Conquering the Crossing Gorge

I had been in touch with a fellow packrafting enthusiast from interstate, named Kristian, he wanted to come down specifically to paddle a Tasmanian river. We decided over our online exchange that the Crossing River would be a good option. I knew almost nothing about it other than one paragraph of info I found online, and a picture of a gorge. What little information I had found made it sound rather straightforward and simple. Oh how wrong I was!

I hadn’t been predicting the state I would be in after the walk out from the Franklin trip I had completed immediately prior. I had a good bit of skin off my back from that as well as some form of infection on my upper leg which had swelled up dramatically. Given this I was rather hesitant about going ahead with the trip. Kristian had come a long way for the expedition and given it was only the two of us the trip was contingent on me going. I made come calls to a couple of medical help lines regarding my leg, none of which were particularly useful. Still undecided as to a course of action we decided to drive to Scotts Peak Dam, camp there and assess things in the morning.

People looking at map
Planning our route. My fashion sense could use some work…

My condition hadn’t improved overnight but I decided I needed to go ahead with the trip. The only alternative was Kristian doing a lame bushwalk for a few days before flying out. I taped up my back, got my gear sorted and painfully put my overloaded 40kg pack on my back ready for the walk in.

The walk was brutal. Deep mud, combined with the weight and my injuries and exhaustion resulted in a very slow pace. Kristian was very patient and I just focused on getting through it. Attempting to endlessly pull your feet out of knee deep mud is very tiring and I spend most of the time alternating between considering turning back and trying to ignore the pain from my pack. It was a relief to make it to the half way point for a meal break.

Knee deep mud
The joys of mud… The width of my pack was an issue too.

Soon enough we were moving again. Now I was past the point of no return, which was not a particularly comforting thought, although it did provide relief from the endless thoughts about turning around. Kristian is a fascinating guy, he’s insanely fit (he’s done a bunch of Iron Man triathlons) and despite not having a lot of whitewater experience has done a lot of epic outdoors trips around the world. Grilling him about some of that manages to take my mind off things for a bit.

In comparing trail mix options I am impressed with the thought Kristian has put in to his own custom mix. He explained that his thoughts are that trail mix needs to strike a good balance between sweet and salty and his motley array of carefully considered ingredients work very well together. I should definitely put a bit more effort in to that in future.

We stop for frequent breaks where I collapse clumsily on to my back to remove my pack. When I misjudge this manoeuvre the pack falls over taking me with it and I end up lying hopelessly on my side attempting to free myself from the shoulder straps. Finally we made it to the point where the port Davey track intersects the Crossing River, our campsite for the evening.

Sitting down in the middle of a grassy plain with large pack
Carrying all this stuff was far from fun.

We were up early and made the decision to begin paddling the Crossing River rather than walking further. The only guide on the river we had read mentioned about some log jams on this section, but it was very light on detail. It looked deep enough and given how unpleasant the walking was we were pretty keen to get on river. This turns out to have been an exceedingly poor decision!

After 1km or so of paddling we ran in to an endless tangle of logs and branches making progress unbelievably slow. We attempted to walk through the scrub on the side of the bank which was equally difficult to navigate. After 3 hours of battling we admitted defeat. We deflated out rafts and began the slog out through the thick scrub. This was particularly tough with my pack being so wide and overloaded, often making forward progress seem impossible.

After an hour we finally made it out in to a more open area and a further hour of this saw us back to the track. We had essentially taken a 5 hour detour and accomplished nothing. We were exhausted and demoralised but we pushed on. Eventually we got to the point on the track were we needed to abandon it to once again locate the crossing river. This turned out to be very easy and with relief we looked down at a beautiful, wide river.

Log jammed river
This was about as easy as the section of log choked river got. It was so overgrown further down I couldn’t even get a decent picture!

