Carnage versus pedestrianism: | The River Leny

Let’s be up front here – I (and Mary) chose pedestrianism at the Falls of Leny and Mary still managed to cut her hand falling over rushing to do throwline duty. Michael did a really good job on the falls, but managed to swim in the gorge (the first time he’s swum from the Stomper). The easiest portage is on the right, whilst the best viewpoint is on the left, so not all the carnage got recorded to video, but I’m sure there’s enough for entertainment value…

We checked river levels in the morning from the By The Way hostel and the Leny (our first choice, since it was on the way home) was dropping to a sensible level (1.1m on the SEPA gauge) so that’s where we all headed. The put-in is on slow-flowing water, but the river soon warms up to bouncy grade 2/3. As only Dave and Anthony had paddled this before, we were being a bit cautious and doing all the right things with eddy-hopping and river signals, but it still didn’t take long until we were dropping down to a big eddy on the right just above the falls. These would be very visible from the road (which I’ve driven many times) if you could stop, or were on foot, but the road is sufficiently technical at this point that I’d never actually seen the falls as one’s eyes are firmly on the upcoming tight bend at this point.

After a wander down the bank, Mary and Clive decided to portage, and were at the bottom to catch any floating debris… Anthony went for the right-hand fall (his third time on this drop) and, as on previous occasions, got swallowed up, mildly digested and regurgitated separately from his boat and paddle. Everyone else immediately decided that there was enough water to do the left hand side.

Anthony, having shot the big drop (off left of pic) just fails to clear the rock,
and will shortly be sucked into the nasty hole top left

First off were Alex and Pete. Alex dropped in, and when he reappeared to spectators, he seemed to be adding challenge by paddling the main drop backwards. He managed to turn round at the bottom and ran the gorge upright and rather conventionally forwards. Glancing back upstream, here comes Pete, the right way up and going forwards too, but that didn’t last beyond the stopper at the bottom of the drop. Pete’s first try to roll was quickly aborted as he concentrated on getting a good setup position, but this roll didn’t quite come up either. Spectators were all resigned to a swim, but his quicker third attempt got him back upright before the drop in the gorge, and he stayed up to the bottom. This looked more promising !

Dave and Michael went next. As soon as Dave’s boat appeared from behind the rocky island, spectators sensed that all was not well, since not only was it upside down, but was also heading for the rocks. Fortunately, the boat was protected from any impact by Dave hitting everything first and he was soon out of the boat and swimming. Michael, having seen none of this, now powered down upright and in control and made it into the gorge with time even for a (brief) brown claw. However, out of sight of carnage-hungry video cameras, he got it wrong on the final drop, and practiced breast-stroke to finish.

Michael’s run down Falls of Leny, left hand

Anthony, having failed on three successive visits to the river, was now walking back up for another go, this time on the left. Alex, wanting to know what it might look like facing forwards, soon joined him. Anthony made only one error this time, and rolled up in time to run down the gorge successfully. Alex came down forwards, though spectators thought his line well over to the left might presage some more aquatic antics. Confounding the doubters, he charged down into the gorge looking good. Well, it’s good to know that someone can do it upright !

Below this, the river eases, with just one section where a bit of line-choice works wonders. Straight down the middle involves punching a meaty stopper, whilst those who ferried to the left high up could avoid that, make an eddy left to take a quick visual, then drop neatly into the eddy with everyone else. Michael and I managed this line best of the group, so it’s a pity that I then managed to need a roll breaking across the grade 2 water below 🙁

River Leny: Michael following Andy’s line – folk usually recommend against doing that…

Off the water pretty early, cars shuttled, sandwiches eaten, Dave fed with Ibuprofen so he could grip the steering wheel (punching rocks out of the way never works in these sorts of rivers) and off home. We were back just after 5:30, so even had time to retrieve Fern from Auntie Chrissie’s

Some Orchy, and some more

The levels looked scary, four feet at the Bridge of Orchy, but the Allt Kinglass was pretty low, so the river lower down (at Witch’s Step) was not quite as big as with Glenmore Lodge a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, the group felt a bit intimidated, so we went downstream to look at some rapids and ended up with all eight doing the Lower from the Falls or Orchy down to Catnish as a warm up.

That done, and all upright, we trekked back up and had a look at the top again. The level was down by a few inches, but still fairly big, but we’d left Pete’s van at Eas Mor, so seven of us put on and set off to do the first half of the Middle.

Big Rock went alright (Michael rolled up, but my video was nowhere nearby, so it never happened, OK?) We had a quick reccy at Chicken Shoot, which meant that I got some bank footage, as well as headcam and boat cam.

Michael running into Chicken Shoot

Lots of easy rapids between the named features – some even suitable for playing to the camera.

Brown ! But not very stout…

Next up, Sheep Trolley gorge, which isn’t a gorge and no longer has a sheep trolley. At this level, it’s pretty easy as there are fewer rocks to avoid, but the wave at the end is still pretty meaty, and today it had a second wave which was hit more slowly and necessitated a quick roll (in my case).

