shapeofthings: (Wellington)
[Here be parts 1, 2 & 3]

I apologise for the delay in getting part 4 up here. I had a draft half-finished but lost it a few weeks ago when my hard drive died. I need to buy a new computer, but in the meantime I've resuscitated an ancient lap top and got it working well enough that I have no more excuses for not posting. Ok, ok, I'll get on with it!

Day 5: Now where was I? Ah yes, camped at Coruscades and enjoying an early morning on the river. Slowly the rest of the camp stirred and people joined me out on the rocks, watching the sunlight slowly slide it's way down into the deep gorge. Brett, our trip leader and normally the first one up, remained steadfastly in bed, putting off the day ahead as long as possible. At loose ends, the rest of us read books, wandered about, went back to sleep or settled down on a convenient boulder to soak up some sun.

Day5-07 Serenity
Coruscades upstream: ah, the serenity!

Eventually Brett found the motivation to get up and we packed all the gear and carried it a couple of hundred metres downstream down a pretty winding path, to wait while Brett and fellow guide Jim brought the rafts down through the tricky section at the top of Coruscades rapids. We then loaded up the rafts and finally paddled out around midday to see what the last day of 2011 would bring us down the River.

Day5-08 Rapids
Coruscades downstream: somewhat less serene!

Not far downstream the River brought us to the Faucet, one of the most fun rapids of the trip (and not just because no portage was required!). Pure rushing water joy!

Day5-12 Running the Faucet
Running the Faucet

The Faucet behind us, we hit the major portages of the day and worked out why Brett had been so reluctant to get out of bed: Sidewinder, Thunder-rush and the Cauldron. The waters were tricky and we unloaded and re-loaded the raft many times. As the day wore on I wore down, feeling sicker and sicker as my choice of left-overs for breakfast decided to disagree with me. There's no room for resting on the River, however, so we all just got on with it and eventually my guts ceased grumbling and I made the most of our last proper day on the water.

Day5-13 Inspecting
Brett investigates...

Day5-14 Negotiate
...then negotiates yet another portage

Once past the portages of the Great Ravine the river opened out, giving us a gentle paddle through the forested green slopes, spotted with the white blooms of flowering leatherwood trees and the red shoots of fresh summer growth from the myrtles. We saw a family of endangered Tasmanian white-bellied sea eagles watching the world drift by from a branch over the water, a pair of wedge-tail eagles circling their territory high above and a party of great cormorants startled several times by our appearance up-river. They were happily added to our wildlife tally for the trip, including two platypus sightings, some devil scats and suspected quoll tracks.

We paddled in companionable quiet, stopping here and there to explore a creek joining the river, cool off with a quick drink or just to admire the view until we made our unhurried way to camp at Rafter's Basin, around 8 pm wherein we saw in the New Year and eventually made our ways home again. )
shapeofthings: (Wellington)
[Day 1] [Days 2 & 3]

Ok, so where were we? That's right, camped on a beach under the stars after a long 3rd day on the river.

Day 4 started slowly, the combined effects of a late finish on Day 3 and the generous sharing of booze that evening. The morning was a little overcast so we all slept in and got into the water late. By then it was another brilliant sunny day and the water level had dropped noticeably overnight: a portent of the hard work to come later in the day.

Our journey started pleasantly, however, with some fun rapids to travail (with much bouncing up and down to get the raft unstuck in places. The guides keep telling me the raft is not a bouncy castle, but it so clearly is!) and a rest stop at the descriptively-named Blush Rock Falls.

Loading the rafts, preparing to depart for another day.

Day4-04 BlushRockFalls Day4-02 BlushRockFalls 
Beautiful Blush Rock Falls

By now we'd settled into the routine of rafting, with Brett giving very little instruction. Kevin and Niall commandeered the front of the raft, with all the pulling, pushing and leaping in and out that entails, while Jeddah and I were in the rear on bouncing duty, emergency braking and turning, and real-wheel drive. We'd settled into an easy rhythm, paddling together well and letting the conversation ebb and flow. At times our raft was silent as we all absorbed the treacherous beauty of our surrounds.

