We were rather expecting a bit of a scrape, but levels had been rising since the last EA gauge updates and we found the Wharfe moving pleasingly fast to save all the flat paddling on this mostly fairly tame section. Slightly too fast for one person on this beginners’ trip, but an exit was made very quickly, with no great distance to retreat to the cars. Loup Scar rapid had some quite boily eddy lines, but straight down the middle would have been very straightforward. There’s little else of any note on this section, except for Appletreewick Falls, which is an easy portage for those who had no intention of going anywhere near what the guidebook describes as very canoeist-hungry stoppers. That proved, in fact, to be everyone except me. I’d already been declared the expendable probe for this trip, but here I was merely expendable, since no-one needed the results of a probe.

Keep hard left on the right hand side of the island

We’d already looked and decided that the left hand side had no navigational difficulties, but led unavoidably into a big stopper with boxed in ends, so that looked a bad option. The right hand side had a fairly easy line that led, if you got it just right, to a bit of a tongue through the even meatier stopper. The trouble with that line was that there was more than one horizon line, and no landmarks, so hitting the tongue would be a little hit-and-miss. A line in at the left hand edge of the right channel could catch a big eddy, or just stay left of the main wave train, and then continue close to the island, hitting a much smaller stopper and hopefully avoiding any terminal consequences even if that stopper wasn’t hit with much speed. This was the “safe” line, though it did end a long way from bank protection (Don with my 30m throwline, river right).

Taking a look at the stopper on the left hand channel

The others all put back on to run the two smaller rapids below the main fall, both of which proved even easier than they’d looked from the bank. After that it was but a short way on the flat to the take-out at Bardon bridge where we thought the river had dropped somewhat since we’d shuttled.

I’ve always thought of this bit of the Wharfe as being a lot further away than the Upper and Middle, but, since the approach is via the A1 and then the Ripon bypass (the same way we’d go to the Washburn) the travel time proved to be not much longer than going to the Washburn – well under an hour and a half even with A1 roadworks. There’s a another section downstream of this that I’ve never done, so perhaps there will be a return to tick that off, too.

Blink and you’ll miss the water – North Wales midweek

Having returned to Bangor after a visit to Aberystwyth university, Michael and I were cheered by overnight rain, which brought up the Nant-y-gwyryd to a decent level. Nicky knew the lines and, most critically, the take-out for the portage of the unpleasant grade 5 fall midway, so we ran without inspection. It’s fast, steep, narrow and gives one some idea of what it might be like for a ball in a pinball machine !

We took out above the last drop and inspected from the bridge. The left line is a bit sketchy, so the way down is on the right, but boofing left to stay in the pool and make the eddy on the left. Then a slot drops into the left channel, thus avoiding the low overhanging branches in the right-hand channel. Looking at this from above, it looked marginal to make that eddy, and terminal to miss it, so I walked whilst Nicky and Michael ran it.

Having picked up another paddler from Plas-y-Brenin, and heard that the Ogwen was still too low to run, Nicky and Mike went back for a second run, whilst I shot a bit of bank footage. Having dropped down the river right bank at the last fall, I realised that the pool was bigger and making the eddy not as difficult as I’d imagined. Rob ran the drop first, and didn’t bother with the eddy, dropping down the right hand side and easily making another eddy before the overhanging trees. So that was safer than it had seemed too. As if to rub it in, he then ran the rest of the right hand channel, finding that, at this level, one could simply sneak under the branches. Nicky and Michael repeated their line, giving me the opportunity to take footage from river right, which certainly gives a better view of the drop.

We then adjourned to the Siabod for lunch, before heading down to Bethesda to look at the Ogwen which was now runnable, if a little low. We shuttled and spoke to two lads who had just done the run, which gave us even more confidence that we had enough water. Last time I’d run Bethesda gorge, there was barely enough room to get under the bridge at the put-on and we had a lot of swimmers. Mine was early enough to mean that I didn’t actually see the meat of the gorge, so it was interesting this time to notice just how early I’d swum last time, and what was lower down that had given so much grief to the others.

