Chateau Q

I’ll cut straight to the chase with the video you probably want to see, full description below but this is probably the worst possible way to run Chateau Q whilst remaining upright…

One morning of the Regents Canoe Club trip to the Alps at the end of June the majority of the group ran the Guil Gorge. This was a fun section of grade 3 white water through a gorge that feels pretty committing and has a few blind corners that are hard to see around as you paddle down. I’ve got some video footage of that run, but I’m haven’t managed to finish editing it yet.

After we got to the bottom of the section we came to the famous Chateau Queyras, a great chateau above a gorge. This is where everyone got out and had a bite to eat and swapped stories of their excitement of the Guil Gorge. Three of us, Raph, Ryan and myself, decided we were going to run down the very narrow grade 4 section of white water around the chateau, nicknamed Chateau Q.

This awesome picture of the Chateau Queyras by Capleymar shows how steep the gorge is, the river is between the photographer and the chateau.

This awesome picture of the Chateau Queyras by Capleymar shows how steep the gorge is, the river is between the photographer and the chateau.

We had a brief look at the section before we got on, but it’s hard to see all of it and impossible to get any kind of scale as to how big it is. We discussed that at some point before the crux of the rapids you had to turn left a bit. Honestly, I didn’t really understand this at the time but decided that I’d probably figure it out on the way down – in hindsight this may have been a mistake! I’d hoped to run the section in my playboat, but unfortunately there wasn’t space on the car that day so I’d have to take my bigger river-running boat. The problem with a longer boat is that the gorge is narrow, I mean, really narrow. In fact, it’s narrower than my bigger boat is long, which turned out to be a bit of an issue.

Once we’d organised that some of the rest of the group would kindly run safety at the bottom of the gorge, to catch whatever bits of us came out, we got ready to go. After another quick discussion about how it was impossible to climb out of the gorge we set off, Ryan’s parting words were “Let’s not be silly about this, if anyone swims; they’re on there own. Stay clear of them and leave them to swim all the way down, there’s no other way.”

As we paddled down into the entrance of the gorge there was a formidable sense of commitment and uncertainty. Luckily I’d been paddling well and had some (misplaced, but essential nonetheless) confidence in my ability to deal with what came up as I saw it. As the river narrowed I reached a point that I thought was where I was supposed to turn left. Turns out I was wrong. I got spun around and found myself heading backwards down a section that was too narrow to turn back around. I knew that boat speed was essential and began paddling backwards until I reached a point that was just wide enough to quickly swing my boat so it was pointing forwards again.

My little backwards episode had killed my speed and I paddled into the crux too slowly. I dropped into the large hole in the middle of the crux rapid and found myself surfing it. This is where I truly believe what little playboating experience I have saved me. I knew how to surf a hole, I could do this. I relaxed, and tried not to panic and began to evaluate the situation and how I was going to get out. I looked to my right (river left) and decided that side of the hole would probably be easiest to get out of. Just as I started to move that way I saw Ralph round the corner, I knew he’d have little option but to crash into me (and most likely my head) if I spent any more time in the hole. I quickly surfed over to the side and managed to get the front of my boat out of the hole and spin round and paddle downstream. Skilfully, Ralph managed to catch an impossible eddie under the under-cut of the rock above the hole, which gave me just enough time to get out the way.

Once I was out the hole I saw that Ryan was no longer in his boat. I paddled after him but kept my distance, remembering his parting words. We reached an eddie and I stopped (having got a thumbs-up from Ryan to say he was OK and going to continue swimming down). Once Ralph and I were together again we paddled after Ryan. Just as we were reaching the exit of the gorge I caught up with Ryan. I knew Olga and Jim were ready to catch him and I could still see his paddle so decided to try and recover it for him. I paddled hard after it and grabbed it, I threw it as hard as I could onto the rocks. Stupidly, in the process I let go of my own paddle. I made a split second decision to hand-paddle to the side before heading down the next grade 4 section without a paddle. I was tantilisingly close to grabbing mine again, but opted for the safety of the side. Ryan’s paddle had bounced back into the flow off the rocks but thankfully Olga managed to grab it and hand it to me. I paddled out down the last rapid using Ryan’s paddle. Mark ‘The Don’ Donaldson had managed to recover Ryan’s boat so all that was lost downstream was my paddle. Luckily that was recovered later and all was well. There’s another story to be told about the guys that came down behind us, and how one of them required at least 8 mountain rescue team to help after he’d tried to climb out the gorge, but I’ll save that for a different time.

