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

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 waddingtons.info 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.

Ailort and Fassfern

The landslides having been cleared from the road and the way reopened to Fort William for non-emergency traffic, we suddenly had a much greater choice of rivers available again, but a lot was still pretty high. We knew some folk had run the Ailort in big water, which was now dropping, so we headed off past Loch Eil and soon found ourselves looking at a river that had clear water, but lots of it. After shuttling, we put on from the loch and dropped down over a small weir. We’d reccied the line under the railway, so knew we’d need not to get pushed too far right…

Almost immediately, the current under the railway bridge wants to push you where the arch will cause grief…

This proved to be fairly straightforward and we all got down this and the next couple of short rapids. We were now eddied out right, with a view down a big stepped rapid, steeper at this side than river left which we probably couldn’t get to. At various stages we all walked to get a better view of what was in store. Lowri and Mary went down first, not without incident. Michael took a line slightly further left – the first drop still looked quite steep with a big stopper, but he blasted through this quite successfully.

Michael blasting down a series of steps

I decided that there was an easier line further left still, so dragged the boat back upstream to the highest put-in I could conveniently reach, and from where the ferry to make my line proved easier than I’d expected. I almost went too far, in fact, but had plenty of time to line up – the inundated willows providing excellent landmarks.

Between the trees – this line would normally be land, I think.

This line proved to be straightforward, no stoppers too big, and time for several paddle strokes between each step, so never any shortage of speed where it was needed. Reunited below this, there were another couple of short steps, then an interval of flat water with an island before the river picked up again. However, it was all easy rapids for a while until we reached a long tongue of water with slides off either side into meaty waves. The line looked easy – straight down the middle of the tongue – but you couldn’t see the tongue from above the horizon line, so you had to reccy the landmarks well. A diagonal wave just before the drop was the thing to work on, but the current at the lip was also not straight, so a bit of allowance needed to be made. Overall, a little bit too far left was probably safer than too far right. Lowri was only just far enough left, and Mary, following, had not quite allowed enough for the cross-current and was slightly right. Falling off the right edge of the tongue, she was capsized immediately, and the nature of the river was such that she had the paddle knocked out of her hand, bashed her head, and was pulled from the cockpit with never a chance to set up for a roll. Ooops. Michael got the line just about right and I followed last, needing to correct my line just a touch on entry, but then missing a hole lower down that Michael had just blasted through.

By the time you are close enough to the horizon line to see the line – you’d better be on it !

This proved to be the last real obstacle, though multiple channels round submerged trees provided some entertainment before we dropped under a bridge and took out river left to inspect the bottom weir. This was definitely not to be messed with, so we portaged left and put back in for the last couple of hundred metres to the cars.

This left us plenty of time and daylight for another river, so we stopped for a look at the Fassfern. This drops off much more quickly, so was already on its way down, but we reckoned there would be enough water for a run. Mary decided not to paddle, so Michael, Lowri and I shouldered our boats and headed up the track. I decided not to run the grade 5- bit near the top, so put on below it, ferried across, and got myself to where I could usefully deploy a throw-line and camera.

Michael on the first drop of Tango.

The first drop didn’t look that hard, but a mistake here would take you into the next drop, with a large undercut boulder in the middle. Left of the boulder, Lowri dropped down to an eddy, while Michael ran both in one and came out to where I was, by now, waiting in the big pool below. There were now a series of shallow rapids separated by flatter water – slightly technical at this level, but not at all pushy. There are overhanging trees to avoid and a few stoppers to punch, but overall nothing too difficult.

Andy breaking out at the bottom of one rocky rapid

Towards the end are a couple of slides down slabs, the second and longer one being known as “backwards slab” because it is apparently bad juju to run it forwards… Michael ran backwards, but did roll up after hitting the stopper sideways. Lowri and I risked the superstition and ran it more conventionally. Upright.

Paddling forwards down Backwards Slab

From here it is but a short way to the end. With the river dropping, it was a sidle down river left under low branches to find enough water, but then cut to the centre for a final whoosh under the bridge to the take-out.

A splashy finale at the take-out

There is another drop below this, “Master Blaster”. This is meant to have a big towback but at this level it was just manky so we gave it a miss and avoided paddling right down to the sea. Now we know the river we’ll hope to run it again with a bit more water some time.