Not much further, and we took out above Eas Mor (as we didn’t have time to do the rest). All except Anthony, who ran the grade 5, then took out – a marginally shorter walk to Pete’s van.

Anthony being squirted skywards from the right hand line on Eas Mor

River Kent – a nice level

Penny was running a joint Durham/SOC trip to the Kent, and the level had been quite high a day or two before, so looked likely to be running higher than our usual dead-low fallback trips for a change. The EA gauge at Sedgwick showed 0.65m and this proved to be a really easy level to run the river – no big stoppers on Scroggs or Sedgwick weirs, and nothing too chunky in Old Mill rapid, either. Ten of us met up in Kendal, finding parking in rather short supply, but we managed to squeeze in (“unloading” is allowed on yellow lines…) for long enough to get everyone kitted up.

The shuttled drivers reported an enormous number of cars at the bottom, so we expected there’d be other people on the river. We caught up with a big group from Manchester Uni. at the top of Old Mill Rapid. No-one seemed to be running anything, whilst there were loads of people out on the bank. After chatting with these guys for a while, nothing seemed to be happening, and I couldn’t see our lot, so I dropped down to the eddy opposite the broken weir. No-one had actually run anything !! So I ferried out and dropped down the first drop and the next wave, eddied out and popped up river left with camera and throw-line, after which things started moving a bit more. Soon we were all down, and the students started coming. Some ran in fine style, but didn’t seem to have much idea about rescues whilst others were doing a lot of swimming. We pushed boats and paddles to the bank and all the swimmers seemed to have been landed safely, so it seemed a good time to leave!

We ran the Sedgwick weir far right (despite some initial reluctance – there really wasn’t much stopper and I’ve run this before with a lot more water) and the gorge went pretty easily. At the L-shaped drop, there seemed again to be some reluctance and an accumulation of folk in the eddy left. It didn’t really have room for nine of us (Penny had decided to get off and not run the last drops), so someone needed to get on and run it. I boofed a little further downstream than really needed, so it was a bit scrapey, but everyone followed pretty much my line and we were soon all down. There was no debris on the final little weir (often burdened with branches) and I landed river right to see if I could get to the central rocks to signal people down. No chance ! So I got back in my boat and we all piled over at suitable intervals, with just Iggy needing a swift roll in the big aerated pool at the bottom.

Bright sunshine, the water not too cold and at an excellent easy level – a blast !

Glenmore Lodge – the end | Upper, Middle, Lower Roy; Upper Findhorn

Thursday saw us in Glen Roy, doing not only the gorge, but also the Upper and Lower. The river was well up as we put on, but did drop off a bit on our way down. Andy had to roll three times, once through eddying out above a drop (Wish You Were Here) that really didn’t go from a start in that eddy, and twice from really careless trips in shallow rocky bits. Andy also cleaned Rooster Tail, which he had always avoided running on previous trips putting on at the top of the gorge.

Wish You Were Here
Heading for the lip of Wish You Were Here

Mary had the odd swim as well as rolling, and portaged the siphon drop. Andy had an appointment with that drop, and was extremely pleased with himself for making a fine clean run, entirely upright. My first entirely swim-free descent of the Roy (at the fifth attempt), so a good day !!

Roy Gorge Siphon drop
The game is to aim at the cushion wave and keep the power on

Bearing in mind that several people had long drives home, and water levels had dropped off again, Friday’s river was a more relaxed playboaty trip on the Upper Findhorn.

Top of Dulsie Gorge, Upper Findhorn
The scenic entry to the Dulsie Gorge

I hadn’t done the Dulsie gorge before, so was pleased to get that tick (upright, in the Flirt).

Dulsie Gorge, Upper Findhorn
Dropping in to the Crux of Dulsie Gorge

At this level, much of the rest of the river is unchallenging apart from one move in Levens gorge which needed more forward speed that I managed to produce in the Flirt, which resulted in an ignominious swim. I definitely wasn’t paddling as well today, and made heavy weather of three rolls whilst playing. On the other hand, whilst teh Roy is mostly paddling straight into the sun, the Fidndhorn has much better lighting and lots of autumn colours.

Upper Findhorn
Lots of easy rapids with super views

Glenmore Lodge Wednesday: | the Coe and the Orchy

Wednesday saw us running the River Coe, and off the water by eleven (we both had silly nervous swims on easy water early on, but then ran the harder gorge with one roll from Andy, and none for Mary). The Guide Book tells us that this is continuous pushy grade 4+ with a couple of grade 5- rapids. Well, we walked the first of those (it really didn’t have enough water, though Bruce muscled his way over it), and got out before the second. At low flows, the grade 4+ stuff is somewhat easier and there are plenty of (small) eddies, so don’t be put off by the guidebook if you can get local knowledge !

