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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
We had a later start than usual from the Brook of Inveraestra, finally setting off at 10:00am. We scouted the two-step rapid near the camp site which turned out to be good fun and an easy rapid; it had looked a little difficult the evening before.
During the day a number of rapids were shot by us all. As we had different skill levels and confidence levels, some rapids were lined by a few individuals while others paddled through.
The previous morning my tent was a bit damp and I was still trying to work out my packing routine so put the tent into my pack and not into the dry sack. My pack had spent a few minutes under water during the day while my boat was upside down, wrapped under a log. Therefore when I went to bed, the tent was quite wet, inside and outside, including both the fly and the inner.
I was pleasantly surprised in the morning when I found that despite camping next to a river, and in a damp rainforest, my tent was much drier than when I went to bed. In fact, it looked as though it was just the normal amount of condensation that is to be expected when sleeping in a tiny one-man tent.
The water level was down by another 15cm, which meant that it was now back to the level that we started with.
The boats that were patched on the previous evening had both deflated slowly overnight. Jess’ boat required a quick re-patching over the existing patch in the morning and fully re-patching again at the end of the day. The inside patch had probably not taken well, due to water on the inside of the tube.
After breaking camp and launching our boats, we discussed the high number of mishaps on the previous day and talked about ways in which we could improve our communications and avoid further problems as much as possible.
It was drizzling early in the morning, but it gradually cleared as the day progressed. The water level was down by about 15cm. That left it at about 15cm above what we regarded as the ‘normal’ (low) water level.
Before leaving camp, we reviewed the notes for the section of the Franklin River that we expected to raft today. In particular we discussed the corner of the river known as ‘Debacle Bend’. As the name suggests there have been a lot of problems for many rafters on this rapid. According to the notes, the rapid looks fine and perfectly raftable, however the notes also made it abundantly clear that it should NOT be rafted due to very sharp rocks which are highly likely to cut right through fully laden rafts while paddling through it. The recommendation was to simply line the boats through, ie, let them float down while being held by ropes from the shore or while wading through shallow water.
We were all clear on this, having had several punctures to boats already – to watch out for Debacle Bend, which would be later in the afternoon, and make sure we line the boats through. Simple! Other than that the notes indicated that the day would be a long but largely enjoyable one, with a variety of rapids, and not too much portaging. After a further discussion, Jess agreed to carry the second spare paddle (Jamie’s old paddle) for the day.
The events during the day proved to be a serious wake up call, reminding us that all the notes and research that we had were only indicators. We came to realise that every trip on this river would be different based on water levels and people skills, and that the notes, while useful, were merely a very general guide. We knew this – after all there were disclaimers on all the paperwork – but it finally hit home to us on day five. Continue reading
When we awoke and crawled out of our tents, we found that the rain had eased off to an occasional shower, and it held off while we packed our tents and gear. However, the drizzle returned occasionally throughout the morning.
When I packed my gear for this trip at home, it took about five tries to get all of my gear into my large pack with the intention that having to portage only one item (in addition to the boat itself) was the way to go. However, I’d not managed to get it all in again for the second day’s rafting, and had relied on using spare space in Kate’s pack which was stowed in my raft. Now that Kate and Lauren had left via Frenchmans Cap, I tried again to fit everything back into my pack. But there was no way it was going to work.
Instead, I had to pack my dry sack and back pack separately with the dry sack tied onto both the raft and to the outside of my pack. I also had to be prepared for everything in the back pack to get doused in water. I had to completely change how I packed. Eventually I came up with a system that worked well for the rest of the trip.
Overnight the water level in the basin below the Irenabyss where our boats had been pulled up on the beach, had risen by about 30cm. One of the boats that had been sitting on rocks was now floating. Thankfully, we had all remembered to tie them up securely. I later learned that David also had a habit of quietly sneaking down to the river each evening to check on the boats and paddles. It was generally agreed that this slightly higher water level would be a very good thing for us, as it had been a little lower than we would have liked so far, with some of the rapids still being a bit too shallow on the previous day of paddling.
Our original plan was to include a walk and climb up Frenchmans Cap from the Irenabyss either as a day walk, or possibly staying overnight at Tahune Hut near the base of the mountain. From there, Kate and Lauren would continue walking out to the highway while the rest of us walked back to the Irenabyss to continue rafting.
It had begun raining during the night and the rain periods continued through the day. Knowing that there are no views to be had from Frenchmans Cap in anything but good weather, we cancelled the walk for the team, leaving Kate and Lauren to walk out to the highway over two days on their own. It was late morning when we farewelled them, so we decided to stick with the plan of not rafting further down the river today and have a rest day and perhaps just paddle up and down the Irenabyss. We also had a paddle to repair and the opportunity to simply enjoy being on the river while we had a good campsite. I was not terribly disappointed about missing out on Frenchmans Cap, having climbed it twice before myself, and not feeling the need to do it a third time, especially in the rain.
Our second day of rafting would be our first full day on the Franklin River. We were packed and ready to launch the boats at 9:15am. This became a fairly typical starting time for us. As much as we endeavoured to start earlier each morning, with a large group there is usually at least one person who is running a bit later than the others and it is usually a different person each morning.
During the morning we found the rapids were still very shallow. We frequently had to step out of the boats to drag or lift them over exposed or shallow rocks, until the Lodden River joins the Franklin at which point the volume of water was more suitable, and the rapids were much more enjoyable.
Just before reaching the Lodden River junction, we began noticing Huon Pines along the banks of the river. They were quite common for the remainder of the journey, including at our campsites. Although there were no truly large Huon Pines remaining, there were certainly a lot of small specimens which is encouraging. Continue reading