Adventures in flooded Glen Orchy

Four inches of rainfall was always going to provide interesting conditions for our first day on the water of a five-day Scottish trip. Rivers were already tanking as we drove up on Saturday afternoon. By Sunday morning, the large number of boaters in the area seemed all to be driving round looking for anywhere un-scary enough to put on. We’d chosen a pretty tame bit of river – the Lower Orchy, but hadn’t necessarily reckoned with the roads. Getting to the put-in was OK, but the river was certainly impressive (the put-in is just below the Falls of Orchy, which we were not planning on running, but normally you can’t see a line at all…)

Normally a scrotty fall into a gorge with loads of pinning potential…

Now Lowri and I set off to drive downstream. At Catnish picnic site, yet another road-wide puddle appeared, so I headed in, but soon dropped the speed as a bow wave over the bonnet would have reached the air intake… At a sensible pace, I was through OK in the diesel Subaru, and a slightly shallower flood was dismissed a little more circumspectly. At this point I parked in a passing place and waded back for a conflab with Lowri who decided it was going to be more sensible for her van to drive round via the Bridge of Orchy and the main road. By the time I’d waded back towards my car, a German gentleman in a shiny new BMW had come to a halt in the shallower puddle. It transpired that his engine was now dead, the car (an automatic) stuck in “P” and no way to move it. After a valiant attempt to drag it out with his towrope, we decided that it had good grip in the wet, and was a fixture, so he and his son waded like British seaside tourists in bare feet with their trousers rolled up and I drove them to Dalmally Police station, where the policeman that answered the doorbell immediately knew exactly where we meant. “We had a police car washed away into the river from there”. Lowri now appeared, so I hastily left the Germans to the police and headed for the take-out. I dropped the car and the van set off back to get Mary and Michael warmed up and on the river. A further delay ensued as we had to change Lowri’s wheel almost as soon as we had got parked. Would the adventure end here ?

What do you paddle when the rivers are off their tits ? Tribs, obviously !

Breaking in below Falls of Orchy was slightly less scary than expected (we’d moved well downstream of the epic boils just below the bridge) and the little weir that we had been a bit concerned about was completely washed out with no wave at all. Soon, however, things got a little bigger (bear in mind that these pics are from GoPro helmet footage which always makes everything look flat).

The first of a series of Nile-esque waves

What goes up must come down – about to crash back from the top of a wave

Things did settle down a little over the next kilometre or so, but we arrived at the Catnish picnic site (where we’d taken out after a reasonable length run on the previous visit) after little more than ten minutes. Continuing, we came to another set of rapids, normally a bit of a slidy ledge. It looked somewhat epic, so we broke out to check for trees and assess the rest of the rapid. Mary walked round a little, while the rest of us took a left-hand channel that would normally have no water whatsoever…

The start of the channel was a bit minging, with a tree strainer river left if one didn’t make it across the flow and down to (or past) Lowri in the eddy. Right channel wrong way up was definitely better than the wrong channel upright, and I rolled up anyway 🙂

Normally no water here – quite a stonking river in itself today

Picking up Mary from river left, we piled on down the rest of the rapid, normally a sedate grade 2…

“This slow moving, meandering section brings its own delights to those who prefer their rivers with a little less excitement” (Scottish Whitewater guide)

Now the river did flatten off, but hardly slowed down, as countryside flashed past either side, revealing flooded golf courses, trees nowhere near land and birds of prey hunting for drowning lemmings and suchlike. Finally, as we entered Loch Awe so near Halloween, what better way to round off the trip than to paddle through an eerie submerged forest to a haunted castle ?

On the way back, we had to return to Glen Orchy to retrieve Lowri’s van from the put-in. This entailed passing two “Road Closed” signs at the turn off by Bridge of Orchy, but we were happy that we weren’t going as far down as Catnish… Many shallow puddles later, we noticed that the river was just about level with the road on our right. Then a deeper puddle appeared, and beyond it, another, with a significant flow from the hillside to our left. From having driven the Catnish flood earlier, I was confident enough to drive through this one, but it was just as deep, and we now had a bit of an issue. Was it worth driving down to Lowri’s van (with water levels still rising, and now getting dark, too) if she would not be able to drive it back ? We decided we’d better go and see if it needed to be moved to a safer place. The rest of the way had no deeper floods, and I turned round hastily for the drive back, waiting to see if Lowri was going to risk driving. That question was answered as the van set off ahead of us (Lowri thought we were waiting for her to go first). All went well until we got to the deep bit. It didn’t seem to have come up noticeably, and Lowri got through, so we followed confidently behind (well, I was confident, anyway). It wasn’t too long before we crossed the Allt Kinglass and climbed away to the main road. Home and dry !

