Wednesday 1 August 2012

Alps 2012

Upon arriving at l’Argentière la Bessée, much grumbling ensued as the forecast was showing rain for most of the following week.   A few people, including Alps newcomers George Hamilton and George Elderfield, jumped on the slalom course at the campsite.

Very High Slalom Course
Both Georges, Fraser and Rupert on the Slalom Course
On the first day of paddling, we left the Sunshine Run section of the Lower Durance for the afternoon, and instead started with the Lower Guil (where I swear the grade 5 road was significantly over-graded).   The two groups, led by veteran Alps paddlers Tom Jenkins and Ben Marshall, set off about a half-hour apart.   The bigger and faster alpine water causes some of the newcomers some difficulty, but Stella and George bring their A-game and prove from day one that they have their river roll down.   Following lunch and a miraculous change in weather, we carry on down the Sunshine Run, where we learn that Stella has a knack for leading rivers unintentionally, and that Sam doesn’t like sticking to a group order.   When we arrived back at the campsite, the drinking began while Kieran and Tom made an awesome dinner of sausage and potato dauphinoise.   Oh, and Claire made Ben eat a lot of grass….
Day 2 – the weather picks up, but the water hadn’t returned to reasonable levels yet, so we set sail for the Lower Clarée.   While I’d never put this down as one of my favourite rivers, I feel it got a bad name in my first year, where it was paddled on a “confidence building day” at very low levels.   This time round, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t dull, and it gave Craig a great opportunity to make a difficult eddy above a tree (which, to my joy, he succeeded in doing).   After the traditional lunch of baguette with meats, cheeses and salad, we went to the Briançon Gorge – a river which always gives me pause despite never having had a bad experience on it.   Well, like all good gorges, the difficulty increases exponentially with more water, so the run was an absolute blast…though Callum met with some difficulty and went for a swim.   Back at the campsite, while Harry and Fraser work on their spaghetti Bolognese, I jumped on the slalom course with no other safety presence...and promptly capsized!   Fortunately before returning to the Alps, my river roll returned, so I managed to avoid a particularly gimpy swim.   Now, something happened that Tuesday night that I cannot, in good conscience, leave out of the write-up: Sam stole a dog!   Sam stole a dog and then let it off its leash.
Upper Guisane
Tom leading the last section of the Upper Guisane
After Sam apologised for being a drunken idiot to the dog’s owner on the rainy and windy morning we went to the Guisane.   I spent most of the Upper Guisane thinking just how high this felt compared to the previous times I’d paddled it.   S-bends, as normal, was the highlight, though Mr Elderfield spent most of his time playing pinball while traversing it.   The big boys, Ben, Tom, Sam and Rupert went on to do the Lower Guisane, though Ben (as normal) forgot to turn his GoPro on for the best bit of the river, where it looks like you’re paddling into the jaws of death!   Oh well, one day he’ll learn.   While they were doing that, the rest of us paddled the Middle Durance, where Kirsty picked up her first no-swim river and Craig came awfully close, but he swam twenty metres from the end of the run.   Back at camp, after hearing tales of heroism and near misses from the advanced group, Emma and Kirsty made cous-cous while others set about playing piggyback volleyball.
Piggy-back Volley-ball
Piggyback Volleyball!
After more swims than most people realised, Harry decided that the morning of the fourth day would be used for some training.   Ben shot-gunned the advanced group consisting of Emma, the Georges, Kieran and Callum, training them in some slalom techniques useful in the Alps.   Rupert took Claire and Stella, Sam put in some work with Kirsty, and Tom gave Craig a masterclass in the basics.   This was followed by a run of the Gyronde (with far less swims that usual), and finally a run of the Onde in the evening.   That night, after Ben and Claire’s “chicken surprise,” we played ultimate Bago and British bulldogs, which Claire proved to be an utter demon at!
A tender morning the next day meant that the Sunshine Run was our destination – our first repeat run of the trip.   This was not Fraser’s day.   First, upon seeing Craig swimming, he found a wonderful little pour-over, leading Stella into it, and while Stella succeeded in making her roll, Fraser failed, marking the first ‘safety swim’ of the trip.   Then, after completing the run, Fraser managed to lock Harry’s keys in his car…   Following this, we returned to the Upper Guisane, allowing everyone to get on it this time, and letting some additional people run S-bends.   Following the faff-ful day, the Georges make mixed risotto for dinner…and it was awesome.
Almost half way into the trip, the lead four paddlers decide to go off and do something tricky once more.   In the past, I viewed ‘tricky’ as being rivers like the Gyr or Chateaux Queyras…well…this time it was the Durance Gorge.   In possibly the most depressingly funny moments before they head off with Rob Pilkington, the group mumble to each other in quiet voices:
Tom: “We’re all going to die…
Ben: “What colour are your pants this morning?”
Tom: “…brown…
While they were off paddling their über river, we went to the Gyronde, and had our annual epic – oh well, it was always going to happen.   And rather upsettingly, I found out that while I’m normally good with a throwline, I can’t throw one well when I’m not under pressure.   In the evening, after Sam and Rupert went for a play on the Fournel, Rupert and Callum made pesto pasta for the masses while cheesy music blared at the bank of the river.
