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The Franklin River - THE SUPERFRONT

TUWWRC descent of the Franklin River, November 30 - December 8 2002. Leader - Mark Downie Second guide / Nut in the inflatable - David Schaller the action-man from Shallalala-land. Others - James Anderson Pete Middleton Jenny Calder (non-human) Madonna Reginald Cecil Sausageboy Eduardo

Day 1 - Collingwood Bridge to Junction Camp.


After doing most of the packing and organising the night before, we woke up at 4am to meet at the shed at 5. The cars were loaded, and nothing was forgotten, except for some notable food items, such as lunch biscuits and/or bread for all but 3 meagre days. All blame goes to Pete, James and Dave coz Jen and Mark wrote the shopping list. A long and sleepy drive in the early hours of the morning followed, punctuated by a 7am dump and icecream stop at Ooze. After offloading at the Collingwood, the 2 most attractive and un-scary-looking people on the trip, Jen and Pete headed off the Strahan in the cars to attempt a hitching shuffle. It failed, coz no-one but locals drove past for 45 minutes and the servo guy told us to piss off up the road. So we gave up and drove back; met the impatient cowboys; had a gawk at the world-ex group (no Angus??); got into our rubber-suits and launched our river-craft,Wild Thing and the inflatable, into the current. Before we had time for second thoughts, we were being sucked down the slightly-rocky Collingwood to join the Franklin River.


The last beams of sunlight were bathing Junction Camp when we arrived, so we had a swim and a beer in the deep, tranquil pool of the upper Franklin and set up camp. That night we cooked sausages. There were a lot of sausages. In fact, there were so many sausages we could have had a festival.


Day 2- Junction Camp to Irenabyss


Today we joined the Franklin proper and continued to be sucked downstream towards the sea. Today, like the day before, we ran into a lot of rocks and spent a lot of time getting our weight out of the boat to push it over rocky rapids. And, in Jen's case, being left stranded on rocks multiple times when after the boat finally got moving. She tried the rapids on her arse which looked more painful than it was, but luckily Schallalalala the action man in the kayak was kind enough to operate a ferrying service for the strandee. The day involved two major incidents. One was a nice pin in Descension Gorge, in the second last rapid before Irenabyss. We were looking forward to getting to camp early before the boat got wedged. Before we knew it, she was half under the river, and wasn't going to budge. A few hours of trying various systems, with dodgy-near-popping D-rings followed, before the skilful slayer and the artful action man finally dislodged it with jubilation from the other bank. Shortly downstream the second major incident of the day occurred. In a tragic sequence of events, the trip-sausage was flung between boats in order to get a sausage-action photo. The throw was out, the catcher was unaware, the sausage landed in the water and sunk quicker than was expected. A desperate few minutes were spent peering anxiously into the dark depths of the chasmous water looking for signs of the sausage, and hoping it's chubby-fat-laden nature would see it bobbing to the surface. When minutes had passed and there were no signs of the sausage, Mark heroically leapt from the boat in desperation and duck dived for the sausage. Sadly, all of these efforts of retrieval did not succeed. The trip-sausage was lost. Forever shall that spot be marked on our memories. Sadly, our party proceeded to camp, which was a nice spot on the other side of the Bottomless Chasm of Peace. We cooked up a tasty Mexican meat and bean dish in the dark, (which was minor consolation for the loss of the sausage).


Day 3 - Irenabyss - 'Sandy beach'


And while we were sleeping the dark world spun around and emerged into another brilliant, deceptively calm and beautifully warm day. The constant and silent tug of ever-flowing water drew us out of the Abyss of Peace, taking us to the next place, of slightly lower altitude. This day the Franklin took us through a geologist's fantasyland: an ever changing gallery of exquisite and timeless river-carved rock formations: perfectly-polished quartzite, rounded river-potholes and grotesque-gargoyle-shaped boulders, suspended above the gently-lapping waterline. The sunlight reflected the constant movement of the water onto the surrounding river-walls, displaying mesmerising, dapples of ever-changing light patterns. Upstream the river glistened with a million diamonds of sunlight. We marvelled at the honey-golden hue of the water, and the momentary perfect liquid-clarity found in the deceptively smooth rapid-tongues which pulled into the churning white-water. The valley slopes were crowded with plants: wild white irises dotted the cliffy outcrops, and "young" Huon Pine trees continued to grow slowly and straggly, their fronds springy and brilliantly green, their weathered roots wedged solidly within cracks in the rocky-riverside. It was a long and tiring day of paddling. There were no incidents until David cooked the curry. Some people tried to be tough and even pretend they enjoyed it through all the tears, sweat and runny noses. The truth was it would have passed the point of inedibility with a quarter the amount of curry paste. We put it in the groover, wondering why no one had invented an anti-hot powder, or not-so-keen paste, and hoping some chance of fate would not see us stranded on the river with that curry as our last remaining food source. The main topic of conversation had long since gone to the products of our rear-ends. (Rafters are so predictable).

