David’s Franklin River Expedition Review

After reading through the blog articles that I’d written about our Franklin River expedition, David wrote the following comments about the trip which I’ve published here with his permission.

When thinking about who to invite on this, my third Franklin trip I cast my thoughts back to 1979 and 1980.

My companions from that era were all around 25 to 30 years old and each had at least five solid years experience in the Tasmanian wilderness. We were all “bushies” although none of us had any rafting experience. Each of my “old” rafting buddies turned down the invitation. One was approaching his 65th birthday and claimed “old age” another sadly passed away only a few months before. It seemed unlikely that I could make up a balanced group. I would be a 30 year old guy stuck in a 60 year old body on departure day. One of my good friends put it this way. “David, you were young and dumb in those days and it seems like only one thing has changed”. Continue reading

14 Days on the Franklin River – Epilogue

Franklin River Junction (photo David Tasker)

It is usual, while away out in the wilderness, for thoughts about issues from home or work come to mind periodically, particularly during the first few days.  However, I didn’t anticipate how much this would happen the other way around back at home.  For the first few days after returning home I found that my subconscious was frequently considering how to tackle the next rapid, or manage the gear in my raft, or various other issues that I might face on a Franklin River rafting expedition.

On the first night back in my own bed I had a rather bizarre dream.  My eyes must have been half open, as the dream was derived from what I could see and hear in the bedroom around me, combined with my ongoing subconscious thoughts about rafting the Franklin River.  It was a warm night and the bedroom window and blind were open, with the moonlight making shadows on the walls and the floor.  I was lying with my face looking over the edge of the bed.

Irenabyss (photo David Tasker)

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Franklin River Day 15 – Sir John Falls to Strahan

With our excursion on the Franklin River over, we had most of Saturday to wait until the boat came to pick us up at 4:30pm.  The weather was excellent and the location was fantastic, so it was a pleasant and relaxing rest day to end our trip.

For breakfast, we each chose the best of whatever suitable food we had left, and also shared fresh toast and butter.  The yachties on the other side of the river had given us a loaf of fresh bread they’d made yesterday!

Tiger Snake outside the old Hydro Hut

There were several resident tiger snakes under and around the hut, including three spotted in one patch of grass.  One of them favoured sitting right next to the water tank, making using the tap a somewhat more delicate exercise that it ought to be.  Another one enjoyed sun baking in the middle of the track to the toilet block.  As if this wasn’t enough, there was a nest of Jack Jumpers under the step right at the hut door.  Jack Jumper ants are pure evil – far worse than tiger snakes in my opinion (and more deadly according to statistics).

Relaxing on the Gordon River beach near the hydro hut (photo David Tasker)

We spent most of the morning lazing around the hut and the beach.  I spent a lot of time sitting in my raft reading the final pages of my novel in the sunshine down on the beach.  A float plane from Strahan landed on the river near the Sir John Falls jetty a couple of times during the day, carrying tourists wanting to see the South West from the air.

Float plane takes off from Gordon River over yachts moored at Warners Landing

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Franklin River Day 14 – Holey Cliff to Sir John Falls

It felt very odd to sleep by a quiet part of the river where I could not hear the loud noise of nearby rapids all night.

Breakfast at Holey Cliff camp site (photo David Tasker)

This was to be our last day on the Franklin River.  It would include few rapids and was mostly flat water, meaning constant paddling with less help from the current.  More brawn and less brain.

Setting off from Holey Cliff camp – as for the previous several days, Jess had to re-inflate her leaky boat every half hour during the day (photo David Tasker)

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Franklin River Day 13 – Newland Cascades to Holey Cliff

It was great to find that most of the gear we’d hung over rocks and trees overnight was now completely dry for the first time in several days.  It had been hard to keep things dry during the recent rainy days, especially the two days at Hobbit Hole.

Early morning Newland Cascades camp site (photo David Tasker)

My sore hip was starting to feel better, but the cut hand was beginning to get painful.  It required re-dressing and disinfectant.  The rib cage was still quite painful as well.

A satellite phone call last night had finalised the arrangements for our boat pickup on Saturday afternoon in two days time.  We planned to get to the pick up point at Sir John Falls on Friday (the next day).  This would give us an extra half a day in case there were problems along the way.  Or we could use any spare time to relax if everything went smoothly.

We had two days of paddling to complete the journey.  There was still a substantial distance to travel so we knew that we had to make today count.

Sean leading the way from Newland Cascades (photo David Tasker)

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Franklin River Day 12 – Hobbit Hole to Newland Cascades

We woke this morning to find that the water level was down quite a lot more than when we arrived at the Hobbit Hole.  Everybody agreed that the rapid looked relatively easy and should be fun.  There were two stoppers visible in this rather long rapid, but they both looked small and therefore should not be a problem.  Finally, we were all very excited that we would get rafting again.  The water level now looked ideal for us.