At this point it was 5pm. Kristian was very keen to get on river and start paddling to make up for lost time. He thought that we should be able to make it through the first section of gorge to where the bank flattens out a bit just before the main section of the Crossing Gorge. I was not keen on this idea at all (entering in to a gorge just before nightfall is a pretty risky proposition) but I was too exhausted to put up much of an argument. We set off and began paddling. What began as flat water soon became solid class 3 whitewater as the river narrowed and steepened as it was forced though the gorge. Progress was relatively slow as we had to scout the rapids. It soon became apparent that Kristian lacked any experience or training with throw-bagging or whitewater rescue, which was a cause for concern.

Nice and exciting rapids – the time pressure made things more stressful than they needed to be.

We made it to a section of river where the flow of the water was all going underneath massive boulders and required portaging. Night was falling and we were losing light fast. We climbed up a very steep section of rock wall and eventually got to a point where we could look out down the gorge. The only way through was a dangerous climb over some exposed rocks so we could then lower the rafts down using ropes. In the failing light I was very concerned about our ability to do it safely. I stalled to consider the possibilities, however Kristian wanted to go all-in and push on as quickly as possible. Once again against my better judgement we began the portage.

It worked, although it went far from smoothly with a bunch of our gear getting soaked due to the rafts taking a beating in the current. Our nerves were pushed to the limit and we ended up snapping at each other a bit as we were precariously balanced on a small ledge right next to the churning rapids. Realising that our failing patience was due to the pressure we were under, we exchanged a look of mutual regret before returning our focus to the task at hand. We finally managed to make it past the danger and with relief we jumped back in to our rafts, grabbing head torches and paddling on.

After a few more rapids the river flattened out. Knowing that this was our only opportunity to find a camp before we were in the next gorge we both were frantically scanning the bank. By some miracle we spotted a camp site (the only one for the next 20km it turns out). In the pitch dark and in the driving rain we set up camp and prepared a meal before getting to sleep.

Not where you want to be as it’s getting dark…

We were up early and on river once again. There was definitely some tricky whitewater but it was generally nice. The scenery was amazing, with stunning cliffs rising on either side. Gorges are fascinating in that they always seem to fill me with a combination of awe and trepidation. Paddling underneath such magnificent cliffs is incredible but not having the option to walk off river if something goes wrong is always nerve wracking. It is a long day but soon enough we are through the gorges and everything opens up in to nice straightforward class 2 whitewater on the Davey River. There is almost nothing in the way of camp sites – we foolishly paddle past a relatively open beach on an island. Instead we ended up with a passable but scrubby camp further down the river.

The Crossing Gorge
My GoPro photos do not come close to doing the Crossing Gorge justice. A truly magnificent sight.

We slept-in a bit thinking that we were through the roughest part of the trip with only a relaxed flat-water paddle and a walk to go. In hindsight this assumption was foolish in the extreme. We paddled for several hours fighting some tough headwinds before making it to Settlement Point for lunch. We continued on now out in the ocean. The weather closed in and soon we were paddling in heavy rain. The swell picked up and the mist drifted in. Soon we could not see shore, which was a spooky experience. We made good time as the wind was now at our back.

Soon enough we were within sight of the narrow channel we needed to pass through to get in to Bathurst Harbour. The waves started to really pick up. I look over at Kristian and we exchange a concerned look as we realise the imminent danger of the increasingly sizeable waves slamming in to the cliffs. A large breaking wave headed for us and we both turned and started paddling like madmen for Wallaby Bay.

We were very lucky, just managing to make it to shore in time. If we had been a hundred metres ahead we would have been grabbed by the waves and slammed in to the exposed cliffs. We dragged our boats on to the desolate beach, the wind and driving rain was brutal and Kristian was shivering uncontrollably due to the cold. We walked a few hundred metres inland to find some shelter and figure out a plan.

Pack-raft in ocean
The mist and rain wasn’t too bad; it was when the waves picked up that things really started to get serious.

Looking out over the windswept coastline it was abundantly clear that there was no way we’d be able to make it out via the sea. Kristian got warmed up and we decided that the only option was to walk out and attempt to work our way around the coast to reach more sheltered waters. Once again we donned our packs and launched in to the thick scrub. We climbed up a steep slope and made it on to the cliffs overlooking the channel. The view was magnificent. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for long. Once again the walk was terrible, the frustration of endlessly getting my massive pack stuck in trees and branches was wearing me down, and once again my back was a problem.