Before the rest day, it was time for everyone to up their games: in the morning, Stella and Claire got to jump on the Briançon Gorge.    Unfortunately for Stella (and her boat), she had a swim above the barrage, and after a prolonged rescue effort, we finally managed to force it down the barrage…and made her Inazone’s nose bear serious resemblance to Jaws!   Add to this that while paddling the gorge, Claire and Rupert’s kayaks also split.   Before lunch, we went to the Gyr, where I finally feel confident enough to jump on with the elite four plus Fraser.   It was awesome, despite a backwards spell that I had at one of the trickiest bits.   We all finish elated…until Ben discovers that his boat had broken on the run of the Gyr!   After this, there’s another run of the Gyronde for which I lent Stella my Mamba…and she gave it its first ever dent.   We went to Regain for the Alps meal which, as usual, was excellent.   Craig and Harry did their best to embarrass the group, with the former being overly drunk and slurring French phrases, and the latter commenting that the waitress “doesn’t speak very well” while asking Emma to order his food for him.
The rest day began with welding (given that four kayaks had been broken the previous day that hardly came as a surprise).   By lunch time we had made our plans.   Most of us decided that a day at the walled city in Briançon would be the best way to spend the day, whilst Tom and Sam borrowed Fraser to take them climbing.
Claire photosniping at Briançon
Now over half way through the Alps trip, breakfast with croissants and pain au chocolat is becoming more of a chore than nutritious.   This is Ubaye day, meaning an early get-up, a long drive, and me pleading with Tom for him to drive as I want to take photos: naturally this meant that while I held shot-gun, the storms of the like not seen since the Old Testament rampaged so I couldn’t get any good photos.   The Upper Ubaye is a ridiculously cold river, though it proved that Craig can not only hand-roll, but he’s rather adept at hand paddling too.   It also brought a cheer to many in the group when Sam went for an unintentional swim/technical exit whilst trying to rescue Craig’s kayak.   The Ubaye Race Course, which was my favourite river in my first year in the Alps, proved to be several peoples favourite run of the holiday, however, it also brought about Kieran’s first swim since the 12th of March 2011!   He was not amused.   To many people’s despair, as we were running late, we had McDonalds for dinner.
The Alps: Resplendent in all their glory!
I did get one awesome photo though :)
The following day, the Upper Upper Guil proved to be our first ‘no swim’ river – a mere ten days into the holiday.   A sizable portion of the group continues down to paddle the Upper Guil, where a number of people have a rather intimate experience with it, with Claire swimming in the same spot I swam at five years ago.   After both of these rivers were completed, most of us went back to the campsite where Stella and I worked on our Turkey Curry (that was, perhaps, a little over seasoned), while Tom, Rupert and Sam went with Rob Pilkington to paddle the Guil Gorge.   With them seemingly gone for hours, a number of people began to worry that they had gotten in trouble.   Eventually we received a call saying they had bailed off the river, and there was a collective sigh of relief.   It turns out that they had been paddling it at a level several feet above what is recorded in the guidebook (so the gentle grade three warm-up was nothing of the kind!).   And yet despite this, and despite spending an hour abseiling down to the river, while halfway through dinner I heard:
Tom: “This is my Everest.”
Now that we were nearing the end of our stay, France seemed to finally pull out all the stops and the sun split the heavens!   Returning to the Lower Guisane, I had to make a choice: was I ready to get back on the horse that stopped me paddling for seven days three years ago, or was I going to sit it out and miss one of the best rivers I’ve ever paddled?   I think I’ll give it one more year.   After an uneventful paddle of a very low Lower Guisane, it was time for the group to tackle the upper section for the final time.   This was general uneventful except for a revelation from Mr Doyle, who commented on how much more stable he felt when using the H3’s thigh rests.   Upon hearing this, Ben, Sam and I couldn’t contain our laughter…frankly, after hearing that we were amazed Craig had paddled that well!
On our final day, we have a fairly relaxed start, and then head to paddle the Sunshine Run one last time.   Another river was considered for the afternoon, but most people just wanted to relax and let their kit dry for the two day journey home that was to follow.
Home away from home
Camp at Night 
Other than my first Alps trip back in 2007, this was the one with the most swimming, the greatest variety of rivers and the most learning evident throughout it.   The Alps trips for Glasgow Uni Canoe Club have never been a matter of taking the best people on ridiculously hard rivers (or I’d have never managed to make it onto one), but about pushing the boundaries of people at all levels of competence in the club.   In 2007, I was towards the low end of the bell-curve, managing to get through the basic rivers and a few of the harder ones more because of confidence than skill.   Now, it feels like that venire of confidence has been stripped away, but the skills I have picked up since then more than compensate for it.   I think that everyone who went on this trip had something they could be proud of – a ‘no swim’ river; helping out with a rescue; tackling a new river; developing their roll – and that certainly puts this as one of the best Alps trips I’ve been on.
Good job everyone, and thank you Harry.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Le Chapeau rouge

