Archive for the ‘White water’ Category
Enjoying Dartmoor’s River Erme, this morning. I haven’t paddled this classic whitewater run all winter, as I’ve been focussing on paddling lesser known and obscure sections as research for the upcoming guidebook. It was great to be reminded just how good a paddle it is, and why it’s a classic. With the guidebook in mind, we also explored the following stretch down to the sea, which turned out to be a surprisingly decent easy grade whitewater trip.
Sunshine didn’t diminish our enjoyment of the Erme…we also squeezed in a quick blast down the (also classic) upper River Dart, afterwards.
I’ve been doing a lot of work over half-term week for the second edition of the Pesda Press guidebook ‘English White Water’. I researched and wrote the South West section a decade ago, it’s been interesting to seek out, explore and write up many new sections of river over this last winter.
My favourite river remains unchanged, however. The Dart has truly given me the best of times and the worst of times, but I will never stop paddling it and enjoying it. I was sorting through my photos of the Dart a few days ago…here are a few favourites which I picked out. Some because they show the character and beauty of the river, some because they remind me of good times with good friends.
The picture above was taken from the highest point of Exmoor, Dunkery Beacon. It was freezing cold and a raw wind was ripping through, so apologies for the quality. The indistinct blur seen top right is Steep Holm Island, where we’d both been paddling just a few weeks before. My friend and I had just explored a fairly obscure river on Exmoor, and afterwards waded through the snow to the summit.
And that…was pretty much all of my activity for the past fortnight. I then went down with flu which wiped out all of my energy, leading to four days straight laid out on the couch and also missing the big race I’d been training for – expensive and irritating. I’m still coughing, a week later.
Just found this magazine article in an old folder. It dates from 2005 and was published in the now defunct ‘Playboating’ magazine. It describes an unpleasant incident whilst exploratory river running in Bolivia. The rest of the expedition was much more successful and enjoyable, thankfully.
(first published in ‘Playboating’ Magazine)
Seven of us in a gorge on a difficult and exotic river. Clear water, big boulders, steep. We are experienced, skilled, sharp, focused. Loving it.
We stop above a horizon-line. Inspection reveals two routes, separated by a midstream rock. River left plunges off a three metre waterfall into a walled-in stopper, which can’t be protected. Nearer to us on river right, a powerful current piles against a rock and forms a sticky stopper. I make my choice quickly; the river right channel. My creek boat powers through cleanly and I break out on the river left bank, twenty metres downstream. I look back and see Andy appear on the lip of the river left waterfall; he has opted for the necky line. But he’s in the wrong place, above the worst towback. He grinds to a halt on the shallow lip, and can’t boof. He slides off completely vertically. He vanishes.
I wait a few seconds, expecting to see him backloop up and get a working. Nothing happens. Seconds more. I am out of my boat onto a rock. I now assume that Andy will pop up swimming, and begin unbuckling my waist throwline. Nothing happens. Nothing appears. Our mate is drowning.
Simon appears on a rock on the opposite bank, nearer to the spot where Andy vanished. By frantic pointing and shouting, I indicate that Andy is underwater. Due to the river right channel and central rock, Simon can’t see or get close to the spot. Only I have line of sight, and there is no way I can paddle up to it. I throw my rope, but its hopelessly out of range.
I attempt climbing along the cliffed opposite bank to the waterfall, but its not possible. Simon starts throwing his line over the centre rock; despite not being able to see where he is aiming, he lands it right on the mark first and every time. Nothing happens.
I stare harder at the point where Andy vanished, and I think I understand what has happened. There is a particularly violent boil just below the fall at this point, presumably formed by a large shallow rock. Andy will be under that rock. Time is running out. He’s a strong bloke, if anyone can fight his way out it’s him. But nothing happens.
By now, Simon has gathered everyone on the rock opposite. Every few seconds, throwlines are rhythmically landing on the spot where Andy vanished and are being drawn back in again. I’m the only person in a position to see the whole scene, but I’m unable to participate. I have never felt so useless in my long useless life.
I can tell that the rescue team are flagging slightly; presumably each one is privately pondering the futility of continuing what they are doing. My eyes meet Simon’s across the river. We both shake our heads imperceptibly; we have paddled together long enough to understand one another instantly.
Staring at the fall, I spot something new moving behind it; it is Andy’s kayak, getting dragged into the fall from behind and bobbing on end. I deduce that it has freed from whatever siphon it was trapped in, and that Andy’s body may still be in it. I point and shout what I can see. The answer comes back, “Can you see Andy?”; I shake my head. However, the rescue team seem revitalised, throwing their lines with renewed vigour to where I am pointing, right into the fall this time.
