Peer Paddling in Wales went swimmingly…

This weekend I organised for a group of ten of us to head to mid-Wales for some peer paddling. The aim was to paddle some rivers that were closer to the upper end of our ability whilst we didn’t have any newbies to look after. We stayed at Plas Isa in Dolgellau, a lovely (if a little cold) house with a free pool table and sociable living room. When we arrived on the Friday night after a few beers and games of pool we set about planning what rivers would be possible the next day.

The pool table doubled up as a river planning table.

The pool table doubled up as a river planning table.

We awoke on Saturday to rain just starting to fall, a little later than we’d hoped. After a hearty breakfast we decided to drive over to the Conwy to see if there would be enough water to run it. Unfortunately, when we arrived there was exactly the same amount of water (not enough) as when we tried a month before on the Leadership Training weekend. We decided to quickly head down the Prysor, a pleasant but relatively uneventful paddle when compared to what would follow, although it was rising pretty quickly whilst we were on it.

These photos were taken immediately before and after we ran the Prysor, the river was rising fast.

These photos were taken immediately before and after we ran the Prysor, the river was rising fast.

These are the levels for the Mawddach for the week. We got on exactly as it peaked.

These are the levels for the Mawddach for the week. We got on exactly as it peaked.

After the Prysor we jumped in the cars and headed to the Mawddach, whilst some cars were doing the shuttle we started preparing to get on just above Public Toilet Falls. Unfortunately we were asked by a land owner not to use her side of the river bank, and with no access up the other side we had to abandon the plan to get on where we wanted and jumped on the river a little lower.

The first rapid was host to a few stoppers and claimed the group’s first swim of the day. After collecting Olga, her paddle and boat and safely reuniting them we continued down the river. Stoppers seemed to be the theme of the afternoon, with plenty of them about that required dodging or punching through. This section of the river is a grade 3 in the guidebook, the high level of water meant the section was more challenging than it might’ve otherwise been.

Then came for the most excitement of the weekend. Olga went over and swam, unfortunately straight into a stopper. After being caught in the stopper and struggling for air Olga managed to swim out of the hole, it was only at this point that she let go of her paddle. Krzysztof, our hero of the day, then paddled over to her and began towing her to the bank. Unfortunately they didn’t manage to avoid Olga falling into a second, stickier, stopper. With her head only just occasionally popping out of the water Krzysztof paddled upstream into the stopper so that Olga could grab his boat and be towed out. Olga did well at this point to only grab the handles on Krzysztof’s boat, anywhere else could have pulled his deck off or resulted in him being capsized.

Olga manages to grab the front of Krzysztof's boat whilst she's stuck in the stopper.

Olga manages to grab the front of Krzysztof’s boat whilst she’s stuck in the stopper.

The next issue to contend with was a fallen tree that was straining the right side of the river and a large boulder in the way. Olga and Krzysztof went opposite sides of the boulder, both avoiding the tree, then Krzysztof managed to collect her again soon afterwards. At this point Olga was exhausted and the pair were still in the middle of the river. Jim paddled over and the trio rafted up with Olga in the middle. Ben was out his boat on the left of the river and managed a very accurate throw with a line to Olga and dragged her to safety.

Whilst this was going on I had been sprinting down the right side of the river in preparation for an encounter with the tree, which was luckily avoided. Unfortunately my boat had slipped off the bank whilst I was doing so and it drifted down the rapid past me. See a short video of the raw footage from my GoPro during that here. Once Olga was safely on dry land, thankfully with only a few bruises, all the kit had been recovered and three of the group decided to walk out to the road; whilst the rest of us continued down the remainder of the river (which was almost entirely flat).

We had a few drinks and some dinner in Dolgellau before a relatively early bed; everyone was exhausted from all the excitement of the day.

On Sunday we got up and decided to see whether the Eden had enough water to be run, unfortunately we decided it was too low and we would head to the Wnion. The first few kilometers involved a large number of portages around trees which had fallen across the river. The river then entered the first of two gorges, this was pretty but relatively tame compared to what we’d experienced the afternoon before. Further down the river on a rapid with an ominous looking tree we had another swimmer, Jim hurt his ankle whilst escaping the boat and scrambling out before encountering the tree but his kit was quickly recovered and he was soon back on the water.

After a little more paddling and a portage around a rapid with a nasty looking rock that we knew had unfortunately fatally pinned a paddler before, we arrived at another tree across a shallow rapid. Unfortunately in his efforts to avoid the tree Jim took another swim, this time he hurt his knee and it wasn’t possible to recover his paddle before it went down the waterfall that immediately followed. Steve had similar issues with the rapid and both his boat and paddle shot off down the river, fortunately Jim managed to get a line to Steve and pull him to safety before he too dropped down the waterfall. Jim and Steve had no option but to walk out of the river from this point. The rest of us continued down to the second gorge, a narrow section with high vertical walls and fast flowing water. The gorge was a really fun paddle, and had we not spent a lot of time out of our boat dodging trees earlier I’m sure a few of us would have carried our boats back to the top to run it again. The rest of the paddle was relatively flat and luckily all of the kit that was previously lost was recovered.

Despite all the dramas it was a great weekend and a real treat to paddle some new rivers that were a bit more difficult than what I normally paddle. Luckily, other than a few bruises, everyone survived the weekend in good health and only some relatively inexpensive rescue kit was lost. I’m hoping to gather all the footage from Olga’s swim and pull it together as a bit of a learning exercise about what we could’ve done better and what we did well, I’ll post on here when I’ve done so.

Hannis Whittam

One Comment

  1. Correction. I only twisted my ankle and I did that slipping on a rock when portaging one of the many trees in the top section of the Wnion. Fortunately both swims left me unscratched.

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