Alps 2017

When I joined UHCC two years ago (June 2015), my aspirations did not reach beyond a dry lap of the Dart Loop, and, maybe my BCU 3* white water. In the last 24 months I have achieved both those two ambitions, and joined the ‘big boys and girls’ on a never-to-be-forgotten trip to Briancon in the French Alps.

When the e-mail came out in December 2016 recruiting for a trip to the Alps, I was certainly in two minds about my ability to ‘cut it’ in such a challenging environment, but the team assured me there would be a variety of rivers of all levels to paddle and coaching included, so I signed up, and practise began.

I’m not sure how much the upper Tryweryn can actually prepare you for the speed and size of even grade 2 water in the Alps, but it was a necessary preamble.

Unfortunately I was unable to travel out to France with the rest of the team and was confined to following their progress towards the Alps via comments on a Facebook Messenger Group. I gather that some vehicles took a bit of a detour into Belgium (serves them right for following a sat-nav!).

When I arrived on Sunday evening (Thank you Ian for picking me up off the train at Oulx), the first day’s paddle was complete and a delicious spaghetti bolognaise in preparation in the kitchen of one of the two adjacent gites which provided our accommodation. I was delighted to find an ample stock of wine and beer available via a ‘kitty’, and looked forwards to my first day in the Alps on the morrow.

This is the view from the window of the room I shared. Beautiful countryside.

Like many first timers in the Alps, my first Alpine river was the Durance. Monday morning we put in below the slalom course at Argentiere and paddled down to Roche de Rame, a short paddle intended as a shake down for me to be followed by something else. Unfortunately, the shuttle car had an unexpected sump collision with a rock on the track to the get-out and most of the rest of the day was spent sorting out repairs, and working out how we could transport our coach group and instructor with only one car!

Nevertheless, we did also manage a cheeky late run on the Durance from Briancon to Prelles… approx. an hour paddle started at 5pm and ending just before the witching hour of 6pm when paddlers are obliged to be off the river for the fishermen (an arrangement that works really rather well in my opinion).

Tuesday saw us challenge gravity to load five boats, paddlers and kit in my care and set off for the upper Guisane.

What could possibly go wrong? Yes, that’s right! Fortunately no damage done!

Now I was able to begin to compare the Alpine rivers to that Tryweryn experience. The comparison is favourable. While the paddling up to now proved to be nothing too technical, I began to appreciate the importance of getting into an eddy out of the flow in a speedy and proficient manner: something I was not too good at before. These rivers played to my strengths as I’m not the best at making the top of the eddy, better at driving in a bit lower down. But I am quite good at hanging on to slender tree roots and bits of almost non-existent grass in the desperate hope that I won’t get flushed out of the back of the eddy, while peering through one eye over my shoulder to see where I’m meant to go next.

Having survived two days paddling, time for the ‘Sunshine Run’. This stretch of the Durance river is known for wide flowing, big and bouncy grade two paddling in the heart of the mountains, a perfect introduction to Alpine paddling. Unfortunately our introduction to this section was in driving rain amid a massive thunder storm with lightening forking all around. No pictures can do that justice! The weather was not conducive to pictures at all!

Our paddling group lived up to our nickname as the coffee and ice cream group by taking a break at the café in the slalom venue for coffee and ice cream!

Thursday saw us take to the Gyronde river: a completely different experience! This was a narrow, rocky stream by comparison to the Durance. Tiny eddies just big enough for one boat meant that we spent a lovely morning leap-frogging from one bank to the other in an elegant and well timed ‘dance’ which only ended when I took an unexpected swim! A very kind local gentleman who was walking his dog along the bank generously rescued and emptied my boat while Ian was ensuring that I was safely ashore (self, team, ‘victim’, kit).

My heroic rescuer on the bridge!

I enjoyed that swim so much that I felt obliged to repeat the experience just above the weir lower down, where a large granite cliff beaconed me to an unwelcome meeting which resulted in my paddle and Kirsten’s boat shooting the weir unaided!

Our final day paddling took us to the Upper Guil river high above Chateau Q: a gorge of scary proportions which we viewed from the road above in dumb amazement that anyone from our group would (and did) paddle!

Having decided that this section of the river was not for us, we drove back to the Gironde where I had a score to settle with a certain weir and cliff scenario. The same river one day later but barely recognisable as the level had dropped from nerve wracking (for me) to pussy cat level! Or maybe I just improved my paddling overnight?

It is now a month since our trip and the adrenaline level has just begun to drop back to normal in my system. I can’t wait for a chance to do it all (and more) again! Thank you to everyone who took part and made the whole experience so magnificent.

- Lyn.

