The Day it rained 50mm

It was 8am and we were still asleep in our sleeping bags - luxury! It had rained on and off since we arrived here and the pattern of a bit of sunshine followed by several heavy showers continued into the day. But, here in the dry comfort of Newlands Rock Shelter, that mattered nought. We watched the rain come and go, snug and warm, eating pancakes for breakfast, biscuits for morning tea, freshly made pizza for lunch, thick chorizo and lentil soup with camp-made cheesecake for dinner and a hot milo with a splash of whiskey. It seemed much better here than wet on the river with rain in your face.

Newlands Cascades - running a bit higher


Good morning ... from the rock shelter

Watching the rain

Water trickling down the Shower Curtain

The rain splashed big drops on the water surface and the river level inched its way up as the day passed. Across the river, water sprinkled down the mossy fern-covered face of the cliff opposite - Shower Cliff seemed a very appropriate name. A sea-eagle cruised up and then back down again, checking us out.

As the river level slowly rose ....

.... the rapids got wilder

We read a book, did a crossword or sudoku, had a chat with congenial companions, wrote up journals, took a nanna nap or simply meditated on the beauty of this very special part of the world. As we did, our wetsuits and river clothing dried out beneath the rocks - to put dry wetsuits on in the morning would be a joy indeed.

On a wet day, one can read .....

.... eat ....

.... and read again

It was a very pleasant rainy day on the Franklin River ..... and, all the time, the river level inched higher and higher.

The Groover

Ever since I mentioned it, I suspect that the inner 7-year old has been asking you how the groover system works - well these photos are self-explanatory. The important elements are:

Location - private and with a good view to aid contemplation.
Bag of Supplies - paper and freezer bags kept in a dry-bag at a spot on the way - when it is there, keep walking, when it is gone, the groover is occupied.
Sanitation - no-one wants to re-use someone else's water (as in a bucket), so a patented system has been developed to avoid this - just lower the tin with hole in the bottom into the bucket and hang it from a branch and, voila, you have fresh running water for washing hands.

Location of the groover - an isolated ledge high above the river

The Groover itself is a clip-down metal munitions box, lined each day with a fresh garbage bag into which your recently-filled freezer bag is dropped (the box is for storage only). Each day, the garbage bag is sealed and another placed on top. After 10 days and 10 people, the groover is generally brim-full and carried very, very carefully.

And why "groover" - imagine in the old days, when they actually sat on it - with all your weight on two parallel metal edges!

View from the groover - good for meditation

Bag of goodies - groover - disposable freeze bag

Hands-free wash tin - soap - disinfectant

The day the river rose (and fell)

Joy comes in many forms, and putting on a dry wetsuit would have to wait for another day. The river had risen half a metre by late yesterday afternoon, and Elias suggested that we might be wise to migrate from our comfortable flat sleeping rock (which was still another metre above that level) and sleep higher up the rising slope of the overhang. He and Franzi then began to shift their gear - when the river guides migrate, it is definitely time to move.

The night passed to the steady roar of the Newland Cascade and more passing rain periods. We were sure that it was gradually getting louder, but still weren't prepared for the sight that greeted us in the morning. The river level had risen another metre and a half overnight - all the boulders in the Newlands Cascade were now under water and creating their own huge pressure waves. The whole rapid was one seething chaos of brown and white water that now flowed over our former sleeping rock to create a new set of standing waves. Water was also lapping at the base of our old kitchen rock (the kitchen equipment having been moved higher at 2am). What an impressive demonstration of the power of water it was .... and, all the time, the river level inched higher and higher.

Early morning at Newlands camp

The Cascades rose higher ......

.... and higher as the day progressed

Our sleeping place of last night is a metre below

Looking down river towards the rock overhang

The cascades in full fury

Normally, two days is allowed to get from Newlands to the end of the trip, but, if we set off now and didn't capsize in the first set of rapids (which was the probably outcome), we would be there in three hours. All, bar one, of the downstream campsites between here and the end would now be under water (in fact, we heard that the group ahead of us had to abandon their island beach campsite at 2 am and paddle out in the night). The campsite still usable was only an hour away and in the wet dripping forest. Given the options, the unanimous verdict was hole up for another day at our dry and pleasant rock overhang and combine the last two days into one. Even if the river dropped by half, it should still only take 6-7 hours.

And so another day passed at Newlands Rock Overhang, but the spectacle of the Franklin in full flight was enough to fill the day. The Newlands Cascades had merged with the next rapids along to create one monster run of boiling, foaming white-water over a kilometre long. Don estimated the current speed at 18km per hour, using his stick-o-meter, and Elias estimated the volume of water coming down at 3-400 cubic metres per second. Imagine what must be happening in the Great Ravine! The rain finally stopped ..... but still the water level inched up!

These video clips show the river at its most furious:

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The Franklin River peaks at Newlands Cascades.....

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.... with standing waves where there was once flat water

By mid-afternoon, the river level peaked - three metres above its level when we arrived ... and then it began to gradually inch its way down. It was indeed a wondrous spectacle, but a long day needs more than just meditating upon the power of the Franklin to pass. Some read, some ran experiments on water speed and volume, some napped - inspired by what I had seen over the past few days, I sat and composed a series of modern haiku, so this link is your last chance to avoid my self-indulgence and skip to the last section of our journey. In the midst of the Tasmanian wilderness, on the edge of a mighty river, all is well.

Franklin River Anthology (a collection of modern haiku composed on an unraftable day)