Back on the Soča

I’ve not finished editing the video from last year’s trip yet, and here we are, generating more footage. The weather is blisteringly hot, the Rainex is fresh and I’m getting better quality on a lot of stretches, especially the Bunker section (which we’ve run twice) where the critical bit at the entry to Canyon 3 last year was spoilt by a big drop of water on the GoPro. This year I have clear 4k footage from both runs (and good lines both times).

Dropping into Canyon 3 on the second run. 0.13m on the gauge.

The penalty for the hot weather and a low snow pack is, inevitably, low levels. The Koritnica ran at the start of the week, but is looking pretty empty now. The Bunker section is probably now out unless the thunderstorms we saw over the Austrian side last night return and drop some water a bit closer. The classic sections lower down are still fine, of course, and we’ve been having plenty of fun around Srpenica. Not sure if we have the group to do the slalom section, but there is talk of doing the Otona on Friday which is the only section (apart from Siphon Canyon which no-one sane runs anyway) I’ve not done.

James Lock in Canyon 3

More photos to come !


Six days skills development (rather than pure tourist kayaking) in Slovenia inevitably means mostly paddling the Soča – only one tributary is usually an option. It is, however, a fantastic river with lots of short sections of varying difficulty. One constant on all the sections is the clear blue water combined with idyllic scenery.

As a warm-up, we started on the section from the Koritnica confluence down to Čezsoča (where we had lunch while Jake rearranged the shuttle) and on down to the Srpenica 1 access point. These are both shortish sections which could be run at grade two avoiding all the difficulties, which made it an ideal run for deliberately looking for harder lines and moves off the many boulders and eddy lines. One little challenge, in particular, had me rolling up four times in the 8.1 Mamba I started off paddling.

For the second day, we stepped up a bit, to the Srpenica 1 section, with me still in the Mamba. This section is a little steeper, with a lot more spots to play and make lines. There is a wide flat bit at the end where we had a bit of flat-water coaching, and Jake persuaded me I should try a bigger boat. The Zet Toro which he’d been paddling felt very over-forgiving and slow to accelerate at first, but I soon found that it seemed to be very quick in ferry glides and lost less ground. After a quick bit of boat swapping over lunch, I ended up paddling the Toro for the rest of the week. So, for the afternoon, we repeated Srpenica 1, which did give me a good basis for comparison. The high cross to a tiny eddy that I’d failed on four times in the Mamba (managing to capsize on a cushion wave every time) proved to be trivially easy at the first attempt in the Toro, so it certainly inspired confidence to try things I might have been nervous of in the smaller boat. I did, however, find it quite a lot harder to predict the boat’s line in response to my paddle strokes – a bigger boat with harder edges, at least aft, made for a boat which carved turns when edged, but wasn’t deflected as much by currents from the side. I missed quite a lot of tops-of-eddies and bumped a fair few rocks. The trouble with the first Srpenica section is that there is a horrid climb from the take-out to the road, and although the Toro is actually no heavier than the Mamba, I did struggle up here – having been finding the boat required more powerful arm-tiring strokes to drive on the river.

For our third day we returned to the Sprenica 1 put-in and made our way down a little quicker, avoiding the Srpenica 2 egress climb by continuing down the next section to the Trnovo 1 access point, where parking is much nearer the river, just above the footbridge at the start of the “Slalom section”. The second Srpenica section has a lot more to it, with definite lines to make and manoeuvring across the current. The signboards give this section III-IV. Maybe we’d just settled in and were paddling well, but I can’t say it ever felt more than grade III. However, at one point, Mary was a little off-line and was rewarded with the gratification of showing that she could roll the Veloc she was paddling, in real white water. After lunch we went back to the Koritnica confluence to do a bit more intensive skills practice in unthreatening water, down to Čezsoča.