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The Great Glen Canoe Trail

When we started out on this journey our expectation was that we would complete the whole of the 60miles/100km however once on the canoe trail it became clear that the success of our trip was not to be measured in the miles paddled but in the strength of our stamina as we were at the mercy of the weather and the conditions on the Lochs. Our expectations at the outset were managed by our guide to avoid disappointment and to enable us to see our final finishing point for the achievement that it was. On the Great Glen Canoe Trail, 30% of paddlers don’t complete the trail, many will not even get onto Loch Ness, so weather dependant is it. We count ourselves some of the lucky few who made it through the Great Glen.
At the start of our journey from Southampton, however, it looked like we wouldn’t even make Fort William never mind Loch Ness. Rather than turn back when the signals failed at Banbury we ploughed on having missed all our planned connections and the last train that evening to Fort William. The journey had been tense as we surfer the net looking for options that would get us to our destination in good time and tried to juggle accommodation so that at least we would have a bed on Friday night. As it was on arrival at Glasgow Central Station we were delighted to find that the rail company were prepared to pay the full cost, £250, of our onward journey to Fort William by taxi. Hungry and tired we stopped at Balloch, on the shores of Loch Lomond, for fish suppers (fish and chips) and finally arrived in Fort William ahead of our original train.

Saturday morning dawned early for us and after a substantial breakfast at the local Weatherspoons which opened at 7am we made our way to Fort William Station where we were to meet the rest of our group (Ali and Deborah) and guide Richard Turner, known as Biscuit. We loaded the canoes at Banavie just below Neptunes Staircase to avoid an initial long portage where Jeremy asked “do we need this barrel marked DINNER”, little did we know at the time how much we would grow to hate that particular barrel.

Setting off in a light drizzle with the wind behind us we knew that the weather was not in our favour as it promised both strong winds and rain.


At Gairlochy we portaged the lock and left the relative shelter of the canal into the open water of Loch Lochy, past the first of many white and black pepper pot light houses. The Loch is known for its sudden squalls where wind, accompanied by driving rain, whips up the water creating wave conditions reminiscent of the sea rather than inland water.

After a first day paddle of 16km we were glad to reach a wild campsite without incident. We set our camp just beyond Clunes, the tepee was a godsend sheltering us from the weather and providing a place to eat and socialise in relative comfort.

Our second day’s destination was Invergarry Castle, with a fair wind however ¾ of the way down the Loch the weather closed in. It was surprising to see how quickly the conditions changed from benign to rough. Rising waves whipped by the Force 4+ wind threatened to swamp the heavily laden canoes and made steering difficult.

We had mixed up the tandem teams; Ali had her first experience of steering the canoe in these conditions while I provided power, practical direction and reassurance. Jeremy and Deborah paddled together with Jeremy steering.

Jeremy and I had both experience of strong wind and waves, sea kayaking, in Anglesey last year however they are a different prospect in an open canoe laden with kit. We were relieved to finally reach Laggan Lock where we portaged and lunched to recharge our batteries. The canal was in stark contrast to the Loch we had left behind and we practiced tandem skills in its calm waters.

Passing under Laggan Bridge we entered Loch Oich, the smallest Loch and highest point on the Canoe Trail. The sun made a brief appearance as we stopped at the Well of the Seven Heads to view the monument and the gruesome tale that led to its naming.

Paddling on we reached the ruins of Invergarry Castle, a Jacobite stronghold and home to the Chiefs of the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry which was destroyed in the suppression of the highlands following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Crossing the open water of the Loch we wild camped for the second time opposite the castle having paddled a total of 35.25km on the Canoe Trail.

The third day of the journey dawned and as we headed for Bridge of Orchy, Callachy and Kytra Locks we had our first real sunshine on the trip, so far the forecast that had predicted dire weather conditions had not materialised. With a favourable wind we stopped to raft up and rig a sail so as to save our strength.

This gave us a much needed rest however without the movement of paddling we quickly became cold.

We lunched at Kytra Lock taking the opportunity to dry our kit and remove wet weather gear. Jeremy charmed Belinda, the Lock Keeper, into filling our water containers and we chatted to 2 guys from Exeter who were completing the trip in sea kayaks.

Paddling on to Fort Augustus we reached the longest portage of the trip, 800m. Despite eating very well over the last 3 days the damn dinner barrel was no lighter and we were all pretty tired. Our spirits were raised by a quick stop at the newly opened visitors centre and a cafe for ice cream. Finally we got our first look at the beast that is Loch Ness. The weather was fine and we could have pushed on however looking down the Loch we could see the weather closing in. With no campsite on the Southern shore within easy paddling distance we elected to camp just outside Fort Augustus.

With time to kill some were brave enough to swim in the Loch while others took the opportunity to paddle solo on the flat calm waters of Loch Ness.

The dinner barrel was considerably lightened tonight and we finally discovered what the weighty contents were, Haggis, neeps and tatties. This was Jeremy’s introduction to the chieftain of the pudding race and either he was starving or really enjoyed it.

In the morning of the fourth day, having already paddled 51.5km, we set off early to conquer Loch Ness or at least part of it. With the wind in a North Westerly direction we headed off up the southern shore of the Loch sighting wild goats and red squirrel.

Ali had bought a bird book at the visitors centre and was able to confirm the proper names for the LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs) that we noticed on the way.

The southern shore of Loch Ness is remote, beautiful and steep, stopping places are few and far between so we kept an anxious eye on the weather. After paddling 17.5km we stopped for lunch at Foyers, a village on General Wades Military Road, just as the weather worsened and a squall hit.

