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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Humpty Dumpty Challenge

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I’ve just got back from a fantastic week white water kayaking in the French Alps. I went with a big group from Regents Canoe Club, we stayed in Briançon which was a fair old drive from London! I’ll probably do a longer post about the trip as a whole in the future, but for the time being I’ve decided to upload a few little snippets with some video I took on the trip.

This first one is of the ‘Humpty Dumpty Challenge’. One evening, whilst enjoying some French wine over dinner we some how came up with this slightly ridiculous challenge: three of us would paddle down the Upper Guisane (Grade 3 (4-) apparently) with raw eggs in our bouyancy aids, if anyone’s egg survived it would have to be eaten (still raw) by those who broke their eggs. We discussed every possible of combination of broken eggs and reasons and had various other rules and punishments in place in the event of sabotage.

Luckily there were only two moments when I felt I was in real danger of breaking my egg; once was whilst rescuing and emptying someone’s boat before paddling it to the side after they’d had a little swim, the other was when the group I was paddling with started to get tired of my eggcellent puns…

Mark also managed to paddle down with his egg intact, unfortunately for Ryan he broke his at the very start of the paddle, leaving him to eat both our eggs at the end. Luckily for everyone Ryan’s stomach handled the eggs without bother and it was only his pride that was troubled by the challenge.

Tryweryn in the Sun

For the second May Bank Holiday of 2016 I headed to North Wales with Regents Canoe Club. We arrived at Tyn Cornel campsite in the dark after work on Friday, fortunately it wasn’t raining – putting up tents in the dark rain after a long week at work and a 4hr drive is never pleasant!

The BBQ/fire pit

The BBQ/fire pit

The campsite was right next to the Tryweryn which was great as it meant we could spend even more time than usual faffing before we started paddling straight from the campsite. We spent Saturday morning on the Lower Tryweryn before a quick play on the Upper Tryweryn. Towards the end of the day we had some epic rain, torrential but warm. I love paddling in the rain when it’s not freezing cold, it makes everything seem a bit more exciting! The rain threw our plans of a BBQ into question but luckily it pulled through and we had a great evening chilling out with some great food and then a fire.

On Sunday morning we headed straight for the Upper Tryweryn in the brilliant sunshine. It was a really warm day, which was a result since there were quite a few people who struggled to stay in their boats. A large amount of my day was spent chasing and rescuing swimmers, paddles and boats but I had a load of fun nonetheless.

After a relax in my hammock next to the river we headed to the Eagles Inn for some food before heading back to the campsite for another fire.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Monday morning brought great weather once again and a few of us decided to make the most of it and head to Lake Bala for a relaxed paddle. It was a fantastic way to spend the morning and really made the weekend feel like a holiday rather than just a frantic escape from London. On the way back we stopped off for some ice cream at Pontcycsyllte Aqueduct, completed in 1805, it is the longest and highest aqueduct in Great Britain, a Grade I Listed Building and a World Heritage Site. It was a great spot for icecream and allowed me to briefly get geeky about being a Civil Engineer.

The drive back had much less traffic than I’d expected and I was glad we decided to make the most of the weather whilst still in Wales. It was a great weekend in the sun with a brilliant group of people – I think I’ve got the kayaking bug back after a pretty unpleasant last trip to a river.

Fontastique!

fontastique_1080

Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau

For the May Day bank holiday I decided to organise a bouldering trip to Fontainebleau (aka Font) in France. Font is about 50km south of Paris and is widely regarded as the bouldering Mecca of the world.

Six of us set off from London early on Saturday morning in two cars and drove to Dover to catch the ferry over to Calais. Once in France we headed straight down to Font and met up with two more friends who’d flown into Paris from Aberdeen at the Château de Fontainebleau. The château was impressive, free for Europeans under 26, and a great way to spend some time whilst the rock was drying out from the rain earlier in the day.

Campfire at Ile de Boulancourt

Campfire at Ile de Boulancourt

We then headed further south of Font to find out campsite, Ile de Boulancourt, where we were greeted by the owner Jerome. The campsite was perfect for us, with clean toilets and warm showers, permission to have campfires, high-quality bouldering mats for hire and 400m away a small shop selling fresh baked goods as well as wine (essentials for any trip to France). Once I’d paid the balance for our stay Jerome took us to our camping area, where one car load of our group had already arrived having taken the Friday off work to get down there early.

TentMeals!

TentMeals!

Once we’d pitched our tents, ordered baguettes and pain au chocolats for the next day, and bought some wine it was time for dinner. I’d bought us a selection of TentMeals to make our evening meals as easy as possible. TentMeals were set up by a friend of mine from university and are fantastic healthy, natural, balanced meals that are incredibly easy to cook. I’d really talked them up to the group and I think most people were sceptical that the little tubes of rice or couscous would ever produce anything that resembled a proper meal. I can honestly say that everyone was pleasantly surprised, impressed and stuffed ten minutes later. Not only are the meals very easy to prepare (you only need to boil some water, pour the pack in and then let it rest for less than 10mins) but they’re really flavoursome and thoroughly filling.
The meals also have a very long shelf-life and are vegan.