By now we were getting the hang of the river, and went right upstream to put on at the top of the “Bunker” section, on down through “Canyon 3”, passing the Koritnica confluence and taking out at Čezsoča once again. That was quite a long shuttle for Jake, so we had a leisurely lunch. Mary didn’t want a lot more paddling, so decided to sit out the afternoon. We nipped down to the Srpenica 1 access, where the river police checked our river passes before we headed on down. We took a variety of different lines on the second Srpenica section today, and found a couple of places to do neat circuits between eddies and boulders. By this time I’d got the hang of keeping the Toro moving forward all the time by paddling with mostly forward strokes, so I was wasting less energy bringing it back up to speed. This does give less thinking time, so I managed to get one line wrong and have a swift roll. That is one thing to be said for the bigger boat – it floats much higher in the water, even when upside down, so getting the paddle right to the surface was remarkably easy. Since we were going well, we continued under the footbridge and onto the Slalom section. This is noticeably steeper with the flow often more channelled and quite a lot more moving about the river. The signboards give it grade IV-V, but at the water level we had (a bit bigger than on SOC’s trip a few years ago) it was no more than grade IV, and not high in the grade. We took out river right, and Jake went to get a bike from the Gene17 house, to go back for the van, Mary, and bike he’d left at the Srpenica section egress. Since he was expecting this to take up to an hour, I took the opportunity to drop back down to the river and walk up the right bank, taking a few photos and clips of video.

On Thursday, we paddled both Srpenica sections once again, making a few new lines and having fun at a few playspots on the steep second section. Whilst Jake was shuttling, I took a lot of photos of the top of the slalom section, as we’d noticed that there had been some major changes since the SOC trip of four years earlier. One boulder on the left in the entry rapid has split, and another huge boulder that was on the bank has vanished, leaving a large obstacle in the middle of what had been a flat pool on the earlier trip.

There were now only two bits of paddling we hadn’t tackled (well, also Syphon canyon, but that’s not really sensible to run at this sort of level, if ever). The Otona section is longish and perhaps a bit more committing than Mary was up for, so we headed past Bovec to the top of the Koritnica. The put-in is down a steep path (which would be hard work if you were coming up), leading to a short section which was a bit of a scrape as it was rather braided, over a cobbled bed (good weather meant that levels had been dropping all week). From an eddy on river left, we now headed into the “gorge”, which is a narrow section between rock walls, which weren’t high enough to stop it continuing sunny. This is easier than it looks, and only slightly steeper just at the entry before becoming boily but straightforward. A big sunny eddy towards the end really showed up the clarity of the water. It is then an alternation of wooded canyons and wider bouldery rapids for some distance until, under the road bridge which we’d crossed earlier on the way to the Bunker section, it got a bit more lively right down to the confluence with the Soča. Rather than the steep walk up to the parking here, we continued down the by now very familiar section to Čezsoča.

By the last day, we were perhaps starting to burn out a little – I was definitely not concentrating as hard as I would have liked and whilst I didn’t miss any lines on the now familiar Srpenica sections, I didn’t feel that continuing onto the Slalom section would have been as successful as the first time. Over lunch we came to the conclusion that perhaps we should call it a week – saving the Otona section to give an excuse to come here again.

We headed back to the chalet at Camp Koren above Kobarid and decided to have a walk in the woods looking for flowers. We started river right, looking at the lower part of the Otona to Napoleon bridge section of the Soča, which by this point is fairly pool-drop with some long flattish sections. The harder part is just below Syphon canyon and we really didn’t have time to walk that far up. Consequently, when we came across a sign towards a footbridge and indicating a scenic waterfall, we took this route, dropping steeply down to cross the Soča and ascend a pleasant path for twenty minutes on the other side. This intercepted a canyonny stream with a small waterfall, and a small path dropped off the main path just above and led us into a deep cleft with a couple of footbridges crossing the stream and back. Steps now led to an elevated walkway stuck to the canyon wall, but at the start of this, Mary suddenly gave a squawk and jumped back. “Monster ?” I asked. “Yes!” came the reply, and indeed there was. Guarding the bottom step was a Dinosaur. Well, OK, maybe not a giant Mesozoic warm-blooded reptilian, but a rather sluggish amphibian secreting potent neurotoxins from its skin – a Fire Salamander.

Stepping carefully past the salamander, we ascended to the walkway, which clung to the wall and rounded the corner to reveal Slap Kozjak, a rather fine 15m waterfall into a deep blue pool. Apparently this is the biggest of six canyonning pitches. As our eyes grew accustomed to the light, Mary spotted the abseil tat above it.

And that was essentially it for the week – our half days in Venice on the way out and back are covered in another post.

One thing I do feel obliged to mention – not really kayaking-related – is rural broadband. Here we were, in a small campsite, a decent walk away from a very small town, Kobarid. Perhaps a bit bigger than Boldron, but way smaller than Barnard Castle. Our accomodation came with free broadband (cabled ethernet or wireless, to taste) out of which I consistently got 20 Mb/s (despite it being shared with all the other campsite residents). That is a bit over thirty times faster than we get at the best times at home. So it looks as though a small, formerly-behind-the-iron-curtain country only recently free of violent politics, can manage a vastly better rural broadband infrastructure than the UK. So, well done Tory government ! Now stop spouting bullshit and actually get some decent bandwidth out in the sticks !!!