So, here is a blog of my feelings, perceptions and memories of this year's Alps trip. It will no doubt be factually inaccurate cos I can't really remember what happened when so hopefully some other people will also post blogs which are better. Day one involved driving, this is neither fun nor interesting. A bag fell off the roof of the M6 and Sam had to run into the middle of the motorway to fetch it and Ben's car broke within the first hour, but all this happened before I got picked up so were not my concern.

 Day two also involved driving which is not fun or interesting, paddling the slalom course which is both fun and interesting and eating pizza. The weather when we got there was fairly bollocks but luckily picked up.

Due to high levels on day one we went and did the Lower Guil followed by the sunshine run. Many swims were had (leading to Sweet Cheeks adopting 'Swim until you can't see land as his theme tune) but also a lot of fun. Other aspects of the day involved the owner of a French bakery refusing to sell us breakfast despite her advertising her business as a provider of pastry based products (no wonder the Euro's screwed).

Next day we did the Lower Claree, usually described as a 5km long eddy it was passably good with the higher water. It was made particularly interesting by trees with one very last minute portage to avoid a tree choke. The afternoon saw a run of the Briancon gorge which was back to its previous funness following the works on the barrage last year with the slide re opened and decent levels. It still smells of poo though and Gretel, Callum’s boat did a large section without him.

The Guisane is one river which in my opinion gives all abilities a classic French Alps experience and we got both the upper and the Lower done in a day. The lower was particularly awesome at pretty meaty levels and our notable lack of fitness became very apparent by the end. Meanwhile those not keen for the lower headed to do the section of the Durance from the campsite down. Sweet cheeks so nearly making it a no swim river but alas it was not to be. That evening while sat next to the slalom course a kind German man in very tight spedos gave me a detailed explanation of why my carrabiner was wrong, unfortunately this explanation involved quite a lot of bending over.

The next morning Harry lied to us and told us we’d need to get up early for the drive to the Sunshine run, when we were all up he announced that we were not in fact going to the Sunshine run but having a morning’s training on the Slalom course which was very useful despite his deceitfulness. After this we ran the Gyronde which all went fine despite Kirsty’s best efforts to get vertically pinned on the weir. The day was concluded with a quick run of the Onde accompanied by a strange man from Bath uni who claimed to have spent the previous night sleeping in a bush in Grenoble (his claims were corroborated by his odor), he then stole our food.