Coastline
The exposed cliffs we traversed offered an excellent view of the sea conditions we were so lucky to avoid.

After a good 2 hours of struggling we made it to Toogelow Beach. My relief at walking out of the thick forest on to the open sand was soon dashed as I looked at the massive waves breaking on the shore. There was no way we would be able to paddle off the beach.

It was getting late and we huddled around our map and GPS to figure out what to do. In the end we decided to camp on the beach. Regardless of our plan there was little we could do in the dark. We sat up eating dinner and calculating the distances we needed to cover. Kristian’s flight out was tomorrow at 5pm. We needed to cover (in the best case scenario) 2km of off-track walking, 8km of flat water paddling and another 11km of on-track walking in that order. Realising the amount of time this could take we set our alarms for 4am, ready for a hellishly tough day.

Beach
A bittersweet end to the day, beautiful views but a long way to go.

We were up early and I made sure to get a big hot breakfast before setting off. We launched into the climb out of the bay with determination but the dense scrub soon defeated us and forced us to turn back. Soon we were back where we started and already behind schedule. We modified our approach and waded up a creek that flowed down to the beach. This proved tough but much more successful, and after half an hour of pushing we finally climbed up on to the exposed hill tops where progress would be much easier.

We managed to make good time here and as we approached the beach we both silently begged for an easy decent as opposed to the sheer cliffs that surrounded much of the coastline. Our wish was granted and not only was it a simple decent, there was a path for us! We walked down and were greeted by a small plaque fixed to a tree – the grave of a man who had died on a whaling expedition long ago. It seems such an incredibly remote and lonely place for any form of human mark to exist.

The bay is beautifully calm, and fresh water runs from a small creek. Once again I am struck by how bizarre it is that we happened across this strange and remote place that no one would visit under normal circumstances. I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful for the turn of fate that saw me experiencing this remote and inaccessible area despite the hardship which came with it.

Bay with morning light
Once we were out of the scrub progress was much faster.
Sign affixed to a tree
The tarnished reminder of a sailor lost at sea long ago.

There was very little time to relax as we quickly got our rafts inflated and began our paddle. We made good time, stopping half way for some water and to quickly down a protein bar before pushing on. It was exhausting but I pushed as hard as I could, knowing that getting ahead here would make the walk out more realistic.

We made it to Joan Point ready for the last stretch of walking. I was completely exhausted but I forced myself to get my pack ready and move on as soon as possible. I knew I would be much slower than Kristian so I decided to get a head start while he prepared a meal. This turned out to be an exceedingly bad idea as in my exhausted state I managed to lose the path at a campsite around a kilometre down the track. With the GPS out of batteries I decided to ditch my pack and jog back to intersect Kristian. By the time I had done this I had already missed him. Now I was by myself and off the track.

Thankfully I still had my map. Realising I had no other choice but to once again resort to off-track navigation I plunged in to the scrub, aiming for high ground in an attempt to get some perspective over the terrain. After pushing for about an hour I made it to the top of a large hill overlooking the area. With relief I spotted the track winding off in the distance.

Now with a fixed point to aim for I picked up the pace and started pushing to get back on track. I knew at this point that there was little to no possibility of me making it back in time but I was determined to give it my best shot. The track was fine, much better than what I had been dealing with previously, and because of that progress was good. It wasn’t good enough though.

If it were not for the brutal pace I was attempting it would have been quite a pleasant walk!

I kept pushing but soon I was moving at a snail’s pace, too exhausted to push any harder. My focus switched from getting to Melaleuca in time for the flight to simply getting to Melaleuca. Thankfully just before nightfall I managed the latter objective and met Kristian at the landing strip. We did the whole man hug thing, both relieved that we made it. Kristian had just got there in time for the plane after running part of it. He’s an absolute machine. Even if I had not gotten lost there is no way I would have been able to keep up the pace he managed.