Sheltering from the wind on the shore we had lunch until worsening conditions forced us into the cafe of an adjacent managed campsite.

Bolstered by hot drinks we returned to the Loch for the final push to our wild campsite opp Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit. We had paddled a total of 27.5km today from our campsite outside Fort Augustus much of the last few miles into a headwind, Force 3 to 4 and in an increasing swell. Ali and I stopped to wait for the canoe paddled by Jeremy and Deborah. Deborah was the least experienced of the group, and clearly tired leaving Jeremy to both steer and drive the canoe forward. Whilst waiting for them Ali and I turned the canoe into the wind and held our position and stability by paddling forward. We eventually reached a potential campsite, a picnic site and pulled over to set up camp.

Erecting the tepee over a picnic table and benches gave us the luxury of benched seats and table for dinner and earned Jeremy a new nickname! We feasted on Morrocan stew with couscous followed by apple crumble chased down with wine and a nip or two of Balvenie. The atmosphere in the tepee was reflective as we listened to Scottish folk music and talked into the night. We had decided that having paddled a total of 79km our goal tomorrow should be Dores, a village at the end of the main part of the Loch. This would give us a total distance of 88km for the journey.

On the following day we set off and as Jeremy and I paddled to the get out at Dores a mere, 9km away, the sun shone showing the Loch at its best. We had battled the weather, the water and ourselves. Along the way we had met some great people; the rest of our team, our guide, the Lock Keepers and fellow travellers. As we boarded the sleeper train at Fort William and watched the wonderful scenery slip past with a glass or two we reflected on what had been for us an epic journey full of adventure, adversity and new experiences.

Make no mistake the Great Glen Canoe Trail is not to be taken lightly. It is a journey that tests not only your skills and stamina but your resolve. To get up each day, load boats and paddle up to 20km demands a certain mindset. The journey is made possible by the encouragement of good friends and a favourable wind. Jeremy and I intend to go back and perhaps take a few of you with us so that you too can experience for yourselves the beauty of the Highlands.

 

- Doreen

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Sea Kayaking Anglesey

Doreen and Jeremy’s 5 Days Sea Kayaking Around Parts of Anglesey.

Home for the next five days was to be Plas Y Brenin tucked away in the heart of Snowdonia. The course Intermediate Sea Kayaking.

Play Y Brenin view from near the Bar

Day one

The time table (lets just say it was very flexible)

We meet up with our fellow paddlers and all introduced ourselves. The group was made up of two other paddlers Pete, Phil, James our coach, Kathy from PYB who was observing as she was about to take her 4 star assessment, Doreen and myself.

After kitting up, choosing our boats, paddles etc. All supplied as part of the coarse. We head off to Holyhead destination Trearddur Bay.

Trearddur Bay

While in the bay Doreen and I settled into our boats as we had PYB boats and the others had brought their own. Practised a few core skills before heading out along the coast.

Now according to our schedule Rock hopping was down for Friday but as we would find out “be flexible” was the name of the game.

Watching, the wave patterns and swell before committing

As we moved down the coast we came across several caves to explore.

Just off Rhoscolyn head. First sighting of grey seals.

Day One's Map

For homework that night we were set the challenge of planning the next days trip using guide books, charts, maps and internet for weather and tides.

Day 2: Moelfre to Llaneillan via Lynus Point

We assembled in the classroom and discussed our plan. As the wind speed had increased overnight our carefully craft route was put on the back burner and we headed for the NW coast to our put in at Moelfre.

As we left Moelfre we hugged the coast using the cliffs to shelter from the winds the plan was to do a small crossing of 2 nautical miles to and island that was used as a shelter for seafarers in the past.

Bearings were taken, transits established and off we paddled. Very soon into the crossing the wind and sea state increased making the attempted crossing unwise and we paddled to shore for a rest and lunch. Joined by an inquisitive seal popping his head up every now and again.

After the break, the wind had dropped to force 3 so we paddled towards Lynus point. We were lucky enough to see a couple of Porpoises, Porpoising about 75m away. James said he hadn’t seen any, all summer so quite a treat.

As we approached Lynus Point James went ahead to see how “EXCITING” the tidal race was. Given the thumbs up we gave each other space and entered the race. It was exciting! crashing through the turbulent water then hard left into an eddy. We then used the eddy to go around again.

Once in the shelter of Llaneillan bay time was spent time practising various forms of tow. From line tows, to quick contact tows away from caves and rocks.

Back to Plas Y Brenin for tea and cake. Then down to the pool for some rolling and re entry practice.

The rest of the evening spent in the bar with real ale and planning our two day expedition.

Day 3: Bull Bay to Porth Wein

Started with a hearty breakfast and then to stores. Any equipment needed was on hand to sign out. Tents, sleeping bags stoves etc.

Bull Bay

Kayaks fully loaded with equipment, we set off across the bay and found a good area for a bit of surfing. All the stern rudder practice at Lakeside really paid off!

Next stop Porth Wein.

