Existing Member?

Letters from Random Places

Climbing Mt Bartle Frere - Highest Queensland Peak

AUSTRALIA | Tuesday, 14 August 2007 | Views [26749] | Comments [11]

"Bushwalked" Mount Bartle Frere yesterday - Up at 4:30am to start at dawn! "Blair Witch" effect on the video not intentional! Only light was from the car headlights.

It's the highest peak in Queensland at 1622 meters (5,321 feet) starting at 700 meters (2,296 feet) from the "Western Approach". The climb ascends 922 meters (3,025 feet), 15km return with an average gradient of 1 in 8. This may not sound like much but going up 3,000 feet over 7.5km with a pack is a whole other story. The other thing is that you do a fair amount of going down then back up as you near the top, so the number of feet you end up climbing is well over 3,000.

The trail is dense brush/rainforest with large boulder features that is often hard to follow and sometimes seems impassable, as well as lots of scrambling over boulders and some rock climbing! By far the most difficult "hike" I've ever done. It's also known to be quite treacherous to climb given the rough and obscurely marked trail, as well as unpredictable weather and has a reputation for getting tourists in the news. Wikipedia has a good summary and Microsoft Live Search has a neat satellite hybrid map. Other detailed information on Wooroonooran National Park available from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

There is a strong recommendation not to climb this peak alone, which the locals don't seem to think is a big deal but of course I wouldn't advocate it even though I did it. Before going I would research it well and read a couple of different trail books. Topographical maps aren't incredibly helpful given that you can't see through the trees for the much of it, but they're available at the Park Service in Atherton or the map shop in Cairns. I'd recommend taking one. There are also small visitor centers in all the local towns but they don't have very detailed maps or trail guides.

I would also suggest checking that any trails you choose to hike are actually open before you go since they can get unsafe due to weather damage etc. I found that a closure won't necessarily be clearly marked on the actual trail. You can do this via the Park Service.  I would also get very specific directions to the trailhead, especially if you plan in driving in before it gets light.  You can get a 2-wheel drive down to the trailhead if it's dry, but I'd forget it if it's wet.

The "official" recommendation is to take two days to complete the return journey, camping about 3/4 of the way up, with a possible 10-12 hour day hike if you're up for it. There is a stern sign at the bottom reminding you of this. Total time for me took just over 8 hours up and back with a couple of half hour breaks. I was pretty happy with that! Given that there aren't many more daylight hours than that at the time of year, I don't see how you could safely do it in 12. It is absolutely not somewhere you want to be in the dark and the trail will get dark long before the sun goes down given the density of the rainforest. May seem obvious, but tell somebody reliable where you're going and when you'll be back. Be prepared to spend the night if needed since there's no way they're coming for you at night.

The boulder scrambling got kinda crazy with crawling through "boulder caves", scrambling over huge boulders on a path that was little more than the occasional orange marker on a tree with no visible path through thick brush and over rock faces with some stuff that was basically vertical. It's hard to get a good sense of scale from the videos, but the boulders and rocks are much larger and steeper than they look. Sorry the lighting on some of the videos isn't great.

There was an amazing rest stop on the way up to the North West Peak where you sat on top of these enourmous rocks with incredible views over the rainforest and the entire valley.

I am seriously hurting today, aching from head to foot since I was also carrying a hefty backpack given the unpredictable conditions, turned out it was an absolutely beautiful day even though it can get down to 3 degress C even at this time of year at the top depending on wind chill whereas it can be 20 degress C at the bottom. You can also checkout the whole photo gallery.

"Walkers" (how this could be called a "walk" is beyond me!) are told to allow 10-12 hours in one day with a recommendation to camp near the top and do it over two days. Of course I wanted to do it in one. These pics are actually of the trail over some major boulders and rough stuff...

Tags: Adventures




great post
I just did it too
alone in 8 hours
it was a total BUZZ!
not for the panicky types though

  Dianne May 9, 2008 3:54 PM


Did Bartle Frere climb today from Eastern side, Josephine Falls carpark start. Round trip took us 6 hours and 40 mins. Absolutely spectacular, best day for it, not a cloud in the sky. Definately not for the fainthearted, most difficult hike I've ever done, but when you near the top and see that view and those awesome boulders, exhilleration cuts in and the pain disappears. Hey trailrunner, if your ever in these parts again,would love to take you up to Babinda falls, accessed from the Boulders swimming hole. Awesome rockhop walk, nowhere near as tough as Bartle, but spectacular scenery all the way up the creek.

Rod Crossland 4th July, 2008.

  Rodney Crossland Jul 4, 2009 9:33 PM


You should have tried the eastern approach, it is almost twice the height with a much steeper gradient.

  yowie Oct 12, 2010 2:41 AM


A friend and I just did Mt Bartle Frere in as an overnight hike from the Eastern Coastlands over to the Atherton Tablelands on the west side. We got dropped at Josephine Falls at 8.30am and ascended with 8kg packs with tent, sleeping bags, some food and water. We reached the summit at about 2pm (we had pretty regular drink breaks plus lunch at 12.30), then kept going and found the beautiful western campsite about 45 minutes hike from the summit. We reached the campsite about 2.45, set up our tent and had an hour long nap, then got a small fire going for dinner. The night was a pleasant temperature- about 15 degrees, and next to the campsite was a fresh stream where we were able to refill our water bottles (we put purifying tablets in to be sure, but I reckon we would've been fine). We got going again the next morning at about 7.30am and reached the bottom of the western side by 9.45am where we were picked up by a friend that lived in Malanda in the Tablelands. Coming down we were going pretty fast, sometimes running because it was easier to let gravity take us than to work against it slowing down.