Despite making it in time Kristian hung back to make sure I was ok. He’d figured something was wrong when he hadn’t passed me within an hour or so. Soon realising that I must’ve missed the track he decided it would be best to push on and meet with the Par Avion guys (who run the flights) to see what the options were. As it turned out having us fly out a day late was no big deal so we relaxed, had a wash in the river and enjoyed a meal of random left over emergency rations we had packed. The extra time didn’t hurt, Melaleuca is a beautiful place and having the opportunity to decompress before being thrown back in to the rat race is nice.

Cooking area in hut
Sleeping in a hut was a nice change and a sort of halfway house on our way back to civilisation.

Soon enough we were on our way back to Hobart. The flight was very scenic but I was too tired to fully appreciate it. Kristian and I parted ways at the airport and I got back home. After consuming an insane quantity of food and changing the dressing on my back I finally relaxed properly after what was a pretty epic trip.

Franklin River, walking out via Frenchmans Cap

I had initially planned to run a rafting trip down the entire Franklin river, unfortunately I didn’t get enough people on board so I ended up deciding to run the upper section of the Franklin and walk out via Frenchmans Cap from Irenabyss.

Before getting on river we scouted out the get in options before settling on starting the trip at the conventional point on the Collingwood river. We were hoping that the water level may be high enough to run the upper Franklin, a section I have done previously in a packraft but that is very rarely paddled. Unfortunately the water level was too low for this.

Get-in point on the Collingwood River
Get-in point on the Collingwood River

We paddled the Collingwood to its confluence with the Franklin. After a short break we continued on down the Franklin river itself. The rapids were all rather straightforward and having paddled it previously it was a relaxing time. With the low water level we occasionally had to jump out and haul the raft over rocks and logs.

Raft going through whitewater rapids.
Straightforward rapids to begin with, not having self bailing boats made things interesting though…

Soon enough we made it to Angel Rain Cavern, our campsite for the night. This is a nice sheltered campsite with overhanging cliffs that mean tarps don’t need to be used. I prepared dinner and we all sat around relaxing and drinking some of the copious amounts of hard liquor that everyone bar myself had brought along. It had been decanted in to old wine bladders (to save weight). We had to drink most if not all of it before we began walking (we needed to be using the bladders for carrying water).

The cavern
Having a natural roof is always nice!

I was up early, it was a cool morning so I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed down to the rocks next to the river and spent some time relaxing and writing. I then got breakfast sorted and soon enough we were on river once again!

The main hazard we encountered was Nasty Notch, a small log choked channel that is clearly not runnable. We got to the side and the crew walked around the rapid (the safest option) while myself and the other guide (Rowan) hauled the rafts over the rocks before paddling them down the lower section solo to then pick up the rest of the team. There was one other section like this where there was a nasty log sieve which would have been very bad to swim into. Again we got the crew out and they walked around while myself and Rowan ran through the rapid solo, timing our approach very carefully so as to be able to haul the raft over the log rather than getting sucked under.

Raft guide paddling a section of river
Running a tricky section of river by myself, don’t want to risk hurting the crew!

Finally we made it to the most serious section of runnable rapids on the river, Descension Gorge. This is a section were the river narrows and steepens before it opens out in to the calm tranquillity of the Irenabyss. One section required us to line the rafts down the river as there wasn’t a safe route to take through the rapids. We paddled the rest of the rapids though which was great fun.

Lining the rafts down a section of the river
Lining the rafts down a section of Descension Gorge

Soon we were through and after a short section of incredibly narrow rock walls on either side the river widens out in to a massive pool. Tahune creek enters from the left and there are beautiful campsites all around. Irenabyss is one of the most incredible places on earth, silent and relaxing but surrounded by difficulty and danger in all directions (either brutally tough walking up Frenchmans Cap or dangerous rapids on the Franklin). As much as it would have been nice to spend more time here I was keen to get moving efficiently to make the walk easier. We put all of our gear in the sun to dry and enjoyed a relaxing lunch before packing up out gear and beginning the walk.