Its taken me a lifetime to think of it, but I am now tying my spare throwline to the original line. I fumble the knot and can’t focus; filling my mind, blotting out all rational thought, is the fact that I’ve just watched a mate drown.
One of the lines snags on something and goes taut. They all haul, and as if by magic, Andy’s boat slowly emerges. As it swings out downstream, it begins to roll upright. I am moving towards my boat, ready to paddle out and retrieve its contents. I am trying desperately to recall the CPR sequence; was it three or four breathes first? But the cockpit is empty. I literally see everyones shoulders slump.
I am climbing into my boat. I shout my intentions across to the others; I’m going to search for about a mile downstream for the body. But they shout back for me to hold on, to wait. They are newly animated and throwing lines more frenetically than ever. They know something.
Another rope goes taut. They haul, and a very familiar red helmet pops up on the end of it. Andy is alive, clinging to the rope and swimming vigorously. My eyes cannot believe what I am seeing. As he swings into the view of the others, they cheer loudly. As soon as he is safely at the bank, I turn away and burst into uncharacteristic tears. When finally I get a grip on myself, I can see I am not alone; others have their heads in their hands, shoulders racked. Our mate is alive.
The only person not particularly fazed was Andy himself. Unlike the rest of us, he never for a moment believed he had died! He misjudged his lead-in to the waterfall and was pushed offline. He buried deep into the drop, but instead of pinning under rocks as we assumed, he popped up alongside his boat in a tiny cave hidden behind the fall. For a while he was thrashed around in this room of doom. Eventually he spotted a log jammed in the airspace above his head, and recalled that he had a sling and krab in his BA pocket. Clipping himself to the log, he was stabilised and (apparently) quite comfortable. He tried to push his paddles through the fall to attract attention, but couldn’t reach. Instead, he pushed his boat into the fall repeatedly (which I saw) and in due course, ropes began to land within reach. After a few close misses he managed to grab one and clipped it onto his boat; he wanted to watch his boat and check that the route out was safe first. When the others hauled out the boat, they – realising that dead men don’t use krabs – knew Andy was alive.
In all honesty? We have no idea what the lessons to be learned from this incident are. Draw your own. We simply pray that in your entire boating lives, you never ever have to experience an eight minutes as unpleasant as this. But if you do, we pray that it ends as ours did. Thats all.
“I never thought I’d say it Andy, but I’m actually quite glad to see you”.
A waterfall in north Wales, somewhere in the Berwyn Mountains. We spent New Year with friends; paddling steep ditches, walking and getting soaked by constant rain. All good.
In other news…
…my New Year’s Resolution is to try and clock up two thousand and thirteen miles by human-powered means in 2013; in my case, that will mean hill running, mountain biking, kayaking and swimming. First challenge to get me motivated is a double-ultramarathon I’ve entered in one months’ time…oops, guess I’d better actually leave the house and do some running, seeing as I haven’t done any at all since last autumn.
…research and writing for the new edition of the guidebook English White Water continues; I’ve been motivated to seek out and discover a few new whitewater runs in Devon; great to know that there is still new whitewater waiting to be explored.
…the new edition of Canoe Kayak UK magazine (published on Jan 6th?) includes an article and photos by myself about the awesome Land’s End peninsula. Hope it’s of interest.
Ten years ago, I researched and wrote the South West section of the guidebook ‘English White Water’. I recently learned that a second edition is in the offing. I have dug out the old guides I wrote to see what needs updating, and I’ve also pored over maps of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset in search of possible whitewater I might have missed first time around. So, this winter I have an excuse to indulge one of my favourite passions; exploring tiddly tree-infested ditches by kayak.
On Saturday evening I set out for Somerset and North Devon, with a few likely ditches in mind; I was hoping to utilise the heavy rainfall to catch some rarely paddleable sections. I only got half way before being stopped by flooding, and spent the night sleeping in a parking lot in the back of the car. By early morning, the floods had subsided enough to allow me to get to Exmoor, with a few detours. There was a slight problem in that I had no friends to play with (they were all busy doing not-young-any-more stuff like being married, doing DIY, raising children and in one case, actually giving birth) but I was happy enough to paddle alone. Paddling solo had its rewards; for instance, along one wild section of river I was followed closely by a herd of deer for several miles. Walking the shuttles was a bit more tedious.
In the afternoon, I hopped onto the well-known and classic East Lyn River for a quick blast downstream. Halfway down, I was lucky enough to run into the guys in the images here, who let me join them…this made the difficult final gorge less scary than it might have been, I was grateful for their company.
