You could say the Frenchman’s Track is a short cut to the Bamaga Development road, but in reality it takes a lot more time to travel the 52km than the 134km long way around.
We had some trouble finding the turnoff to Frenchman’s because our principle HEMA GPS navigator stopped working without any warning early that morning. Thanks, has to go to Geoff for redirecting us to the not so obvious track junction along the Portland Road.
The first 6km or so along the Frenchman’s Track, was white sandy heathland, very badly corrugated, however provided some spectacular views out over the western remnants of the Iron Range. About 16km in we descending back into rainforest and came to the first water crossing at Pascoe River. As there were several eastern bound vehicles with camper trailers winching up the bank of the crossing. We stopped and had a quick tailgate lunch, however not wanting to miss our turn at the water crossing, Geoff volunteered to scout ahead on foot to watch for any further eastern bound traffic. He cross the Pascoe and clambered up the steep 300m obscured rocky track. This was extremely brave and noble considering Geoff was in lot of pain from a very sore big toe.
Both Ricard and I spent a long time walking up and down each bank, across the river to determine the best path for our vehicles. The Pascoe River crossing is very technical and in some regards one of the most challenging on Cape York. The decent on the eastern side was extremely steep, slippery and required careful wheel placement to avoid rollovers or major panel damage. The river crossing also had several large holes and boulders hidden below the water to be avoided. Once we left the water on the western side, a steep climb over more large boulders required a delicate balance of brute power and careful steering. I mostly left the car to find its own way up this bank, using low range and very low tyre pressure both vehicles made it up successfully without too much drama.
After Pascoe, we travelled 24km on rugged terrain and it was a great 4WD introduction for Richard whom had not put his trusty Landcruiser to the test before. We made it to the next and final crossing at Wenlock River. The decent and water crossing were easy compared to Pascoe but the steep climb up the sandy, dusty and potholed rise on the other side was extremely challenging. This is when along came Roger, who we learnt was a 4WD driving instructor, for the Victorian Rural Fire Brigade. Roger and his small party had setup camp below back just a few 100m along the Wenlock River. Roger and his mate Mick provided valuable assistance and direction.
I managed to climb about two thirds the way up the rise but due to loss of traction and two trees that restricted directional options, I had to deploy the winch to assist with the remaining climb. Richard drove up to roughly the same location as the DMAX before the winch was required however as he did not have a winch, the DMAX was stationed at the top of the rise so it’s winch could hull the Landcruiser up. Joanne’s suggestion of securing the rear of the DMAX to a neighbouring tree as a safety anchor was most certainly obeyed. While the DMAX winch was up to the task the grounding of the DMAX was a bit sandy, given it was going to be pulling a 2.6 tonne Landcruiser and one can only guess 3.4 tonnes of extra luggage, we certainly could use the extra security. As it was we managed to get the Landcruiser to the top safely. Given there was only a few minutes of daylight left, we decided to camp the night at the top of the rise, it was reassuring to knowing we had all the Frenchman’s obstacles behind us.
The following morning after we witnessed Roger in his specially modified short wheel based 4WD climb the same path unaided and then Mike who needing to use his winch to safely make it to the top we headed off along the last 12km of Frenchman’s Track and onto Batavia Downs on the Telegraph Road. We made it to Bramwell Roadhouse around midday for another hamburger lunch stop.
After Lunch it was onto the famous Old Telegraph Track (Chris’s Bucket List)