Franklin River trip report

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Franklin River trip report

Postby farefam » Thu 30 Aug, 2018 2:03 pm

Although I have had many marvelous adventures during the last 25 years, if I was pressed to state which was the most memorable, I would have to say that rafting the Franklin River comes out as number one.
Morning at Corruscades rapid

I had originally intended to do this trip to mark my 40th birthday however, life intervened for several years and it wasn't until January 2017 that it moved from my bucket list into reality, when I finally stumped up the money to join a commercial trip. Although advertised as 10 days, you actually spend 7.5 days rafting, as half a day is spent getting to the start from Hobart, there is a scheduled rest day along the way and the last day is spent on a yacht cruising back to Strahan and returning by bus to Hobart.

Although I have included just a few photos in the text to give you a small taste, you can click on the links to see the rest of the photos, which are a mix of action and scenic shots taken on the go with a waterproof compact camera, as well as others with a more scenic emphasis, taken with a DSLR during some of the stops and at camp. I also made an hour long video of the trip, set to music, which I greatly enjoy viewing but it is much too large a file to share online.

Day 1 and 2: Collingwood River to Irenabyss

As has more than once been the case when I've prebooked an important adventure, I fell quite ill with the flu shortly before I caught the red eye flight from Perth. I took some tablets to stop my runny nose, but this proved to be a major mistake, as the tablets caused insomnia on my arrival in Hobart, not helped by the human nightlife parading noisily until almost dawn, right past my CBD hostel window. So I was in pretty poor shape, very sick with flu and having hardly slept in nearly 3 days, when we loaded the rafts and set off down the Collingwood River.

On the plus side there had been good rain 2 days before, so the river was at an ideal level as we easily floated down the Collingwood, gradually gaining confidence in how we paddled as a team and steered the heavy rafts. I found the Collingwood River to be surprisingly pretty. I had expected it to be lined with scrub, but instead it was surrounded by beautiful rainforest and the ti-tree that lined the banks was flowering prettily in white. After some small, easy rapids we then did a larger drop and not long after that, we arrived at the confluence with the Franklin River, where we pulled ashore for a snack break, to stretch our legs and to admire the view of the narrow canyon upstream that the Franklin had just emerged from.

On the normal trip schedule we would be spending the night camped here, however with the good water level we had made quick time (only an hour) so we voted unanimously to continue onward and piled back into the two rafts. The rest of the afternoon was mainly long stretches of flat water, mixed with occasional rapids, as we made our way down the narrow valley, which again was lined with beautiful forest and flowering ti-tree. Boulder Brace was a fun rapid to bounce through and the tall, overhanging quartzite cliffs of Angel Rain Cavern were impressive to float alongside. Soon after, we came to the first portage at the Log Jam. A large log has blocked the river here and a beautiful tall, slim waterfall showers gently into the river alongside it, making it a quite lovely spot. The rafts were heaved over the log and we were soon off again through more long stretches of flat water and minor rapids. The next portage was at Nasty Notch, where we piled out and helped to line the rafts past a large rock and a very nasty looking hole that you'd definitely not want to be swept into. Not far downstream from there, we entered Descension Gorge, and after our guide briefly stopped to scout the way ahead, it was then a fast, exciting slide through the rapids before we dropped over a final ledge into the suddenly tranquil slot of the Irenabyss. It was wonderful to slowly float for about 200m between the sheer cliff walls before we exited left and pulled into our camp for the night. I was still sick as a dog, but it had been a wonderful introduction to white water rafting.