 

 Log chopping!

Log chopping!

Having stuffed ourselves with the TentMeals we set about making a fire and sat around with quite a few bottles of wine whilst enjoying the entertainment of trying to chop through a very large log with an 8Euro axe. The log was eventually chopped through, but had exhausted the axe to the extent that the axe disintegrated as soon as it was set to work on splitting the freshly chopped log.

 

TentMeals with a 45min exposure - check out those star trails!

TentMeals with a 45min exposure – check out those star trails!

After a good night’s sleep under canvas (and some pretty impressive stars) we got up and headed off to find some boulders to climb. We headed to T-rex and wondered into the forest for ten minutes before coming across an open area with loads of impressive boulders sat on a bed of sand. The rest of the day was spent climbing, picnicing, slacklining and playing frisbee in the brilliant sunshine. The climbing was great fun, summiting my first Font boulder was a fantastic feeling. We all found ourselves climbing a few grades lower than we would on plastic indoor bouldering walls but that didn’t bother us at all. Everyone found some climbs suitable to their ability and really encouraged each other to push themselves whilst maintaining a very chilled and relaxed atmosphere.

Picnic in the middle of some awesome Font boulders.

Picnic in the middle of some awesome Font boulders.

Eventually we reached a point where our arms wouldn’t let us climb any more and we headed back to the campsite for some more TentMeals, wine and sitting around the campfire. We had a slightly eclectic group of 12 people; no one knew everyone before the start of the trip but everyone had at least one connection with some others that were there. It worked really well and I think most people came away with a couple more friends than when they arrived.

Finn bouldering at Buthiers.

Finn bouldering at Buthiers.

Monday morning broke and we quickly headed to a nearby bouldering spot, Buthiers. None of the routes seemed to match the guidebook but that didn’t bother anyone and we just set about climbing whatever we saw that looked about right for our ability levels. The attitude was slightly different to the day before as everyone knew we only had a couple of hours so the intensity of climbing was a bit higher but everyone remained very chilled out. Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from the rock and back to the campsite to drop off the bouldering mats and pick up our tents. Unfortunately our reluctance to stop climbing left us a little behind schedule and despite pushing to make up time both cars missed the ferry. Luckily this didn’t cause any problems other than an hour’s wait at Calais.

Me hanging around, making us late for the ferry!

Me hanging around, making us late for the ferry!

We arrived back in North London before midnight and with enough time to get a good night’s sleep before work the next day. I really enjoyed the weekend, the combination of great people, amazing weather and brilliant climbing couldn’t have been better. I can’t wait to organise our next trip which will no doubt be even more Fontastique!

A cold, wet and painful Easter!

Weather warnings were issued for wales...

Weather warnings were issued for wales…

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.

Practicing setting up a mechanical advantage system.

Practicing setting up a mechanical advantage system.

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.

Snow was settling all around us as we drove to the river...

Snow was settling all around us as we drove to the river…

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.

A small section of the Aberglaslyn Gorge.

A small section of the Aberglaslyn Gorge.

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.

Tina, my playboat, didn't survive unscathed...

Tina, my playboat, didn’t survive unscathed…

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!

Spring begins with some climbing, paddling and pedaling

Spring appears to have arrived! The sun has started appearing and we’ve had some beautiful clear mornings in London. This weekend I didn’t have a huge amount of activity planned come Friday afternoon. I decided to pop to The Arch in Bermondsey for some climbing after work, it’s always a nice and cheap (free for me with my membership) way to wind down after a week of work.

Climbing at The Arch's Biscuit Factory building.

Climbing at The Arch’s Biscuit Factory building.

On Saturday morning I got up and headed to Lee Valley White Water Centre for some white water kayaking. I recently bought a kayak, Tina. She’s a Jackson Rockstar playboat in the questionable colour scheme of tie-dye and I was excited to paddle her. The Lee Valley White Water Centre was built for the London 2012 Olympics and is a great facility for white water activities that’s only 40mins from London (train from Liverpool Street or driving). The centre has two courses, one longer and more advanced than the other, that are supplied by water pumped from the lake. It was a beautiful day, despite the water still being cold I had a great time on the water and it was fun to sit around and watch the rugby in the cafe afterwards.

Tina, the tie-dyed rockstar!

Tina, the tie-dyed Rockstar!

At some point after a beer or two on Saturday I decided to join some friends who were planning to cycle to Brighton from London on Sunday. I agreed with one of my housemates that I could borrow his bike and started to mentally prepare myself for riding a bike with cleats for the first time ever and one with brakes and gears for the first time in several years (I normally cycle a fixie). I’m not really a cyclist, and certainly have never expressed interest in becoming a road cyclist, but I thought I should jump at the opportunity to have a little adventure when I didn’t really have much else planned!

