With the knowledge that the major difficulties were over, and that we were now well ahead of the schedule set by Jiri’s 2012 party, we set out to make for Rock Island Bend.
The gorge opened out for the first time in days at Rafters Basin, and we paddled by the flat banks on wide gentle races, reminding me of Snowy River country.
But soon we were in it again, at the Franklin’s last great gorge. The only intermediate access point on the river, the end of the Mt McCall 4WD track, passed by unnoticed high atop a spur on the right.
Propsting Gorge and Glen Calder
Our perfect, miraculous run of sunshine continued, and there were some more great easy rapids in this section over orange rocks basking in the sun. Actually, one drop caught me out and I had my only roll of the trip – a wave at the end threw me, and over I went. Damn!
We conservatively portaged Ol’ Three Tiers, the middle tier looking like it would bang you up.
Just another beautiful river moment was had at Ganymede’s Pool, before the fun waterfall at the Trojans.
Our last big obstacle loomed – the Pig Trough. Though surrounded by the prettiest rainforest, one look at the submerged slabs at the top and we knew this was one ugly rapid.
Lured by the easy flat rock platform on river left, we investigated the left hand portage, finding the climb steep, exposed and with no anchors available for hauling. Frankly, I thought it was sketchy as hell, and couldn’t believe it wasn’t cautioned more highly in the guidebook. However, the river right portage looked very hard among large boulders.
A party from Franklin River Rafting was resting in the pool below the rapid. Frantic signing and gesturing with the concerned guide Adrian finally communicated…I’m not sure actually. I think we got across that we weren’t going to run the rapid.
To avoid the boulders on the right bank, we conceived a disturbing plan. We would portage the top drop of the rapid via the easy flat rock platform on the left, then carefully launch and execute a critical “hairy ferry” move to paddle over to river right, and portage the bottom drop of the rapid via the easy flat rock platform on river right.
Neils and Jarrod, sensibly, wanted no part of this, and paddled over to the right bank to begin portaging amongst the boulders.
Bjorn carefully launched, slowly paddled to the edge of the main flow, and smoothly slipped over to river right. Someone less smoothly, he eventually managed to dry-hump through some rocks to get to a safer spot where he could get out of the kayak. James carefully launched, and strongly paddled over to river right, but didn’t quite make it to the safer spot. Grappling at a rock, he slipped, and disappeared backwards over the bottom right drop of the rapid, a known deadly pinning spot.
Oh, shit. Dimly it registered that I should pull out the whistle and start blowing, and grab the pin kit, but what use was I over here with a rope on the wrong bank and what a fucking idiot and where was everyone…
James appeared in the pool below, still in the kayak and upright, and signaled he was ok. Well, how about that. He really does have a gift for floating class V rapids.
After that I dragged my boat back upstream and paddled over to join Niels and Jarrod, who had found a quite reasonable route behind the worst of the boulders. In the end, the portage wasn’t so bad after all…
At the bottom, I contemplated the Rock Island Bend. All my life, I thought the famous Dombrovskis photo had been taken looking upstream, at a right-hand bend in the river. A massive lightbulb moment occurred as I realised it had, in fact, been taken looking downstream, at a left-hand bend in the river. Why the hell hadn’t anyone told me this! I found it completely hilarious that this was my memorable life-changing moment on the Franklin.
Adrian had wandered up from the camp cave to watch us run Newlands Cascades. As “the best runnable whitewater on the river”, it was maybe a bit of a let-down after the drama of running Pig Trough backwards, with a simple clear line at our level (the river was now on the low side after days of sunshine). It is a nice long picturesque rapid.
And the campsite…wow. The fair weather was still holding. A very pleasant afternoon, evening, and morning.
Calder’s Ferry and the Lower Franklin
The other kayak group on the river, three guys from far north Queensland, was camped on the beach just outside the exit from the gorge. They had a rest day planned, and we had a quick chat as we drifted past. No rest day for us, as we planned to go all the way to the hut St John’s Falls.
The river now became a broad shallow reddish trickle in the sun and heat, weaving among flat lowland country. We paddled past limestone walls and caves lining the bends. We spent some time trying to find the Kuti Kina cave, but got lost among the river banks, and gave up. Little Fall, Double Fall, and Big Fall passed without problems. There had been a little bravado about Big Fall, but it really is a “stomping hydraulic” as Adrian had called it. We portaged.
During the day, I began having a strange and unfamiliar experience. I was, unarguably, the slowest member of the group, and try as I might, for whatever reason, I just kept falling behind. This would continue until we reached the end of the paddling, and it was genuinely humbling, after having spent most of the last year dragging less fit and experienced people around on other trips!
In the hot afternoon, we reached Pyramid Island and the confluence with the Gordon. We rafted up kayak to kayak and enjoyed the moment. But there was still a lot to do.
The finale is Part 4, or there’s yet another list of
- Retracing the steps of the piners, rowing a punt up the Lower Franklin
- Paddling the river at a huge flood stage
- MUMC newsletter with an account of a rowdy Franklin trip