Day4-05 RaftLife


Although the River was mostly gentle, a couple of times Brett bade us all to disembark while he wrestled the raft alone through a particularly tricky or dangerous section. We'd clamber out onto the rocks and work our way downstream, paddles in hand, to rejoin him.

Navigating the river begins to get tricky

Our leisurely morning soon came to an end, however, as the river narrowed and the cliffs rose up on either side and we entered the Great Ravine. Here we encountered reached the first real portage of the trip: the Churn - a rush of white-water that's not safe to raft through at any water level.

Day4-06 Day4-12 TheChurnDownstream

Wherein a most unusual luncheon is taken and eventually a camp is made ) Happy for the solo time, I wandered out onto a rock in the river to watch the sun slowly slide down into the dark, quiet waters of the Great Ravine, waiting for the others to wake.

Day5-04 Coruscades
shapeofthings: (Wellington)
[Day 1 is here]

Day 2: I woke early to a beautiful morning and enjoyed a half-hour or so of quietness to myself before the rest of the camp began to stir. We packed, breakfasted and got back in the rafts, or in my case, the kayak, and set off for our first full day on the Franklin. The morning was uneventful; largely gentle paddling with decreasingly-frequent stops to drag the rafts through shallow sections. I had the hang of my kayak and the trust of the guides so was largely left to my own devices all morning, and derived far too much amusement from watching Sam, the boy in the other kayak, repeatedly capsize. Yes, I can be a little cruel sometimes.

At lunch time I swapped with Jeddah (and Espen swapped with the water-logged Sam) and took my place in a raft with Nikki, Wayne and guide Jim. It was quite different to need to work as a team and respond quickly to Jim's instructions, and frustrating to be stuck with the consequences when someone in the team wasn't pulling their weight.


By afternoon tea time we're dragging the rafts a lot less and Brett makes the call to deflate the "ducks", so we're all in the rafts now. Just in time, too, as we soon encounter our first serious obstacle of the trip: a jammed-tight log in a narrow slot that Jim nick-names the Tipper. It's every-body out and a lot of hard work to lift the loaded rafts up and see-saw them over the top of the log. All the men are heaving (except Wayne - a recurring theme), lifting and pulling the heavy raft with nothing for footing but the same wet log the raft's on top of and some rather slippery rocks and I start to realise how serious this rafting business really is.
Day2-01 Clearing the Tipper
Clearing the Tipper

Day2-02 Nasty Notch
Navigating Nasty Notch

Eventually we get both rafts clear of the Tipper, but it's only a short stretch of smooth paddling before we hit the first of the dangerous rapids, known to have claimed a few lives: Nasty Notch. We all pile out onto the rocks and the rafts are dragged through and dropped into the downstream side and we glide our way through a glorious afternoon down to the night's camp: Irenabyss. Rumour has it this was to be the site of the 3rd dam proposed under the Franklin scheme, though I've never seen anything official. It's a pretty little gorge in steep country, nestled under the impressive white-quartz peak of Frenchman's Cap. A beautiful spot, I'm very glad the river's still wild and free.

Day2-05 Irenabyss Day2-04 Irenabyss
Beautiful Irenabyss

Camp is made under the trees (I claim an isolated spot up on top of the rocks) with hours of daylight to spare, so the more energetic of us cross the river with Jim to try a walk up a ridge that Brett recommends (notably, Brett stays put at camp). The trail to the ridge is steep and very over-grown in places. We're all in shorts as the afternoon is warm, and pretty soon our shins are scratched up from the unforgiving vegetation. We follow Jim up until the trail peters out and two of our party get bitten by inchman ants (luckily not jack-jumpers, which were also about). A group decision is made to turn back, and somehow Jim loses the trail a couple of times on the way back down, so we go cross-country and follow wombat trails until the track appears again and we finally make our way back down to the river, legs scraped and bloody. When we get back to camp Brett just laughs and we all learn a lesson about his sense of humour.