Being so ill and sleep deprived I opted to skip breakfast, slept in and spent the next day enjoying the serenity at Irenabyss Campsite. It was a bit inclement in the morning, so the party that had earlier set off to climb Frenchmans Cap returned, having turned back due to the low cloud and bitingly cold wind. Fortunately that was no problem for myself, as I've climbed the Cap several times over the years. The sun came out in the afternoon and it was lovely to just sit atop the cliffs and watch the ever changing patterns of foam slowly drift along the Irenabyss; looking like works of modern art etched on the dark tannin-stained water. The others read books or chatted and then a few of us ended the day by paddling back up along the length of the Irenabyss to take a few photos and enjoy the atmosphere of this remarkable chasm for a final time.
Drifting along the Irenabyss, late afternoon

Day 3: Irenabyss to The Crankle

Day 3 was cloudy but fine, and as was the case throughout the remainder of this trip, we had a leisurely breakfast and didn't hit the water until mid-morning. As we were doing the trip across 10 days, there was no need to hurry along the river. I definitely recommend spending the extra money so that you can enjoy the more relaxed schedule.

The river valley remained narrow, with scrub visible higher up the steep valley walls, but with the river remaining lined by rainforest and flowering ti-tree. The day's paddling was a mix of long flat stretches, some faster flowing sections where we could just drift along, as well as the occasional sets of short, easy rapids. By this stage I was slightly disappointed that there weren't more adrenaline thrills to be had, but the beautiful scenery more than made up for it. The long stretch of cliffs known as the Walls of Jericho were a highlight, as was paddling around the major bend in the river known as the Crankle (so named for the way it twists and turns through every direction of the compass). At the end of the Crankle we pulled ashore at a small sandy beach that was to be our camp for the night. Later on, after dinner our senior guide would start amusing/?tormenting us with guessing mind games.... but that is another story.

Day 4: The Crankle to Corruscades

After some overnight rain and morning showers, Day 4 was mainly a fine mixture of cloud and sunshine. The river remained narrow, with a reasonable current, so it was an easy paddle to our next stop, which was the impressive Blushrock Falls. This is the tallest waterfall along the Franklin River and it plunges in 3 stages down the valley wall. We all climbed to the top of the first stage and a few did the steeper bit to the top of the second stage. After a snack, it was back into the rafts and soon enough we entered the start of the Great Ravine. This had been the section of the trip that I had most been looking forward to and it didn't disappoint. As we entered the gorge we dropped through Side Slip rapid into a long quiet pool, with Oriel Rock looming ahead at the end of it. This marked the site of The Churn, the first of the 4 rapids in the Great Ravine that need to be portaged.

So far I had been a bit underwhelmed by the rapids, but The Churn marked a serious step upwards in danger and had to be scouted. We piled out and climbed to a high rock to assess the situation. In the months before the trip started, I had wondered whether we would have to unload and deflate and carry the large rafts around the more serious rapids. I was still pretty sick, so I was rather relieved when it turns out that it was possible to simply line and push or manhandle the large, heavily loaded rafts along the rapids, rather than have to carry them around them on the portage trails. So the two guides, with the assistance of 2 of the more experienced passengers, did the portage as I watched on and then made my way along the portage trail to the Churn campsite to meet them.

It took about an hour to complete the portage, followed by a long lunch break, as we stopped to watch a group of pack rafters who had arrived at The Churn just behind us. Back into the rafts we immediately floated into the tall vault of the aptly named Serenity Sound. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, with luxuriant forest covering the high, steep walls of the Great Ravine. As we gently paddled in the sunshine along the length of this quiet, serene reach of the river we were quite dwarfed by the immensity of our surroundings. We pulled ashore just before the Corruscades, which is a, large, long rapid that tumbles across and between a multitude of huge slabs. The views either way from the top of the Corruscades are tremendously scenic and I couldn't imagine a more perfect place to spend the night camped in the rainforest. Some glow worms near the campsite made it even more perfect, looking like stars twinkling in the dark. It had been a fabulous day.
Afternoon at Serenity Sound

Day 5: Corruscades to Rafters Basin

This was to be our second and final day in the Great Ravine. I awoke early to the atmospheric sight of the tops of the Great Ravine being covered in mist. This slowly burnt away to reveal a cloudless blue sky. Powered by sunshine, the valley walls seemed to sing with energy and my words are completely inadequate to describe the glory of the place.

