Lune at a good level

Levels had dropped dramatically almost everywhere except the Tees (which we paddle so often that we really did want somewhere else at a weekend). The Lune always holds it level for a while after rain, and it proved to be quite a good level, with no bump or scrape (this makes a change as we often end up on the Lune when levels everywhere else are way too low). We were lucky enough to get a lift back up from the take-out, enabling us to leave both cars at the bottom, thanks ! A bright, sunny paddle on clear water felt almost alpine at times. There were a lot of parties on the water, and we overtook a large number at Crowder’s Leaps, some of whom caught us up again as we took out to inspect the Strid.

Dave’s run, the Strid

We continued on down Killington gorge in the sun and dropped into the eddy 30m above the bridge to egress by the good path over bedrock, safer than the steep exit right next to the bridge, even though that now (apparently) has steps installed. The day was then rather spoiled by an aggressive chap blocking our exit, leaving us stood in the cold with heavy boats on our shoulders. Without any form of introduction, he then started haranguing us for using this egress point. When I tried to point out that we had previously been asked to use this egress, he didn’t enquire who had given us this advice, or when (several years ago, when there were no steps by the bridge), he just shouted “No!” which I took as a direct, unequivocal and offensive accusation that I was lying (for which he could have no possible evidence or justification), to which I understandably took exception, asking him, just to be sure he really did mean it as an accusation, what he meant by “No!”. It immediately became impossible to get any sense out of him at all as he ranted on about Canoe England (a body exclusively devoted to governing competitive canoeing and of no conceivable relevance in this situation) and conservation areas and heavens knows what else (I had by now started trying to simply ignore him and get on with letting ourselves out onto the public road – he might have been behaving in a manner liable to cause a breach of the peace, but I preferred not to). He eventually stopped having a go and allowed us to pass through the gate. I can’t imagine what he had hoped to achieve, but as the person who had advised us to use the easy, safe path several years ago (when the bank by the bridge was steep and slippery) had been polite and helpful, I’m sure we’ll continue to use that egress in future as it has a better eddy (with less risk of missing it and ending up under the bridge) and is safer and less steep than the steps. I’ll try to make sure that I have my forward-facing helmet camera running throughout our egress in future (unfortunately, the thing had crashed repeatedly today). I’ve emailed the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority as well as reporting the incident on UKRGB. It turns out my aft-facing helmet camera was still running (didn’t pick up much of the conversation) and the guy can be seen rather distantly on a few odd frames. If you recognise him – avoid him ! If you can’t avoid him (difficult if he insists on holding the gate shut against you) report him !

Greenfield Beck and the Upper Wharfe

You can have too much of a good thing… Levels were epic with many of our local favourites being bigger than to our taste. The Upper Swale was showing over 1.5m, the Tees Greta well over a metre and the Tees itself big on all sections, and well outside our comfort zone on the Upper Tees. The Rawthey would no doubt have gone for a second time (after a fifteen year wait), and perhaps some Tees tribs would have gone, but we had a bigger group than ideal for ditches. We opted to drive over to Langstrothdale as the Wharfe at Kettlwewell was showing over 1.5m and the top tribs seemed likely to be up. Roads were certainly well flooded on the drive over, but Cray Gill (not on our programme) needed still more water to run. The Wharfe at Hubberholme was nicely coloured and at a good level, so we headed straight up the road to Beckermonds and up the road for Greenfield. Reccying from the road, we could see a big new cattle fence across the beck, so didn’t put on from the big parking place as last time, but dropped back down a bit to put on below the new fence. During the shuttle I had a quick reccy of the bit you can’t see from the road, so knew that the next fence before the drop was still there. We split into two groups of three and four to approach this, to be sure we had enough eddy space. A quick inspection, since we were out of boats anyway, and we could see that the level was already falling. The approach was a little shallow but eminently runnable so off we went.

Michael first on the drop

There is now a series of small ledge drops and stoppers, one of which still had the double strand of wire across just above it. Fortunately, the water is slow moving just above this drop, so ducking under the wire where it was highest, river right, then nipping across to the river left line didn’t prove particularly difficult. With that hazard behind us, we all piled down to the confluence where we could see that Oughtershaw Beck was already too low to paddle. The Upper Wharfe itself was still at a good level, probably a shade higher than I’ve paddled it before. This proved to be the usual fine romp, though there were three cheeky rolls among the group, one of which was mine as I cocked up an attempt to find a sneaky line avoiding a stopper which I’d seen loop people before…

Coming in to the “tree drop”, Upper Wharfe

By the time we reached Hubberholme, the water was running clear and the level well down on an hour or two earlier, so it didn’t seem worth looking for anything else to paddle and we headed home. We seem to have been lucky with the Wharfe – it’s up and down in a jiffy, but I’ve now paddled it five times at a decent level, with three of those trips taking in one of the tributaries.

