Etive at last !

Michael got an excellent shot of me on the third step of Triple Step, near the start of the trip.

Mary was not having a good time, and got off after Triple Step, whilst Izi left us before Crack of Dawn. The rather surprising (and apparently very recent) addition of a car to the river does nothing for the scenic value – at least it looks removeable – this isn’t the Swale !

Both Michael and I were pleased with our runs of Letterbox and Ski Jump, but Michael decided not to paddle the first half of Crack of Dawn, and Lowri walked to put on in the middle to provide safety, so I found myself being the only one to run it. No pressure, then. However good line advice from Lowri, and getting exactly the line and paddle strokes I’d visualised resulted in success !

Crack of Doom was unfortunately not up enough to run, but had enough water to make the seal launch a little awkward, though we all survived, despite a bit of rock bumping. I’d forgotten about Rockslide until we arrived, but as the level was not massive, the hole halfway down held no unwanted retention problems and we all splashed down gleefully.

The weather being particularly foul, the level was rising as we paddled and Right Angle was at a ‘difficult’ level. Mike’s demonstration of how not to get round the right angle resulted in him going backwards over Big Man Fall separately from his boat (but remembering to brown claw) and me deciding to walk (well scramble) down. Then, on his second go when he nailed it from a seal launch into the eddy, I had not yet got the video running 🙁

I managed to miss the line on the last drop and slam very hard into the rock on the left. It’s sore, but I did roll up (eventually) ! We inspected the last rapid, as there was so much carnage last time (when I was videoing, not paddling), but we all got down this upright, and only I did any of it backwards… It was good to be at the end – the weather was now especially unpleasant – but that’s what fills rivers :-).

A bigger Moriston

As the Etive was still likely to be bigger than our taste, and the Moriston release starts on Tuesday but not until 12, we first diverted ourselves with another run down the Arkaig, this time mostly in sunshine.

Then we headed across to Invermoriston to find the put-in layby at the Dundreggan dam quite busy. But a packed layby still provides a lot less river traffic than Wet West, and the boater-cross quality was thankfully missing. However, we did note that today’s release was more substantial than when we’ve run it before, on Wet West. This made the line on the top drop somewhat harder to hit, even though we could exit the top of the eddy which ought to have made it easier.

Not quite my intended line on the top drop

Michael now seeing the Moriston as a playground…

The big rapid towards the end was possibly easier at this level, but faster and no less intimidating. Lowri did this chasing Izi (who had joined us today) whilst I took a line chasing her boat (it wasn’t giving me a lot of choice). Michael eddied out to let the debris clear a little before styling his way down. The final few chutes and waves were also quite a bit more powerful, as we both chased Izi’s boat to river right opposite the take-out where we got it emptied. Tragically, I had pushed the wrong button of the forward-facing helmet GoPro for this section, and all I’ve got is a single still shot, in an eddy 🙁

The West is Wetter than Wet West

We ran north to escape the storm, being mildly buffeted on the M6 and M74, then seriously rained on as we got into the highlands – this looked promising ! The Leny looked little bigger than when we ran it last year, but other things looked big until it became too dark to see. SEPA gauges were telling a mixed story this morning – lots of rain, but apparently patchy. We drove to the Pattack, which proved to be a good guess, as this was at a nice level, but probably no bigger than we’ve run it before.

Mary on the drop, middle of the Pattack

A brown claw on the final fall of the Pattack (OK, yes, so I had to roll up…)

Since the Pattack’s quite short and there was still time/daylight, we next headed for the Arkaig, which was well up (though the Chia-Aig was running clear and a lot lower than on the Sunday of the Wet West). As I’d reccied a lot of the Arkaig whilst taking the dog for a walk (whilst we were studiously avoiding paddling) back in September, I thought I’d seen the main rapid(s). However, just out of sight of our furthest point, lurks a good long, bouncy rapid with a drop at the end and, today, a lot of volume. Since I wasn’t expecting anything like this at this point in the river, it came as a bit of a surprise, and I had no real idea of line. I took a middle course between what I understood Lowri to have advised and where I could see Michael heading. Nudged by various stoppers and waves, then suddenly indecisive about what lay ahead, the line kind of picked me, rather than vice versa. Sliding sideways towards what looked like a big hole had not been part of any plan … but in fact dropped into water going very fast downstream which duly shot me out grinning and upright.