Our guides paddled the rafts alone through the upper part of the Corruscades, meeting us half way down. We lined the rafts over another drop and then piled back in to paddle the lower, easier part of the Corruscades. The final sideways-angled drop through the Faucet was thrilling and then we floated into the calm waters of Transcendence Reach. Within minutes we pulled ashore at the entrance to Livingstone Cut. Here the Livingstone Rivulet passes through a tall, overhanging slot into the Franklin. The rivulet is covered with treacherously slippery rocks, but our guide assured us it would be worth the risk to explore what lay ahead. A waterfall seemingly blocked our path, but our guide rigged a rope and we climbed past it. There were more pools and chasms ahead to be traversed, before the group was eventually blocked from going any further. The people that went the full distance had big smiles on their faces as they returned.

Transcendence Reach again proved to be aptly named, and we quietly paddled our way in the sunshine along the gently winding Ravine. I wish I could have taken more photos here, but I felt too guilty whenever I briefly put the paddle down and left the others to do the work. On flat water, if there's not much current, the heavy rafts are surprisingly hard work.

Transcendence Reach is longer than Serenity Sound and it is equally, if not more beautiful. Eventually we could hear a roar ahead and pulled ashore, where the path ahead was blocked by a chaotic stretch of huge rocks. This was the start of Thunderush Rapid. The pack rafters were taking lunch, so we had lunch as well, since their service raft was blocking our portage. The plan was to line our rafts along the length of Thunderush. The plan was a success for the first raft however, the second raft became stuck on rocks and it took our guides quite a while to eventually free it, only for it to soon get stuck again. Our senior guide had no choice but to bravely swim across above the top of the rapid and then walk downstream to free the raft. Then later on, after more manhandling, the raft suddenly flipped on top of him at the very end of the rapid, which showed the importance of always wearing your helmet.

Some small rapids immediately below Thunderush were easily navigated, then we were into the short, peaceful stretch of The Sanctum. Cirrus clouds had earlier passed overhead when we had lunch, and sure enough it turned overcast and gloomy as we reached the final rapid called The Cauldron. Here the river is blocked by several enormous slabs of rock, but the water level was low enough to permit the raft to be manhandled along the right side of the rapid. As this is the spot where a river guide had been drowned several years before, I was quite happy to leave the manhandling to the guides and three of the other male passengers. I watched them get the first raft through and then I set off along the portage trail high above the river. On reaching the cliffs further along the river bank, I looked back upstream and was was rather surprised to see that all had not gone to plan with the second raft. It was stuck upside down in the water. After several more goes, the stranded group seemed to be signalling for help, so I went ahead to find the senior guide at the earlier raft. He didn't think there was much he could do about it, but he borrowed a kayak from a group of kayakers he had come across, and then paddled his way up the lower part of the rapid to shout some instructions. Soon after, another raft arrived and together they were able to flip the raft back upright and we were good to go again. The moral of the day's story is that even the experts can come undone on this river.
The Sanctum

Below the Cauldron, we paddled easily along the last quiet stretch known as Deliverance Reach. The mood seemed as subdued as the now increasingly grey skies overhead. We passed the Masterpiece Alcove and then after drifting past a tall, thin rock rib known as The Biscuit, the Great Ravine suddenly ended, as we entered the broad pool known as Rafters Basin. Our senior guide left us to set up camp and start dinner, as he left to have a chat with the other groups camped nearby. I suspect he also felt that he'd done quite enough to fix the misadventures of the day that had befallen the other guide! There are plenty of good sheltered campsites at Rafters Basin, so having safely completed the traverse of the Great Ravine, we settled in early for the night.

Day 6: Rafters Basin to Newland Cascades

The rain arrived during the night. Half of us passengers were bushwalkers, so we were happily snug and dry in our tents. The remainder of the group had chosen not to bring tents, and were instead sleeping under a large tarp, so they had a much less comfortable night. The rain continued in the morning but stopped just before we set off, so thankfully the remainder of the day was fine but heavily overcast.