I’d already got off line and had to roll once and this was round the next blind bend

Another drop leading into another blind bend

Giles Trussel even found room to overtake me on a straight bit…

We then went on to the Orchy. At the put-in this seemed lower than on the WWPF weekend, but the Allt Kinglas was brown and stonking, adding a lot more water. The river was also rising all the time we were on. Andy had a swim-free run, with one rather gratuitous roll just at the put-on and another after a big seal launch. Mary rolled twice on Chicken Shoot, whilst Andy cocked up and managed to turn the headcam off for Sore Tooth, and again later on :-(.

Mary decided not to run Witch’s Step as she was so cold, and Andy went to see if there was a lower eddy she could take out from (as the carry back to the layby is so awful). There wasn’t, and as the river was now a lot bigger than in September, Andy left his paddle at the bus and came back for his boat. Mary had gone for a look, and decided that the river was easier than the portage, so proceeded to make a fine clean run down, amid the carnage of several others who swam !!

Glenmore Lodge – the start | Lower Findhorn; Etive (big!)

Arrived safely – a five hour drive. We seem to have twelve clients on the course, all male except Mary, and it’s being run by Giles Trussel, who ran the course Mary and Ann were on last year, along with Bruce Joliffe, who seems really good, too, so at least that’s happy.

Monday: Lower Findhorn (gorge). Not a huge amount of water about – lots of snow on the tops and it’s warming up, but none of the melt has arrived yet. We put on at the take-out of the Middle Findhorn, so paddled a couple of kilometres of easy stuff to warm up (apparently not often done). Mary unfortunately got the line wrong on Randolph’s Leap and swam. I got the line even more wrong, went into it backwards, but rolled up ! Even Giles had had to roll (though he did at least go forwards:-) and several others looked very inelegant and there was one (or two?) other swimmers. Since I’d gone first after Giles, I had time to hop out and get some bank footage.

Andy rolling up in the narrow gorge of Randolph’s Leap

More rapids – I managed to cock up the line on one and get the paddle knocked out of my hand, grabbed a rock to roll up anyway, but then got washed backwards and lost the paddle with my other hand. Not looking good – my 200th career swim 🙁 Mary made this bit look easy (gnash, gnash). Another complex rapid with at least two main ways in – centre or right. From centre you can power across aiming for an eddy left (which requires some very aggressive and positive paddling), or shoot centre (which ideally wants a bit of speed too, as there is a grabby stopper). From the right, you can power straight on, but at this level there’s a bit of a pinning rock, so better to aim towards that centre slot, with some speed, if you got the first bit right… Mary managed an elegant line over to the eddy left (although, as she hadn’t planned on grabbing the eddy, she just paddled serenely past nicely lined up for the next drop). I reckoned to eddy right, boof leftwards and power through the centre. The eddy right proved to be a bit small and shallow rather limiting my acceleration, so it was more of a plop than a boof, resulting in low speed through the centre stopper which turned me, but didn’t arrest progress… a bit of power and I made the right turn down the next drop with a bit less speed than I’d have liked, but survived that too. As I was last in our group (with the other group very close on our heels), I didn’t get chance to go back and try to improve on it.

There’s one last set of drops before the slot portage. The first two went easily and I was pretty sure of the line for the last one, but changed my mind slightly late and steered right – so I didn’t punch the stopper which ate me briefly. Took two goes, but the second was a really good roll and in a definite good place not to swim, right near the end of the trip.

Some of the second group ran the slot, and nearly all needed a roll, which is not brilliant right next to such a big undercut… We were quite happy with our short portage. It’s only a short, mostly flat paddle to the take-out and at least a grade 5 carry back to the bus.

Tuesday, we’re heading west – expect the Pattack will be too low, so last night’s talk was of the Spean gorge and the Arkaig. But, in fact, we ended up at the Etive, which was running at a substantial level.

Right Angle falls with a lot of water today.

Andy ran away (it also turned out that I’d left my drysuit in Glenmore Lodge drying room – oops!), but Mary ran all of it apart from Right Angle, making an impressive job of most of it, with swims only on Rockslide (which has a big grabby stopper in the middle at this level) and on the very last rapid (a lot lower down than the take-out last time).

Mary, second drop on Triple Step

Mary, third step on Triple Step

Mary on Letterbox

Mary landing Ski Jump

Mary managing to stay upright and on line in Crack of Doom

Mary just managed to clear the wall on Crack of Dawn

The mid-drop stopper on Rockslide got almost everyone, with several swimmers

Almost the last drop before the take-out, and several folk had to roll here

They ran the last rapid without inspection and carnage ensued – this could have been a good roll, except that Mary’s head is just hitting a big submerged rock – it got about six others too !

And finally, after only 18 months, here is the video. Bear in mind that there were a lot of people, and this is biased to show the carnage, so the trip was by no means as epic as this might make it seem.