The group split up the next morning with most of the group heading off to the Gyronde which while some swim ffaff occurred I understand went well while a few of us went and did the Durance gorge. Fortunately we were accompanied by Sam’s mate Pilky so we didn’t die! In the evening we headed up to the Fournel for tea and for Pilky to show us all he’s much better than we are.

The next morning I think we did the Briancon gorge again, Stella’s boat went off the barrage and mangled its nose meaning Sam had to go abseiling (I think this is a word for a type of masturbation, but that’s not what I mean in this context if anyone is confused) to fetch it. Some criticism of the technique was received from another uni boater but it was later clarified that he’s a Dick. Next a quick and fairly uneventful run of the Gyr followed by an extremely ffaffy run of the Gyronde before heading out for a meal.

Rest day saw a morning of boat welding before everyone sobered up enough to drive at which point most folk went sight-seeing in Briancon while Fraser, Sam and I headed out for a climb. I gave the locals a demonstration of the British technique of squeezing into a crack and humping my way upwards, they seemed unimpressed.

After rest day was Ubaye day. The upper Ubaye was extremely cold and rainy but the racecourse was a good laugh and saw a freak of nature so rare even David Attenborough is yet to capture it – Kieran swimming! His paddles ended up stuck in a gorged in section which turned into ffaff mainly due to my very ill advised attempt to traverse back along a cliff to it. The plan was duly abandoned and Sam and Rupert just paddled back down the section to fetch it.

Guil day began with the upper upper which was pretty cold and rubbish followed by us getting on the Upper at the same time as team Pyranha, including Anton Immler which was a really fun grade 3+ run. The piranha paddlers carried on down chateaux Q, guardian angel and the middle Guil but got off above the Guil gorge. This should probably have told us something but a few of us decided to get on while everyone else headed back to get dinner on, fortunately Pilky came along to stop us dying again.

The abseil in took us an hour and the initial rapids which looked big from the road were even bigger at river level but they were manageable. Unfortunately it turned out that these were the warm up rapids. The first portage featured a must make ferry glide with probable death awaiting if you missed it. After this we got back on to some grade five read and run which eventually led to Rupert getting an absolute tanking in a hole before a grade five swim with self-rescue of boat and paddles. After continuing a little further and with only about a kilometre left we decided it was getting ridiculous and ran away like little girls, walking out up a very steep, long, hot path before collapsing by the road and asking a nice lady for a drink from her hose pipe (not a euphemism). We’ve since found out that it was a few feet higher than the level the guide book is based on so we feel a bit better about our yellow bellied fleeing.

Our return to the Guisane saw a few extra people get on the lower and everyone get on the upper. A good day was had by all.

Our last day was pretty easy with a run of the Sunshine run allowing time to get sorted before heading home.

Other amusing incidents included the bus being locked into a car park and having to do a spot of off roading to escape, a feud with Bangor involving a duct tape penis and Sam Gregory stealing a woman’s dog while she was having a Barry. Callum also vomited all over their tent (known as the tenthouse) but fortunately only got it on his own things while Paul Walker slept through it and Sweet Cheeks made an escape. Strangely, even though Rupert was supposedly a resident of the Tenthouse his whereabouts are unaccounted for during this incident, hopefully Claire will shed some light on this mystery in her Blog post.

Monday 19 March 2012

A Small Etive Trip: 18/03/2012

With seven years of coaching experience with Glasgow Uni Canoe Club, it's been a while since anyone has really surprised me with their successes on a river, so I suppose I'm going to start out this post by saying well done to George and to Ross for catching me off guard.

Both of them had been looking at rivers they wanted to do, so when I invited them to come paddling they asked about doing the Middle Etive. Having paddled it a lot, I was willing to head there, but was expecting to have to portage a couple of the rapids due to limitations on safety coverage. However, Stephan was up for a jaunt to the Etive as well, so accompanied us, and was invaluable in providing safety cover while I demonstrated the line and set up cover at the bottom before switching.

Triple Falls proved to be Ross' best rapid of the day, styling all three drops, and managing a perfect boof on the third drop...though the amount of time he spent not capsizing while being pushed against the walls after the second drop was pretty funny.

We all ran Letterbox too, though I was the only one not to plug it, and George was shoved into the river right alcove by the water and had to make a technical exit onto the bank.

