Taking in the views of Mount French and beyond - Part One

Mount French

I found myself on top of Mount French, avoiding areas where phytophthora was sadly rampant. I hadn’t come across this devastating scourge since I was in Western Australia. Its name literally means “plant destroyer” and you just have to ask an Irishman about the potato blight to get some idea of how destructive versions of it can be. If ever you see a sign, I urge you to take heed and avoid the area.

Mount French only requires that you drive up and then it’s flat on top so you don’t have to worry about climbing. Well, unless you’re a keen photographer. It affords panoramic vistas over the surrounding Fassifern Valley, adjacent to Boonah, a bustling rural centre.

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If you’re lucky you might also see some rock climbers because these rhyolite cliffs have over 400 ascent routes. You, on the other hand, have two options: the North Peak and Mee-bor-um Circuit, the latter closed due to the aforementioned phytophthora outbreak when I visited.

Barkly Highway, Mount French

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Neither walk will test your fitness levels and will take less than an hour return. However, if you turn south from North Peak and follow a barely discernible track, you will soon come to an even more dramatic view and probably some wildlife. There were cheeky grey fantails here almost to the point of annoyance as they constantly fluttered within metres, gathering insects in flight.

I retired and headed north, and in a few days I found myself at Isla Gorge, north of Taroom, standing at the lookout and wondering what the fuss, if any, was about.

A pair of 4WDs that had passed me some time ago were departing. I figured their early leaving boded ill for the promise of things to see and when I got there and had a look I understood why the average tourist would stop only briefly.

Then my photographer’s eyes kicked in and possibilities seemed to jut out from every cliff face (and there are many). It’s an infrequently visited place but, though it was just after lunch time, I knew I would be spending the night here.

I did a short foray off to the east where others had walked and unknowingly crossed an arch before I dropped over one end and returned beneath it and a cave. This was promising I thought.

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Mount French

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Back behind where the campsite was I discerned a ridge full of other possibilities, especially when the late afternoon light would be upon them, and it was nigh, so I packed my lens and water bottle and sought an avenue of descent.

My choice was down the start of the ridge line and I slid off the end, scuttled down beside the cliffs and they were, indeed, brilliant. With perfect light and a polarising filter on steroids with the sun at the right angle, I didn’t know where to shoot first. I was mesmerised by the shapes and colours of the pastel ochres that were lit to perfection in the late afternoon; here a cave, there a hole in the rock with a royal blue sky beyond.

I scratched and scrambled around to the next recess and took a punt on another promising lead. The scenes were so close together you didn’t have to move far and in no time at all I’d racked up nearly 200 shots.

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Isla Mount French

Then I had to exit the valley. I struggled up at another point, trying to gain the plateau but a rock slipped from beneath my foot and I watched it disappear beyond sight, so steep was the slope. It frightened me and frightened me even more when I realised I would have to climb down to reach another lead. It was tentative and slow as I traversed to the next possibility.

This time I hauled myself up and over. I can only remember one other time being so happy to see a trail and that was when I got lost in Tasmania several years ago. Then it was raining, this time a sky bereft of cloud gave a stunning contrast to the sandstone as I glanced back to where I’d been. It had been a wonderful afternoon with the camera; I can only hope you enjoy the results as much as I did taking them.

What do you think of Ian’s photos? Let him know in the comments section below.