Unfortunately this section of the paddle was not without incident as we hit an area of intersecting waves (Clapotis) which capsized one of our fellow paddlers five times in a very short period. Leading to us setting up a three line tow, with James supporting him the rest of the way.

Porth Wein Camp for the Night

Happy Campers

Perfect finish to the day and a wee dram

Day 4: Porth Wein to Cemlyn Bay

Leisurely start to the day awaiting on the tide. A quick scoot through the arch before heading out around the headland.

Almost immediately we were in a force 5/6 wind with swells 2.5 to 3m with the occasional breaking wave. I must admit I was surprised at my reaction to these conditions. A complete inner calmness. Must have been all that great coaching back at UHCC!

Unfortunately one of fellow paddlers was not feeling the same and had capsized. This was not the to be the last time! While we were holding station during the rescues there was plenty of low brace practice. It is one thing paddling in those conditions quite another just sitting there.

You can see Doreen but not Kathy who was between us!

We took a detour into Cemaes Bay as one of our fellow paddlers couldn’t continue. Which we were all saddened by but the right decision for him. A short break on the beach and a munch on the infamous PYB flapjack.

Off we set practising paddling on a bearing to a point on the chart. When we got to what we thought was the position James took a GPS reading to our surprise we were only 5m off!

“Volunteer please” James shouts. Doreen was keen. James snatched her paddle and throw it down wind “now what you going to do”. This was a quick lesson on how long it takes to put together a set of splits when your been knocked about by wind and waves and in my case they were just out of reach on the fore deck!

We paddled past the nuclear power station at Llanddausaint. The water was the temperature of a very warm swimming pool!

The rest of the paddle to Cemlyn was uneventful, but one hell of a slog into the wind, so those little legs were driving into those foot pegs to make headway.

One last surprise was Kathy had left her car overnight at Cemlyn Bay to shuttle back to the van. Only to announce the keys to her car were in the van! Still it gave us a chance to have a brew while James used his charm to cadge a lift to the Van.

Day 5: Menai Strait, Featuring The Swellies!

Early Start to the day as we were going to do the Straits on a full spring tide. With now just James, Phil, Doreen and myself left in the group.

We parked at Lon Pwllfanogl, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Hit the water and paddled through Britannia bridge and on past Menai Bridge. I think I made some comment about this was just like a gentle paddle on the Hamble!

Afon Cadnant

We stop for lunch on one of the small islands and then did a few more skills before heading back into the Straits.

Well this is where the camera stayed firmly in the pocket. The tide was now running at 9 knots, obstacles rush towards us as we travelled down the straits. James made us eddy in and out at every opportunity. Through the arches of the Menai Bridge we eddied out behind one of the pillars and took a small moment to gather ourselves together. Then into the Swellies. This was like paddling across a cauldron of boiling water and had the sensation of sticking your paddle into solid ground. Any way we eddy hopped our way through the remainder of the Swellies and down past our put in. then eddied back up.

Some relief to have made it through the Straits but also sad that was the last paddle of the holiday.

Conclusion

An absolute fantastic week. Paddling with new friends, fantastic venues, great food and accommodation. Learnt so much and got a real sense of achievement from the week. I hope this will inspire you to get out there and try something new.

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The Story of LUCKY the Open Boat

Open Boating on the River Dart 1st November 2014

The story of Kath’s boat (LUCKY), the one she bought off Joe and repaired.

The levels where low but strangely not massively scrappy, it just made for a very specific and not very wide channel downstream.

The day started with John doing his take on a spit roast, he paddled up to a feature, went broadside, dropped back and got both bow and stern trapped on a rock and with 2 inches of air under his boat rotated on the axis. Swim number 1 and 2, as Liesha had no option than jump out – her first swim in anger and she did everything perfectly, someone has been teaching her well.

On we paddled – played at Buckfast Weir, and as fairly warm did some jumping in and rescues, throw lines etc, Liesha was up for it and did a great defensive swim.

The home run, the bouncy right hander before the end. We found out why it is so bumpy, as levels where so low we could see a channel of large rock dead centre, these usually make the realy bouncy trail down river centre.

After inspection, it was clear that river right was deep enough to run, down went Graham to sit at the bottom and keep an eye out, then Abbie, I went and set in half way on the corner river left (CLAP) of course.

Next was John, Kath waited patiently while John did what John does.

1 Minute, 2 minute, 3 minutes, 4 minutes – Kath give up waiting and decides to overtake John and run it – at speed. Without control and picking up speed Kath goes broadside into the bank, the boat tips up river about 45 degrees.

From down river I can see Kath up river and safe, then I see the boat open and you hear a loud pop. The boat had become a dam.

I span in my boat to face the other way and paddled to river left, secured the boat, grabbed a throw line and kit back, rushed up the bank and come down behind Kath. Her boat was a Dam all right, some 2 tonnes of water where pilled up behind her boat and the run off after it was still and calm.

I pulled on one of Kath’s throw lines secured to the stern, this end was stuck fast, Kath attached my throw line to the bow, I pulled on this – stuck fast.