Ski-Jump was its usual, friendly, self - though I think it was one of the ones that had scared Ross most up to this point.

Crack of Doom was my screw-up of the day: my line in was great, unfortunately between choosing whether to run the drop at the end left or right, I went centre and then backwards down the right. On the plus side, my reverse boof/brace works fairly well. Ross and George both ran this easily. Stephan gave it a miss as his back started giving him some bother.

Crack of Dawn was it's usual portage and seal launch.

Great Waterslide was fun as always. Ross and I got the line right, Stephan just missed the wall and capsized (his flat-water beat-down did not result in a swim though), and George was our dedicated person for crashing into the wall.

Right Angle was paddled my me, George and Ross. Only Ross capsized, and his roll saved him. He then capsized against the wall, and after a little nudge from my paddles to move him away from the rockface, he rolled up again. Despite having a sore back, Stephan decided that sliding down the drop was a good idea...

Many moments were spent later sniggering as Stephan hobbled around at the Real Food Cafe and trying to climb sideways into his car. Silly Stephan.

It's been a very long time since I've been to the Etive and no-one has swum, particularly when with people who've never run it before. So well done again to Ross and George on what was, overall, an excellent trip.

My New Paddles

The new paddles no longer look like this though....

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Things which happened to me last term

Since not much has been posted on the blog recently here is an account of the rivers and stuff I’ve done with the club and people from the club over the first term of this year. Obviously other stuff did happen but if I wasn’t there then I can’t really write about it, hopefully someone else will. It’s been a pretty busy term which is probably why my exam at the end of it went badly!

Wet west: We went to it. A really good group of Gucc headed up this year and had a good weekends paddling thanks to excellent organisation of the SCA (well worth my Grandmother’s scorn for missing my cousin’s wedding). On the Saturday an impressive number of people got on the Morriston and Harry took one for the team with a good underwater beating. Sunday was a bit more subdued on the Garry as everyone was feeling the night before! It was good to mingle in the Scottish paddling community, even if Fraser did nearly punch someone from Dundee.

Freshers’ trips: We decided to be nice this year and not just throw freshers down scary rivers, we even had a flat water introduction. The flat water was Loch Lomond and we went to wallaby island where we saw Wallabies, this was the highlight of my life!

The second freshers’ trip went to the Teith (basically flat water), the biggest hazard turned out to be water bourne bacteria and parasites – unlucky Holly! After the teith one foolish and irresponsible member of the club decided to pass the rest of the afternoon by paddling Bracklin falls on the Keltie. This turned into a demonstration for the freshers of ‘how to swim off a seven meter waterfall with rocks in the bottom narrowly avoiding a massive siphon’.

The next weekend was spent doing the lower orchy twice, on Saturday it was a nice friendly level on Sunday pretty high so a reasonable amount of carnage ensued.
North East weekend: A beginners’ weekend up in Nethy bridge which went really well with miraculously little ffaff leading to rumours that Emma has a deal with Satan. Stayed in an awesome bunkhouse and did the middle Findhorn low on Saturday and a bit higher on Sunday so really good for learning and progressing and what not. Bumped into Dundee on the river but Fraser controlled himself.

Intermediate trip: Upper Braan; never done it before was nice, quite alpine in a not sunny sort of way. Had a couple of swims but all dealt with though my driving was very poorly received.

Mach: Surf kayaking weekend which I couldn’t go on but I understand some good surf was had in between the massive levels of drunkenness. However on this weekend Rupert and I hijacked a mountaineering club trip and went paddling up around Spean Bridge. Did Pattack, Arkaig and Abhain Gulibhinn. The many miles walked with boat was character building!

Beginners’ trip pre Christmas: Did the Avon near Edinburgh which is quite nice if cold and snowy (not that this is a year round feature obviously). Don’t think we got the hang of the get out though as we had to climb through a very private looking yard over a pretty big wall.

