Hiking with kids – Mt Bartle Frere
Making the decision to hike Mt Bartle Frere as a family was not a difficult decision for us. After Joel hike (or ran) Mt Bartle Frere with Ben Southall, Luke Edwards and Patrick Kinsella as part of the Aussie 8, I knew it was something I wanted to do. It sounded epic and I didn’t want to miss out! I also didn’t want the kids to miss out. Some parents feel bad for not buying their kids the latest toy, I feel bad when my kids miss out on amazing adventures.
It took a while before we felt the kids were ready (and we had a spare weekend….) but finally the time came. Joel did his best to give us information of what to expect. If anyone has participated in Adventurethon, you will know how this went. He definitely needs to work on his descriptive skills especially when it comes to the steep inclines, climbing root walls and the rock hop….
After much deliberation, we decided to start and finish our hike at Josephine Falls. While this is only 15km return, it is recommended to take 2 days. Knowing the trail and having friends do it recently in about 9 hours return we were confident that we could complete the hike in 1 day. We have hiked a lot with our kids and knew what they would happily hike at a good pace. Even still, we prepared for an overnight stay. You just never know what can happen especially when kids are involved and its not worth wrecking the experience just to make an unrealistic timeframe.
Mt Bartle Frere is the highest Mountain in Queensland at 1622m above sea level. It is part of the Bellenden Ker Range and located 75 km south of Cairns
Its eastern approach has the second most elevation gain of any summit in Australia with 1500m elevation gain following Mt Kosciuszko at 1800m elevation gain.
For more facts check out the npsr website after reading this article to plan your own Hike
MAP DOWNLOAD bartle-frere-trail-map to help you plan your hike
Did we train for this? Yes, in a fashion. We often hike with the kids and they have carried their own day packs from the time they could walk (for Koby that was to hopefully slow him down) but we wanted to make sure the kids were mentally prepared for the toughness of the hike so that is what we focused on.
We hiked castle hill and Douglas trails in Townsville during the hot parts of the day. When we found areas of terrain that were like Mt Bartle Frere we took the time to talk about how it was similar. This relied on Joels memory of the trail from a while ago……so it may or may not have been helpful. Ayla actually commented on the hike that it was nothing like that Joel described……
We talked about how tough the hike would be and tried to put the distance into perspective.
Teaching the kids about safety is a priority for us. While we felt we could do the hike in a day, it was possible we could take two. We prepared for an overnight stay.
The kids carried small hydration pack each. The also had snacks, first aid kit, head lamp, compass, pocket knife and dry socks. They packed their own packs so they knew what they had, where it was.
I carried a bigger day pack with hydration pack, extra food, first aid kit inc extra medication (antihistamines, Panadol etc), head lamp, pocket knife, dry socks, light jumper, insect repellent, compass and mobile phone
Joel (the toughest of us all) carried a pack with the same as us plus the extra gear including compact stove, extra food and extra water. We decided last minute not to carry the tent. We were confident we would make it in the day and if we did stay overnight we had warm food and could tough out the cold together (nothing like having the huddle up to keep warm).
We didn’t go all out with hiking clothes, this was a risk with the leeches in the area. We applied plenty of Bushmans before we started instead. Nothing like all smelling beautiful and if one of us got lost I’m sure we would be able to sniff them out, but that stuff works, so who cares. Luckily it was fairly dry and we only saw one leech the entire time.
We left Townsville Friday after school and travelled to the base at Josephine Falls. We camped overnight so that we could be out before the sun and ready to hike at first light, giving ourselves maximum time to get up and back.
We arrived at our camp site after dark so we took a quick look around with the torch to see what was around (and to investigate the rustling sounds that were making me a little nervous). It was well worth the look as we came across a musky rat kangaroo out for a feed. It let us get quite close before scurrying back into the bush. The interpretive signs nearby were helpful in solving the family feud erupting over the species of animal.