Irenabyss on the Franklin river
The beautiful entrance to Irenabyss

Having done the walk before I knew it would be tough. Despite this I underestimated the weight we would be carrying and the impact that would have on our progress. The walk was brutal; myself, Rowan and Michael (a bushwalking guide) were all carrying around 35kg and the rest of the team were carrying packs ranging from 10–20kg. Progress was incredibly slow.

The team standing with paddles, ready to begin walking.
The smiles didn’t last long…

Finally we made it out on to the more open ground were we could look out over the mountains, which was a much needed morale boost after two hours of grinding up steep slopes in thick scrub. Rowan was looking at the map and trying to figure out how much we’d progressed. I think the transition from the scrub to open ridgelines had the effect of making us overestimate the distance we had come and underestimate the distance we still had to cover.

View of the walking track
Once the track opened up the view was incredible!

We pushed on and it started to get late. The setting sun was a stunning backdrop to our walk, and given our height it was a truly magnificent view. That said, myself and the other guides were beginning to get concerned about the time. We had a break and I made sure everyone had some trail mix and muesli bars as well as head torches to prepare for the imminent nightfall.

Sunset
A beautiful sunset dampened slightly by my concern at our slow progress

We pushed on for another two hours, now well in to the night. Everyone was exhausted. It was also very exposed with the real danger of someone falling a long way if mistakes were made. Everyone was doing it tough. Rowan, Michael and myself were holding up but I was rather concerned about everyone else. One of the girls told me she was pretty close to her breaking point (and everyone else looked it) so I got everyone to have a break while I figured out a plan with Rowan and Michael. At this point it was 11pm at night. Camping wasn’t an option given how exposed we were. We decided to abandon the two rafts and return for them tomorrow. Given I was carrying one of the rafts I got a pack from one of the girls, packed it with the extra gear that was strapped to the raft and we set off again.

Blurry night photo
The last photo that any of us took that day, blurry and symbolic of the worsening situation.

Rowan, Michael and I took it in turns to be at the front, warning everyone about slippery or steep bits and generally keeping everyone as motivated as possible. Finally we made it to the distinctive saddle which marked the end of the uphill grind. Soon enough we were at the campsite at the respectable time of 0100 in the morning. Everyone collapsed looking completely wiped out. I was completely exhausted but knowing that it was critical to make sure everyone had a solid meal before bed I raced around like a lunatic getting water, firing up stoves and getting a quick meal of Burritos together. It started to rain so we set up the tarp and everyone crashed, utterly spent.

The camp
The morning started nice, the weather soon worsened however…

I was up relatively early; Rowan, Michael and I got together to figure out a plan of action. We decided to head off immediately to on a rescue mission to grab the rafts, estimating that it would take around three hours. Not wanting to wake up the rest of the crew we grabbed a solid breakfast of leftovers from last night and started walking. It was an interesting trek given the thick mist which shrouded our path.

Walking in the mist
Oh what a wonderfull day to be rescuing abandoned rafts…

Soon enough we were back, I ran ahead of the other guys in order to get a big lunch together, the plan being to get everyone fed before getting moving again. We had a massive meal of pasta with the last of our fresh vegetables. We packed everything away and we were soon moving again. It was tough going, the ex-army external frame pack I was using was absolutely terrible – combined with the 35kg of weight, I had soon managed to chafe a decent strip of skin off my back. Michael taped it up for me as we stopped for a break. We pushed on and finally made it to Lake Vera, just before it got dark, allowing us the relative luxury of setting up our tarp and cooking while it was still light.

Spectacular view of the mountains
The view on the way out was almost enough to distract everyone from the pain of heavy packs.

For our final day of walking I made sure we all had a good breakfast before we once again got our heavy packs on and got moving. The walk was painful, but nothing compared to the prior two days, and we made pretty good time. Soon enough we were at the Franklin river once again, which marked the end of our adventure. We joined a bunch of other walkers as we dropped our packs and jumped in the river, washing off and enjoying the cool water. None of them could quite believe that we had rafted down the franklin before carrying the rafts out. Amusingly, I read at the information booth on the way out that the track to Irenabyss was not recommended as it had become very overgrown. I think everyone on my trip would agree!