Stuff paddled not on club trips but with club people: The Tilt-Brilliant river, the 9km walk in almost adds to enjoymet by adding to the sense of adventure. The Leny- A lot! The Keltie- one of my favourite rivers in the world including a partially successful attempt at Bracklin. The Etive- had a day when a load of us did it at a really good level, great fun with plenty of carnage! Mousewater- an excellent river really close to Glasgow which I’m ashamed I’ve not paddled before (shuttle did take longer than hoped though). Kinglas (rest and be thankful)- lived up to all the hype even if we didn’t do it high enough to be considered real men! The middle orchy- a couple of times on 5 on the gauge the guidebook does not lie about the mind altering bit! My paddles did slightly snap in half though which was a shame. The Carron- Possibly a first decent? Probably not but it’s not in the guide and asked around and not found anyone who’s done it yet, pretty good 3/4 fun with one very definite portage. I might even get round to writing up a guide for it sometime. (there were quite a few swims in there too!)

Monday 25 July 2011

Seal pups, cuboards of lost kayaks and how to not cause carnage; a year in the life of a ‘typical’ fresher with GUCC.

I Joined the club in September as a Fresher, yey!

I’m an art student so this post will probably involve more pictures than words. But I have been told only to post up ‘fluffy’ pictures. Here goes.
Admittedly I had done a little bit of boating before I came up here including a bit in Scotland.

My course has been pretty busy this year but I’ve managed to get out paddling a little bit, although not as much as I’d like. We’ve had lots of trips out and about in Scotland, we went to the French Alps for two weeks, there’s been some canoe polo and even a couple of slightly tipsy nights out in Glasgow.

One of the things I love about paddling white water is going out and exploring new rivers. Revisiting classics like the Etive is fun too but there’s something special about going somewhere new and as great as the rivers in the South West of England are it’s nice to get out and explore new ones.

I’ve managed to tick of a fair few rivers that are new to me with GUCC including that I can remember:
Allan (watch out for seals and water nymphs)
Middle Orchy (eventually)
Upper Orchy
The lower Etive
The upper upper Etive
Dalness section of the Etive
Braan (watch out for seals and Ben
Caddick lane
Spean gorge (will only paddle this from now on when there isn’t snow about)
Gyr (on the alps trip, watch out for French seals)
Durance gorge (also on the alps trip)

Once this year I even saw the legendary Chris Bell look scared. (Albeit whilst climbing)

There has been a fair amount of carnage this year. I lost some kit on a river for the first time. A boat and paddle on the Allan which accidentally fell into the river whilst we were inspecting round the corner and is certainly not funny. The boat was a red dagger CFS called Raspberry, if you see her in the North Sea on her way to Norway let me know. Personally I think she has found her way to a secret cupboard of lost kayaks. She will be missed. My new boat is a ginger Dagger Nomad who’s still awaiting a name. She is not nearly as well behaved as Raspberry was.

Towards the end of the year I seem to have also remembered the nasty habit of swimming. Twice! That will have to stop, although both times were on account of me spotting some seal pups lost amongst the maelstrom of swirling dangerous white water and getting out of my boat to rescue them. Ahem. It definitely didn’t have anything to do with having a misbehaving boat or being a wuss and pulling the gay bar. Contrary to what other people in the club think, swimming is BAD.
Generally GUCC seem to try and break or loose at least 3 boats a month, any less than that and its considered uneventful. I’m impressed that I’ve managed to write so much without offending anyone. Art students aren’t very good at that.

The canoe club is a great way of meeting people and generally they‘re a great bunch of people. Maybe one or two could do with drinking a bottle of port more often. One of the best things about the club is the large amount of ginger people. That’s very good as ginger people are better than normal people.

Things to do next year:
- Paddle with Paddy, the only ginger in the club I haven’t paddled with.
- Don’t loose any more kit.
- Don’t swim as much.
- Man up and paddle some classics, ideally the Kinglas, Nevis, Falloch and Coe before I potentially move back down south.
- Find a river that’s as good as the Dart.
- Generally behave myself about as much as I have this year. Impeccably.

Written by Ezra

Monday 18 July 2011

Alps 2011 - the Tom perspective

This is a quick run trough of what I can remember happening during this year’s Alps trip, there may be a few mistakes in terms of which rivers got done when and in what order the days happened. Hopefully a few other people will join in on the old blogging lark and a combination of posts should give a vaguely coherent record of the trip.

We had a total of two weeks set aside for the trip, taking away the two days either side for driving and a rest day that left nine days of paddling – good shit.