OK next we need pulleys, I looked at Kaths boat and apart from a buckle in the gunwales the boat was beginning to open and potentially crack. I needed to dislodge from the middle and force the gunwale and boat down to rotate the boat.

Standing up river I jumped and put my (considerable) weight on the middle of the canoe, a few bounces and we had movement. The boat was turning. I kicked my feet and one more bounce and we had some movement.

The boat was free and rushing down river, the build up behind us making for a fast decent. I flipped the boat and line in hand swam for the side.

Safe on the bank I pulled in the boat, it resembled a cardboard boat which had got wet and floppy. The gunwales kinked and the nose looked like the shape of a spear. The repair was still holding.

Within minutes the boat became rigid again, by the time I sorted the ropes and emptied the canoe of water on the river bank the boat had gained its support. Graham paddled my boat, Kath took Graham’s and I went in the wobbly boat.

We named the boat “lucky” and talked about further repairs!!!

As always the battery ran out on the GoPro before the fun started.

The weekend was a success, Sunday was the better day, water levels up and also paddlers confidence, not one swimmer and the group showed great control and owned the river.

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Swims, Sh*ts and Syphons – Two Weeks in Nepal

I have to admit I have not read many blogs – I tend to get bored of them and look just at the photos instead.

So instead of writing a chronology of our adventures I have decided to write a collection of short stories and impressions.  I hope you enjoy.  I have surely forgotten some key moments here.

Nepal is a great place to paddle and offers something for everyone.  We may have returned hairy boaters but we certainly are not hair boaters!  The spring offers lower levels and grades, the monsoon is big and wet and the autumn or post monsoon when we went a mid level paddling gem that is great for confident grade 3 – 4 boaters.

Scotland – Kathmandu (KTM)

Scotland!  Yes I still use this as the source of the project.  The 6 of us with an extra were in Fort William in March for a week of the best that the home countries could offer.   Combine that with a school night in the Jolly Sailor and you end up with a fully organised holiday to Nepal.  Who would have thought 6 blokes could be so organised and decisive?

We chose to use a guide / local expert as we had only 2 weeks in country – I think Tim had work commitments to get back to???  I am not sure how we settled on using Pure Land Expeditions and Daz Clarkson–King but very glad we did.  He has a number of itineraries to choose; Sun Kosi 10 day trip through to our mish-mash of single and multi-day rivers.  This allowed us to not only see a lot of the region we paddled and to experience Nepali life and culture but also to paddle the cream of the crop.  Nepal must be one of the best countries in the world to paddle in and Daz managed to choose rivers that suited all of us to a T.  Check out his website www.purelandexpeditions.com

To save on hire costs we decided to take our own boats with us – we were also unsure of what boats we would end up with in country.  So we loaded up at Tim’s pad and headed to Heathrow.  As usual the M3 was closed and our plenty of time was soon spent in traffic jams.

Arriving at Air India Check in – Smiley friendly AI staff “hello, what are they”

Nervous harangued paddlers “kayaks, they are our hold luggage” (we were all on a strict light weight travel regime.  Which in defiance of the wife I fully adopted and had only 3 t shirts and 3 pairs of pants for 2 weeks).

Nervous smiley AI staff “there is no room you cannot take your boats”

Disconsolate paddlers “we said when we booked we were bringing boats.  What can we do, freight? Another flight?”

The result -

Tim ‘wheels’ Nolan raced back to his van that was parked  in the long stay car park, and lost his passport and boarding card.  He brought the van back to us for a speedy repack only to return to the exact same parking space he had just vacated.  It was then he noticed his passport and boarding card on the ground next to the parking space!

All we could do was email Daz and warn him we were on our way minus our boats.  And fear all the told you so voices on our return.

By the time we landed in KTM some 14 hours later Daz had stalked us all on FB to establish the boats we paddle and sourced a full range of burns, nomads, raptors, Everests and jefes.  He also had some ice cold bevies in the mini van for the journey to our hotel.

KTM

Our first foray into the city reminded me very much of when I took a group of London school kids to Morocco.  Pete and Spence’s eyes were out on stalks trying to take in all the noise and colours.  It was not long though before we were all haggling and joking with the tiger balm, hash and tat sellers.

Our decision to travel light was fine as in Thamel (the tourist district) you could buy anything and everything you needed – remember to haggle though.

In an effort to fight off jet lag we had a tourist day in the city and visited the monkey temple.  Even the biggest hole of certain doom did not make us as nervous as seeing a monkey establish he was a boy monkey and what he could do with his appendage or when they would jump out at you and start fighting each other.  The temple itself is a Buddhist shrine and a must visit place for all.

No one got lost in KTM and no one needed a combination of taxis and rickshaws to eventually find their way back to the hotel.  Certainly no one got lost twice as they had had too many sherberts.

Paddling

We had been briefed before departure on what to expect weather wise and what kit we would need.  Shorts and t-shirt all the way with a cag for occasional use was the get up.  We paddled every day in 25oc heat with glacial fed waters that would splash you in the face to keep you awake.  Tim might be able to throw some light on how cold it was to swim….