Niall and I on our hiking adventure; photo by Jeddah

Frenchmans Jedd
View from the ridge to Frenchmans Cap; photo by Jeddah

The night is overcast and warm, and after a tasty dinner I flake out quickly, falling into a deep sleep in my mossy grotto (with repaired air mattress) only to wake in confusion several hours later to find Brett shining a torch in my face. It had started raining and tarps had been set up down below. Begrudgingly I woke up enough to gather my things and move down to the tarped area, claiming a small patch of dirt between Espen and Sam and spending the rest of the night dozing off then waking up to the snoring. Boo.

Day2-07 Irenabyss Day2-06 Irenabyss
Camp at Irenabyss

Day 3: The morning crept in grey and damp to find me grumpy and underslept. This was the morning we were supposed to climb up to Frenchman's Cap: an arduous ascent but one I'd been looking forward to. But with the peak lost to low clouds and a disrupted night's sleep, no-one could summon the motivation necessary to get up and get going. So the walk was called off, we slept in and a lazy morning was had. We didn't hit the river until 11 am, but consequently didn't make camp that evening until it was nearly dark: some time after 8 pm. The rafts were re-shuffled before we left and I was pleased to find myself swapped out of Jim's raft and into Brett's, with the rest of the science-nerd introverts on the trip: Kevin, Niall and Jeddah. I'd spend the rest of the trip with them and appreciated the quiet company, intelligent conversation and shared physical effort.

Photo by Espen

Lead raft: Guided by Brett, owner and operator of Water By Nature, a quiet man with a slightly vicious sense of humour who knows the river backwards. Crewed by me, Jedda (lovely & competent 22 year-old graduate Environmental Engineer from Melbourne) and the Scottish half-brothers (Kevin, 40, an electrical engineer who designs next-generation tanks and APCs for the British military, currently living in Cardiff, and Niall, 37, qualified marine biologist now making furniture and large metal sculptures, living in Bondi with his wife and baby daughters).

Second raft: Guided by Jim, who's not worked for Brett for long and runs his own rafting business in Scotland during our winters. Jim is more sociable than Brett and bestows nick-names on us all, except Wayne (a 50 year-old accountant from Brisbane who doesn't pull his weight in the raft and spends the portages surreptitiously filming us all with his camera strapped to his life-jacket), who becomes Creepy Wayne by popular consensus. Then there's Nikki (an amazingly fit 50-something animal behaviouralist from Sydney's Taronga Zoo, born and raised in South Africa, whom Jim spends the rest of the trip on the pull, possibly successfully), Sam (a 22-going-on-16 year old nouveau-bogan chippy from Melbourne with a good heart, a short attention span and a talent for annoyingness. He's spoilt rotten by his parents, with whom he still lives and who sent him on this $2k trip as a birthday present: in short he's your friend from high-school's annoying little brother, magnified) and my friend Es (a 35 year old chef and logistics manager on a mine site in the middle of nowhere, Queensland, whom I love as a brother but wish would learn to value and look after himself).

Photo by Espen

The rafting itself was fairly straight-forward, with no major obstacles to negotiate. The most dramatic event of the day occurred when our raft spun backwards unexpectedly while traversing a rapid, slamming into a very large log downstream. Except the log was higher than the raft edge, so the surface that collected and absorbed the impact was my arse. Yeah, that made me wince a little (and left a spectacular haematoma right across the left cheek).