After crossing the shallow rapid at the end of Rafters Basin, the valley walls quickly closed in again and there was noticeably more current now. We'd had a very late start, and didn't have far to go today, so we took our time drifting and slowly paddling down the valley, which was clad as always in beautiful forest, with the mist still covering the upper parts of the valley walls. On passing the Mt McCall haulageway, I reflected on what a debt we we owe to the Franklin campaigners, as the 2nd dam that had been planned for this site would have completely obliterated everything that had been such a treat for the eyes and my other senses during the last few days.

The river again was mainly flat water, with the occasional easy rapid, but then as we traversed Propsting Gorge we came to the more serious rapid of Ol' Three Tiers. The guides paddled the rafts alone through the rapid. This was because the water slams the rafts into a big rock on the right river bank; so it's definitely not a spot where you'd want your passengers to be thrown overboard. Further downstream, we pulled ashore at Ganymede's Pool to scout the The Trojans. Though this is a 2m drop, there were no unexpected snags or nasty stoppers, and the water level was safe enough for us to paddle over the sudden, clean drop. A bit more paddling through the winding gorge took us to the roar of the Pig Trough rapid. Two kayakers have been trapped and drowned here, so most of us hopped out and walked along the bank to nearby Rock Island Bend, while our guides and a few passengers lined the rafts along this short but very dangerous rapid.

Rock Island Bend is every bit as beautiful in real life, as it looks in the famous photo taken by Peter Dombrovskis. The photo was crucial in showing exactly why the Gordon below Franklin Dam had to be stopped, and what we all stood to lose forever if it went ahead. I could hardly believe that I was really standing there. We didn't stop long at Rock Island Bend because we were a day ahead of schedule and could return by foot the following day. Just after the river turned left past the famous Rock, was the start of the longer, multi-tiered Newland Cascades rapid. As us novices were now fairly competent on the paddles we shot the rapid without needing to stop and scout it, anticipating and quickly obeying the commands of our river guides. A final, larger drop and then we pulled ashore into Newland Cascades camp site. The overhanging sandstone cliffs were to be our home for the next 2 nights. We were a day ahead of schedule and had decided to spend a full rest day here, rather than the alternative option of splitting the remainder of the trip into three shorter sections, instead of the normal two.
Newland Cascades

Day 7: Rock Island Bend (revisited) ... 1sWDA0RXRR

Newland Cascades is a beautiful spot for a lay day, particularly if it is raining, as the overhang of the cliffs provides plenty of shelter and spots to hang out any wet gear to dry. The opposite bank of the river is mostly covered by rainforest and there is a beautiful, wisp like waterfall that trickles over the adjacent cliff of Shower Cliff Cavern. It is also a great opportunity to rerun the Newland Cascades if you wish.

Instead I spent most of my rest day back at Rock Island Bend, which can be reached by a foot track (though the track is exceptionally steep where it bypasses the Island). The morning was showery, but it was nice to admire the Pig Trough Falls, which fall attractively in two stages through the rainforest, before spilling across the sandstone shelf that provides that famous view of Rock Island Bend itself. I returned to the camp for lunch, then two of the other passengers joined me on a final visit to Rock Island Bend. The sun had come out and we sat there for a couple of hours, transfixed by the beauty of the place; the Rock boldly standing in defiance of the river, the swirling patterns of foam from the adjacent Pig Trough rapid sweeping past and around the bend, the forest standing proudly on the steep slopes, the sandstone cliffs rising upwards, the largely hidden waterfall as a gorgeous side dish. It was a real privilege to be able to see the place in so many different moods of weather.
Rock Island Bend

The guides and the rest of the passengers remained at Newland Cascades, some ran the rapid again, some went for a swim, several read their books, 3 indulged in a spot of rock climbing. Regardless of how it was spent, everyone agreed it was a great place to spend some extra time.