Sunday was a beautiful spring day and two of my housemates and I set off at around 8am to meet a few others and hit the road. We took a gloriously empty route through some of the iconic sights of London before passing through Clapham and finally out onto some more rural roads. I was thoroughly enjoying having a range of gears to work through as we climbed a few small hills, despite them taking their toll on a previous knee injury of mine.

We didn't make it quite as far, or as fast, as we'd hoped...

We didn’t make it quite as far, or as fast, as we’d hoped…

We took a few interesting routes down some bridal paths but somehow everyone escaped the mud, rocks and gravel with only one tactical dismount and no punctures. Once we were passed the M25 our pace seemed to slow, the early climbs had taken their toll on some of the group. Despite the low speed, spirits remained high and we continued to wind our way through the beautiful English countryside.

Just as we approached the 55km mark near Three Bridges we had a mechanical issue with one of the bikes that couldn’t be fixed with the tools we had. The pedal had become cross-threaded and eventually come completely free of the crank whilst riding down the road. With no thread whatsoever left on the crank and no replacement cranks it was clear that bike would not be making it to Brighton. In light of the slowing pace, and not wanting to leave someone behind, we decided to call it a day. Luckily, Three Bridges station was only a few minutes downhill roll from where we were and we managed to hop on a train home and get back in time to watch the final 6 Nations game of the weekend.

Despite the fact we didn’t get to our intended destination I thoroughly enjoyed the cycle and will be keen to get out on a bike again in the future. Just goes to show, if you randomly say yes to adventures you might find yourself enjoying them more than you’d think!

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.

A Snowy Valentines Date with The Dart

Me hanging about on the Walkham

Me hanging about on the Walkham

Having been away in the Alps on the Powfect ski trip last week I thought that I’d probably need this weekend to sort all my stuff out and gather my life together a bit so had planned to be in London. However, having seen the rain falling as a result of storm Imogen and some pretty intense looking videos appearing on the Kayaking on the River Dart Facebook Page  I decided to join the Regents Canoe Club (RCC) trip to Dartmoor.

We set off from London after work on Friday and drove down the YHA at Bellever in Dartmoor. The drive was a long one, it took us just over 5 and a half hours, no-doubt partly due to the fact it was the Friday at the start of half-term. Once we arrived I sat down for a few beers to catch-up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while and discuss whether the weather was going to behave for the weekend.

On Saturday we woke up to rising river levels, it was decided that we’d split the ~30 of us into two groups; one would head to the Walkham and the other to the Dart Loop. I headed off to the Walkham, a river I’d never paddled before. After a somewhat exciting car shuttle involving the shuttle car doing a 17-point turn, lots of wheelspins, having only two wheels on the ground and fuel warning lights, we got onto the river. (We leave most of the cars at the point we’ll get off the river, with one used to get the drivers back to the start that stays at the top) . It was a pretty paddle and a treat to do a river that was new to me. The main event is a slot-drop feature which resulted in quite a few swims from our group. (In kayaking a ‘Swim’ is what happens if your boat goes upside down and you can’t roll it back upright whilst you’re in it. You therefore have to get yourself out of the boat, resulting in you ‘swimming’ down the river whilst you try to get yourself, your boat and your paddle to the bank safely so you can get back in the boat and try again. A ‘swim’ is not a good thing and normally results in a fair amount of ribbing from your fellow paddlers along with a bit of bruised pride.)

Paddling the Slot Drop on the Walkham in my Powfect hat.

Paddling the Slot Drop on the Walkham in my Powfect hat.

By the time we got to the end of the river everyone was pretty tired, either from swimming a few times, or from rescuing swimmers and their kit. We headed back to the hostel for a quick shower before walking to the East Dart Hotel to watch the 6 Nations rugby before having a very hearty carvery.

On Sunday a group of us had planned to get up and, if it rained as much as it was forecast overnight, have a quick blast down the West Dart before meeting the rest of the group. Having gone to bed with the rain starting to fall we thought we’d wake to high river levels. I woke up and checked the river levels on my phone only to find that they hadn’t risen much, when I looked outside the window I realised why – all the rain had fallen as snow and was sitting about an inch thick on the ground! Paddling through snowy river banks is always beautiful and I was excited to get on the Upper Dart. The river was on a great level (just lapping the slab at Newbridge) which meant that some of the rocks were covered but there wasn’t too much water to make it a difficult paddle. I really enjoyed our descent and had a lot of fun messing around catching little eddies and playing about – a great valentines date with The Dart.

My car, Red Cherry, on Sunday morning.

My car, Red Cherry, on Sunday morning.

It was a great weekend and getting out of London straight away after getting back from holiday was a good decision that softened the bump back to reality.

Weekend Costs
Accommodation and food: £50
Boat and paddle hire: £12
Petrol: £25
Beers: £25
Total: £112