As if the severe pain in my left hip and lower-right ribs wasn’t enough, I fell on the rocks again this morning.  This time I sliced the palm of my hand open.  It wasn’t terribly painful, but it was quite a deep cut that would require some care to avoid infection and to heal properly in this environment.  Thankfully, it was lower down on the palm than where I grip the paddle.  I gave it a quick dressing with band-aid and elastoplast.  I knew that I’ll need to give it some better treatment later on.

Water level still a little higher than normal on day 12 (photo David Tasker)

After breaking camp and packing our gear we had to begin by paddling through the rapid that had stopped us in our tracks when in flood.  All of us now considered the rapid looked quite easy.  It was right next to our make shift camp site and had been under observation for the better part of two days.  However, this apparently ‘easy’ rapid proved to be yet another disaster and I am thankful that we did not attempt to do it when we arrived and the water level was 1.5 metres higher. Continue reading

Franklin River Day 11 – Hobbit Hole – Unplanned Rest Day Due to River in Flood

Even before getting out of bed, I could tell that we were going to be stuck in our miserable hovel of a camp all day and for a second night.  The rain had continued spasmodically during the night and the deafening roar of a violent, raging river just a few meters away was also a bit of a hint.

View of the river and the nearby rapid from our make shift camp site

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Franklin River Day 10 – Rafters Basin to Hobbit Hole

There had been a heavy rain storm during the night which we later discovered had resulted in news reports back home.  In the morning we found that our boats were floating.  The river had risen by about a metre overnight and covered the previously exposed rocks along the river banks and was encroaching a little on the vegetation line.

Yesterday, we sat on these rafts to read and relax while they were on resting on the rocky bank. Today, there was no rocky bank to be seen.

The water level was higher than we had seen before.  We figured that it would continue to rise through the day as heavy rain had only just eased and lighter showers were continuing.  Everyone felt it was at a reasonable level and were keen to paddle on.

The first rapid which exited from the large, calm pool of Rafters Basin was wide and shallow as well as very long.  Jamie was keen to get moving and led the way.  He called back directions to the rest of us and used hand signals to indicate the best route through the rapid.  We all negotiated the rapid through the much stronger current and larger volume of water than we had been used to without any problems.  It was not a steep drop, making it fairly easy, and the speed of rafts on this more substantial current was exhilarating.

The first few rapids of the day got us very excited.  We were charging along at break-neck speed and having a ball.  Even where the water was flat the current was very fast.  The fast strong current in flat water produced a very odd feeling in an inflatable raft.  It would invisibly push or pull the boat in unexpected ways and occasionally it would hold the boat in place with water rushing past.  Presumably this strange tangle of strong currents was produced by the rush of water rebounding off boulders hidden below the turbulence of the dark and furious river.

The Franklin river was now wider, deeper, stronger and faster, with the usual rocky river banks now completely submerged

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Franklin River Day 9 – Cauldron (Eagles Nest) to Rafters Basin

It began drizzling at Eagles Nest around daybreak.  Not only did this make packing up a little annoying, but it meant that those who were not in tents or under tarps had to quickly find things to pull over themselves and their sleeping bags if they wanted to sleep in!

After breakfast we had to deal with the complicated and difficult job of moving gear and repacking boats.  From the Eagles Nest we had to negotiate the awkward and risky descent, following the almost vertical path.  We had to simultaneously hold onto the safety rope and carry our gear while working our way back to the river.  David had opted to camp with his tent on his upturned raft on the other side of the river using his boat as a base for his tent and had an easier job to pack up his camp.

View of boats and David’s camp from the Eagles Nest

Literally right across the river from our camp was the start of the mandatory portage around the rapid known as the Cauldron.  No sooner than we had finished packing our gear into the boats we had to unload them again.  This first stage of the portage could only be done two boats at a time because there was only a tiny landing available.  There was also a strong current that flowed into the Cauldron which had the potential to drag any waiting boats into the rapid.

After all the gear was unpacked and had been carried along the first stretch of the portage and all the boats were stacked in two neat piles on top of a huge flat boulder, we assessed the remainder of the rapid and the portage.  At that point we began to formulate the beginnings of a plan to tackle the remainder of the portage which appeared to be almost impossible to negotiate, even on foot.

We had to be very cautious because this portage required passing gear from boulder to boulder through the middle of the rapid rather than on the bank around the rapid.  Furthermore the boulders were wet, slippery and at steep angles.  In addition to all this, we knew that a few years ago a rafter had died at this spot when he slipped into the river while portaging this rapid.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he had been attempting exactly what we were about to try.  It was clearly a time to play it safe and to take extreme care. Continue reading

Franklin River Day 8 – Corruscades to The Cauldron (Eagles Nest)

Sean shooting a rapid soon after the Corruscades portage

Day eight started with another major portage around the Corruscades rapid.  It was the second portage of the expedition that required the rafts to be deflated, as the portage was for quite some distance and included scrambling through forest as well as over boulders.

Ripples of water drops reflected onto rocks

The portage was long and tricky.  It was a huge relief to have all the boats re-inflated and on the water again at last.  After the portage the boats looked very happy to be floating on the ends of their ropes again. Continue reading