The river then eases up for a while – we took out towards the end of this stretch last time, so the next section would be all new (it was epic grade 4/5 last time, and even the group who stayed on and knew the river well lost gear). The first rapid under the bridge gives a flavour of the gorge and if this is a bit much, there is a big eddy right and still time to run away. We didn’t.

At this level, the whole run is technical with a lot of manoeuvring between boulders, but not so powerful that a missed line is guaranteed terminal. Fortunately, Nicky knows the river very well indeed (it’s virtually on his doorstep) so no inspection was required. I cocked a few lines up, but never badly enough that I couldn’t recover quickly and stay upright. There are eddies to make, but a lot of the time it is better to maintain forward speed until one of the rare flatter bits gives time for a breather. At 23m/km, it is not quite as steep as the Onde, but is a much bigger river with far more choice of (potentially bad) lines… I was challenged !

The video is my first shot entirely in quadHD, but youtube only has it at 1080p24 (ie. full HD). I’m hoping to drop the 3.2 Gb UHD version on for a while and will add a link if I manage to upload that. The video is ten minutes, which is a lot for river that took under an hour to paddle, but it really was almost continuous fast and furious action with no let up and no time to stop and inspect (we didn’t have enough daylight left to do anything other than paddle, anyway). I was very pleased to cope all the way down until the gradient started to ease back. Eventually I cocked up one last line and had to roll, but it was pretty snappy and a single stroke got me back facing the right way and on we went ! Mike, of course, had no trouble at all, but at least he was never bored.

Pennine Atmospherics

We’ve been doing a few local walks lately, but this one was a little further afield as we decided to revisit High Cup Nick. It was a cold sharp and sunny day at home, but almost as soon as we started heading west, there were rolling banks of fog, though we could see the blue sky just above us whilst we were east of the Pennine watershed, so thought it would burn off soon enough. West of Stainmore, however, we descended below what was now a layer of overcast and we started to have our doubts.

Heading NE out of Dufton, we got some way up the hill before entering the cloud layer. We were following the bridleway that (eventually) leads to Garrigill at the top of the South Tyne with the intention of dropping into High Cup from the moor above which would be a more dramatic way of seeing it than coming on it gradually from below. A couple of steep zigzags very much reminded me of the Sani Pass and I was fondly imagining emerging from the top of the cloud to find the highest Pub in Africa… The track soon got quite snowy, then the sky started to look blue and I found I had a shadow – this was looking good. A zephyr took the mist away and the sun burned down fiercely for a short while.

By the time, Mary, Chrissie, Tully and Fern arrived, however, a more prolonged bit of breeze had drawn the clouds back and we turned south onto the trackless moor in very poor visibility, though the top of the cloud was obviously not far above. Looming through the mist, we saw a big cairn, and from there we could briefly make out the trig point a little further south. Again the sun penetrated the fog, and had we been above a drop to our north, we would have seen brockenspectres. As the ground was level, we just got the top half of the halo, but this was quite impressive and distinct.

From the trig point, which was on the edge of the plateau, just above a drop-off, we picked up a better, though at times indistinct, path, with less snow, so made rapid progress south. As we approached the drop-off into High Cup, the path turned more eastwards and we knew we wanted to drop down to meet the Pennine Way. But every time the cloud thinned a little and gave us a view we seemed to be looking down steep snow slopes into impenetrable depths, so we continued to follow the path along the top of the edge. Eventually the fog lifted briefly again and we could see that the way down was straightforward, if rather boggy. The GPS said we were quite a way east of where we’d hoped to cut down, so we wasted no time, dropping back into the cloud, now with a cold breeze in our faces. A quick snack and an additional layer added, we headed along the path which materialised and soon grew more distinct. But no views. As a scenic excursion to one of the Pennine’s more dramatic bits of scenery, the trip was a bit of a flop. But the dogs enjoyed it…