Lower Guisane

After a bit of a silly paddle doing the Humpty Dumpty Challenge on the Upper Guisane a few of us decided to continue down the Lower Guisane. I was pretty excited to get to paddle this section as I’d heard lots about it as an unforgiving, continuous grade 4 section that you had to be on your game for over an hour of full on paddling for.

We set out in small groups, I was in a three with Mark Rowe and Ryan. Mark had paddled the section a few times and Ryan had once the year before, so I was the newbie. I was granted the joy of “leading” for the first part of the river. This wasn’t really leading at all, just probing. I later realised that Mark and Ryan wanted me to go up front so that if I got swallowed up by any of the holes in the rapids they’d know where to avoid. After a few kilometers of continuous rapids we caught up with some of one of the groups ahead. Unfortunately they’d had a couple of swims and one of their boats had gone downstream so two of them were about to walk out. Once we’d made sure they were safely on the correct side of the river with as much of their kit as possible we left them to stroll along the riverbank. It’s worth watching James at 2:08 in the video below if you want a good example of how to aggressively swim across a river. Our three combined with the two that remained from the other group to paddle the rest of the river together.

The remainder of the paddle went without any more drama, although there was plenty of excitement! I think the Lower Guisane is my new favourite stretch of river. With continuous, fast moving alpine water, lots of stoppers and holes to avoid and tiny eddies it was an exhilarating paddle! The river was action-packed throughout so I really struggled to cut my footage down to a watchable length, but you can see my attempt below.

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Kiting & Playboating From London

A small car with 4 people's worth of kiting gear means it's pretty heavily loaded!

A small car with 4 people’s worth of kiting gear means it’s pretty heavily loaded!

I intentionally kept this weekend as a free weekend in London, I’d thought that I’d need a weekend to sort my life out a bit after returning from week kayaking in the alps (more posts about that to follow once I’ve managed to go through some more of the footage!). Somehow, the productive weekend I’d planned didn’t quite materialise! After a few too many beers on Friday I got up early on Saturday morning and headed off to load up my car with a load of kit and mates before heading to Southend for some kitesurfing.

We got there to be greeted by building winds as the tide turned and started to head out. Two of our group, Nadia and Tom, got out first whilst I was setting up some replacement lines on my bar. I was just about to launch Matthias’ kite for him when I felt a gust of wind and some rain blow in. I signalled to him we should wait a minute and put the kite back down.

Uncle Toms at Southend in the sun

Uncle Toms at Southend in the sun

It was lucky that I did! A stormy 15min gust period blew in with the rain and the wind really picked up. Matthias and I went running down the beach as we saw Nadia and Tom getting blown towards the shore. Nadia managed to land her kite on the beach just before she had to pull her safety release, Tom wasn’t quite as lucky. Having lost his board a few hundred meters away from the beach he pulled his safety just before he reached the shore. We helped him get his kite and lines in and then walked the kite back up the beach whilst he ran off to see if his board was anywhere to be seen.

Once the wind had stabilised again the sun came out and it was a lovely day. Unfortunately it was a bit windier than we’d expected and Matthias didn’t have a small enough kite that it’d be safe to go out on so he sat in the sun for  a while. I pumped up my 9.5m Best Kahoona for the first time in a few years, it’s an old kite (2009) and I’m not a big fan of it so I don’t use it much. I then had a great session out on the water and remembered how to do quite a few tricks which was awesome.

My hand looked more dramatic than it was when the blood was in full-flow!

Duck tape fixes everything!

However, I did get caught out by a sandbank as the tide went out. My board stopped suddenly but me and my kite kept going, I put my hand out to break my fall on the sandbank but unfortunately it landed on a sharp oyster shell. After continuing to kite for a bit the blood flowing out of my hand started to get a little alarming (despite knowing it’d look much worse due to the water). I headed into the beach to bandage it up. It took quite a long time to be able to get my hand to stop bleeding, but eventually it did and the damage doesn’t look too bad. Tom didn’t find his board but he borrowed Matthias’ for  while and Matthias got out for a short session on Nadia’s kit. Luckily the guys from Essex Kitesurf School found Tom’s board and kindly called him up, so he was reunited with it the next day.

On Sunday I had a lazy day until I headed to Lee Valley White Water Centre for some kayaking. A group of us from Regents Canoe Club had arranged to paddle a few hours on the Legacy course. For some of the group it was their first time on white water in playboats which lead to absolute hilarity. Lots of time was spent upside down by all, but everyone (apart from me!) paddled really well.


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