How Rivers change

As described in the next post, we’ve had a week in Slovenia paddling mainly the Soča. I paddled the slalom section on the 20th and found the water level a bit higher than when SOC had paddled in June, four years ago. There’s a photo on the SOC website, taken by a German lad the group met up with, from the footbridge at the start of the Slalom Section and I noticed on my own photo from a similar spot that things had changed quite a lot. So I went back a couple of days later and took a load of shots, trying to get close to the same position where Andy had stood to take his photo. Below you’ll see my closest match – the water level had dropped from my run, and is now only a little higher than in the 2012 view, and it was overcast rather than the late afternoon sunshine of the earlier photo.

The boulder on the left at the entry of the rapid at “A” has split. The upstream bit is still shown as “A” on the 2016 shot, but a larger part has fallen downstream to “A'”. The big boulder marked “B” in both photos has been washed down and round a bit. But the huge (5m on a side) boulder at “C” has simply vanished ! Boulders immediately behind it (as seen from the river, left in the photo) seem not to have moved much, but something must have washed out from under it and allowed it to collapse into the river. Where Pete Ball is calmly paddling across flat water in 2012, there is now a large piece of the boulder, at “E”, with quite a few new boulders also visible under the water upstream and river left of it, pushing a lot of water into the narrower right hand channel. This has had the effect of raising the water level in the short reach between boulders “A” and “E” which is one reason why it is quite hard to judge the relative water levels in the two photos. I suspect the boulder “D” in 2016 is the one which was lying between “B” and “C” in 2012, but it is hard to be sure.

Whitewater French Alps 2015

As is becoming almost routine, we started our alpine paddling this year in the Durance valley, camping at Argentière la Bessée. The West, Adams, Waddington and Graystone families, and various individuals: Bill, Niki, Penny, Lisa and Richard, paddled over a two week or so period in late July which started with temperatures up to 40°C and didn’t get much cooler except during brief storms.

Snow had been in short supply last winter, so water levels were on the low side, though those odd localised thunderstorms did keep one or two rivers topped up from time to time. Consequently, we spent quite a bit of time on the Argentière and St. Clément slalom sites.

Playboating is all about getting wet - Alastair on the top wave at St. Clément. Photo: Andy Waddington
Playboating is all about getting wet – Alastair on the top wave at St. Clément is certainly doing that…

Glacier melt in the extreme heat seemed to be providing a bit more water than we’ve had for the last couple of years on the Upper Guisane, which should have made the S-bends easier, but we still managed to have a couple of upsets – there are still enough boulders that it doesn’t pay to get sideways! Alastair’s boat navigated itself very neatly to the eddy where Andy was waiting to grab it, whilst Penny’s made a bid for freedom incurring a bit of a chase. All reunited, we continued without incident down to St. Chaffrey.

Dave probably got the best line on S-bends. Photo: Andy Waddington
Dave probably got the best line on S-bends.

We paddled several sections of the Durance, got just enough water one day to paddle the Gyronde, and following a visit to the (rather low) Upper Guil in two groups, Dave, Alastair, Johnny and Michael paddled the Chateau Queyras gorge.

Triumphant exit from Chateau Q. Photo: Andy Waddington
A triumphant exit from Chateau Queyras gorge with everyone upright (now).

Michael and Alastair went on to paddle the Middle Guil from below Triple Step, right to the end, joined for the first few kilometres by Mary.

Mary finding the Middle Guil slightly pushy
Mary coping with a pourover on the Middle Guil

After Mary took off, the boys continued, as we followed their progress as much as possible from the road, with various photo stops on the way.

Michael and Alastair boulder dodging their way down
Michael taking the alternative approach of avoiding a pourover on the Middle Guil

Staircase proved a little difficult in the low water, with one step in the middle having no feasible line, so a short portage ensued. Tunnel proved easier than it looked, but the supposedly straightforward run down from there to the end held one or two surprises.

Michael holding his line on Tunnel - Middle Guil. Photo: Andy Waddington
Michael holding his line on Tunnel – Middle Guil.

