Here is a rather detailed trip report for those who may be interested. If you would rather skip straight to some photos look here
My friend Russell and I left Hobart early on Tuesday February 16 for our put in point at the Collingwood Bridge. As we drove through Derwent Bridge/Lake St Claire area we were encouraged by the river level due to rainfall the day before, though less enthusiastic about the water temperature as the surrounding peaks were capped with a good amount of summer snow to around 800m.
We dropped off the gear at the Collingwood Bridge and I set up our packrafts while Russell drove to Queenstown to leave the car safely outside the Police station. He hitched a ride back with a bunch of rafters who had just finished their trip, who told us of very low water levels and lots of dragging boats over shallow sections.
We didnt have such problems however, with ideal level at the Collingwood of 1m. A commercial trip was just leaving as we arrived, intent of completing their trip, to Goulds Landing on the Gordon River, in 5 day’s (we later read their registration form and they made it in 4 days!). Apart from watching this crew leave, we did not see any one else on the river for the duration of our trip, with the exception of a couple of day walkers at the Irenabyss down from Frenchmans Cap.
Due to our late start on day one, and a cold unexpected swim on the Collingwood, we didnt make it to Junction camp that night. We camped the night in the rainforest on a bench above the river in the rain. The next day we aimed for Junction camp to dry out and eat some food to reduce our pack weight a little. And to be honest, we discussed whether to continue as it is an easy walk back to the Lyell Highway from this point, with the previous days swim still fresh in my mind.
But I had dreamed of this adventure for so long, and the water level was dropping and the Franklin River at Indaba Passage just so beautiful it wasnt too hard to commit to continue. And we could always walk out via Frenchmans Cap - having an escape route can be psychologically beneficial in the wilderness!
Shortly after were scouting and mostly running some larger rapids - Gordion Gate, Boulder Brace and the log jam. Late in the day we set up camp in the rain on a rock shelf at Nasty Notch and cooked up a spicy tofu curry.
The river level continued to drop and we had a late start before negotiating, portaging and lining the boats through Descension Gorge. The previous time I had rafted this section (1999) was in high water, and Descension Gorge was one long scary rapid that I swam about half of! This time, I did not recognise it and only figured out we had passed through when we entered the calm waters of the Irenabyss gorge.
Having plenty of time left in the day, we set up camp, took photos and cooked dinner on the rocks above the river. The following days rafting was possibly the most fun of all, passing through the middle Franklin, with memorable rapids including Hind leg slide, Duck shoot and Rafters race. We passed the river guage at Fincham’s Crossing, a level of 1.3m. We made it to Camp Arcade fairly late, a large camp in the rainforest used by commercial tour groups it seems. We found an old school handmade aluminium ducky paddle that must have been 10 foot long and very weighty. Needless to say we left it behind.
Sunday lived up to its name with bright blue sky and warm temperature, great conditions to be entering the imposing Great Ravine and taking in the view of Frenchmans Cap. We lunched in the sun after completing the first major portage, The Churn. Then successfully negotiated the Corruscades via a combo of portaging, paddling and lining the boats through rapids.
My old Wilderness Guides notes showed a camp site just after Livingston Cut (which carries water from the lakes surrounding Frenchmans Cap to the Franklin), called Canticle Camp. We eventually found just enough room for a tent on a patch of wet sand next to a large rock, while Russell was content to sleep on the rocks, where we cooked dinner and watched the stars.
The next big obstacle, as anyone who has been down the Franklin would well remember, is Thunderush. We scouted the river left portage option, which would require paddling some pretty scary rapids at the end. I preferred to do the high portage on the river right, but didn’t know that the old walkways and ladders had been removed, effectively leaving this old route unused and the track very difficult to locate, even more so at a recent landslip zone. Thankfully there is still some ropes in the old pegs in the rocks which helps the occasional group through, though this portage is still difficult and dangerous.
After two loads and some pack hauling we were back at the River’s edge, reinflating and packing the rafts. A short paddle through the tranquil beauty of the Sanctum before thr next major portage of the Cauldron. It was getting late so we carried empty inflated rafts to the end that evening returning to camp the night, and carry fully loaded packs over in the morning.
With the major rapids of the Great Ravine behind us, we sailed past Rafters Basin, the Mt McCall road and through Propsting Gorge. Neccessary portages here are Old Three Tiers and the Pig Trough. We stopped fairly late to take the obligatory photos of Rock Island Bend, the low light made for some lovely long exposures. A brief flurry of warm wind seemed to herald a front moving through and in minutes it was raining making for some very slippery rocks and a quick departure to promised dry shelter below Newlands Cascades.
We decided not to tackle the rapids that evening so carried our gear down to the rock shelter where we slept the night. I wondered about the first Tasmanians sheltering here many many, thousands of years ago. Returning to our rafts in the morning we paddled the Cascades, repacked and entered the limestone country of the Lower Franklin.
Steady rain meant the river was rising again which made for blissful and quite speedy paddling on these calmer reaches. Lower temperatures meant we had to break out our dry fleecys and raincoats and keep paddling just to stay warm. We shot Little Fall, portaged Big Fall and pulled in to camp on the beach opposite Verandah Cliffs.
Next morning was still but showery as we headed into the Gordon River. We stopped for a break at Goulds Landing/ Sir Johns Falls when the wind picked up significantly, big problem for us as it was blowing the wrong way!
We battled the headwind for the rest of the day paddling nearly 20km in the vain hope of reaching the tour boat destination, Heritage Landing. Thoroughly exhausted, we found some semi flat ground to camp in the Myrtle forest late in the evening destined to be our 10th, and last night, on the river.
A couple of hours paddling, into squally winds, the following morning saw us at Heritage Landing where we managed to dry some gear out before jumping on the tour boat and cruising to Strahan.
We both paddled kokopelli packrafts, the renegade without a spray skirt (otherwise known as the hornet). I found these rafts to be tough (no punctures) and very stable, especially with some gear in the bow to lower the centre of gravity. We had perfect water levels for packrafting, so lucky as Tasmania has been very dry all summer.
This was such a fantastic trip but not one to be undertaken lightly. Beautiful photos and exciting trip reports are one thing, but undertaking an adventure like this is risky and all the preparation cannot eliminate risk entirely. Take care on the water people.