Camp was made on a sandy beach, with conversation over cask wine extending late into the evening before we drifted off for another chilly night under a sky full of brilliant stars.
shapeofthings: (bloop!)
Let's start with a bit of background, shall we? The Franklin River is a tributary of the Gordon River, and flows through the northern section of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park: a swathe of remote, mountainous forest and dark, tanin-stained rivers largely untouched by Europeans, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Largely untouched: like every other decent-sized river in Tasmania, the Gordon River is dammed, with the headwaters trapped in Lake Gordon and Lake Peddar, released on demand to generate hydro-electricity.

The Franklin is the last true wild river in Tasmania. Un-dammed, untapped, unspoilt. It almost wasn't so. Three dams were proposed for the Franklin hydro scheme: Gordon below Franklin, Mount McCall and Irenabyss and construction was started at the first two sites. After a protracted battle over many years the Franklin was finally spared thanks to a 4 to 3 High Court ruling. The River was protected and the Australian Green Movement was born. After 7 days exploring the River: worth fighting for.


Dodgy map with camp site locations guessed at. I need a GPS!

Day 1 saw us assemble in front of an old Hobart Hotel at 7:30 am, packed, half asleep and ready to go. We'd collected our river bags, wet suits and helmets the afternoon before to give us time to pack properly. Although I wasn't planning on taking much with me, on packing my river bag it became apparent that my sleeping bag was enormous (it doesn't compress) and since it was essential to bring I'd have to relinquish anything else that I judged (not entirely correctly) wasn't absolutely necessary. Thus I found myself travelling very lightly indeed for the next 7 days! We boarded the mini bus and were on our way by 8 am, a disparate band ofeight strangers with little to say to each other at this stage, plus our two guides (Brett and Jim). As we made the long drive from Hobart up to the Collingwood River our guides filled us in on the essential information for the trip ahead including that for the next week we would be crapping into plastic freezer bags that would be journeying down the River with us. Delightful!

We took the DSLR with us, safely stowed in a protective case for use at camp only. Espen also brought a little waterproof point and shoot that fit in our life jacket pockets and allowed us to take photos on the river, well, as least when we weren't madly paddling! You can guess which camera saw the most use...

Espen and I, Collingwood River

Brett loading the rafts

The shallow waters of the Collingwood

Three hours out of the city we reached our watery departure point: the Collingwood River - a tributary of the Franklin handily crossed by the Lyell Highway. The bus was unloaded and farewelled, lunch eaten, the rafts inflated and loaded up: we were good to go. As well as the two big yellow rafts, Brett had brought along two inflatable kayaks to lighten the raft loads in the shallow headwaters. When he asked for volunteers to take the kayaks I quickly put my hand up and spent the rest of the day noodling about in my bright orange craft, watching the others push and drag the heavy rafts over every obstacle (of which there were many, given the water level was rather low).



Kayak life

I thoroughly enjoyed having the kayak: a space of my own to enjoy the River in silence. Well, when I could get away from the annoyingly talkative 22 year old boy who had the other kayak!

We paddled on through the shallow waters to the junction with the Franklin where we stopped for an afternoon tea of chocolate and, disturbingly, a My Little Pony cake, before heading down the Franklin proper for a couple of hours, pulling in late in the evening to the beach at Boulder Brace to make camp.

My Little Pony cake at the Junction

Going down this in the kayak was brilliant fun!

Camp consisted of staking claim to a section of beach, hanging your life jacket and helmet above and inflating your air mattress below. Exhausted, I was in bed by dark and asleep soon after. I woke a couple of times during the night due to mattress deflation, but even having to blown the damn thing up again wasn't so bad as it gave me time to appreciate the most amazing sky full of stars. I'd never really slept under the stars before (unless you count a night on my friend's property when we were teens, within 100 m of her house). It was beautiful, but damn cold! Sleeping bag rating to -5oC my arse! It was about now that I regretted not finding a way to wedge my super-warm fleeces and extra-tick socks into my river bag. A new, warmer, compressible sleeping bag was also added to my mental shopping list.



Camping on a cobble beach at Boulder Brace

September 2017

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