We knew from Sarah and the Leeds Uni paddlers that the Ubaye racecourse had, in June, been at the sort of level we normally expect at the end of July, but we had been assured that it still had enough water to run, so Andy, Mary, Michael, Bill, Niki, Iggy, Dave, Alastair and Johnny split into two groups. Only one brief inspection proved necessary (and only for the first group to arrive) and the run was pleasantly uncrowded and almost entirely successful, despite one or two people constantly expecting hard rapids to appear around the next bend. At this level, they never did.

Dropping in to the final gorge on the Ubaye Racecourse. Photo: Andy Waddington
Dropping in to the final gorge on the Ubaye Racecourse

Trying out the Nomad

While I’ve been paddling the Stomper quite happily for a while now, it did get split, and has been welded. The issue is that there’s another deep gouge that I think will split soon, and I can only take one creek boat to the alps – if that splits I will have a problem. So one solution that presented itself was to both weld and fibreglass the H2 (now eleven years old and getting a little thin) whilst the other was to take someone else’s boat. Most of those I wouldn’t fit, but a bit of trial showed that I did fit in Sarah’s Nomad. But would it have enough volume to cope with my weight in alpine water ? The only place to find out, in summer, was going to be the Upper Tees.

Dropping in to the top of Dogleg

The first run of Dogleg was not quite the line I’d want, though I did stay upright and didn’t have to do anything frantic to achieve that. I didn’t get stood on end, though it did feel as though the trim wasn’t quite right. I went a bit more left than ideal over the middle drop, so went back to see if I could get a better line.

Second time over the middle drop – a bit more to the right

Further right gave me a bit more time between the middle drops, though I didn’t get enough punch to get across the boily pool and make the eddy here. The second drop was a bit messy, too, but I wasn’t heeled as far over as on the first run, and it only took a couple of strokes to line up to the right of pinning rock. Two runs seemed enough, so we headed on down. This is all fairly easy stuff, but one little drop is quite a good indicator for turning the boat going off the drop – if all goes well, you end up tight into the eddy on the right, badly and you hit the rock or have to eddy left.

The little drop that needs a boof to the right is a good test

That landed me good and tight in the eddy right. Horseshoe is just a matter of being on line at the top, and then straight down, turning only as soon as needed to avoid Jacuzzi Chute. No problem. So Low Force is the boof test. It wasn’t rock bottom levels (which is good – I still haven’t quite got the hang of avoiding being kicked right by the rock lip on the left when it is very low). The camera on a pole is very good for showing the line and timing of the boof stroke (and you can see when the paddler has got his weight forward properly). All three runs worked well, though I failed to get my weight back forward quickly for landing on the third.

Straight down the water avoids the rock on the left, leaving the boof stroke to kick the boat out into the middle of the pool

It wasn’t really wet enough to carry on down to Newbiggin, but there was enough water to take the right-hand line on the drop before Wynch bridge. Getting there on line is a good test and this went pretty well.

Heading down the promontory to boof past the stoppers, Wynch bridge

So, the boat seemed to do the job (and will be going to the alps). The other test going on here was a new version of the GoPro on a pole behind the paddler. This was a bit less successful – the means of attachment to the boat was fiddly and didn’t look likely to cope with a lot of use. Video from the camera was distressingly wobbly – though still frames (as seen here) all seemed good. These were using one of the Hero 3 cameras (a Hero 4 being used for headcam) at 1920x1440p48, which gives only just over 20ms between frames, and can be used for x2 slow motion if combined with the 24 fps footage I was taking on the headcam. Unless I can make the pole a bit stiffer and the attachment mechanism a bit more usable, I think I won’t be using this system in the alps. Probably not a bad thing, as I do have a bit of a record of failing to roll with a pole-cam on the boat… This was also the first time I’d tried out paddling with elbow pads (potentially a good idea when it’s warm enough to paddle in a shorty cag). I wasn’t sure how much these would prove awkward or distracting, so I was quite pleased that once on the water, I hardly noticed they were there.


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.

Deflation hits Teesdale reptile population

Every picture tells a story. Not quite sure what story these ones tell, though…

Inspecting Salmon Leap

I can almost imagine someone trying to run Dogleg on an inflatable crocodile in July or August, but November ? And what happened to the people who were driving these air-filled reptilian toys when they got punctured ? Did they survive ? Someone must have, as the herpetological basket cases were placed well out of the water, both on the same bit of rock. Anyway, it seemed irresponsible to leave such litter by the riverside, so I rescued them.

