Franklin River Trip Report (Climbing OT)


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Hobart, Australia
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 23, 2008 - 03:48am PT
December 13-21, 2008
report by John Middendorf

Thursday we shopped.  Matt had compiled a shopping list, but when we got to the market, he announced that he had left the list at home, so we winged it. When we had filled two carts full of food, we exited the aisles. Except for the extra half-barrel of oats on Day 7, it was precision packing. We ate well.
Saturday, Day One: we drove up to the put-in, inflated our rubber boats, and set off down the Collingwood River.  There was a lot of shoving the boats off rocks and some pretty steep drops. We camped at the confluence of the Collingwood and Franklin rivers. The guidebook cautions words to the effect: "If you think this section of the river is tricky, then you should consider hiking out at the confluence." I thought it was tricky.
Matt and I were sharing a 10-foot raft, loaded with a fair bit of gear, including his camera and video equipment.  We sat on either side of the middle of the boat with a paddle. Matt was formerly a champion C-1 kayaker who has competed all over the world, so his only concern was to get the left side of the boat, his normal paddling side. The others were riding in a 14-foot paddle raft captained by Marcus.
At camp that first night, we got to know each other. Marcus explained the considerations particular to the Franklin RIver, and told us a little of what we to expect for the next 9 days.  It all sounded pretty straightforward.
The second day, we began our journey on the Franklin proper, and continued down some frightening whitewater, including a few portages where we had to haul our fully loaded boat over logs in the middle of fierce rapids.
“Don’t slip, and hold on to the boat if you do,” Marcus would remind us, as often we were out in the raging current, jumping around on submerged rocks as we inched the boats over rocks and trees.
Soon we started to see the fabled Huon Pine, and Matt told me stories of Tasmanian history, how “piners” would make their way down the river, construct a boat from the coveted boat-building material Huon Pine (it never rots), then cull trees, sending them downstream with their initials branded on the logs, to be collected at the river’s outlet in Macquarie Bay.
Matt is a great story teller, and besides being a great paddler, it was non-stop entertainment with stories of his adventures and Tasmanian history.
It was great fun paddling with Matt.  He’d generally say, “hmm, what have we here?” as we were heading committed by the current into each rapid.  Sometimes in the middle of a rapid he’d tell me that we needed to be on the other side of the river, and by and by we became an ‘in-sync’ paddling team.
The rafting was already more intense than any whitewater I’d been on.  My five years of river guiding on the Grand Canyon provided little preparation for the wild Franklin.  Strainers and log-jams seemed to loom everywhere, and tales of paddlers who had gotten stuck and drowned, with only a hand sticking out of the water, were told.
The next day we negotiated more rapids and had our first proper portage at Nasty Notch, well named.  Soon after we arrived at the Irenabyss, a narrow gorge of calm water which ends in a beautiful open pool, where we camped on the shores above.
Camp was a small area which required climbing up a steep trail to tiny openings in the forest, where rafters had progressively flattened formerly sloping ground.  We set up tarps as it was often raining, but here we were treated with a long afternoon of sunshine, and we climbed up on the cliffs above the Irenabyss and basked in the sun. This was looking to be a fun trip.
The next day was similar to the day before, in terms of river difficulty, but with the intensity volume up a notch.  We paddled a series of technical drops, and toward the end of the day entered the Great Ravine.  The last rapid of the day was called the Churn, and required a very technical portage, which required a few hours.  It was clear that at any moment a slip  would have resulted in getting churned like butter by the rapid.  I found it terrifying, but with Marcus’s calm and clear guiding, we made it through. At one point, where we dropped the boat back into the water after having carried it over a long stretch of rocks, the boat twisted and began to flip.  I held a flip line holding a side of the boat up, while Marcus fearlessly jumped in to high-side. The boat flipped anyway, but by the time I peered over the edge to see what had happened, Marcus had righted the boat.
We ran the last part of the rapid.  It was quite exciting to jump into a boat in the middle of a wild rapid, then get slammed by the waves at the lower end. We camped above the Coruscades, a crazy looking rapid which is normally portaged, but as it had been raining significantly the water was up, it was looking like we might be able to run it.
At this point in the trip the medium-high water level we were experiencing was considered a “good level”, but the Franklin is prone to floods which can make the rapids unrunnable in the gorge, and tales of trips waiting for days for the river level to recede were common.
The next morning matt came walking briskly through camp saying, “River’s up, River’s up.” Indeed, a large rock at the entrance to the rapid that had been exposed the night before was now underwater.  Marcus got us going early that morning, as getting through the gorge before it flooded was a priority.
Marcus and I ran the Coruscades in the 10’ raft, while Matt filmed.  I almost fell out of the boat, teetering on the edge of the tube for some moments after getting hit hard by the first drop, but Marcus pulled me back in.  Good thing, it would have been a nasty swim over multiple steep drops, each with massive amounts of pounding, recirculating water at the base of each one.
We ran and portaged a few other intense rapids that morning, then we arrived at the longest portage of the trip, at Thunderrush.  It took us a few hours to heave our boats out of the river and over rocks on the river-left side.  We had to take most of the gear off the boat, and hauling barrels and bags over the rocks was hard work.  Again we ran the tail end of the rapid, a twisting drop  over a waterfall and a bang into a cliff, paddling wildly not to get wrapped on a rock at the end.
