By Charlie Hynes
Day Five: Huon Pine Camp – Fincham’s Crossing
We woke to brilliant sunshine and the roar of the river, which seemed quieter than it had been the night before. There was no real attempt to move quickly; instead we all enjoyed the warmth and sanctity of our respective caves and perches. Eventually our hand was forced by the sound of insistent whistling coming from the main camp.
The scene that lay before me as I scrambled down the rock face was excellent. Three smiling faces and all the gear spread over rocks like a Chinese laundry had been opened in the wilderness.
The mood had lifted considerably. We bathed ourselves in welcome sunshine and made ready to get to Irenabyss camp, now that the river had dropped to a level more like it was when we ran out of daylight. It was still flowing hard, but now at a level that would not result in seemingly certain death.
We portaged the last section of the gorge and loaded the boats, reassured by the fact the river had dropped even further as we had done so. We were soon away and it felt good to be back doing what we’d intended. The steep canyon walls slid by and we left the contemptible Deception Gorge behind us as we had started it, with Boris standing up bailing the boat, his arse sticking proudly from the enormous hole in his wetsuit and held tight with the aid of gaffer tape. I hoped for his sake that he didn’t need to use the poo tube urgently.
Irenabyss was, as promised, a large and deep pool, tranquil as hell and hard to marry to the madness that had held us ransom for the last day and a half. No one was camped there and it was bathed in gorgeous sunshine. We pushed on towards Fincham’s Crossing, where there was a shorter track located for the walkout that now seemed almost assured. It was sad to think that this was probably our last day.
The paddling was mostly very easy, interspersed with adrenalised rapids and nasty bends that kept us honest. Vast mountain ranges loomed huge in the blue sky above, with dramatic chasms and spitting waterfalls breaking the glorious monotony of the scene. This was much more like I had envisaged when daydreaming about the trip.
In no time we saw cables spreading out across the river, the sign that we’d reached our intended camp at Fincham’s Crossing. Apparently it was named after the surveyor who’d come up here years ago, situated at the place he crossed the river funnily enough. History aside, we looked forward simply to a dry campsite and a chance to spread our gear out.
The river level when we arrived was 2.7 metres, which offered the group some sense of achievement at the very least. From this point, the plan was that Boris would walk the 15 kilometres to the main road, while Leigh would walk in and either join us or help remove the gear.
We soon discovered that this was not actually a campsite, but in fact a helipad and gauging station that was used to measure the river level. There was little flat ground on offer, so we were forced to spread our gear over the helipad and set up camp there.
The location was stunning, as the platform stood thirty or forty metres above the river. With the sunshine pouring down and our gear getting dry quickly we began to again consider the options, desperately looking for a solution that might see us finish the trip. A meeting was called.
Each member of the group expressed an opinion and the decision was initially taken to walk out the next morning. With an unreliable weather forecast and the issues surrounding the raft, there seemed no logical choice. The spirit in the camp plummeted immediately. In vain hope, we asked Rowen to try and get an accurate forecast using the satellite phone.
He called his father, only to discover that Leigh had run into Irenabyss and became stuck there during the storm. He was not carrying much gear and the Army group were camped across the river. Leigh had spent the night freezing at the campsite with limited food and warmth. The experience had, quite rightly, robbed him of any desire to do any more rafting. This left us a paddler down.
The first forecast came back negative. Two more days of sunshine then a massive front was coming through: Rain, water, flooding: no good. This was especially important for us since the Great Ravine, the nastiest and most dangerous part of the river, was yet to come.
Another phone call was placed, this time a better forecast came back, stating that the change was mostly wind. If we got going then we could be through the ravine in time, though we’d have to ditch the kayaks and put another body in the raft. Unfortunately Boris had to go. Although a good friend, his distinct lack of warm gear and the language barrier were giving us some very grave concerns, we needed to put more factors back in our favour to consider tackling what lay ahead. We figured that the issue of raft manoeuvrability could be solved by adding another body and leaving some gear behind. It was like a huge weight being lifted off our shoulders, we felt a sense of huge relief – the trip was alive!
After sorting gear and talking through the options we made the decision official. Boris would walk out to the road and Simon and Dave would leave their kayaks and jump into the raft. Easy.
Once the decision had been made, the afternoon was wiled away with sun tanning, paddling, photography and fishing for trout. The surroundings were unique and offered amazing views, but the place was chock full of leeches. We drifted to sleep with thoughts of nasty rapids and rekindled dreams of adventure. It had been a stressful day, and as long as we could avoid rolling off the platform and plummeting to our deaths, we could look forward to a good trip.