Information booth sign showing that the Irenabyss side trip is not recommended.
Yup, seems accurate…

Soon enough we were all back at the rafting sheds where we began four days ago. We had a debrief and I took the opportunity to build everyone up after their ordeal. According to several of them it was the toughest thing they had ever done. Given everyone was still uninjured and smiling at the end I think I can feel good about that despite my concerns during the trip. It is interesting that there seems to be a very fine line between a trip being not challenging and it being far too extreme as to be ultimately unpleasant. I feel like I managed to strike that balance here but more through luck than anything else.

The group at the end of the trip, posing near the Frenchmans Cap, Franklin River sign.
We made it! Everyone is looking pretty exhausted…

On reflection having received more feedback from everyone involved I am quite proud of this trip. The fact that everyone there got so much out of it is something that means a lot to me. It is fascinating how quickly you can form close friendships through shared hardship.

I think there are two clear takeaways from this expedition; firstly I need to be much better at judging pack weight and estimating how that will impact walking speed. Secondly, doing the little things right really matters when there are setbacks. What I mean by this is that over the course of the entire trip everyone was positive and did an excellent job of keeping each other’s spirits up. The food was good, everyone was warm etc. While individually none of these aspects are critical if they go wrong when there are setbacks these elements are all the more important. I could easily imagine this trip failing if we didn’t have some of those basic factors in our favour.

Photos by both myself and Michael Cooper.

Pack rafting the Gordon Gorge

I’ve been pretty desperate to find new rivers to be able to run trips over summer. To that end I decided to head down the Gordon Gorge section of river with pack rafts in order to scout it out before taking proper whitewater rafts down. I put the word out that I was going to do a trip. I got some interest and a couple of other guys (Tom and Darren) were keen to run it.  After a last minute bit of organising the three of us set off to the Gorge!

Picture of Lake Gordon
Lake Gordon is particularly stunning; I’d love to go back and relax here, camp and do some flat water paddling.

It’s a long drive to get cars in to position and reach the get-in point; the roads are terrible and navigation is tricky. That said, we arrived at around midnight and set up camp ready for a 0600 start. Despite the lack of sleep and generally cold, miserable conditions everyone was in a good mood, which was excellent.

Picture of pack rafting in hail.
Driving hail and strong headwinds made progress tough

We got on river at about 0700 after a half hour walk to the get in. Ironically the walking track was better in parts than the road we used to get there… Once we got on the Gordon River the weather really started to close in. There had been an extreme weather warning issued for bushwalkers in the region with heavy rain, wind, freezing temperatures and snow down to 500 metres. It was at this point that we started speculating about the river levels. Given none of us had done the river before (and there is no water gauge) we where going in blind. At high water levels the Gordon is a class five whitewater monster so we had some concerns (and the only reason I was running it was that I’d been told it would be class three at low water levels). That said, we had to stop and haul our rafts over logs, and the river was pretty scratchy in places, which put our minds at ease, although we would later find out that it definitely should not have.

Picture of packraft running a rapid
The first section of rapids we dealt with. Things would get much tougher from here…

The river started to gradually narrow and become more steep as we finally came across our first rapids. Fairly straightforward class two whitewater was made more difficult by the wind which really pushed the pack rafts around. In the rapid above I almost flipped simply because of a headwind that took all my momentum away just as I was about to go over the drop, so I ended up taking it sideways and just crashing down rather than boofing properly (Tom did the same as you can see in the photo above).

Soon enough we made it to the first serious multi-stage drops with some big stoppers at the bottom of them. I passed the camera over to Tom so he could take some photos of the carnage. Both myself and Darren wiped out however. After watching us fail Tom took the line on river right which saw him through just fine. That’s the value of watching others first! So that you may also learn from my mistakes I have provided below a step by step series of photos on how not to tackle a rapid such as this one.