The chaos was broken by a brief spell at the Sanctum, another well-named feature of the Franklin.
Soon we came to the Cauldron.  If I had known what we were about to do, I would have never accepted Paul’s invitation to join the trip.  Below us was the most intense piece of whitewater I had ever seen.  We had to ferry in the current directly above the rapid into a tiny eddy on river-right.  People have been known to bounce out of the eddy with one misplaced stroke of the paddle, only to get swept down into the Cauldron, with dire consequences.
We made the eddy, then Matt and I tried to haul our boat onto a large sloping rock pretty much in the middle of the rapid.  The only way out now was down.  When we pulled out boat up, the back of the boat got pinned a vertical position by some strong water running under the sloping rock, and almost got sucked into a sieve.
We tied the boat off and waited for Marcus’ boat to come over and many hands managed to pull our pinned boat out of the water--just!
Any slip here on either side of the sloping boulder was looking fatal.  The famous story “Death of a River Guide” is centered here, and all the water around the sloping rock flowed immediately and powerfully into a downstream sieve, which would wedge a person in an instant.
We took the top deck of gear off Marcus’ boat (barrels, bags), and carefully ferried it onto the rock.  Then we dropped his boat into the raging water below the rock, where it immediately began to flip.  Not for the first time that day, Marcus jumped into the fray and high-sided the boat.  All that was holding it in place was a few rotten slings around a boulder.
The boat was quickly loaded, everybody jumped in, then Marcus cut the rope with a knife and they shot off into the lower end of the Cauldron, a class IV section.
Matt then looked at me and said, “I’ve never done this before, what do we do?”  To repeat Marcus’s scenario seemed insane.  If his big boat was almost getting flipped, then our little boat was sure to get trashed.
Luckily, Matt did know what to do, it was the only thing to do, the same as Marcus.  We anchored the boat to the slings, then dropped it into the flying waters below the sloping boulder.
So far so good--the boat bounced and surfed on top of the waves.  “Jump in!” Matt told me, and I gingerly down climbed into the boat below, but as soon as I put some weight on it, the boat submerged two feet under the raging waters, and began thrashing uncontrollably.
I jumped back for the sloping rock, clinging to the edge with my fingertips.  Matt helped me up the point where I had my waist on the overhang, my legs kicking below.  It was quite a show, apparently, for the lads below, now safely in an eddy.
But as soon as I got myself back on the sloping rock, Matt told me that we’d both need to jump back in.  There was no other place to go.  Jumping into the river without a boat meant confronting the sieve directly downstream, so I resigned myself that a sunk boat must be better than no boat at all, and jumped back in, grabbing anything I could get ahold of (by now, the bags were getting de-rigged and starting to get torn from the boat as it thrashed underwater).
Matt jumped in immediately after, cutting the rope anchoring us as he fell into the boat. We shot into the current and right into the big drop.
We both though we had made it, but then, right after the big drop, the boat flipped and we were in the water.  Even though we were still raging down a class IV rapid, bouncing off rocks and dropping into pourovers, Matt looked at me as we both clung to the upturned raft and said with a smile, “Hey man, I think we nailed it!”
The boat got stuck on a rock, and the current started to push me under it, so I pushed it away, then dove headfirst over the next pour-over, terrified of getting pinned. Soon after Trevor pulled me into Marcus’ raft, while Marcus jumped in to help Matt and collect our boat.  I paddle captained Marcus’s raft through the trailing end of the rapid and into an eddy, and soon the chaotic moment was over.
We all laughed and cheered over the day at our camp in Rafter’s Basin.  Wild Thing! Whew!
The next day, Day Six, we encountered the last of the major difficulties of the Franklin.  We lined the boats down Three Tiers, then ran a few rapids before we came to the Pig Trough, where Matt and Marcus ferried across and lined the boats down, then dropped them into the wild twisting corkscrew at the bottom of the rapid.
We had lunch at Rock Island bend, a scenic spot with a beautiful waterfall that we hiked up to.  The downstream view was made famous by a poster in the early 80’s, during the Franklin River dam protests.
After a  bit we maneuvered down Newlands Cascades, a class III/IV rapid.  It was the most fun rapid of the river, mostly because it lack the dire consequences of many of the others, yet still wild and technical.
We saw another group, then camped on river right in the rain.  I showed the group the “flame-thrower”, a neat effect using a candle, some white gas, and the air pump.
The following days were blissfully uneventful, mostly flatwater with a camp at Blackmen’s Bend. Getting to paddle captain the boat on the last day was a real treat, to reflect upon our wild adventure with a great group of folks. It was great to finally be in the same boat with Paul, whose inspiration of the trip started it all, and who had been a real contributor to our team’s passage down the Franklin River.
We saw quite a bit of wildlife on the trip: A Tasmanian Devil, quite a few Sea Eagles, a pair of soaring Wedge-tailed eagles, the apparently rare and beautiful Kingfisher.
Every night was a barrel of laughs with Trevor, Dougie, John, Paul, our Guide Marcus, and our Guide’s Guide Matt. Too bad I didn’t keep better notes on the numerous notable quotes of the trip. The last night Marcus made an optimistic bet with the group that we would see no more rain.  When it rained the next morning, Matt made the remark, “You’d think after 50 trips he’d work out that it rains every day!”