Well, not quite…. The main road was itself equipped with some quite long (though not that deep) stretches of water, now almost invisible in the dark. On one of these, hit at fifty or so, we were quite pleased that the road was straight ! Just beyond Balachulish, as we neared our destination, we were flagged down and told that the road ahead was closed by landslides – but it turned out that this was between Corran Ferry and Fort William, so since we were only going to Inchree, we were allowed through (phew!). We were glad we hadn’t picked Spean Bridge or Roy Bridge as our base for this trip. Apparently the landslides had occurred at about 10 on Sunday, and it was expected that the road would be open again within 24 hours. By Monday, the road was indeed clear, but not open, except to emergency vehicles, pending a risk assessment (it was still tanking down). So all in all, we were quite pleased to get back to a dry bed !

The Orchy peaked about three hours after we’d left the Glen, at around 3.3m on the gauge (average level is about 0.6m), so it is by no means clear that we would have been able to get Lowri’s van back if we’d been delayed much more. We seriously doubt that a tow truck would have ventured down the glen after the police had closed it, and we saw the German BMW still there as we paddled the river, so I am very much more confirmed than ever in my view that I would never want to have an automatic gearbox. I’m rather cheered by the fact that that opinion drove me to having a diesel Outback this time 🙂

Lower Clough, Upper Swale

Gauges were up, and we had a small but viable group, so we were looking for small rivers that would be in condition. First choice was the Rawthey (again ? so soon ?) but it had stopped raining and by the time we were near Sedbergh it was clear that this had dropped off a bit too much. However, there still seemed to be quite a bit of flow at the take-out, which encouraged us to go and have a look at the other feeder, the Clough. It wasn’t huge, but the book said certain rocks needed to be covered and they were, so we went for it. At this level, we certainly had plenty of time to look ahead, even if some eddies were a bit small, and we didn’t need to get out of our boats at all. The last drop (which had been river-wide with a lot of aerated water at the bottom when we ran the Rawthey two months ago) was a neat boof on the left and very straightforward. I then took the opportunity to get a last bit of video on the run down to the Rawthey/Clough take-out to make a workable ending to the Rawthey video. All good stuff !

It was now still quite early, so we cast about for ideas and decided we could recce the Swale on the way to something more likely in Teesdale. Despite me going a rather bizarre route via the Tan Hill (there’s a road in my mental image of the area which doesn’t seem to exist where I expected it) the Swale was still at 0.65m by the time we arrived, so it was a no-brainer that this would be our second river, and a second new river for Alex ! Interestingly, this is the same level on the gauge as on my second trip, but comparing videos shows that it was definitely lower on all the waterfalls and rapids on this trip, which perhaps explains why we seemed to bump and scrape in one or two places that I hadn’t expected.

We put on at Wainwath, as the section above that did look a bit scrapey, and we wanted to get to the drops before it dropped off any more. Mike and Alex ran Wainwath twice, whilst I faffed about to ensure I had enough battery power for the GoPro and only ran it once, but it was a sweet run. On to Rainby where the others both got perfect lines, and I was on line, but with the boat on edge slightly which meant I landed a bit sideways, but still upright. A quick inspection of Hoggarth’s Leap (aka “The Rapid” as it is almost the only bit which isn’t actually a waterfall) and we all made neat lines down this too, mine with a boof off the ledge on the right, the others more in the corner.

Catrake went on the right hand side without too much of a bump, and there was still enough water to get on down to Kisdon without scraping (though there were one or two bumps). Michael didn’t trouble to inspect Upper Kisdon, so Alex followed his line, and I was not far behind. None of us fancied the centre line on Lower Kisdon, and there wasn’t enough water for the right hand side, so we struggled up the bank and walked out from here.

Two separate videos from one day, and uploaded to youtube the same week ! That must be a record (for me, at least). I’ve also managed to finish editing and titling (and in one case voicing over) three more videos which are now embedded in older posts – “Old School on the Upper Tees” (from Tees race practice), The Rawthey and the Etive from November 2012. There are still several more videos almost finished from the alps last summer, and at least one from North Wales ages ago (still way too long) – I am trying to catch up on all these (but not next week, as we will be skiing).

Tees Creek Race

This was the inaugural Upper Tees Creek Race – organised by Rory Woods as a pilot for what is hoped to be an annual event. Low water perhaps deterred a number of people from traveling a significant distance but there were still over forty racing on the day and it attracted quite a lot of interest both from passing walkers and spectators who had come specifically to watch the event. It was also great fun!

The format was an initial time trial from just above Dog Leg down to the bottom of Low Force (it was originally intended to end under the Wynch bridge, but this clashed with other river users doing a WWSR course, so this bit was shortened slightly). The times from this provided seeding for a series of boater-cross heats from just below the island below Dog Leg, to the same end point.