The Trisuli and the Karli Gandaki were both big volume bouncy grade 3 – 4 rivers.  Lets make this clear UK rivers are not big volume, unless you have seen or paddled the Spean from directly below the dam when it is stonking out.  These rivers were measured in thousands of cumecs.  The Tryweryn releases at a maximum of 15 cumecs.

So what does big and bouncy mean?  Big and bouncy means great fun.  Imagine the biggest sea waves you have been in and you are getting close.  The boats would shoot down into the trough where you would have to put in some direction strokes and tweek your boat angle with your legs.  The speed of the boat would carry you up to the peak when a big powerful anchoring stroke would pull you up and over the lip.  Or that is what I thought when I first got on the Trisuli.  By the end of the trip unless the waves were particularly big we would just sit and float up and down the waves enjoying the views and chilling out.  If you were a contact lens wearer though you would be trying to replace the dislodged one that the spray at the start of the rapid had stolen.

I had had visions of stonking great holes in every rapid; and whilst someone on the team did a great job at finding most of them there really were very few to worry about.  Daz would constantly try and tell us yes it may be a grade 4 rapid but the line is a grade 2. – Great if you stayed on line.

It was not just the rivers themselves that were amazing.  We were always surrounded by alien views.  Near to Pokhora you could see the distant Annapurna range or the fish tail mountain Machapuchare.

We would always see giant eagles or vultures? Looking for their next meal and even monkeys swinging through the trees.

Trisuli

The itinerary was designed to provide something of a warm up and introduction to Nepali rivers.  It also provided a warm up to the bus journeys.  We left KTM in the pre breakfast grey light of dawn with stomachs rumbling.  We had to escape the city and get over the pinch points and onto the pot holed unpaved roads of rural Nepal before the traffic built up.  Our transport varied throughout our trip from dinky Suzuki taxis to 20 seat coaches.  Everything would get tied to the roof of the vehicle or jammed inside the bus.  On the buses we had options of going ‘top side’ or going inside.  Inside was safest as long as you did not take the death seat located next to the driver.  Top side was windy, dusty and prone to slippage.  No one chose top side, ever.  I think we all knew we would get into trouble at home if we ever tried it.

Every journey had several elements in common – they were all long, bumpy and involved dhaal bhaat.  Whilst the Nepali say their country runs on the stuff we say do not export it this way thank you!

Being more local than the locals Daz had great pleasure in taking us to places you would not go to if you were starving – defo some grade 5 eating establishments we thought.  The brave amongst us would go native and eat with fingers – the sensible would use cutlery.

So the Trisuli – as a warm up river made me incredibly nervous.  The waves were massive, at least double over head.  At least I did not take the first swim of the team.  We paddled the same section of river twice.  On day one we had empty boats providing the guides time to check us out and for us to get on our game.  We had about 3 hours to settle in.  The second day we ran the section again with loaded boats to simulate our self-supported rivers.  We all noticed the extra weight make the boats faster down a wave and a bit tail happy.

These two days established how we would run the rivers too.  Daz or one of his team would take point.  We would follow on like a train one behind the other with usually Adam or Anton being tail end Charlie.  There would be variants of the theme.  If we wanted to head out front then we were more than welcome to.  The guides knew the rivers so well they could easily give us landmarks to stop us venturing too far.  Eddies were rarely used.  The eddy lines are pretty strong and where trouble brews.  We would just use big eddies where we could all end up.  This would leave us paddling a good few hundred metres of rapids between telling manly tails of close shaves and brushes with the white room.  We needed to paddle like this due to the distances as well.  Most rivers involved about 5 hours paddling which left little time for faffing as darkness would descend alarmingly quickly.

http://www.vimeo.com/59689954

The night was spent camping on the banks of the Trisuli, enjoying the stars and sand.  Pete the virgin camper jumped in with two feet ditching the proffered tents in favour of the tarp.  So his first night camping ever and he had no tent.

The Seti

There are three sections to the Seti – upper, mid and lower.  The mid and lower were our first self-supported paddling.  To be honest I do not remember much about this water.  We thought we had a lot of kit in our boats but Daz and Adam were carrying bits everywhere -   central foam had been removed to accommodate it all too.  Pans went between their legs, tarps in front of foot plates, the boats were truly heavy beasts.  Due to our failure to get our boats in country Daz had given up his Everest and was paddling a massively tail twitchy Z-one.  On a number of occasions this resulted in some less than intended tricks!

I am sure it was on the Seti that our ear aches began.  The group ear ache was brought on by a severe case of whining like a girl from Spence.  He was trying to tell us the swim he took had damaged his shoulder.  Being boys and emotionally inept we offered him everything but sympathy.  It has now turned out that he has actually fractured a bone and some other bits.  Who would have thought he was properly hurt – amazing and not a ginger whinger…

Anyone brave enough to sample the street food?

Karli Gandaki

The river trip started with a warm up on the Modi Khola.  We put in just outside a ramshackle village.  As ever this caused great interest among the local kids.  Whilst Spence reverted to type and was seeing our stuff being nicked at every opportunity it was great mucking around with the kids.  That is until we wanted to change and download data before the big paddle.