A great hike! Middle of summer is pretty full on- we sweated a lot, but it had not been raining for at least a week so the leeches weren't too bad. I got two and my mate got one. Didn't get many views as the peak was mostly covered by cloud, but we got a few glimpses of Cairns as we were going up the east side. AMAZING! Then sometimes we would see the tops of the cloudline which was a blowout!

Saw the rare rainbow skink up the top which was cool, and a few sweet flowers you don't see many other places. Also saw the nest of one of those Golden Bower Birds the websites talk about, but not the bird herself. Some impressive, moss-covered boulders and trees too!

  CosySpacious Jan 15, 2012 7:46 PM


Did the east side walk with my partner Robyn in Sept. 2007. Walked in part way to camp late on a perfect sunny afternoon and had been told it rains here 240+ days annually. Woke to bucketing rain and walked to summit without a break in the rain all day. All the way we brushed leeches off our hands every time we touched a tree or rock as we scrambled up the slippery, sodden track. We had lunch in the hut at the helicopter pad near the summit and spent most of the time removing the dozens of leeches that got under our clothes. Mountain top was a white out of cloud, no views and fear of getting lost amongst the boulder field. Back down the slippery trail with hundreds more leeches through relentless rain with a better understanding of what real rainforest is all about. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience promising ourselves we'd be back sometime to do it all again hopefully with clear skies, great views and a few less leeches. The following day we headed to our main destination, Hinchinbrook Island, which was a fabulous five days, though we ached for the first 2 or 3 days from the Bartle Frere experience. The week of itching from the leeches sucks also helped make it unforgettable. Highly recommend both walks and will be back to do them both again. Col from Newcastle.

  Col Mar 25, 2012 10:24 PM


I attempted a day climb of Bartle Frere on June 17th 2011 up the western trail which had been closed following damage from cyclone Yasi.I was doing a 3 month house sit in the area and heard that locals had done the climb using this route in a day, so waited for a gloriously sunny day and set off at dawn from Junction Camp at the end of Ghourka road.

A very tough but enjoyable climb made more difficult by the fallen trees etc and boulder scrambing through the boulder caves.

At approximately 7.5 km distance which was about at the western summit camp,I lost the track, and in the interest of self preservation decided to concentrate on getting back in good time which I managed to do without too much problem. Distance walked was 15km in 8 hours with several short stops and included a diversion to Bobbin Bobbin Falls on the way down - highly recommended if you have time.

I agree with previous comments that this climb should only be undertaken by experienced walkers and preferably in good weather with at least 2 people. A compass is essential in case you lose the trail.

Next time I am in the area I will try the eastern approach if the western trail has not been reopened.

I am 71 years old and have a lot of experience climbing Scottish Munros etc but this was definitely the toughest climb I have done.

Good luck to all who undertake this climb.

  Tim Heath May 10, 2012 5:51 PM


I did this in 2010 in a total time of 5hrs39mins from Josephine falls, 10minute break at the top for a snack & self portrait and then back to car park..
Don't use this time as a guide as I've done these types of hike a lot. Average person would be approx 9hrs I would say, allowing for breaks for food & photos..
Fast packing Bartle Frere again on 2nd January 2013 if anyone is keen.. So far there are 4 of us, experienced fast packers, ultra runners, adventure racers etc.
lincoln_murdoch121@hotmail.com if anyone is keen for this or any others in the region..
Also kayaking over to Hinchinbrook island on the 3rd Jan and doing the Thorsborne trail, end to end & return (64km) then camp the night and kayak back..

  Lincoln Murdoch Dec 27, 2012 2:56 PM


Hi there, is anybody interested in a day out in June. I want to do this walk but would prefer to have someone with local knowledge as my daughter will be joining me. Thanks, Jon and Annie.

  Jon Marshall Apr 29, 2013 10:56 PM


I want to climb Mt Bartle Frere in late June 2017 after doing the Hinchinbrook Island trek. Am 67 yrs old, fit and able. Need someone to climb up with me who knows the trail well. Hope to leave from Babinda same day. Not sure whether to try for a same day return trip or to camp below summit on first day. Email me if interested😁

  Graham White Mar 4, 2017 9:59 PM


Hi Graham my husband and a few other guys are climbing in June 2017. Around the 16th. They will be tackling it from The Tableland side however. They plan on camping for the night too. Not sure if any of that suits you. If you're interested my email is sharonf@destinychurch.net.au

  Sharon May 21, 2017 9:27 PM


Thanks Sharon..wont be able to go at that time as will be over on Hinchinbrook Island.I' free to do this climb around 25 June. If atone out there interested let me know. Want to do return trip in one day. Cheers, Graham White

  Graham White Jun 14, 2017 4:55 PM



Travel Answers about Australia

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.