Picture of packraft nose diving in to a large rapid
Step one: nose dive directly in to the hole
Picture of packraft flipping over backwards
Step two: perform a backwards flip falling out in the process
Picture of upturned packraft in the river
Step three: enjoy a well deserved beating before being flushed down river

It was a little after this rapid that it became clear that I had underestimated the difficulty of the river. An abandoned kayak at the edge of the river was an ominous sign as was the periodic sound of the rescue helicopter overhead. Magnificent cliffs rose up on either side of the river making a walk out totally impossible and portaging difficult to impossible in places too. It was stunning scenery, definitely the most remarkable river I have been on from that perspective but the river itself was scary. The rain had risen the water level significantly to the point that the rapids where continues. Falling out meant swimming through plenty of nasty features before getting back into the raft was an option.

Packraft in rapid
Tom tackling a pretty intimidating rapid

One of the most dangerous features on rivers are sieves. These are points where the river is forced through obstacles like logs and rocks (as water would if you poured it through a sieve in your kitchen). The danger with these is that if you get sucked under them you could become trapped under the debris and drowned. One such feature covered two thirds of the river at one point. It was essentially a massive rock (about the size of a house) which had the river flushing underneath it. Darren misjudged the rapid and ended up heading right for it. By some miracle he managed to hold on to a branch that was jammed in there and haul himself out and on to a small ledge rather than being sucked under. His paddle was not so lucky, it disappeared underneath never to be seen again. Due to his position on the water, slippery rocks and our collective exhaustion it took us a good 20 minutes to get him back to the side using our throw bags.

Big whitewater
This was pretty crazy…

The next few hours where spend doing tricky portages before psyching up for some rapids we had to run because there was no way to walk them. We’d inevitably end up swimming, manage to get to an eddy and get out for some more scrambling over rocks. I ended up getting sucked under a boulder sieve on one such section. I hadn’t seen it until it was too late. Darren attempted to warn me but the force of the water going underneath the rocks didn’t give me an opportunity to do much. I was flipped out of the raft and I managed nothing more that getting myself going feet first before being sucked under…

Swimming in whitewater is something that you get used too after a while. It’s mostly quite noisy and foamy and you get thrown around quite a bit. I’d never been sucked underneath rocks before and it’s a very different and quite bizarre experience.

At first it was the classic foamy water combined with the roaring sound and the panicked yelling of the other guys. That all vanished in an instant to be replaced with pitch black silence as the water flowed under the mess of boulders. It was a surprisingly relaxed experience, I remember just waiting, wondering if I was about to be trapped, crushed between the rocks and drowned. It’s an interesting position to be in because there is really nothing you can do to help yourself, and no opportunity for rescue. Survival is solely based on chance. In my case after a few more seconds of darkness light returned as I was flushed out the other side. Lying on my back still heading downriver I looked over at Tom – he looked like he’d seen a ghost. I have no doubt I would have had the same expression. Darren paddled around grinning and said that it was great that now two of us had almost died, I put up a weak effort to mimic his enthusiasm as I caught my breath at the edge of the river. It’s funny how valuable enthusiasm and positivity can be in miserable situations.

Dead trees in Lake Gordon
The endless dead trees give the lake a slightly ominous feeling, the silence finally offering time for contemplation.

After this I began to crash. I was completely exhausted and had taken enough nasty swims to be keen to avoid pushing fate any further. Lots of high stakes portages where you are scrambling over slippery rocks combined with the adrenaline and exertion of paddling had really taken its toll on me. Darren was pushing on without a paddle which was just incredible and Tom was still running rapids. It was lucky that the team was so competent overall.

Finally we made it back to the flat water of Lake Gordon. Darren walked out while Tom and I paddled to the car. Paddling through the endless dead trees of Lake Gordon is a pretty eerie experience and after the endless roar of the whitewater the total silence really added to the atmosphere. After another long drive with some pretty psychedelic music pumping to keep us awake we were finally home, all utterly spent.