Day 4 - "Sandy beach" - Coruscades


The world-ex group floated past brightly at some ungodly hour of the morning, with us in various stages of undress, still trying to scrape burnt curry out of the pot, and the groover sitting exposed upstream (no one on it unfortunately). They cheerfully announced their intentions to go right through to rafter's basin that day, so we would not have to share Coruscades camp. Man, we thought, they must have had a weather update on the SUPERFRONT on their satellite phone, and it must be big and coming soon! This was the last and final day of the fine and sunny weather. The towering walls of the ravine began to rise up around us.


The sun-lit Churn roared down over a series of waterfalls, twists, turns and shoots around the bouldery riverbed. We scanned the river and pointed out where we didn't want to go. The mega-wrap on the rock we didn't want to wrap on, happened suddenly whilst trying to line/paddle the first drop. The boat was swamped, warped, bent, wrapped, almost totally submerged, with the entire power of the upper-Churn crashing down upon it, and us perched on various surrounding river rocks, wondering where the quickest walkout would be. But, the weather was lovely, Schaller was bounding around on boulders in action-man heaven, and we had time to stuff around and hope that some of the possible solutions emerging in Donwtime's brain would work. The release was surprisingly simple. It involved attaching a lot of ropes to the gear frame and chopping off the cam-straps. After this, the wildthing re-configured itself and popped out of the rapid on its own. Madonna, our food barrell, thought it would be a good idea to swim the Churn, so she wriggled free of the gear frame and roared off down the rapid. She had to be fished out of a boulder-sieve downstream, but it saved us carting the fat lardarse round the portage trail. Remarkably, she was only barrel that stayed dry after the ordeal.


It was still a beautifully sunny day downstream, so some back-flipping, boulder-leaping, seal launching, rapid-swimming antics occurred in the lower Churn. A little down-stream the sky cracked open, thunder rumbled across the sky and big, obese raindrops started thudding down on the river. "The SUPERFRONT!", we called out jubilantly. But the sun came out again and it was not to be. That night we made bread for lunches, tomato-sauce and pasta, refried soggy pasta and re-fried semolina (much to the delight of the anti-semolinites in the party - James and Pete). A cool wind circled around the camp that night, heralding the coming of the SUPERFRONT.


Day 5 - Coruscades - Rafters Basin


The pre-SUPERFRONTal front drizzled on us the entire day through the Great Ravine. The supposably mega-hard-yakka day was smooth-running, pretty-much incident free and actually not so hard. It involved a lot of barrel lifting, gear-chains, unpacking and repacking the boats, slipping round on big boulders and destroying the bums of our shorts. We managed all low-portages of Coruscades, Thunderush and the Cauldron, bucket-lunched on the wild-thing rock and got to camp earlier than we ever had before. Departing the Ravine, a purl of thunder rumbled over the sky again. Looking up, we saw huge, ominous clouds peering heavily over the edges of the valley-walls. The SUPERFRONT was upon us. Dinner, huddled under the dripping and puddling tarp involved some brown muck passing as a stirfry and some custard, chocolate, scotch slop passing us dessert. The SUPERFRONT brought a cold change with it, so we got into our sleeping bags to sleep before dark.


Day 6 - The SUPERFRONT. Rafters Basin - Newlands Cascades


The River had Risen almost a metre and the all-encompassing SUPERFRONT continued to dump its cold, wet load of hail, rain wind on the entire Franklin catchment. The only choice was to go on or risk getting stranded at the sodden Rafter's Basin campsite. Today involved some 'real' white water rafting, us and our craft suddenly feeling very small against the current of the swollen Franklin River. Whilst hailstones bounced off our helmets and the river continued to rise, we rode on the crest of giant wave trains, sometimes becoming momentarily airborne; got sucked down into and paddled through monster stoppers; swung violently around in eddy lines powerful enough to flip a raft; had to shout to hear each other through the weather and water; were awestruck at the surging, overflowing waterfalls, discharging from the valley walls; and clung to yielding river-tea-trees while Mark and Dave scouted the usually benign rapids. A couple of rapids were unshootable due to gigantic boat-munching stoppers, but nothing prepared us for the size and fury of the Pig's Trough. This was the biggest rapid I have ever seen in my life and I could have sat and watched it eating water all day. The V consisted of a gigantic accelerating vacuum of clear water which sucked down with constant power and churned back up in immense froths, boils and churns of roaring white which continued downstream as far as we could see. David must have been in Shalala land when he forgot to tie up the kayak. During our high portage, while the river continued to rise, he suddenly rushed back to the tie-up point mumbling something about the inflatable. Much to our alarm, he then rushed back, mumbling something else about the inflatable. The kayak, with our tarp, first aid kit, and various other bits of equipment had been sucked in by the Pig and was nowhere to be seen. The rain blew through the valley and the river rose continuously while we bucket-lunched in a cramped, but sheltered cave, thinking about the possibility of having to spend the night there. We planned on sat-phoning the Stormbreaker to ask them to look out for the kayak, lodged up in some tree on the lower Gordon.


