Andrew River Packrafting!
Date: Friday, 20 May 2022
River: Andrew River.
Water level: About 45 cumecs on the Franklin. Had 140mm of rain fall in Collingwood catchment but we let most of this drain away before we paddled.
The Andrew River was a truly unique and wild experience. Wild in the sense that you are paddling something rarely seen, not so much in the sense of the grade 1 rapids.
This trip is hard to get the levels right on. Too low and you will have to carry the boat the entire length of the river, too high and you will drown under a strainer or have a very very exciting paddle/swim down the Franklin. As such this trip was meant to happen but had been cancelled due to high water. This time around we had recived a huge dump of rain to raise all the levels and we started paddling while it was all dropping (see below) so hopes were high for a good trip. With that in mind, Ben, Justin, Luke, Rhys and myself drove out to the Kelly Basin walk picnic area to camp out Friday night.
Here we are starting at the Crotty River Bridge!
The trip started at the Crotty River Bridge due to it being slightly larger than the Andrew River. Apparently, there is a track down the left hand side but given that we couldn't see it, we opted to simply float and bush bash down the middle of the river. About 10 minutes in Ben had already managed to crack a paddle during a portage. Not a smooth start to the trip. Thankfully Ben was prepared with lots of duct tape! While it had been planned for, the numerous log jams sure were demoralising. We swam futher than we paddled. About 2/3 of the way down we came across a waterfall which was not mentioned in any description I read.
Thankfully this was an easy portage on river right. 2.5 km after starting we finally finished reached the confluence with the Andrew River which Justin summed up with “Is that it?” Sadly, for us I didn’t expect the river to improve for the next 6 kilometres.
That afternoon we passed the confluence of the Wright which I had hoped would improve the river but alas, we still were getting held up by log jams. Ideally, I had hoped to reach the Looker River on the first day which we were nowhere close to that afternoon. The backup plan was to paddle approximately 10km on the first day and that exactly what we did until we found Beach Camp. We reached this spot around 15:30 in the afternoon. Upon first inspection no one was very thrilled about camping here but given that no one had felt their toes since breakfast, we were also not keen to push on. I made the call to stop before we ended up in a bad situation and with a little landscaping it was quickly looking more homely.
It was quite entertaining when Rhys asked when we would get phone reception again but one InReach message later his boss knew he would be having too much fun to showup Monday ;) We enjoyed many a “Vodka Orange” as Luke called them. Turns our cordial concentrate was a great mixer!
The next morning we made another early start. The aim today was to reach Rafters Basin. The height stick indicated that the river had dropped 5cm overnight so we were not feeling confident. While progress was much better and we could nearly maintain 3km/h it was still a slog. Again we all ended up with some very cold feel from numerous portages despite the drysuits. As we paddled past all the other sites where the contour lines relaxed I was glad I called it early last night as we would have really struggled to find anywhere to sleep 5 people before dark. We passed the Looker river just before lunchtime. It was equally as dissapointing as all the other rivers. Still not very good camping to be found. Did I mention that Luke found a cave :o Thankfully we were nearly at the Franklin. Towards the end of the Andrew there is a significant constriction promising some fun paddling. Despite the strainers taking up all the nice lines there were still a couple grade 2's that were more fun then dragging a boat over logs.
Now we were greated by the fast flowing Franklin as we paddled out of the narrow slot in the cliff face. Turly a sight to see! As a very unsual twist to a paddling trip, we now had to turn left and paddle/portage past three rapids to reach Rafters Basin to camp. Sadly during the first ferry glide I realised a little too late that my boat was rather bow heavy and then rolled. Thankfully keeping with my gear and making a quick recovery. Upon completing the seccond attempt more sucessfully, Luke threw me a throw bag to make up for how little helped with my swim, thanks Luke ;) We desided to camp at Interlude Creek as that is as far as our frozen feet would take us after paddling 20 km. We had another stunningly clear night with Luke's spag bowl for tea. I even remembered to get out desert tonight.