Our plan was to be up in time to leave at first light, allowing us maximum time to return. We thought we would be the first on the trail but a group of ‘over 50’ bushwalkers had the same idea and arrived before the sun to start their hike with headlamps. A bit of motivation to get organised and on the trail and catch up to these guys (surely, we would catch them pretty soon….)
We started our hike at 5:40am making sure we set a good pace on the easier section. Coming across the river crossings was a highlight. It was absolutely stunning, the fresh cool water, green moss growing on the logs. It looked like something out of Jurassic Park. The kids took on the challenge “get across without getting your feet wet” and found creative ways to make it across.
At this point I was thinking…. this isn’t so bad, at this pace we will smash our predicted time! But it was not long after this we came across the first vine walls to climb. It was only a small one and we took the time to try and get some photos of it…. if only we had of known at that point what was in store for us.
Slowly (like putting a frog in cold water and boiling it) the trail got steeper and steeper and the vine walls got bigger and bigger. The trick was to just keep putting 1 foot in front of the other, it wasn’t easy and our legs were burning. The kids were having a blast scrambling up the walls and we took each section as it came. Sometimes would hear voices from the group of men walking ahead of us…..motivation to push on in the hope that we would catch them before the top. We may be just a little competitive, but it kept the kids moving.
We had only a few short rest breaks and snacked on trail mix and skittles while we walked. It was best to just keep going. If you stopped for too long there was no way we would make it to the top and back in a day. We continued on, and finally, ahead, we saw the group of bushwalkers who had left about 20min just before us in the morning. Success! We had a quick chat as we passed, and were really impressed by their stories. Just a group of guys who catch up for a social hike, all over 50 years old and out for some fun. None of them were super fit and they just wanted to give it a crack. I have a feeling a couple of them were regretting it at that point.
Hiking is a great time to chat to your kids, it amazing what they will talk about when they have no escape…….
A couple of times we came to a bit of an opening and thought…. we must be nearly at the boulder fields. We knew they were before the top. Joel had told us about the boulder fields, but no amount of describing can really put it into perspective. Soon enough we reached some big black rocks to scramble through…not too many but a few. As we exited this part I asked Joel “so that’s the boulder field?” with a smirk on his face “no, we haven’t reached the boulder field yet, that was nothing compared to the boulder field”.
I don’t know about keeping the kids spirits up, I was struggling to keep my own spirits up but when you’re surrounded by the most important people you have no option but to suck it up!
We finally came across the boulder fields. GREAT BIG black rocks, as far as you could see. It involved jumping from rock to rock, some with big drops below. You wouldn’t want to make a mistake here. To add to it, you just hiked about 5km, almost at a very steep incline, so your legs are already fatigued.
The boulder fields slowed us a little, while the kids have rock hopped many times before and are pretty confident, their legs were just a little short for some of these gaps, so they had to go carefully and make good choice about where they went. The boulder fields are marked with arrows and if you follow them you know you will get through. Some of the more difficult sections have chains and rails bolted in to give you a hand. Some other groups passed us through here, most amazed that the kids had made it this far and encouraged them on. It was a great confidence boost that we couldn’t give them as parents.
A great tip is to leave anything heavy or cumbersome at the rescue hut before the boulder fields, we had sticks for hiking with and it wasn’t fun trying to navigate the boulders while also carrying a stick that your child had collected, and you knew it would be the end of the world if you discarded it.
Finally, the never-ending boulder fields ended (and you remember that to get back down you have to go back through them). It was great to know we were nearly at the top, the tough stuff is done now, just a cruisy hike to the top……oh how I was wrong. We came across an older guy hiking down who had seen us much earlier in the day. He stopped to congratulate the kids and told us, just one more steep bit until you reach the summit, its not long but its steep. WHAT! MORE! Yes, the last little section is just perfect to finish it all off. A few steps, some more vines and BAM! You’re at the summit.
A sign and a rock to sit on feature at the top, the view is limited and you are lucky if you get a view that is not interrupted by clouds. If you do, its spectacular!
We stopped up the top for a quick snack break and chatted to the other hikers. Soon enough the group of social walkers made it to the top where we gave them high fives and took some group photos for them. Time for the trek back to the bottom. It had taken us 5 and a half hours to hike to the top.
