I signed up to do an Advanced White Water Safety and Rescue course in North Wales over the Easter bank holiday this year. Last Easter I did the standard White Water Safety and Rescue course and the biggest weather issue of the weekend was sunburn, unfortunately the same was not true this year.
After sorting some stuff out and a cheeky climb at The Castle Climbing Centre we set off to drive to Betws-y-Coed on Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning we met Tom Parker at the Tryweryn cafe to start our training. After speaking through some theory we got kitted up and ventured out into the rain and cold weather. We spent a reasonable amount of time in the water, practicing various rescue techniques and approaches.
It was good to practice the techniques I’d learnt on the standard course the year before, however I didn’t really learn many new things, other than a couple of tricks and tips to make life a bit easier. The weather was pretty miserable, with lots of rain and wind, and I was very pleased to have a warm shower and cold beer at the end of the day.
On Sunday we started out by looking at rope work, and various ways to create mechanical advantages to help deal with pinned boats and other situations where a large force needs to be applied to a rope. I learnt some new stuff in this session and I think rope work is something I need to practice more regularly to ensure that it’s second nature when I need it in a time-critical situation. Once again the weather was grim, with horizontal rain, hail and snow freezing us and making it almost impossible to stay warm.
After a spot of lunch we headed to the Aberglaslyn Gorge with our boats. After a hundred meters or so we entered the gorge. We had a quick chat in an eddie about what was up ahead of us. Tom Parker, our coach, described it as “similar to the Graveyard section on the Tryweryn, but a little bigger and longer”. We all (foolishly) decided to push on with that description as our only knowledge of the gorge.
Quite quickly carnage followed. I was in my new playboat and this weekend was the first time I’d paddled it on a river. After negotiating a few drops and holes I found myself upside down in a hole that I struggled to get out of. When I finally rolled up to see daylight again I found myself going backwards over the next drop and promptly flipping over backwards into another hole. A short fight later I managed to roll myself back upright and out the hole, only to do a cartwheel type move down the next drop and into another hole upside down. After trying to get out of the hole and failing to roll I found myself fighting to get my feet free of my boat. I quickly had to battle hard to get to the side with my paddle as my boat continued down the next drop. Once I was safely out of the water I began running down the bank towards where Ryan was struggling to swim himself into an eddie after severely winding himself swimming down a drop onto some nasty rocks.
Once all of our group had been accounted for we started to look for kit. Unfortunately, my boat had been on an adventure, resulting in a nasty dent in the nose and the central pillar getting ripped out. With all the kit accounted for we continued with the course, practicing some rope work to deal with access into and out of cliffs/gorges. Honestly, at this point I was freezing, in quite a lot of pain from my swim and a little bit out of it; I probably didn’t learn quite as much as I could have during this part of the course. I would have been happier if Tom had checked the knots people were tying before letting them be used to dangle people over a cliff above the lively river. After a quick chat about casualty management the course was over and I couldn’t have been happier to be able to get out of the wet and to somewhere warm.
Despite my initial concerns it seems my shoulder didn’t get as badly damaged as I originally thought during my swim. My knee went through an awkward twist whilst I tried to get myself out of my boat, but ibuprofen seems to be adequately managing the pain and the rest of my cuts and bruises will heal quickly.
Overall the weekend was hard work, cold and fairly painful. I certainly learnt some stuff, although not as much as I’d initially hoped. We’ve had lots of debates about whether the Aberglaslyn Gorge was a suitable or necessary stretch of river to take us down as a part of the course. Tom, our coach, said that he wouldn’t have attempted it in a playboat – which left me wondering why he thought it would be suitable to take us down it in playboats. It was my decision to paddle down without inspecting, I made that decision based on the description of it we’d received and the experience of the coach – that was an error and I accept that. I realise the boat that I had wasn’t suitable for that stretch of river, and my ability wasn’t sufficient to read and run it in a playboat. However, I do think it was a slightly reckless decision by the coach to allow us to be in that situation. The description he provided wasn’t suitable (comparing it to the graveyard on the Tryweryn lulled us into a false sense of security), he’d known in advance what boats we’d be in and he didn’t really know our paddling ability. We could have done the rope work we did on any stretch of steep ground, and there’s plenty of options in Wales that wouldn’t have required us to paddle that stretch of water. As I’ve mentioned, I was surprised Tom didn’t check any of our knots or rope work before letting us dangle from it over a cliff above the river. Ultimately it was my decision to paddle, and I’m not trying to shirk that responsibility.
Hopefully Tina can be repaired, my body will recover, and soon I’ll be back on the water feeling more positive!