Day 8: The lower Franklin River

Day 8 was a glorious sunny day. Although we had a fair way to travel today, it was still late morning before we hit the water. A short paddle took us through the easy lower part of Newland Cascades and then suddenly the character of the landscape and the river totally changes. We've now left the quartzite and sandstone gorge country, and find ourselves traveling along a wide, largely flat valley. The river becomes much wider and slow moving as it gently meanders along through the mixed rainforest. Some low, grey limestone cliffs soon appeared and we popped ashore with torches to explore part of the narrow Proina Cave in search of cave spiders.

On returning to the rafts we found our guides had tied them together in single file. This helps decrease the drag, for apart from when we are going through rapids, the rafts will be tied together and we'll be paddling in alternating shifts of 15 minutes each per raft crew. At first I wondered about this, but after a few stints it became clear that it was a better arrangement, so that everyone aboard did their fair share of the paddling, after having a rest to enjoy the scenery slowly passing by. There was little current, making for a long afternoon of paddling, but the beauty of the forest and the intermittent stretches of limestone cliffs more than made up for the greater physical effort. As we reached Flat Island, the tall cliffs of the Elliot Range came into view, and the range would remain our companion as the Franklin River began its long, winding journey around it.

Eventually we reached Blackmans Bend for a very late lunch at a lovely campsite in a beautiful, mature forest that has some lovely, large myrtle trees. A short distance further downstream we pulled ashore again at Kuti Kina Cave. This cave was one of the major reasons the Franklin River was included in the World Heritage area, thanks to the discovery of numerous artifacts from human occupation in the last Ice Age. The mind finds it difficult to grasp just how long ago it really was that this place was the site of Aboriginal Ice Age camps. And of how different the weather and the vegetation and the landscape would have been back then.

Back into the rafts again, but it was only briefly, as just a short distance downstream we set up camp on a sandbank in the middle of the river, alongside a shingle rapid with a good end on view of the Elliot Range. It was a marvelous spot to spend our last night on the Franklin River and I awoke in the middle of the night for a spot of stargazing. One of our American passengers couldn't get over how Orion's Belt appeared upside down to him. Having never traveled north of the equator, it gave me cause to reflect on how surprising the night sky will no doubt look to myself, when one day I eventually travel to the opposite side of the world.

Day 9: The lower Franklin River to Sir John Falls

After some early valley fog, the rest of us awoke to another lovely sunny morning. After a late breakfast we disconnected the rafts, for only a short distance ahead was Double Fall, the low drops of about a metre each proving an easy enough obstacle. Back in tandem we paddled onward to Big Fall Beach, which is a sand bank opposite a curved line of limestone cliffs, making a good spot for a snack break. It was further to Big Fall from there than I expected, but we pulled ashore there and clambered onto the deeply potholed limestone bank for a close look at the fall. The single drop is only 1.5-2m tall, but I knew well that the stopper wave at the foot of the falls is deceptively powerful. On a previous sea kayaking trip up the Gordon and lower Franklin, I had seen it effortlessly flip and barrel roll a large commercial raft. We lined the rafts over the drop without incident and hopped aboard for the short paddle to the much taller cliffs of Galleon Bluff. Pengana Cave is found within the cliff, having been carved in part by a narrow stream which flows through the large main chamber. Further upstream the stream has carved a narrow chasm known as The Lost World, which was well worth exploring.
Galleon Bluff and the entrance to Pengana Cave

We spent a few hours here, then continued downstream and paused from paddling, to slowly drift past Verandah Cliffs. I was rather surprised the guides decided not to stop here, but no matter, as I was back in familiar territory and had previously spent several nights camped here. The Verandah Cliffs have a very special atmosphere.
Verandah Cliffs

The remainder of the Franklin River was flat water, with only a few gentle shingle rapids and eventually we reached Pyramid Island, where the Franklin River joins into the Gordon River. Although I knew full well just how much colder the waters of the Gordon River are, I reluctantly gave into peer group pressure, and took part in the allegedly traditional swim that marks the end of the traverse of the Franklin. Then for a bit of fun we all manned the paddles and tried to tow one of the teenage children along behind us, body surfing style.

