Frere according to Geocience Australia; a survey in July 2016 revised the official height from 1,622m to 1611.2 metres. A large number of Web sites still have the mountain’s height at 1,622m – and just to add a bit more confusion, the topographic map shows the peak as 1,595m!
The height of Mount Bartle Frere creates a microclimate around the peak, which is often shrouded in cloud. So you can leave very early in the morning, and hope for a clear window before the clouds form… or camp near the summit for a slightly better chance of a view as the sun rises.
Regardless of how you tackle Mount Bartle Frere, it’s a tough and unrelenting ascent. Given the high chance of seeing nothing but cloud from the summit, it’s best to do this hike if you want to “bag” the highest peak in Queensland – or if you’re a masochist. If you’re after a great view with less leeches and pain, head to Walshs Pyramid instead.
The walking track roughly follows Majuba Creek as it climbs up a valley on the southern side of the mountain. The climb starts from about 100m above sea level, so the vertical ascent is around 1500m. Mount Bartle Frere said to have the second most elevation gain of any summit in Australia (after the Hannel Spur route up Mount Kosciuszko which has 1,800m elevation gain). Although the good news is that if you climb Bartle Frere today, you’ve got 10m less to climb than you did in 2015!
The entire walk is through rainforest, from typical tropical rainforest at the base to low cloud forest at the summit, where temperatures is typically 10°C lower than on the coast.
After about 2.2km you cross the creek (removal of shoes may be required).
Having crossed Majuba Creek, the track climbs onto a fairly narrow ridge, reaching a junction with a track out to Broken Nose (a large rock at the end of a ridge, from which there is a great view) at about the 3.5km mark. This is the last place where there is water. From here the track gets even steeper and rougher…
Despite a very early start, as I gain altitude it starts to get misty. After about 6km you emerge from the rainforest and cross the “boulder field”, with the path marked by arrows and hand-holds. The boulder field is quite open and exposed, and if the summit is not covered with cloud you can get some great view from here. But not today!
Once you cross the boulder field, you can see the emergency hut and evacuation helicopter pad – just past these is the Eastern Summit Camp which has space for a few tents (booking required).
It’s less than an hour from here to the summit. There’s some more boulder scrambling before reaching a vantage point from where – on a clear day – there are “views stretching from the Atherton Tablelands to the coast.” There are no views from the small summit area, which is surrounded by tall trees.
Once you’ve reached the bottom, a very short walk (if you’ve still got the energy) takes you to Josephine Falls where you can cool off in the swimming holes below the waterfalls.
When to hike Mount Bartle Frere
Data from the nearby Mount Bellenden Ker suggests an annual average rainfall on Mount Bartle Frere of around eight metres and as high as 17m in one day – this is one of the wettest places in the world. However, average rainfail varies significantly over the year, with the best time being between May and October when it’s cooler and drier. (The track may be closed at times during the Wet season, which is from December to March.)
Not surprisingly, the number of wet days is also lowest over the same period – although the best chance of a rain-free day is in August/September. he summit is usually only visible for 5-10% of the year- but the likelihood of a clear day is highest in September/October. So, if you go with the weather statistics – September is the ideal month, and you really want to avoid December to March.
Getting to Mount Bartle Frere
The most common ascent is from the eastern side, with the signposted trail to Mount Bartle starting from the Josephine Falls carpark (75km south of Cairns via the Bruce Highway).
An alternate and easier route is from the western side (the starting elevation is 700m). The Junction Camp trailhead is reached by car via Topaz Road and Gourka Road, and takes about 1:30min from Cairns.
In 1873 George Elphinstone Dalrymple named the peak after Sir Henry Bartle Frere, a British colonial administrator and then president of the Royal Geographical Society. The Aboriginal name for the mountain is Chooreechillum.