Paul Pritchard, Guido Marcus (Sparky), Matt Newton (Packer), John, Trevor, Dougie

Trad climber
one of god's mountain temples....
Dec 23, 2008 - 04:45am PT
great TR, thanks for the share!

Captain...or Skully

Trad climber
North of the Owyhees
Dec 23, 2008 - 07:46am PT
Good stuff, Deucey!

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Dec 23, 2008 - 10:55am PT
Well done Deucey!!

It's always good to read about one of us "old dogs" still keepin' on. Actually ST has made me realize how many of us are still at it. Great stuff, and thanks.
Bruce B.

Hobart, Australia
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 10, 2009 - 04:01pm PT
Right after our trip, someone fell in at the Cauldron and has been missing ever since.

Here's the news:

The footage is actually of our trip, and the guy almost falling out of the boat is me!
KP Ariza

Jan 10, 2009 - 04:24pm PT
Nice report Deuce. Glad you stayed in that raft! Looks a little crazy in that river. BTW I met a guy at Planet Granite in S.F. last week who was there with his kids and he mentioned that he was a good friend and ex college roommate of yours. Forget his name but he says you guys are still in touch at least once a year. Anyway glad to see you are still gettin' it- DK

Hobart, Australia
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 12, 2009 - 01:47am PT
Hi Dirty Kenny-

Trying to think who that could have been. Was he tall and lanky? RIchard Emerson perhaps. Former Microsoft man...

Thanks for the good wishes, you too!


Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Jan 12, 2009 - 02:29am PT
Oh no, another climber succumbing to the white water craze.

it's just a fad, don't do it.



good TR and vid


Gym climber
Otto, NC
Jan 18, 2009 - 03:37pm PT
Quite sobering, Deuce. bet you don't have to that one again anytime soon!

Social climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Jan 18, 2009 - 03:48pm PT
Whoa! Thanks for sharing. Glad to have the video as well!
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