Under a million stars we lay, to await our final day; Down the Franklin we shall run, to find our inevitable fun.
The third and final morning saw us rise to a misty Franklin before sunrise as we did every morning; gotta love winter. With the final round of porrige consumed we donned the wet paddling gear and set off. The Franklin was 20 Cumecs when we paddled down it and all the rapids were clean, strightfoward and FUN! Only one rapid required inspection as it had a bit of a drop with a large kicker in the middle. A quick inspection later I was back in the boat and paddling at it center left. In hindsight, I was feeling very confident considering I had been "paddling" grade 1 for two days straight. This was a very smooth line and it saw us all run the rapid without so much as a tippy boat. After this there were another couple of rapids before the Mt McCall track. At this level I would place the rapids grade 2, easy 3 and you could take some novice paddlers as long as you have a couple of better ones to help chase gear. It took us 45 minutes to get from Rafters Basin to the track.
I could tell we had reached the track when I saw an imposing cliff with a sign up and nearly out of sight. If you see it and think "that can't possibly be the track" then you have stopped at the right place. Thankfully a short walk up the creek on the right of the track leads you to about 1.5 boats worth of flat area. From here most of us opted to roll boats and put on some hiking cloths. Because Ben is a bit deranged he chose to roll the boat, chuck it on the shoulder and walk up in drysuite and all :O For anyone who has walked into the Denison River, the wooden steps and good head room make this walkout quite enjoyable. We were able to get it done in about 90 minutes with some help from Ben coming back to take Justins heavy pack.
Sadly due to road works (classic tassie) on the track our RoamWild shuttle wasn't able to pick us up until 15:30. Any disappointments about this delay were quickly abated when the driver pulled out beer, a commodity that we had soorly missed since we drank all ours the night before. Views of the backside of Frenchmans Cap and some cards kept us entertained for the afternoon. It wasn't long before we drove past the famous "No Dams" sign and were back at the cars where we had started three days prior. I had a fantastic group of fellas and despite the slog for the first two days I think they might nearly be silly enough to follow me into the wilderness for the next epic...
From the left: Rhys Evans, Luke Dimsey, Ben Lack, Justin Resta, Joshua Resta
I have been wanting to do this trip for two years, before I even had a packraft. If you are prepared to fight your way down the Crotty and Andrew then this is a fantastic trip through stunning wilderness. Although bewarned, the Franklin is bound to flood quickly if you have had enough rain to get down the Andrew and it will be quite the shock to the system after dragging boats down grade 1 for two days.
If you are planning this trip then I would recommend a large dump of rain (30-60mm) before the trip with no more forcast. Then time the trip so that the Franklin will drop to about 25 Cumecs by the time you reach it. If you are feeling confident then I am sure the Franklin can be packrafted at higher levels, just watch out for big holes, dificult to cross/boily eddy lines and whirlpools!
WikiRiver says camping is plentiful but I did not find this to be true for my group of 5. The trees are fairly dense and flat ground seems to be dominated by ferns. Good camping was found ~10km at Beach Camp. This was the only good bankside camping we found (the rest was on boulders or you would have to go searching the bank for a good clearing).
I would recommend aiming to do this trip in 3 days with an early pickup so you can get home at a reasonable hour or two days with a rather late pickup. Either way you should plan to paddle ~10 km the first day with frequent log jams and ~20 km on the second to reach the Franklin. Once at the Franklin it is ~45 minutes to either portage/paddle upto Rafters Basin or the same amount of time to paddle down to the Mt McCall track. Please note that there would only just be enough room to fit a one man tent at the base of the Mt McCall track so you should plan to walkout on the same day or camp at Rafters Basin.
The levels we had for our trip. Use this chart so you can model how fast the Franklin drops. I reckon a touch more water would have been ideal for our trip (i.e. would have started 20 May if I could have)
The first waypoint is Beach Camp. The second and third are crappy but open spots of bolders. These sites would all washout at high levels but you shouldn't be paddling at those levels due to strainers.