Franklin Fiasco: Part 4

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Tasmania, Australia
By Charlie Hynes

Day Four – Huon Pine Camp
We all took the opportunity to sleep late, knowing that the river would prevent us from any travelling this day. The only one to depart from his bed early was Dave, whose keen interest in photography would see him rise early every morning to capture the beauty of the river in all its guises. At 9.30 everyone stirred, sopping wet and camp weary, to discover the river had risen further overnight. In fact, Simon had feared his bed would be washed away so was forced to relocate.

It was a sight to behold; an angry serpent of death that frothed and bubbled like a lunatic. There was no doubt about the rest day now; it was amazing we had slept that long as the river roared so loudly as to make us shout to be heard over breakfast. A couple of faces wore grim and ashen expressions while others were incredulous that we should find ourselves in this predicament. Although adequately prepared for such a raging flood, the brochure can’t really capture such a moment like this.

We already faced a couple dilemmas. As anticipated, our bite sized bucket raft was very hard to control in the unforgiving high water. Not being a self-bailing raft, the Franklin’s feisty waters filled our craft during the early stages of any decent rapid and from there we were pretty much obeying Obi Wan Kenobi and ‘using the force’. Before the trip, we knowingly accepted this as a distinct possibility. It was simply the only raft we had and besides, it was a novel approach to the expedition.

They say that it rains 300 out of 360 days on the infamous west coast of Tasmania. Therefore, if the bad weather persisted (as initially forecasted), and the level remained high, it could make some very dangerous and tricky sections ahead for our ‘bath tub’. Considering this, we were worried that we might not have time to finish the entire journey.

Rowen and Dave went to scout further down river but after a couple of hours searching and dangerous rock bouldering received no joy at all. The bank turned to sheer cliffs and with the volume of water it left little choice but to sit back and read a book.

We considered our options over muesli. Irenabyss camp was only a kilometre or so over the ridge, but the way was blocked by steep terrain and thick rainforest that would require the portage from hell. As per many expeditions, one option was simply stop and wait for the river’s fury to subside. Last option was the arduous portage and a 20 km trek out to the Lovell highway, all the while dragging our gear and ourselves along the way. Fuck that, we thought. It was simply inconceivable how much that would hurt.

On a positive note, there are certainly worse places you could have found yourself stranded. We sat around, drinking coffee and tea and passed the time as best we could. The rain came and went, we explored the rainforest above our camp and I knocked off a few chapters of my book. Boris, who was clearly not enjoying himself, only emerged to eat and to go to the toilet, the rest of the time remaining inside his bivvy bag atop his crazy Russian eagle’s nest.

Dinner became lunch and we waxed lyrical on all subjects whilst astride the massive granite rocks that lay above the river. To our joy the river slowly receded and the rain periods became less frequent, helping the optimism rise within our ranks. Tomorrow we would be going to Irenabyss any way that we could, though it was fairly certain that we would not go the full distance of the river now.

There were too many variables that counted against us as we sat down to nut it out again after dinner. There had still been no word on Leigh and that meant we would be a paddler down. Apparently there was the chance of more flooding in a few days, which would be made more serious further down in the bigger rapids. The performance of the raft in big water was still weighing on our minds and looked to have sealed our fate. It was a low moment on the trip to think that it may have ended so soon after starting.

It was decided by most that the wet sleeping quarters were far from satisfactory, resulting in a number moving higher up into other caves. So it was we all climbed into wet sleeping bags and bivvys, hoping that the night time might remove some of the roaring torrent and deliver us a miracle. The last thing I remember thinking about before sleeping was glow worms and frothy water.

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