Monday, 21 March 2011

Low Low Lugar

A few weeks ago, I decided that I'd quite like to explore some new rivers, in the hopes of finding one that the canoe club doesn't do normally, but is in fact, a classic.

To that end, I compiled a list, and some of those rivers were looked at as possibilities for this trip: the Lugar; the Ayr, and the Middle Doon.

The guidebook says that if the get-on for the Lugar looks paddleable, the rest of the run will be too: this is a lie. If the get on looks runnable, the rest will be a scrape. I imagine that if there was more water around (if "Where's the Water" shows the Ayr as on high) then this might make a good trip. As it was, we often had more fun on the flat bits than on the rapids, as we had freedom to move.

The entry to the river was quite fun, with a sliding wier that everyone ran and enjoyed (and I think Stephan went back for seconds), unfortunately, this was the best we were going to get for quite a while.

Whilst I found the other rapids combersome, I had nowhere near the same issues as Peter, Stephan or Ross (though as their kayaks are either heavier, or more prone to pinning than my Mamba, even that doesn't say much). The river did provide two positives: Elspeth is now less afraid of river (I'm not going to call this white-water) paddling, and Peter has now had a swim-free river trip!

The last rapid on the river, even at this level, I'd say is worthy of a grade 3- rating, and would probably be 3+ if more water went through it.

At roughtly 8km long, that this river needs more water was a lesson learned the hard way, but in the end we had an enjoyable day, paddled a new river, and learned the merits of having a little more water in the area.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Intermediate Weekend

When the Intermediate Weekend was announced, I was sceptical of its ability to separate those who are beginners going on intermediate, and those who are intermediate and looking to up their game. And it turns out I was both right and wrong on the same count, for while not all of those invited to take part in the trip were of intermediate standard, those who weren’t at least had the mentality to get down to business and paddle.

Without bothering to list all the times that faff bothered various people, or the intricacies of the drive to Fort William, the debates on where to go, or the facilities in the hall, I shall jump right to the get-on for the Spean Gorge: a good intermediate river, with two advanced rapids.

Our newly elected commodore, Harry Brickell, was feeling the worse for wear (we still don’t really know why), and decided to get off within the first 100m of the river. This particularly cold March morning then decided to press the matter home with some snow after we’d tackled a couple of warm-up grade 2 rapids.

In this section, the only people who were being watched over closely were Kieran (who’d only ever paddled one river before), Ameila (who hadn’t paddled rivers in a long time), and Peter (who tried valiantly to win the award for most swims two years in a row). However, all of them were having a good time of it, and though Amelia in particular was nervous, Amy was keeping a close eye on her, and providing ‘encouragement’ when necessary.

Eventually, we did have a swimmer, and it was Peter. With a loud shout and some cursing he used up the breath he had for a roll and began our swim count...however it was soon joined by many, many more.

We reached the first named rapid of the Gorge, “Fairy Steps”, and here Kieran at last succumbed to a swim, joined by Callum and others. I feel part responsible for this as I was leading him down, but I don’t think I could have picked a nicer line. That Ross rolled following Kieran’s line may mean that they were, in fact, slightly off the one that I’d picked out.

Anyway, this introduced a number of our 18 paddlers to how cold the river was, and many more were to discover this first hand as we moved into sections of the gorge with weird, twisting eddy lines in the middle of the flow. Kieran, Emma, Stephan and Callum all succumbed to these at various stages, and the day was still getting colder, with snow piling on.

Ezra and Tom both ran the grade 5 rapid “Headbanger” (I’m sure Chris would have if he hadn’t escorted Amelia and Louise off the river earlier as it was too cold for them) and both styled it. The later grade 5 “Constriction” everyone walked. As Tom described it, “Constriction is in fact highly unrewarding, highly dangerous, flat water.”

By now most of the interesting stuff on the Spean Gorge had been paddled, and it was a long paddle to the egress point. Normally this is a nice, relaxing stretch – but with the extreme cold and continuing snow, we were trying to race through this – so it was far less enjoyable than normal.

The get-out was ridiculously cold, and it was a race to pack the boats and get back to the hall (with all thoughts of a second river swiftly forgotten).

Saturday night’s snow swept away all chances of another river in Fort William, so it was a race back down to Glasgow in the hopes of paddling the Middle Orchy.

Passing by foot high snow drifts, it was evident that ‘cold’ would not adequately describe any river we were to paddle. Upon arriving at the Orchy, only Tom, Harry and Amy were in a mood to paddle, jumping on at Sore-Tooth, planning on heading down to Witches Step. The minibus headed down to Witches Step, and once there, Stephan, Dan and Arran decided that they’d be up for running it a couple of times. This led to Arran’s one swim of the weekend. On their second run, they came down with the main group, and with six successful drops by the side of the central rock, it was time to pack up and go home.

This marks a GUCC first for 2010/2011, with Amy’s discovery of a set of paddles at the side of the river, we returned with more kit than we set out with.
So, with 17 genuine river swims, and 1 gimpy swim from Gregor, this weekend almost rivalled the North East Weekend for its carnage.

Roll on next year :)


Friday, 11 March 2011

The Awesome Awe (yes, I know it's an overused joke)

It's been a while since I've been asked to lead a club trip, so it made for a nice change of pace, what I wasn't expecting was for my back-up to be someone I'd never paddled with before (in fact who had never paddled with the club) and Ross!

So first thing in the morning, we three (well, more Stephan and I), discussed where we should go: the Upper & Lower Orchy; the Nith; the Middle Etive (which I veto'd); the Lower Tummel... The list was a lot longer than I'd expected, but in the end, the Awe was the decision, and based on our day, it was the right one.

After loading up the boats, we set for the Awe, with the sun shining and the skies blue as far as the eye could see...until we arrived at the river when it began to rain and hail. Running the shuttle, Breffni and I got help from Alex and Haydn of Strathclyde Uni Canoe Club fame, which dramatically improved our return time.

Once we were on the river, the weather settled, and we headed down. With Ross doing safety for the first time, and with neither Stephan or I having paddled the Awe in nearly three years, we took it slow. There were times where we got out and inspected a rapid to make sure it did what we were expecting: sometimes we stayed there to indicate a line; sometimes we noted the line and went back; and at least once it was a false alarm entirely!

The first real rapid (I think it's called Magnetic Rock) was where most of the interesting stuff happened. Breffni and George both got tangled in some rocks, but wrestled their way out (George doing probably the strangest roll in history!), Peter found himself upsidedown on top of a rock, and flipped himself back up, only to capsize and start the swim count for the trip. Shona got a very good line through the rapid, much to our delight, and from this point onwards it was mostly plain sailing.

Everyone on the trip did well, and even tolerated the two races that I set up (which were actually disguised ferry glide training). George deserves a mention for his....interesting?....roll on one of the first rapids of the river. Breffni deserves one for trying to pick her own lines, Shona for going from two swims on her last trip to zero, and Peter gets one for putting a cone on SUCC's minibus. Oh, and thank you to Stephan and Ross for helping with safety.

All in all, a good trip.