Staying upright on Dogleg. Photo: Andy Waddington
It’s more critical to stay upright than fast on Dogleg in the time-trial

The first heats had five paddlers and subsequent ones (mostly) four. The main classification was for typical creek boats (maximum length nine feet) paddled as kayaks. There were a couple of long boats (although Andy took a foot off the back of his ancient Pirouette in practice on Low Force last week, it was still over nine feet), one playboat, and one boat paddled as a C1, but as these classes were too small to be useful, everyone just competed together. There was also a separate boater-X for ladies in addition to the main ones.

In the time trial, Michael came Joint 17th on 4’00” (the fastest time overall was 3’28”), Crayston was joint 19th on 4’01”, Sarah joint 25th at 4’12” (second fastest lady, just pipped by three seconds). Andy (veteran, longish boat), 32nd in 4’23”, Dave Peel 34th in 4’26” and four people didn’t get times recorded owing to swimming. Sarah also came 2nd in the ladies Boater-X, so ended up with two prizes!

Ladies Boater-X. Photo: Andy Waddington
Sarah (far side) on her way to 2nd in the ladies Boater-X

Of the SOC members, Andy was, remarkably, the only one to progress to the quarter finals in the Boater-X part of the race, mainly down to his traffic cycling experience giving him the ability to barge people onto rocks and shallow spots and cut them up without worrying about manners (this is how boater-X works, as well as city cycling). This (and perhaps a faster boat) got him over Horseshoe in second place. The paddler behind him took Jacuzzi chute, which was proving to be a much faster line, and seemed likely to get ahead, but he cocked it up and Andy was fast enough down Low Force to be able to cut him off and get to the banner first. He couldn’t quite get a hand on it, though, and was technically pipped by the fourth place paddler who sneaked in and got a hand to the banner while Andy was trying to make frantic draw strokes to get there… However, after he tried to concede 2nd to Andy, it ended with both taking part in the quarter-final (coming fourth and fifth, and thus eliminated).

For those not too knackered, there was then a Le Mans-style mass-start race over the same course. The people who led this by a large margin almost to the end were those who avoided the delay of putting spray decks on. However, understandably they chose not to take the line down Jacuzzi chute so the first three places were taken by those that had got a slower start by taking the time to put decks on. I was amazed at how many people successfully ran both Horseshoe and Low Force without spraydecks and stayed afloat!

Getting crowded at Low Force. Photo: Andy Waddington
“Remember to leave plenty of space between paddlers on the harder bits…” – this is not a photo-montage, they really were that close together. Mass start boater-X at Low Force – note lack of spraydecks on first three boats!

Although water levels were on the low side and there was a bit of a breeze, the sun shone a lot of the time, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves, even those who swam. We think Andy was the oldest contestant and very definitely had the oldest boat – older in fact than at least two of the paddlers!

A sting in the tail

Following on from last week’s first go in my original Pirouette for twelve years, and since levels were at a rather friendly just-below-0.6m, I ventured forth onto the Upper Tees. I was very much in two minds about whether to run Dogleg, or whether, perhaps, to put in at the eddy part way down for a first run. In the end, I decided that the main reason why I go wrong here is in trying to catch all the eddies (particularly the very top one) on a first run down. Since all I really wanted today was to see if I could hit a racing line, and could live without a lot of carrying the boat backwards and forwards, I went for it.

Past the first stopper and heading for the middle drop

Complete success, and a pretty good line !

Dropping in on a line to hit the eddy on the right

Out from the eddy, and straightlining past Pinning Rock

Since I’d stayed upright, Michael wanted a go in the long pointy boat. For the first time in (longer than I can remember) he seemed to be having more difficulty than me running Dogleg – but he did stay upright and get his line sorted before the middle drops.

Michael making a strong recovery after an exciting wobble

With Dogleg behind, everything else was going to be easy, and indeed , I got a pretty good boof on Low Force, landing flattish pretty well out to the left, a fairly ideal line. So it came as a slight surprise to find family and friends advising me to get to the bank with some urgency. There, it became apparent why:

Ooops – I always thought it was a brittle boat, but that was a shock !

Still, it does now drain very easily. After a bit of thought about the amount of buoyancy packed in the back (two 18-litre airbags and four 3-litre wine bags) I reckoned I wouldn’t actually sink even if I let the boat fill up completely, so I carried back up to run Low Force a second time. Another fair boof, and I didn’t take any more off the back of the boat. Meanwhile, other family members were having a more successful time…

Michael on about his fifth run…

A bit of Duct Tape and I’m sure the Pirouette will be as good as new (which perhaps isn’t saying that much). However, there’s another problem. It seems that there may be a limit on the length of boat allowed in the Tees Creek race next weekend, and even with this drastic attempt by the Pirouette to shorten itself, more surgery may be needed… or I may have to use the Acrobat – the only plastic whitewater boat I own that I’ve never run the Upper Tees in. Drat !

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.