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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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!

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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

 

Powfect 2016

powfect-logo

I’ve just returned from one of the best weeks away I’ve had for a long time, the Powfect 2016 ski trip. Powfect is a trip organised by some friends of mine I met at university, it’s a ski and snowboard trip organised for their friends and friends-of-friends. Last year we went to La Clusaz and this year 78 of us went to La Plagne in France.

The trip was really well organised and one of the things that made it so fantastic for me was that I didn’t have to think about any of it. Pretty much everything was organised for us, by like-minded people who knew what we wanted to get out of the trip. All I needed to do in terms of preparation and thinking was pack up my snowboard and skis and get myself to Kings Cross on Saturday morning.

This year Andy and Jamie (the organisers) decided to use the tour operator NUCO to make handling the organisation a bit easier and ensure that they could enjoy the trip as well. The NUCO reps were great, Caroline, Zoe and Ben were there to meet us when we arrived in resort and looked after us really well throughout the week. They negotiated deals at some of the bars, shepherded us onto busses for a night out in Plagne Centre (we were staying just down the hill in Plagne 1800) and kept us entertained 24/7.

We travelled out on the Eurostar and only had a 45min transfer from the train station at the far end (Aime La Plagne). I’ve never got the train straight to the Alps before but it was so much easier than flying. With so many less steps to the journey (15min bus to Kings Cross, train, coach rather than get to the airport, check-in, go through security, find the gate, board the plane etc) it was really hassle-free, especially considering I always take both skis and boards to the snow. It also meant that a few of us could very comfortably prop up the bar on the train until it ran out of alcohol.

A bunch of us enjoying Après at Chauffe Marcel near La Plagne 1800.

A bunch of us enjoying Après at Chauffe Marcel near La Plagne 1800.

In resort we had 3 meals organised for us all together which was really nice, a designated Après bar every afternoon (Chauffe Marcel ended up being our regular) and a few on-running competitions with winners awarded every day. The daily photo contest which ran on the group WhatsApp thread had some great entries and the winners showed off that we had some really talented skiiers amongst us on the trip.

My favourite Picture of the Day was this shot of Jez.

My favourite Picture of the Day was this shot of Jez.

We were sceptical about the snow conditions on the way out but we turned out to be really lucky. The snowpack was very unstable (as is true across the Alps at the moment), and one of our group did get taken for a ride in an avalanche (he was shaken, but unharmed), but the snow was great. We had a couple of beautiful bluebird powder days which were really fun and despite a little rain early on in the week pretty much everything remained rideable throughout. We did get unlucky in that some of us had an off-piste guiding morning on the day after the rain, which meant that we spent the morning cruising pistes but it was still fun.

Me enjoying face shots on landing through the trees.

Me enjoying face shots on landing through the trees.

I had my GoPro out for a few days, although I was more focused on having fun than trying to get great footage. Hopefully I’ll pull together a video edit shortly, and I’ll post videos that others will inevitably pull together from the trip once they’re done.

Getting out of London for a week to play in the mountains, skiing and boarding with a fantastic group of people in an awesome place with absolutely no hassle meant that Powfect 2016 was one of the best holidays I can remember. A massive thanks to Andy, Jamie and the NUCO guys for making it so powfect.

Adventure Travel Show 2016

This weekend (23-24 January) was the weekend of the Adventure Travel Show at the Olympia in Kensington. I went along with a friend of mine on Saturday and it was a great day full of inspiration and motivation. There were three auditoriums hosting talks and panels, a load of stands for companies and organisations trying to sell their trips and services, and a photography exhibition. The two panels I went to were fantastic (a little more on them below) and some of the talks were great too; however a couple of the talks I went to were simply sales pitches which were of much less interest to me. Wondering around the stands was worth doing, and some of them more interesting and useful than others, however it was really crowded at times which made it pretty stressful trying to get anywhere.

Sometimes it was so crowded it made it very difficult to move around.

Sometimes it was so crowded it made it very difficult to move around.