Andy being submarined through, second run

So good, in fact, that we reccied it properly (from an island, which you can’t get onto until you’ve run the rapid once) and did it again. I took a different line this time, dropping from the highest point of the ledge river left and going deep in the aerated water, popping up upright and still paddling, grinning even wider !

Dropping in to the last drop on the big rapid (2nd run), Arkaig

Ditches Day in Swaledale

Despite a late start, a quick look at the Swale Park bridge gauge showed the Upper Swale running at 1.06m, so we dropped a car in West Stonesdale, and headed back up to the top of Stonesdale Beck, to put in higher up than Dave had done on his previous run. This meant we could take out before the tree-infested bit at the bottom, and still have a decent length run with lots of little ledge drops and a few bigger slidey/bumpy drops. By now the Swale was dropping and it was clear that Stonesdale Beck would be better with a tad more water, probably ideal when still raining and the Swale still rising, but then we wouldn’t have had nice sunshine for the video and photos…

A feature of paddling south in the sun is that the tops of drops feature dazzled paddlers, whilst the bottoms lie hidden in deep shade, which makes read-and-run … interesting. Fortunately, there’s nothing really hard and most things can be bounced down.

The Swale was still about 0.9 or so, and the bottom of Whitsundale Beck looked OK, so we dropped a car at Wainwath and shuttled up to the top. This was lower than last time we’d done it, so we were expecting a few more hangups, but somehow the lines seemed better defined and we had fewer capsizes than last time (none, in fact:) and hit the Swale just 22 minutes after putting in.

We ran on down to Wainwath where I got slowed down by a bit of a hole and rather pencilled the drop (but stayed upright). Dave, on the other hand, got a particularly good boof.

We then left Anthony to run Rainby while we nipped back for my car. Time was now pressing, so I rushed off to unload/load boats for the pool session in the evening. Fortunately, Dave spotted that my helmet had dropped out of the cockpit whilst I was dragging the boat over the fence and brought it along. Cheap helmet would not be much loss, but the GoPro3 would have been sorely missed !

Video from both these runs features in the “Ditches compilation”:

The Greta as the drought fades

Today’s trip was programmed as the Keswick Greta, but the west had had less rain than us, so the gauge was only showing 0.75m and dropping very early morning. Penny and the Durham group ran it, at 0.7m and found the level OK, though well below the white line. However, the SOC group, meeting at Bowes, decided it was not worth crossing the A66 for – and besides, the local Greta seemed to be running, which is a nicer river, though a bit harder than the grade on the SOC meets list. As our only new paddler didn’t appear, we headed for Rutherford bridge, where the weir was showing 0.51m – low but runnable. A Roker group had put on just before we started the shuttle, and we caught up with them later on. It’s all fairly benign until the first little gorge, where there is a drop which is a bit of a slot when it’s low, so we all went deep and popped up with more or less frantic bracing, but no upsets.

The river is nowhere pushy at this level, and we bimbled down quietly as the weather cleared up. The sun even came out as we were passing the old Brignall church ruins on the left bank – about the only place where you would actually notice. I decided to check out the right hand side of the island which was blocked by a huge fallen tree until a year ago, and found it perhaps a bit rocky at this level, but clear of hazards. I emerged to find Don just rolling up below the outlet from the left channel.

Soon after, at the last island, the channel is completely blocked by a fallen tree composed of several thin trunks. This might be a bit of a hazard at high level, but had lots of eddy space today, and was a short portage on the left. The Greta is always a place to be wary of newly fallen trees, so we hopped out to inspect Hell Cauldron (which was clear) and the Roker lot, whom we had passed earlier, now caught us up. I managed to make the break out behind the big pointy rock at the start of the gorge, but drifted too close to the wall where there was a springy overhanging branch. However, I did roll up very quickly, unlike one of the Roker lads caught in the same way a few moments later.

They had a swimmer on the final swoosh down, too, which Alex, Don and I managed in a relaxed and upright manner – it really is fairly innocuous this low, as long as you don’t get sideways in a shallow bit. So innocuous, in fact, that we all went back to play in the final stopper, usually a violent and grabby affair that often ends in tears. We all survived this, too, though it doesn’t want to let go, and once you are off the wave, you still aren’t in the clear as the eddy line takes a strong grip on the boat.

