Hike to Big Rock Camp, Mount Bartle Frere

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Posted 2023-07-14 by Cris follow
Adventures in the Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland.

Mount Bartle Frere is part of the remarkable Wooroonooran National Park and with Mount Bellenden Ker -1,593m- and Walsh Pyramid -922m- from the Bellenden Ker Range, part of the Great Dividing Range in Far North Queensland.

Bartle Frere is the highest mountain in Queensland at 1,611 metres. It was called Choorechillum by the local Aboriginal, the Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people.
George Elphinstone Dalrymple name the mountain Bartle Frere in 1873, after Sir Henry Bartle Frere, a British colonial administrator and then president of the Royal Geographical Society.

In 1873, Christie Palmerstone was the first European to climb Mount Bartle Frere with the help of a small party of Aboriginal people.

The mountain is covered by rainforest, which vegetation changes with altitude, from tropical rainforest to cloud forest at the summits, where it is cooler.

Mount Bartle Frere was called Choorechillum by the Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people.

Hiking Mount Bartle Frere.

Mount Bartle Frere offers a challenging hike, crossing the rugged wilderness of the Ker Range and the amazing rainforest of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

Mount Bartle Frere trail is for well-prepared and experienced hikers, able to move fast, cross creeks and scramble up the big boulders near the summit. The weather is also unpredictable on Mount Bartle Frere, and often clouds encircled the summit, with no views of the surrounding.

The summit of Bartle Frere is accessible from the east and the west side of the mountain. The distance is 15km return, allow 10-14 hours. On the east side, the trail starts at an altitude of about 100m and rises to 1,611m at the summit with a gain of about 1,500m.

The trail to the summit on the east side starts at Josephine carpark, at the end of Josephine Falls Road.

The trail on the west side of Mount Bartle Frere starts at the Junction camping area, just off Gourka Road. From Malanda drive on Glen Allyn Road which becomes Haines Road; turn right onto Topaz Road and then right onto Gourka Road. The western approach is considered easier compared to the east side, considering the starting point is at an altitude of 700m. It may require travelling on 4WD if Gourka Road is wet.

Hiking Mount Bartle Frere is best in the winter months from June to October when the temperatures are cooler and there is less chance of rain. In the summertime, it’s hot and humid and strong downpours are more likely to happen, making the trail treacherous.

The trail to the summit of Mount Bartle Frere is challenging and requires preparation and experience.

Hike to Big Rock Camping Ground.

When we attempted to hike the summit of Mount Bartle Frere it was winter, but it was a rainy day! The trail was muddy and we have to take extra care around rocks and over the creek crossings. There were many leeches completely undeterred by the mosquito repellent that we applied before starting the hike. We started the hike at Josephine Falls carpark, on the eastern side of the mountain.

The trail is marked with orange triangles and it has a few challenges due to the uneven trail, rocks and protruding roots. The trail runs in an amazing, beautiful rainforest, with a great variety of plants and trees. Allow about 4 hours return, max elevation 400m, probably the length is about 8km return.

Since the conditions were not favourable to climb the mountain, we hiked up to Big Rock camping area, at the junction with the trail to Broken Nose.

Up to Big Rock camping ground, the trail meanders in the dense and emerald green of the tropical rainforest, with strangler figs, trees with buttresses, ferns, mosses and vines.

There are a few creek crossings on the trail. The trail is marked with bright orange triangles, still it is easy to miss them in the dim light under the thick canopy of the rainforest. A very old strangler fig in the forest, what left is its frame around a long-gone host tree. The moss has collected droplets of rain.

A beautiful part in the rainforest, where even the rocks are alive, covered with moss and hanging vines.

The exposed roots form a sort of a stair.

There are boulders to negotiate when crossing the creek.

Near Big Rock camping ground there is a sign indicating the directions to Broken Nose and to the summit of Mount Bartle Frere.

Young shoots of the ginger plant in the rainforest.

Syzygium cormiflorum, A Native Rainforest Tree.

Syzygium cormiflorum is a rainforest tree native to the northeast area of Queensland, commonly known as a bumpy satinash. The tree can grow up to 30 metres and old trees can have buttresses. Flowers and fruits remarkably grow directly on the trunk and on the large brunches. The white fruits, also called white apples, can be eaten, but they are not particularly tasty for humans.

The rainforest tree bumpy satinash, is very important in the rainforest. The flowers and the fruits feed cassowaries, many other birds and possums. The flowers are also visited by the small blossom bats, that help to pollinate the trees.

Today the bumpy satinash is also appreciated as an ornamental tree due to the beautiful mass flowering and the nectar and the fruits attract wildlife.