The Yes Tribe
One of my favourite stands I visited was for the Yes Tribe. It was one of the smallest stands at the event, although I knew that in Dave Cornthwaite’s twitter bio he mentions that he founded @YESisadoingword  I knew nothing about what that was, so I thought it might be worth having a look. Turns out, it definitely was worth checking out; the Yes Tribe was originally started in London and describes itself as “… a community of people seeking to share friendship, support, positivity and energy in order to make all levels of life count.” It seems to be a group of like-minded people who love to get outdoors, go on adventures and generally say “Yes!” to the opportunities that come their way. On the evening before the Adventure Travel Show a group had camped out on Box Hill because, well, why not? They seem to get together and share adventure inspiration and encourage each other to go on adventures, I certainly plan to get involved soon. There’s more information about the Yes Tribe on their website.

Panel: An Adventurous Life
Sean Conway, Ed Stafford, Rebecca Stephens and Benedict Allen hosted by Dave Cornthwaite

The panel prepare for their 'Leading an Adventurous Life' session.

The panel prepare for their ‘Leading an Adventurous Life’ session.

The very first thing we did when we arrived at the show was head to a panel that we knew was about to start. The session had no real structure which left it free to wonder over a variety of topics, a format that worked really well. The session ended up as a mixture of entertaining and inspirational stories and anecdotes. Dave Cornthwaite said something that really resonated with me, aligns with the Yes Tribe ideology and my thoughts when originally setting up Beyond The Smoke: “Humans are wild animals, and here we are living in this big city and it’s not natural. To thrive we need to get out there and go on adventures, even if that’s just getting on a train and spending a night in a bivvy bag before getting to work on time; there are plenty of places within half an hour’s train journey from London that you can do that”.

Somehow the discussion moved onto embarrassing moments in adventuring and other entertaining anecdotes, Sean Conway told a story about ending up having to use a dead sheep’s rib bone as toilet paper in the desert during his round-the-world cycle. Ed Stafford told us that he got expelled from school for chopping down a tree the Queen planted. Benedict Allen told us about when he underwent an initiation ceremony to become “a man as strong as a crocodile” which involved him being cut many times with bamboo blades and then beaten four times a day, every day, for six weeks, until he was deemed to have achieved the objective. I guess you could say that leading “An Adventurous Life” involves a variety of adventure, mischief and embracing unfamiliar surroundings!

Panel: Meet the Adventurers
Dave Cornthwaite, Leon McCarron, Duncan Milligan and Anna McNuff

The 'Meet the Adventurer' panel included some impressive individuals.

The ‘Meet the Adventurer’ panel included some impressive individuals.

The second panel that we attended was a similar format to the first, and was allowed to wonder across a variety of topics. All the speakers were really inspirational and had some entertaining stories too. Discussion moved to the impact of social media on the life of the modern-day adventurer and it was interesting to hear from what you could argue as very different ends of the spectrum; Duncan Milligan isn’t even really on Twitter from what I can see, compared to Anna McNuff who shared her full range of emotions experienced during her run through New Zealand. Anna also touched on an interesting point, that she thinks it’s important to share both the good and the bad moments, to give those following on social media a full picture. Her first video showing her crying got more interaction online than her other videos, which corresponds with Sean Conway’s story about his video of him falling and injuring himself whilst trying to take a ‘Selfie’ being one of his most popular; but perhaps thats just because people get a kick out of seeing the weaknesses of others?

One of the points that Dave Cornthwaite and Anna emphasised was that anyone can get out there and have these adventures, you just need the ambition and (perhaps more importantly) the guts, to go for it. In my own way I agree with this, whilst I’m at a point in my career as a Civil/Structural Engineer that isn’t conducive to embarking on a major adventure; one of the reasons why I set up this website was because so often people say to me “I wish I could go on adventures like you at the weekends”, to which my answer to everyone has always been “but you can!”

Talk: Blind and Just a Little Bit Dangerous
Dean “Deano” Dunbar

Deano's presentation was one of the most impressive of the day.

Deano’s presentation was one of the most impressive of the day.

One of my favourite talks of the day was by Dean “Deano” Dunbar. Deano was born with full sight, aged 9 his sight suddenly deteriorated over night, causing him to be registered as “partially sighted”. For the next 15 years his sight remained pretty static. Then in his mid-20s, his sight dropped again. This time he was registered “blind”. Deano’s done some incredible things, including quad biking, skydiving and tandem speed flying (it’s really worth checking out the video below about this). It was really inspirational to hear about some of the stuff he’s done and the challenges he’s overcome. I was really impressed with how well he presented, he definitely had the most polished talk out of everyone I saw at the show. 

Deano’s video of him speed flying is inspirational. 