Our bus followed alongside the river picking us up some 8km later.  We had had a treat of an Alpine style grade 3 river – continuous but never stressful. – Onwards to the Karli.

The Karli proved to be about as wide as the Wye and Symonds Yat and some.  There was a great mix of rapids that we would just run on through bouncing up and down the waves losing each other in the troughs and a sense of remoteness from not seeing dwellings or roads.  The night that stands out to all of us on the Karli is when we had our own private bar.  Rounding the last bend of the day Daz let forth some hurdy gurdy flurdy Nepali that translated to “we are nearing camp open the bar”.  By the time we had pulled the boats out the river some local villagers had set up the bar and were hawking ice cold ones.

http://www.vimeo.com/54049522

The rivers in Nepal get used for some less than pleasant things.  Often driving or paddling past you would see piles of litter having been tipped down the banks the river being relied upon to wash the waste downstream.  The river was also a source of water and food.  Fishermen could be seen using a variety of dugout canoes and rafts.  The most moving part of our time on the rivers of Nepal was seeing the funeral pyres.  Tradition is for the bodies to be cremated on the river banks and then the ashes be washed down strream.  Cremations were events for entire villages with much horn blowing, incense burning and sombre sadness.  I could usually rationalise my presence in a boat that cost more than most Nepali would earn in a decade as I was helping to support their economy.  In fact tourism is the biggest income generator for the country.  Paddling past the pyres though dreaming of the next rapid and end of day beer though was difficult.

Sh*t – not for the faint hearted

I know I made a point of sharing as much info as possible – I am comfortable like that.  Especially as I could see Tim was not so down with it.

“Generally the team talk a load of shit most of the time, but it was literally talked about a good 6 – 8 times a day (I have to say I tried to distance myself around such conversations, especially around meal times!) Why are Brits abroad obsessed with their bowel movements”?  – Tim

There were some truly shitty moments with two pairs of pants missing in action (luckily one pair belonged to Spence).  Spence certainly had more kit than the rest of us put together so could afford to lose a pair.  He later proved his pants were especially small by parading around the hotel in them and them alone…..

There was also a flip flop that turned into a shit flop. On yet another long bus ride Chris jumped out with the rest of us to use the facilities – this time the jungle on the road side, and landed in a pile of poo.  Despite passing the same spot every couple of days he was happy to leave the ‘sh*t flop’ festering in the jungle and hop around on one leg.  Well he did not do that for long as he was able to buy a genuine Nepali fake that survived long enough to get home in.

I became a fan of the aqua poo that became all too regular a feature of my paddling; to such an extent that I had a quick one whilst Tim was busy on one of his swims.  They are a great way of coping with a slightly mobile bowel.  Not ideal if you are wearing a dry suit but in a pair of shorts you dig, drop, squat and wash.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Supper, Dal Bhat!

Marsyandi and Bhote Kosi

My ability to describe and pen a picture cannot do these rivers justice.  Arguments still reign amongst the team as to which river is better.  I have to plum for the Marsyandi as it was paddled in the sun.  Somehow though I still conspired to feel ill spending the entire afternoon on the Marsyandi shivering and generally feeling sorry for myself.

The photos and video clips should show two rivers of sustained grade 3-4 that was all read and run bar a couple of bigger bits.  If you can picture the Briancon gorge on speed you are getting somewhere near how good these rivers are.  To learn more about them ask the boys.  I am sure though I saw someone get a pasting in a hole as several others ploughed down on top of their boat.  The holes would suck your under carriage in an effort to give you a spanking.  The instructions were to keep your nose up and enjoy.

We would often get above a horizon line and be told its steep.  We can have a scout if you want or just work it out when you get to the lip.  Being boys together no one wanted to show weakness – gits; I would have scouted more if someone else had said yes.

So off we would paddle like a weird sheep / lemming cross.  We would look back and see the river had dropped 40 – 50 foot in not much more length.  Great fun careering slightly in control bouncing off the boat in front of you if they managed to end up upside down….  The number of times on looking back up stream I would know if I had scouted I would more than likely have walked.

The classic line from Daz went “it mellows out from here but keep your eyes open”.  The reality was some pretty stiff big volume grade 3.

We spent the night between the Marsyandi and the Bhote Kosi in a village called Besisahar.  Picture Bala or Betws y Coed in mid carnival season and you are getting close.  It was here we met the bus mafia.  In an effort to protect local business non local buses were ‘discouraged’ from accessing the get in for the Bhote Kosi.  We therefore had to hire a couple of local jeeps.  The lack of straps meant the tying on was a bit wild west.  Unsurprisingly the grade 5 drive in soon resulted in 4 boats bouncing off the roof and hitting the track in front of us via the bonnet.  Some greasing of palms later and throw line abuse to secure the boats we were off.

One of the bigger rapids we ran went along the lines of –

Usual duckling style follow the leader paddling crashing down through holes and waves, contact lenses missing in action just relying upon reactions and blurs of colours of boats in front of me to show the way.  I pulled into an eddy and find that someone had had a swim but that we had got through the biggest part of the rapid with the easier second half left.