The fruits of the bumpy satinash grow directly on the trunk of the tree.

Elaeocarpus Angustifolius, a tree with iridescent fruits.

Elaeocarupus angustifolius is a native rainforest tree, reaching a height of about 30m, producing beautiful flowers and bright blue fruits. It is also known by the common name of Blue Quandong. The blueberry like fruits - drupes- are edible and they were part of the Aboriginal diet. European settlers, discover the brilliant blue fruits and use them in jams and pies.

The fruits are better to be eaten when they are slightly overripe and soft, otherwise, they taste very tangy and a bit bitter. Inside the fruits, there are very grooved wooden stones that contain up to five seeds.

The brilliant blue skin of the fruits of the Blue Quandong is due to an iridescent substance that is present also in bird and butterfly wings. The fruits attract birds, including wompoo fruit dove, cassowary and brush turkey; also, the fruits are eaten by Lumholtz tree kangaroo and flying foxes.

The Quandong tree is beautiful in large gardens and parks, it requires a lot of space to grow tall and strong.

The drupes of the Blue Quandong get eaten by different animals which help the trees to disperse their seeds.

Pittosporum rubiginosum, a shrub in the rainforest.

Pittosporum rubiginosum is a native shrub in the Australian Tropical Rainforest. The shrubs grow as understory plants in the rainforest, presenting bright orange fruits which split widely revealing the seeds covered in bright red pulp.

The fruits are eaten by birds, but they are toxic for humans.

All the red sticky seeds may have been eaten, only the orange fruits are left.

Mitchell Bomber crash site on Mt Bartle Frere.

On the 21st January 1942, Japan attacked for the first time New Guinea, with the aim to take Port Moresby which was a strategic position to attack North Queensland from the air.

In Charters Towers there was a United States air base and it provided an inland airstrip to fly into New Guinea. The United States Army Air Force (ASAAF) had fifteen new B25 C Mitchell Bombers. In early April 1942, the Mitchel Bombers mounted a raid from Charters Tower into the Philippines via Darwin and they were involved in bombing, attacking and reconnaissance works in New Guinea.

USAAF aircraft 112455 took part in the April raids on the Philippines and into New Guinea. At sunset on the 21st of April 1942, the aircraft was returning from New Guinea to Charters Towers when got lost in a strong storm during the night and flew straight into the mountain. The aircraft exploded on the impact killing all seven people on board:

Pilot 2nd Lt John J. Keeter, Jr., O-404019 (KIA, BR) Throckmorton County, TX
Co-Pilot Captain Glenwood G. Stephenson, O-23128 (KIA, BR) Milwaukee, WI
Navigator Lt Eugene T. Tisonyai (KIA, BR) Coshocton, OH
Bombardier T/Sgt William H. Lancaster, Jr (KIA, BR) East Nashville, TN
Engineer S/Sgt James P. English, 7000452 (KIA, BR) TN
Rear Gunner Sgt George C. De Armond (KIA, BR) Acy, LA
Gunner Sgt Jimmie Dale Morris (KIA, BR) Jonesboro, LA

A search party was sent on the mountain to the crash site. When party arrived, they found the bodies severely mutilated and burnt. The bodies were buried in temporary graves. The search party was guided to the site of the crash by a plane which circled the area.

After a few months after the crash, a local man called Ted Richards was given the task to go up the mountain to retrieve the bodies. Richards used to take food and provisions to the miners with mules carrying the tins. Richards went up Mount Bartle Frere with the mules and took the bodies down. The bodies were buried temporarily in Townsville and, after the war, the bodies were all transported to the United States for a proper burial.

B-25 Mitchell is an American medium bomber that was introduced in 1941 and served in WWII. Image credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_B-25_Mitchell

How to get to Josephine Falls carpark.

From the town of Innisfail, travel on Bruce Hwy, turn left onto Bartle Frere Road, right on Price Road and then right on Josephine Falls Road. At the end of Josephine Falls Road, there is an ample carpark with facilities, including a board with information, picnic tables and toilets. It takes about 24 minutes to drive to Joesphine Falls carpark and it is 28 km from Innisfail.

From Cairns is about 1 hour, about 76 km drive.

There is a board with information for the hikers and visitors.

Top Highlights.

1 Hiking in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, which stands as Outstanding Universal Value.
2 Getting to know a few native trees in the rainforest.
3 Hike the trail that leads to Bartle Frere summit.
4 Getting to know the story of the place.

An incredibly beautiful environment, home to unique flora and fauna.

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222465 - 2023-07-12 22:51:15


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