The hike down took the same amount of time as the hike up. You would think it would be faster, but it is steep and constant. Hiking sticks were definitely a must have for comfort here, even Koby (who ran most of the way) used a hiking stick for some of the way down just to give his knees a bit of a rest.
About half way down we noticed the kids starting to fade a little, the excitement of reaching the summit had worn off and they were getting tired. I’m not one for singing etc while hiking much to Joel’s disgust (I like to enjoy nature, not drown it out) but there is a time and place for a game and our go to game is a letter game. Everyone must think of a food or drink starting with a letter and you go through the alphabet. Its great fun and there are some great debates about what is considered a food. Most importantly it takes everyone mind off the sore, tired legs.
Every now and again, we heard the faint noise of the social walking group behind us. Great motivation to keep moving even when it was tough, and you just wanted to stop. Massive thanks to the guys in the walking group…. you don’t know it, but our kids were secretly racing you and it kept them moving!
Finally, the track leveled out and we knew we were near the end. Our spirits perked up a bit as we happily chatted about our adventure on the last couple of kilometres home.
While we had just spent 11 hours (with minimal stops) hiking, the energy at the end was epic. Other hikers came to congratulate the kids on their hike, it was excellent for them to see the effort others went to in order congratulate them. They didn’t have to come over and shake their hands, ask their age etc but they did. It made them feel proud and was a great example to them of how what we do and say can affect others.
We waited for the social walking group behind us to cheer them on. Its great to see people having a go at things and we were inspired by what they had achieved. It was tough on our knees and we are comparatively young and injury free.
It was now getting late and we had the decision of camping the night or making to trip back to Townsville. The lure of a shower and comfortable bed was enough for us the attempt the trip back to Townsville. We figured, we had our camping gear anyway and if we got to tired we would just pull up and sleep in a camp somewhere.
Would we do it again?
The million-dollar question that we have been asked many times since, along with “Do you think my kids will be able to do it?”
Yes, we would definitely do it again. If I was to do it again I would do it differently though. Not that I wasn’t happy with the way we did it but I would love to camp up the top and see the sunset and sunrise. I would also hike down the trail towards Atherton. We didn’t do it this way as we didn’t have the time or the transport in Atherton so we had to go with what we could do on that weekend.
Also, we had technical issues with our cameras (yep, 2 of them) so I want some better photos…both were the kids cameras part of our tactic to keep them entertained on the hike.
Do I think your kids will be able to do it?
I think that kids can do amazing things and that they would probably do it easier than most adults would. It was a tough walk and if your kids are not used to keeping a good pace I would recommend planning to camp up top. There is no point marching your kids to the top, stressing and rushing and all they remember was being pushed to do something they didn’t enjoy.
Its definitely not a first time hike for kids. Make sure they have done some other hikes of at least a couple of hours and with some big hills and tough terrain before you do this. Our kids had summited Bluff Knoll in WA a few times as well as many other smaller peaks before we tackled this. They had also done a quite a few kilometres of rock hopping over the last couple of years (not just little river rocks but the big boulders)
The trail is fairly technical (once again, more an issue for adults than kids who seem to just fly through). As parents you need to make sure you are prepared to take your kids. We carried more equipment than we would normally just for the kids. What would we do if one of us injured ourselves? How would the kids cope having to camp out for 24hr while we waited for help? Its easy to carry a child out who has hurt themselves or is struggling, but an adult is a different story. How you are prepared to deal with a situation like that can have a massive impact (positive or negative) on children.
Tamara Savage is one half of the brains behind Adventurethon Australia. Joel and Tamara Savage started Adventurethon ‘to give some friends a fun challenge to do’ in 2010 and it has snowballed from there. Their kids, Ayla and Koby have grown up around Adventurethon and travel with them around the country as they explore all things adventure. Tamara is passionate about inspiring kids to achieve amazing things by getting out into nature and experiencing all it has to offer.