The trip did not start well with the trailer lights not really working. Despite the advice of the GUSA travel convener to ‘just stick your hand out of the window’ we decided it was probably worth getting it fixed, so we went for a trip to Cat’s house. By a process of cutting wires and sticking them back together in different orders Cat’s dad managed to get the lights working while Cat’s mum gave us tea and scones, it was awesome, which is why I propose we don’t go to the Alps next year and just stay at Cat’s house for a fortnight instead. By this point we were running at the limits of our schedule and had to haul ass to Dover.

Many, many hours later we arrived at the campsite and following the erection of Cat and Emma’s scaled up version of Blenhim Palace masquerading as a tent we went for a play on the slalom course, this lead to the first swim and a shoe beer for Arran.

Day one proper saw the compulsory first river being the Sunshine run on the Durance, which was low (the Rab wave was more of a Rab hole) followed by the upper Guisane which was also low and full of rocks. After these two fairly uneventful runs we decided to squeeze in the lower Guisane before six. This didn’t happen and as we thought we’d better wait at least a couple of days before engaging in criminal activity we got off before getting into the guts of the run.

Day two began with the Briancon gorge which was low and had building works blocking the slide on the barrage – the highlight of any Alps trip which was a shame. Next we actually managed to get the lower Guisane done. It was on the lower end of the scale but still really fun and quite technical with a lot of rock dodging. Noteworthy incidents included Fraser being upside down and lacking paddles before recovering and Dan having a bit of a swim (another shoe beer). For the final action of the day we had a wee jaunt down the Gyronde, it was low but a three river day’s a three river day.

The following day we headed up to the Guil as there was more water up there than in the Briancon area. We started with the upper gorge section which was fairly high and had a few fairly meaty holes on it, a fun river which was only slightly ruined by Sean pissing in my mouth off a bridge. Emma had a swim as well which lead to a shoe litchi and passion fruit gay juice.

Day three of Alps trips traditionally ends in carnage, which raises the question why I decided to run triple step, a drop with a large cave half way down. However despite assembling literally everyone in kit with throw lines for me to spend ten seconds running one drop no carnage occurred and I managed to wash the brown colour out of my shorts before anyone noticed. After watching a few rafts run down, also with no carnage, we left disappointed.

The next day saw us heading to the Ubaye. The gorge looked a bit easy so we didn’t bother and went and ran the upper instead, a really long fun bouncy stretch of river in the sun. In the afternoon we ran the racecourse section with a little help from an utter lad of a French raft guide who was soling it at the same time as us. This was a very cool bit of paddling with a bit more volume that the runs we’d done up until that point and a truly awesome bit of scenery at the end as we paddled into the entrance of a huge gorge under a Roman bridge.

By the time we got back to the campsite Emma’s car was making some concerning noises so the next morning a recovery van came and took it to a Toyota garage in Embrum who in testament to the work ethic that France is famous for, took only a week to fix it! So with only one vehicle we were forced to stay close to L’Argantier. Fortunately a bit of rain had picked the levels up so we hit the Onde followed by the Gyr. The Onde saw Kieran looking slightly concered for the first time despite having been paddling less than a year (not that concerned though) and the Gyr had swims for Ezra and Harry. Ezra’s boat had to be retrieved from a barrage and Harry’s came back full of stones but otherwise all was well. For a quick last run we did the Gyronde back to the campsite. Nothing happened that evening.

Saturday was a rest day which gave us a chance to recover from the events which did not happen the night before and sort out a hire car to replace Emma’s for a couple of days.

Sunday saw a return to boating but I can’t remember exactly what rivers we did. I think we did the Lower Guisane in the morning (Cat manned up) and quite a high Gyronde in the afternoon. The lower Guisane was made interesting by the nose of Sean’s boat almost completely falling off and the Gyronde caused Kieran ever so slightly more concern. The evening’s entertainment involved boat welding.

A return to the Guil the next day saw good water levels yet again. We ran the upper gorge again, this time with everyone getting on. Kieran at one point had an expression which looked border line scared, but this was probably just my imagination. After this we ran the lower section of the middle Guil from ‘le tunnel down’. This was pretty cool and we felt quite proud of ourselves until some crazy Germans turned up having paddle the whole of the Guil from Guardian Angel down and made us realize how futile and pathetic our paddling achievements really are.