Flat and a bit of a scrape now down to the take-out river right below Greta Bridge. There’s a strong smell of mint and sweet cicely here, with tall nettles, but at least the old christmas trees seem to have rotted away, so the exit is a bit easier than it once was.

How Low Can you Go ? The Kent at summer levels – in October !

The Kent and the Lune are regular standby runs when the water is low, and as the Lune is on my list to get back to in high water, I picked the Kent for this dryish Sunday in mid-October. We avoided the long flattish section from Kendal (where even the little playwaves on all the low weirs would be too low to bother) by putting in at Scroggs Weir. Only four of us were motivated enough to make the trip, and as Penny was already in the Lakes, Alex, Don and I squeezed into one car.

Don looked at the put-in and decided to seal launch from the top of the bank, reckoning he would easily miss the one large pointy rock. Down he slid, bounced over the nice rounded rock, and landed slap bang on top of the pointy one. Oops ! But at least the dent didn’t go right through the hull 🙂 Scroggs weir is a scrape at almost any level, so the lack of water didn’t really make a lot of difference, and below it, the river was slow, but never too scrapey.

Dropping into Prizet bridge – the first real rapid.

As it narrows down for Prizet bridge, the first of the rapids, we noted a fisherman just downstream, but far enough away that we could eddy out before we got there, and sidle down the left of the gorge. Not everyone chose the bump-free line on the next little rapid (well, Penny always tells people not to follow me) and the Old Mill rapid had plenty of water, but not enough to make the stoppers grabby, so no upsets here.

There was so little water on Sedgwick weir that Alex took a line down the middle bit that one would normally avoid like the plague. At this level, a rightwards boof stays well away from the towback, and has the advantage of enough depth of water to land in. So on to the final gorge, where the normally boisterous little rapid was quite relaxed today. The L-shaped drop had more than enough water to take the left edge…

Alex gets a good boof on his second go – L-shaped drop.

The little weir that precedes the last drop was probably scrapier than anything else on the run, but still just about enough water not to get hung up.

Despite being his first time here, Don probably got a better line than anyone else!

So now we were committed to the final drop, always a bit of a blind run, and perhaps a surprise to anyone who hasn’t been here before. This low, it’ s actually more technical than with more water – a line very hard right works, or a line nearer the middle (as Don took in the photo). Just in between is the edge of a ledge which tends to kick your boat on edge, needing a positive brace on landing – if your weight is forward enough, the boat will spin its stern out and carve under you, bringing you neatly into the eddy (even if that wasn’t what you’d planned!).

Don managed not to Lemming off the final climb out today – merely throwing his boat back into the river to maintain balance…

Fossil hunting on the Tees

Having spectated as Sarah and Michael paddled the Upper Tees on Saturday, Sunday was to be a trip supporting recently-joined SOC members on an easier river. As the water levels had dropped right off yet again, the initial plan was to Park’n’Play at Abbey, but this got expanded to paddling Barney-Winston. As it happened, the only new paddler who had committed to coming had managed to lose his wallet a few hours previously (must have been a good night!) and couldn’t make it, so Mary, Andy and Sarah paddled with Clive Hall, Pete Ball and James Lock. Abbey was an OK level, though I made an impressive mess of it on my second run (and amazed everyone by staying in my boat as it bashed over various rocks, to roll up at the bottom). There were fishermen in abundance at Whorlton, so we skirted down the left and dropped off the end to avoid upsetting them. The Grafts Farm playwaves proved quite entertaining, especially when James and I found ourselves on the same bit of wave at one point. I braced off the only support I could reach (James’ shoulder) and stayed upright. James rather got the worst of it, as he didn’t. Sorry !

The new rockfall below Wycliffe (photo from last trip)

Shortly downstream, as we noted on our last trip, a substantial rockfall on the outside of the bend has buried a little wave I used to enjoy playing on, but has dumped a very large amount of massive sandstone blocks, and far more crumbly shales and calcareous mudstones into the river. Sarah and I spent a few minutes picking fossils out of this lot. Most of the rocks show very little in the way of fossils, but a few lumps proved to be quite rich in Brachiopods and Crinoid fragments.

Brachiopods from the recent cliff collapse, river right, below Wycliffe

More photos when I’ve actually processed today’s video footage !