One of the other highlights of the day was a talk by Sean Conway on #FindYourBeard which was both inspirational and entertaining.

For some time I’ve had a bit of a pipe-dream of going on a ski touring/splitboarding trip to Iran. I went and tried to speak to a few stalls who said they operated in Iran, however I was really disappointed by the combination of their total lack of interest in talking to me about the country, what they could offer, getting around the country, or anything to do with snow sports. I guess it may be best to try and go down a different route when trying to plan my trip.

Overall I got a huge amount out of the day, and learnt a lot. I bought a book on overland adventure planning as food-for-thought, I joined the Yes Tribe for further inspiration and future adventures, and I was inspired by all the presenters and panelists to keep on pushing mini-adventurers now whilst preparing for some major adventures in the future!

 

First Paddle of 2016

This weekend was my first white water kayaking trip of 2016. It was a river leadership skills training weekend with Regents Canoe Club. The primary aim of the weekend was to learn more about leading groups down white water, particularly on rivers we’d never seen before.
We set off from my house in North London after work on Friday night and after 5 hours driving we’d arrived in Betws y Coed in North Wales. Once we arrived the three of us from my car joined the other 17 Regents Canoe Club members and had a theory session over a beer  before getting a good night’s kip in Vangabond Hostel.
After a full English fry up on Saturday morning we had another theory session. We covered a whole range of topics relating to leadership on rivers including; leadership techniques and styles, roles and responsibilities, river planning and safety. We then discussed which river we were going to paddle, we decided we’d go and have a look at the Conwy to see whether there was enough water flowing down it to run, unfortunately there wasn’t.

Looking at the get-on for the Conwy, we decided there wasn't enough water to run it.Looking at the get-on for the Conwy, we decided there wasn’t enough water to run it.

We decided we’d head over the Tryweryn, a reliable dam-release river that’s home to the National White Water Centre. We ran the lower section, which is a bit easier than the upper, for two reasons. First, we didn’t want anyone to get into too much difficulty as the weekend was about learning leadership skills more than personal paddling skills development; second, many of us know the upper fairly well as we’ve run it a lot but the lower we hadn’t paddled for a long time and couldn’t really remember – this was beneficial for practicing leading down a river we’d never seen before. We put into practice the theory we’d discussed and experimented with different leadership styles and techniques. Towards the end of the section we got to run the (apparently) Grade 4 Bala Mill Falls. Personally I’m not sure I could have paddled the falls much worse whilst remaining upright (I included a clip in the video below for your entertainment – you can hear me giggling as I mess it up).

After we’d got out and got changed we headed to the pub for a few drinks before another theory session that was followed by dinner.

On the Sunday we got up and headed straight to the Clywedog which was around 2 hours away from where we were staying. Getting on the river was very atmospheric with fog limiting the visibility, lots of low hanging trees and very few eddies (see video below). We continued to practice the leadership skills we’d discussed as we moved down the river.

It was pretty atmospheric at the Clywedog get-on.
It was pretty atmospheric at the Clywedog get-on.

One of my group decided it’d be a good idea to test our boat recovery skills, when she went upside down on a rapid rather than roll herself back upright and continue paddling she swum out of her boat and let her paddle go. Once we’d made sure she was safely on the bank three of us chased after her kit. I picked up the paddle and chucked it onto the bank but none of us could get to her boat before it became thoroughly pinned in a tree.

This boat was thoroughly pinned on the Clywedog.
This boat was thoroughly pinned on the Clywedog.

We ended up using three throw-lines (ropes), some slings, carabiners, mechanical advantages and a vector-pull to free the boat. You can see some of this in the video below. This wasn’t necessarily the best or the quickest way of recovering the boat, but we knew we were in a relatively safe spot and had time on our side. Whilst some of our approach could have been improved by hindsight I don’t think we did a bad job and we achieved our objective of safely retrieving the boat. Once we’d retrieved the boat we paddled down the rest of the river, catching up the others that had gone past us whilst we were dealing with the pinned boat whilst they were scouting a feature.

The trip was a success, it was really nice to be out of London for a stress-free weekend with good people having fun in the outdoors.

 

 

Weekend Costs
Share of petrol: £28
Accommodation & food: £60
Boat & paddle hire (from RCC): £12
Beers & snacks (definitely optional costs): £30
Total: £130