Tuesday was Sean’s last day, so in celebration Sean, Ezra and I along with some strange people from Bath Uni, one of whom kept calling himself Dragon, went and did the Durance gorge. This sounds impressive but it was not. It was really low and not very hard at all but none the less a pretty cool place to be and a good day out. While we did this the rest of the group ran the Onde and some tree related incidents occurred. Cat also caused some poor unsuspecting boy from Newcastle to fall in love with her before cruelly breaking his heart. That evening we waved a teary goodbye to Sean and Dan sobbed pathetically all night.

On the last day the weather was crap but we soldiered on and went and ran the Briancon Gorge. Yet again it was low and smelled of poo but this time we made friends with a crane driver half way down which made it all worth wile. Callum and Arran had a swim each and were given a good shoe beering. By the time we’d had lunch everyone was too cold and wet to be arsed with another river so we went back to the campsite and stood in the shower until the rain stopped. That night we dismantled Cat and Emma’s mansion and they were sent to stay in Dan’s tent to make them realize what its like to sleep in a tent which does not cover a medium sized French parish.

The next morning saw most of our lives take a turn for the worse as we had to leave the Alps. Our journey home involved driving, some ferrying and fun games involving listing rivers which start with every letter of the alphabet. Emma, Gregor, Fraser and Dan stayed out for an extra couple of days before driving back in the car which had been speedily repaired by hard working, sober French mechanics. From what I’ve heard their journey involved, trespassing, nearly getting kidnapped and eaten by dogs, public drunkenness and Dan freaking people out in Paris by waving at them a lot.

It was a good trip.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Terrific Tummel

This trip was one with Ross Barnie and Kieran McAllister, both of whom have suffered a few trips with terrible weather recently, so it’s about time that we got a beauty of a day. With the sun quite literally beating down on us, the car was packed, and our course set for the Upper Tummel. On the drive up the side of Loch Tummel, we had a rather entertaining encounter with a herd of cows...though at one point I was worried about the safety of my wing mirrors.

Arriving at the Upper Tummel, Kieran and Ross both agreed that my proposed shorter run of the upper section as it cut out two kilometres of flat water for a single grade 3 river at the village of Tummel Bridge.

The Upper Tummel consists mostly of small and medium sized drops without anything too technical about them. The exception to this is a grade 4 rapid about half way down. Z-Bends is a two piece spectacle and has a tricky entry, a sharp right turn before encountering the main drop ending in a plunge pool that shoves you river left into a slightly undercut cliff face. Unfortunately, with only three people to work with, we decided to give it a miss and take the river right portage – the worst part about that decision is that I still haven’t paddled this section, and Ross has....urgh!

The last rapid that we took is a grade 3 sitting river left. This rapid, both gentle and fun, is a wonderful way to end the river, but bungling the walk back to a good filming point meant that I managed to fall into the rapid with my camera running. Bit of a fail to be honest.

Seeing workers at Clunie Dam, we decided to skip the easier sections of the Lower Tummel, instead getting on shortly above the first grade 4, S-Bends. Ross and Kieran jumped out to double-check the line on the rapid while I was running it. Nothing eventful happened here, though Ross’ line wasn’t as good as his previous one had been - considering how much better a paddler he is now, that's pretty bad. Kieran, despite a good initial line and an attempt at a bow rudder was shoved onto the rockface and spent some time trying to get out.

Next was the Linn of Tummel. This grade 4, two tier rapid is all about the entry - provided you make the right entry, you'll be fine; screw it up and you're on the rocks. Once again, I demonstrated the correct route, and much as last time annoyed Ross by making it look easy. When Kieran and I were set-up for some safety, Ross took to the river and, despite being utterly terrified, mostly styled it. The reason for this 'mostly' is a bit of a Burning Man pose that I missed at the time, and could have been problematic had his line not been almost perfect. Kieran, having had a great day and knowing we were likely to return two days later opted for the better part of valour, only tackling the drop without the worry of the run-in.

With our day complete, we paddled back in the blistering heat to the picnic site, where drinks and snacks awaited our successful return.