Heading down Salmon Leap having rolled on Dogleg

Well, OK, I say “rescued”, but the less torn one had its tail rolled up and stuffed up the front of my buoyancy while its head got a good view of proceedings from the top of my spraydeck. It may have taken exception to being taken down Dogleg like this, especially as I had to roll…

Wrestling the Croc at Wynch Bridge

The crocodile proved no obstacle to a run of Horseshoe or Low Force, but as I sunk the boat in a stopper on the Wynch bridge drop, it started to look as though I was running it with just the toy…

Doon and out to the Nith

Just ten years ago this coming Thursday, we were in Dumfries and Galloway looking for water. We were not having much success, but took a look at the River Doon, which is supposed to run on the compensation flow from the dam. We walked away, and found water in Carsphairn Lane which was being released from the other end of the dammed loch. We’d wasted so much time driving around that we finished that run in the dark, with ice forming on our buoyancy aids.

This weekend was shaping up to be very similar, as despite huge levels on Friday, we found no water in the first two rivers we’d gone for. So once again we found ourselves at the top of the Doon, on its 2½ cumec compensation release, with only a couple of hours daylight left. A check had shown that Carrick Lane would also run, but the forest road was closed. No-one fancied either a 2km walk-in or the risk of benightment on the river, so this time, we decided to put on the Doon, which a quick inspection of the first few hundred metres showed to be a reasonable proposition.

Over the horizon line running blind in full confidence – guidebook grade 3…

Grade 3, the guidebook says, and with comments like “this guidebook tends to overgrade things” we set off expecting a technical but not too demanding run with the main hazard being odd bits of timber. It soon proved steeper than we’d expected, and quite narrow in places with plenty of rocks to get hung up on. With a group of seven and small eddies, we made quicker progress than might be expected, with a few odd pins and some drops not done entirely elegantly. A footpath followed the left bank, providing us with spectators who also thought it an entertaining day out… and did provide some scope for inspection or setting safety

Mary on the only actual drop on the Doon.

The gorge ended soon enough, and the river opened out, flattened out and became a little tediously shallow in places, with even more overhanging branches. The final part was deeper water but very encumbered with willows before we came out into a shallow loch with plenty of wildfowl and just about enough daylight to get the the take-out bridge at the far end.

Just like the trip ten years ago, we elected to head for the Nith on Sunday. This was just over two feet at the Drumlanrig bridge gauge (0.75m on the SEPA gauge) which is a fine level – enough water to keep moving well and provide a few boils, but quite technical in the gorge.

No-one seems to have told them it isn’t a Boater-X !

We met up with the other SOC group putting on just ahead of us, having done the same trip the previous day with a foot or so more water. We soon overtook them, intent on a mission to see if we would have time for the Border Esk as a second river.

Only brief stops for playboating tricks at the start of the gorge…

The gorge proved to be read-and-run all the way, with the tree that blocked the entry rapid last time we were here (in low water at Easter 2013) nowhere to be seen. Mary had a successful roll, and we were at the end well ahead of the other group. However, by the time we’d shuttled (still only 12:30), enthusiasm for a second river had waned somewhat and we got changed.

Midweek on the Greta

After such a dry start to the paddling season locally, it was great relief to get some rain. I’d been offered a chance to paddle the Upper Swale, but I thought it would probably drop off too soon, and I possibly hadn’t done enough paddling recently to be confident of paddling at that level, so I declined. Shortly afterwards, Sarah phoned to say that she was looking for a trip with friends from Leeds and the Tees Greta seemed to be coming up. It was to be a late start owing to lectures and travel time, and by the time we got on, the river was at 0.6m (top end of “low”) and starting to drop off. However, showers kept it up and possibly it rose a little towards the end.

Perhaps a bit far right running in to the slot drop

A lack of recent floods and a certain amount of riverside tree felling means there is quite a lot of small timber in the river (an ever-present hazard in such a wooded valley). Pretty much everything can be sneaked, and the big tree which was right across the river shortly before Hell Cauldron last year has been swept aside and is now easily passed. But one branch on the left of the first island caused us to stop and do a bit of clearance work.

This newish tree is just before the bend and island-crossing heading down to the footbridge at Brignall Banks

We made pretty rapid progress, as I’ve done the river thirteen times before, Sarah had done it before in bigger water and all were happy to read and run. At this level, visibility ahead and plenty of eddies mean that there were no surprises coming up at speed…

Lots of boulders to flare off at this level

Hell Cauldron itself, and the run in, seemed to have more water than we’d expected from the rest of the river experience, but the section down to Greta bridge seemed low again, so maybe this is just a fault of my memory for the levels.

The water seemed well up on the run in to Hell Cauldron