We were deep in a Bolivian gorge, looking downstream at a rapid which appeared to disappear around a blind corner and off the edge of the world. We spoke by radio to our support crew who were several hundred feet above us on the road, but they also couldn’t see if it was safe for us to continue. The gorge walls were too steep to escape from the river at this point, so in any case the choice was made for us.
Chris gave it a shot first, cleanly boofing the top drop, heading down the rapid and around the blind corner which none of us had been keen to ‘test’ first. Thankfully he eddied out and his thumb went up to let us know that it was fine. We followed down and pulled ashore at this eddy, the very final point before the river really did disappear into the bowels of the earth. From here, it looked possible to climb the scree and loose earth up to the road.
It took us over three hours to get 300 feet up the slope, and darkness fell long before that. But that is another story…
We miss him always.
The Commando Memorial, Spean Bridge.
The memorial commemorates the 20000 Special Forces soldiers of the Second World War, who trained in the surrounding glens and mountains. We were staying nearby for a week of much milder adventure, paddling the local whitewater rivers and squeezing in a bit of mountain biking to boot. All of the most intense and best paddling tended to take place in gloomy pouring rain in the half hour after sunset…this is always the way with UK river trips…so there are just a few mild daylight photos here. Thanks to my friend Steve for the last pic, showing myself.
The image shows the normally tiny stream which trickles through the village of Corfe Castle, transformed into raging torrent by extremely heavy rainfall, on the back of many concurrent weeks of wetness. Half an hour later, it had risen high enough to flood across and close the main road through the village.
I’d just returned from a failed paddling trip; I’d headed early this morning to Dartmoor with a friend to paddle some of the steeper rivers, but no paddling took place. We hit monsoon-like rains in West Dorset and East Devon, and encountered numerous flooded roads. Various rivers in the SW hit their highest recorded flows this morning, and we blundered right into the midde of it. Most impressive was a steep uphill road which had rocks flushing down it…I don’t recall that in the Highway Code! The Police turned us around eventually, saying that all roads heading west were out of action. The drive back was a nightmare, as of course the roads we’d passed were now more flooded. I made it back home after a five hour trip starting and finishing at my front door…
My last adventure? No chance. But fatherhood has been encouraging me to make the best of any free time I have to get out and do ‘me’ things. I don’t think I’ll be going on any extended overseas whitewater kayaking expeditions for a while, but adventure can always be found if you look for it.
Rather conveniently, the weather has been outrageously wet over the last two months. I took advantage of biblical rain one day, to head to North Devon/ Somerset and explore a river valley that probably hasn’t seen a kayak previously. I was looking at a 3 km carry-in to the river; not such a big deal except that I kept getting blown over. Thankfully, after only a kilometre I found a flooded stream that I could launch on…this proved to be an amusing roller-coaster experience downhill, with the occasional sheep fence to duck or dodge. In due course I reached the main valley, and paddled down a surprisingly sizeable river, the Badgworthy Water. The whitewater wasn’t hard, but it was never dull and this is what whitewater paddling is all about for me…never knowing what is around the next corner. This rather stunning place is also known as the ‘Lorna Doone Valley’ after R.D. Blackmore’s novel which is set here.
In due course the river reached the road and became the East Lyn River, already well known as one of Britain’s finest whitewater trips. At these levels the whitewater was tending towards the challenging, and I hopped ashore and called it a day 2 km before the river flowed into the sea…soloing the final Grade 5 gorge wouldn’t have been the best idea, not for a new parent, at least! I went back this last weekend and paddled the lower sections down to the sea in more sensible levels (=photo of me paddling below, from Simon Knox).
In 2002-3 I spent a winter season researching and writing up the whitewater rivers of the South West for this guidebook. I’m frankly amazed that I missed this lovely little river, it gives me hope that there is more exploring to be done in this part of the world…
Pleasant bimble today, on my favourite river, which gave a National Park its name. I will never tire of it.
Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Ashburton were out after dark yesterday searching for some overdue paddlers (whom I understand turned up safe), and they were out training river crossings today on the upper reaches. They do great work for paddlers, please consider supporting them. Which reminds me, I have to go out and run now.
I just enjoyed a great start to the Christmas holidays with friends on my favourite river, the glorious Dart.
Paddlers judge the water level at ‘The Ledge’, a bedrock slab located just upstream of Newbridge. The Ledge is the put-in for the Dart Loop section (forgiving Grade 2 and 3) and the takeout for the Upper Dart, an outstanding section of Grade 4 in a deep valley.
In the past two decades I’ve paddled the Upper Dart hundreds of times, at levels ranging from ten inches below the ledge (bump and scrape) to 3-5 feet over (frankly terrifying). Today the water was exactly level with the ledge, which equates to a pleasant low-medium level with just enough water to pad out the rocks nicely.