Climbing Frenchmans Cap

Well it’s been about a year since I’ve done a post here, I figure it’s time to write some more… Now back home in Tasmania, I’ve returned to my usual habits of chaotically attacking my various goals while including as much adventure on the side as possible. In line with that I’ve just returned from a three-day bush walk up Frenchmans Cap – a pretty fantastic experience, although quite tough in places.

Bushwalking Photo

Day one started with a dodgy motorcycle ride through a four-wheel-drive track. This resulted in me dropping my motorcycle in the mud, which wasn’t ideal. That said, there was no damage, which was lucky, and I made it to the start of the track (albeit later than I hoped).

Bushwalking Photo

I began the walk over the Franklin river and ran into a party of two who had attempted to summit but had to turn around due to bad weather and snow. Apparently no one had made it up in days, which was a depressing start to my adventure. I pushed through the Sodden Loddons, which were once an infamously muddy and unpleasant section of track, which now is has excellent duckboard, meaning that at worst the mud was ankle deep.

Bushwalking Photo

I made it to the Lake Vera Hut after about five hours of walking. While it was late (17:00) I decided to push on to try and cover more ground. I had a couple of good head lamps and was confident walking into the night if needed. That said, I changed my plans when I came across a nice little cave up near Barron Pass. Given the rain and mist rolling in I decided to hunker down and wait it out, having covered a decent amount of ground.

Cave Camp Photo

I got a good nights sleep, relatively dry and certainly warm. I broke camp at 06:00 in order to make good time. I wanted to ensure I had as much time to summit as possible, to account for the poor conditions.

Bushwalking Photo

I made it to the Lake Tahune Cabin at around 08:00 and ran into ‘David’, a fellow solo walker who was packing up ready to attempt to get to the top. Despite having done the walk before he was a bit nervous about it given the heavy snowfall, and asked about doing it together. I thought that was a sensible idea particularly given I haven’t done it before (and company never hurts), so we both headed off through the snow towards the looming cliffs.

Bushwalking Photo

The equipment differenced between us was striking. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and had a 30 litre pack with less than 10 kilograms in weight. In contrast to this David was wearing full length waders, a massive rain jacket and snow gloves along with a 30 kilogram hiking pack. That said, he left most of his gear at the cabin, I decided to carry my full pack (I like having shelter and a sleeping bag in case of emergencies).

David, bushwalking companion photo

The walk up was tough and a bit hazardous in sections. Thick snow that was melting and flowing down underneath meant that plunging through the snow was always a risk. It was nerve wracking hearing the flowing water underneath the snow you’re standing on. At one point I put my foot down and crashed through the snow in to the water below, which resulted in me being up to my knees in icy water then up to my neck in snow – having received a decent knock to the chin (although the snow took most of the force out of the fall). I had to force myself to relax and focus on slowly easing my bodyweight out on to the snow rather than frantically pulling up and inevitably just pushing straight through the snow. I made it out fine and David said it looked pretty funny having just my head sticking out of the snow.

Frenchman Cap Summit

After some more climbing and trampling through the snow we finally made it to the top. Despite the snow, the weather was absolutely fantastic – perfectly clear day, no wind at all. I was expecting it to be pretty unpleasant at the top but it was so perfect that I could happily put my pack down and relax, taking some photos and enjoying the stunning views.

Bushwalking

After a break at the top it was time to return. Much of it was spent sliding down the snow while being cautious not to go too fast as to head over the edge of a cliff. After four hours of walking we made it back to Lake Tahune where David and I parted ways, as he was staying at the hut for the evening. I continued on for another three hours to Lake Vera and made it there before dark, which was excellent. I decided to camp rather than stay in the hut, so I set up my tarp and got to sleep nice and early.

Camp setup

On my final day I had a relatively easy five-hour walk back to the carpark. I enjoyed walking straight to the franklin river at the end, washing all the mud out of my boots and socks before heading back to my bike and uncovering all my riding gear that I had hidden nearby. Overall it was a pretty fantastic experience and an excellent opportunity to test out my skills and equipment in a tougher walk.

Bushwalking