River Rawthey

Soon after I’d started white water paddling, Pete Bridgstock had related the tale of a trip down the River Rawthey, which needs a lot of rain and drops very quickly almost as soon as the rain eases off. From not long after that, when I was paddling at a high enough grade to contemplate the trip, the River Rawthey had been on my list of rivers to paddle. The club hasn’t (to my knowledge) had another descent since Pete’s trip, maybe fifteen years ago, so there was no-one left paddling regularly who knew the river. On odd occasions we’ve been for a look based on weather forecasts which have been over-optimistic, or when much rain fell, but not in the right place. We’ve seen it in flood when coming home from other rivers which have been programmed trips, and we’ve heard of folk paddling it when we’ve used the heavy rain to go a grab a descent of something else …

Finally, this weekend, we had a suitable group, a programmed river which wouldn’t run, and enough rain that the Rawthey would (we hoped). A drive over showed that it was still up and the trip was on ! Rainchasers had it at a medium-to-high level, but this is based on a gauge some way downstream which is measuring the combined waters of the Rawthey, Clough and Dee, and will also lag an hour or two behind the levels on the upper stretches of these rivers. So despite its still raining as we put on, the river was already dropping and we probably wouldn’t have wanted to paddle it much lower, as some lines were already becoming rocky and technical.

From the put-on the river is quite fast with low overhanging branches and an adequate but small number of eddies, few big enough for more than a couple of boats. Technical and continuous enough to feel slightly pushy, but nowhere really pushing our envelope. There were a couple of rolls from the odd misjudgment of the speed of the water and one stopper which backlooped a boat. As my H2 had developed a split (after ten years of hard use) I was back in the Ammo, which I’m not used to, and is quite short, so I was quite pleased to have stomped through that stopper without an upset. There were plenty of small drops and rapids – the rockiest drops always seemed to have the deepest water on river right, not always the easiest line to get to.

Low branches made getting right over here quite hard – in fact the next tongue left would have been good, too, and easier

One drop we’d scouted from the road, and a more distant view from the footbridge leading to the Cautley Spout footpath. This seemed to have a clean tongue river right, but closer inspection suggested a bit nearer the centre, just right of a projecting rock. This was easier than it looked, if on line, but too far right dropped into a stopper and recirculating eddy from which it was difficult to escape.

Hitting the right spot at the top of the tongue

Soon after this drop, the river eases off, passes under said footbridge and into a more open section of the valley at the back of the Cross Keys temperance hotel by the Cautley valley. Cautley Spout was still flowing pretty well, making a fine view up the valley. The flatter section is soon enclosed by steep wooded banks as a sharp bend to the right is approached. We took out here for a quick look at the grade 4 rapid beyond the bend. Most eddied river left, but I found a good viewpoint river right from which I could see the line the others were taking.

Pete heading down the main line towards a hole (which didn’t detain him)

I didn’t much fancy that big stopper in my Ammo, but could see that there was (probably) a more technical line river right which sneaked past it and might be a better bet in a short easily-looped boat. The very steep bank meant that I couldn’t see it as well as I’d like, but I could see enough to be sure it was free of strainers so this was my line of choice, which proved to be a nice line provided one stayed upright and paddling to keep in the right place.

Cliffs on the right made inspection from river right less than ideal, but the line was good

Very shortly below this, a tree right across the river meant a portage – going right up to the top of the bank proved to be strenuous and time-consuming, and everyone else managed to get past much nearer river level. After this, the river eases with rapids further apart separated by fairly easy water, though still moving at a pleasant pace. One rapid was complicated by a substantial tree across the main channel, but this was easily visible and a rocky channel on the left provided a straightforward bypass, as long as one kept paddling and didn’t let the current take you back to the main channel.

Hold the line left as some water escapes to the main channel

The last real obstacle was a short drop in which a lot of the water funnelled into a nasty-looking slot. A big cushion on the left as water flowed over a rock avoided this, and Sarah paddled right up this and down bypassing the stopper almost entirely. Above, this good line was guarded by a projecting rock on the left, so the rapid had to be hit fairly precisely, with power taking you left. I demonstrated that too much power would take you neatly into the guard rock, to be spun round and dropped backwards down the rapid, but the hole was nowhere near as nasty as it looked and this proved to be a harmless exercise. Steve showed that ferry gliding across too close to the rapid was a perhaps neater way of descending it backwards, though the look on his face and the “Oh shit!” exclamation rather gave away that it wasn’t intentional.

Putting the bow over the eddy line slows the whole boat down giving more time to hit the rock

There’s now a fun little gorge in Conglomerate rock, but nothing technical before an interesting tributary comes in on the left under two bridges. Then the valley opens out and the Clough comes in, also river left. By now my GoPro had run out of battery, so I didn’t record one last very bouncy wave-train just before the takeout. This last bit is shown in the video, but recorded (at a lower level) on a later date.