There was a high possibility that we would not have the strength the break out of the eddy after the portage trail, into the current. There was also a high possibility that if we did break out of the eddy, we would be immediately flipped on a big cushion of water, pillowing against the cliff, and then swim Newlands and beyond, which was by now a big grade 5 continuous rapid with no eddies, and consisted of some very nasty looking frowny holes. While contemplating this, misty figures from the commercial group appeared on top of Rock Island Bend and made kayak-paddling gestures and 'are you ok?' signals. In a show of heroism, strength and stupidity, their second-guide Matt had stripped off, swum across Newlands and had retrieved the kayak which had pulled up momentarily in a small eddy. He then came upstream to check out our predicament for some entertainment and to negotiate a deal for getting the kayak back. (One carton of beer, pale ale ok).


So Downtime and the Actionman took their fishing kits and the 50m rope, climbed up onto the cliff, river-right of Rock Island and started setting up some sort of mega-system for a double-high, SUPERFRONT-level boat haul. Whistles signals were blowing, the river was rising, they system's pulleys and prussics became jammed, the boat, with its front end pulled out of the water was bucking violently on the high water. Paddles and gear was dislodging and hours were passing. The only time I was truly scared on the entire river was when we witnessed Dave free climbing half way down the cliff to free a rope from around a tree. I couldn't watch.


James, Pete and Jen portaged drybags over the non-existent, super-high, steep, rainforest portage trail. It was one of the best feeling of achievement on the trip when Downtime set up a cinch line on the rope, which finally succeeded in pulling the boat into the calmer water on the right side of Rock Island. By this time it was coming on to 7 or 8 o'clock, so we left the boat there for the night and carted the drybags and barrels the rest of the way to the lovely, dry, Newlands overhang. Wet, bedraggled, covered in mud from the rainforest portage, and on a high, we were greeted with cups of tea by the commerical group, who had been reading books in their dry sleeping bags all day. Dinner that night was tuna mornay, in which we mistook semolina for milk powder. It was excellent.


Day 7 - sitting on our bums, frying, eating, frying, eating, frying, eating, eating, vegetable shopping, drip-catching, river-watching and sleeping at Newlands Cascades.


Oh yeah, we went and got our boat from Rock Island Bend too. And Schaller started to produce some toxic smells and had to undergo enforced isolation.


Day 8 - Newlands Cascades to Sir John Falls


The river had dropped enough to raft, and after some early-morning turd swapping with world-ex we raced to get going first, due to some half-crazed notion that they would drink our beer if they arrived at Sir John's first. They won, of course, and we spent the rest of the day planning how we would use their own turds and our curry for revenge if they had drunk our beer. There were a few large scale wicked wave trains and rapids, and a lot of flat paddling through the flooded lower Franklin. We pulled into about 10 potential tracks before we found the one to Kuta Kina cave, the most southerly recorded site of human occupation in the world during the last ice age, which ended 12 000 years ago. It is a pretty massive and significant cave and well worth a look.


We shot little fall, double fall, and oh yeah, big fall, on purpose. It was awesome. Only Jen couldn't resist the temptation to swim the last of the Franklin, in absolutely bloody freezing water. It gave her the motivation to paddle really really hard for all the rest of the way, and then jump in again when we got to the jetty.


Somehow on the way, we'd managed to convince some fruitcake that we had to portage Sir John's Falls, which was some sort of super-rapid on the Gordon. So when we got there he picked up a load of gear and set off down the track grumbling to himself about what a bastard of a portage it would be..... Dinner was dahl, which we had knowing it couldn't possibly do any worse than the bucket lunches did to the Schaller toxicity levels.


Day 9 - Relaxing in the hot tub on the Stormbreaker's deck back to Strahan, eating whatever Christine could throw at us, car shuffling and then driving back Hobart.


So, we'd rafted the wild Franklin river in 8 days and made it through, with minimal loss of gear - just some paddles and the sausage. We'd floated through perfect weather in the first few days, and then greeted the coming of the very wet, very awesome SUPERFRONT. The Schaller count (everytime Dave fell in the water, not counting the purposeful times) was 20 in 6 days. The trip was brilliant, and I saw things down the Franklin I could never have imagined existed in Tasmania. It's an truly amazing place and I'd go again tomorrow if I could. Thanks to Downtime for leading the trip and Schaller for being the second guide/nut in the kayak and an actionman. And to Jen, Pete and James, Madonna, Cecil, Eduardo, Reginald and Sausageboy for coming along. Thanks also to Bob and the others for kicking up a fuss when they wanted to turn it into a lake.


- Jenny Calder

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