We entered the Gordon Gorge and swept past the site of the outlawed Gordon below Franklin Dam, pausing to reflect on just how fortunate we were, that people power triumphed here instead of the vested interests that care for little other than the size of their wallets. It was getting late in the now very overcast afternoon, and we were getting weary from paddling the joined rafts, so it was a slow slog along the length of the deep, flat water of the otherwise beautiful gorge. Eventually we rounded a final gradual bend and pulled ashore at the jetty at Sir John Falls, which marked the end of our rafting journey. An hour or so later the yacht Stormbreaker appeared, which was to be our lift the following morning. The captain provided some bottles of champagne and we toasted to our guides and to the end of our wonderful rafting adventure.

Day 10: Return to Strahan and Hobart

It rained heavily overnight and we were woken shortly before dawn to break camp and climb aboard the Stormbreaker, where we had breakfast as the yacht slowly motored down the wide, deep, peaceful Gordon River. Unfortunately the rain and wind meant that the famous still reflections of the rainforest in the river were not to be ours today, but I've seen that many times before and the river remains beautiful and almost other worldly in bad weather anyhow. After breakfast I ended up falling asleep on a bunk as we neared the start of Macquarie Harbour. I only awoke as we pulled into the wharf at Strahan, where the guides played rock, paper, scissors to decide who would have to empty the heavy toilet (poo) bag into the rubbish skip. It was only on this last day that I was finally free of the flu.

Taking a commercial trip along the Franklin River is not a cheap experience. But it was worth every single bit of the $3,000 charged. In return I experienced 10 days of 360 degree beauty, learnt some new skills, met some nice people, and had the occasional adrenaline rush (though I still think most of the Franklin River is pretty tame so far as rapids go). The guides were entertaining and the food was great. You certainly won't lose any weight on a guided trip!!

It will take something pretty extraordinary to knock this journey off it's place atop my list of favourite adventures and I sincerely hope that many of you reading this, will someday get the chance to see it for yourself. Until then, I hope you enjoy the (many) photos in the links. After he completed his first trip down the Franklin River, Peter Dombrovskis said that the journey had exceeded all of his expectations and that the Franklin River had affected him more deeply than any other place he'd experienced in Tasmania. Now I totally understand why he felt that way, and I'm already looking forward to doing the trip again sometime in the future.
Last edited by farefam on Thu 30 Aug, 2018 11:43 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Franklin River trip report

Postby Graham17 » Thu 30 Aug, 2018 6:36 pm

Nice one great write up....
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Re: Franklin River trip report

Postby Lizzy » Thu 30 Aug, 2018 7:16 pm

Awesome! Thanks for the detailed report
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Re: Franklin River trip report

Postby Son of a Beach » Fri 31 Aug, 2018 9:11 am

Thanks for the trip report... there are some great photos there. But it's your first line that really grabbed my attention...

farefam wrote:Although I have had many marvelous adventures during the last 25 years, if I was pressed to state which was the most memorable, I would have to say that rafting the Franklin River comes out as number one.

...because this sentiment mirrors my feelings precisely.

What an amazing place, and such an unbeatable experience. I guess it's all downhill from here. ;-)
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Re: Franklin River trip report

Postby farefam » Fri 31 Aug, 2018 1:48 pm

Thanks Son of a Beach. I am so very grateful that the Franklin River runs wild and free for its own sake. Our ability to enjoy its delights and its challenges is a wonderful bonus. In contrast, it remains an ongoing tragedy that the ability to experience the original Lake Pedder was stolen from future generations. Here's a few more photos.
View from the bottom of Thunderush rapid, looking towards The Sanctum

Pig Trough Falls

Lower Franklin River near Kuti Kina Cave
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