Upper Sun Kosi

We headed out of KTM early as ever to stay at a friend of Daz’s.  They had a rafting base that included thatch roofed tents, large bar area and great cooking.  The temperature was certainly beginning to drop by now.  Since we had all travelled so light the toasty warm clothes we now needed were at home.  Unless you were Tim who was the proud owner of a rainbow top you would not wear if you were naked.  The rest of us ended up talking kayaking rubbish and drinking tucked under a giant blanket big enough for 8.

There was no way any river was going to top the Marsyandi and Bhote Kosi.  I felt I was just going through the motions whilst paddling the Sun Kosi.  Amazing to say as it was easily as good or better than most UK rivers.  It was a great 2 hour blast offering a last memory of just how good it is to paddle in Nepal.

Siphons

So it was my time to pop a man up pill and finish the rapid off.  To date I had decided to avoid most of the biggest bits. I headed for the clear white chute that would carry me around the hole and undercut rock.  For whatever reason I ended up taking some kind of chicken chute that would in any other level have sucked me under a series of siphons.  Whist I was busy extricating myself Adam was upstream picturing the worst thinking I was busy being shrink wrapped.

Views accross Phewa Lake, Pokhara

Swims

Only Will escaped the urge to try some lengths in the rivers.  Will and the Mike a sole traveller who fitted in with us very well.

Some swims stand out and others are just a little memory to the victim.  We have heard about Spence’s worst swim where he injured himself.  I think there were at least another two.

I had the numpte swim for the team.  How can I still end up swimming in an eddy?  I blame being scared of the undercut we were all warned of and not being able to see properly.

Pete takes the prize for the selfless swim.  He is a great guy to have around – or he was then at least.  Picture the secret service agent throwing themselves in front of the president to protect them from the assassin’s bullet and you are with me.  From afar Pete could see our hapless leader (so labelled as he arranged the entire trip) fighting valiantly to escape the closed in hole.  Without a thought for himself and only for the greater good of the Nolan family Pete hurtled, the unkind would say out of control and ignorantly, into Tim’s boat.  Tim bounced out the hole and continued bobbing down the rest of the rapid.  Pete, well Pete put up a brave fight but it was ultimately in vain.  Tabbing to escape (pulling his deck) he come spluttering to the side of the river.  But that is what friendship is all about – selfless acts.  So Pete says but I am not convinced he was really aware of what he was doing.

Typical Transport

Tim though must win the most prizes – first swim and comedy swim.  Picture the scene.  Well into week two so we are all pretty expert at this Nepali paddling thing.

First rapid of the river barely 50m since the get on.  I see Tim disappear into the biggest hole I had yet seen on that river (remember it was the first rapid of the river).  Being on the ball I eddied out to assist as needed.  Looking back up stream I could see Tim’s boat upside down still, he was hanging in for a flush that never came.

I got the boat or paddle or something and jumped out my boat.  Tim though in his rag dolling had ended up like a wannabe super hero with the lining of his helmet having skipped and covering his eyes.  So despite a line being thrown for him he was never going to see it!  Tim ended up being washed through a couple more rapids before making it to the safety of the river bank.  Me.  I was so scared for Tim I had to take a quick aqua pooh.  So with Will and Pete sat in the eddy next to me and looking the other way….  We then had to beat a hasty retreat from the smell.

With Tim having shown us where most of the holes were on each river Chris decided it was his turn.  He chose a particularly big bad boy hole to throw some ends in.  Whilst portaging the rapid I thought Chris was looking pretty good.  Not as good as Tim who cruised wisely around the edge of the beast and safely to the bottom.  Or Will who had a little nibbling and a roll but pretty pro.

http://www.vimeo.com/58404818

Chris has been repeatedly looking at the film of his run since our return but at the time told the story something akin to “I got caught by the hole, I saw Daz’s line and followed him”.  Daz swears he told everyone he had every intention of going into the hole and the line to take was off to the right somewhat.  Chris continues “I got spun round rolled up a couple of times and ended up hanging out rag doll style under water hoping to get flushed.  Eventually I bailed”.

Even the swim was not good.  I just could not seem to get up to the surface of the water.  I thought I was going to die!  Daz just reached under the water for me and pulled me onto his boat.  I was spluttering”.

At the end of the trip Chris gave his buoyancy aid away – luckily to someone considerably smaller than him so hopefully they should float above and not just below the surface.

So thank you – thank you to the boys on the trip who made it a great holiday.  Thank you to Nepal for having such fantastic rivers and people.  And thank you to Daz, Adam and Anton for looking out for us.  You can all do a lot worse than head out that way for a paddling holiday.

- Dan Jordan

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Whimpers in the Willows

We spend all year training for every conceivable emergency we could possibly encounter on the water and yet thankfully it is rare that we will ever have to use these skills for real.

Little did I know that a sunny day on Henley Upon Thames ( the most tranquil of spots ) was going to be the backdrop to my first real life rescue. But like any good ‘Wind in the Willows’ story we need a beginning, middle and end so let me wind myself back to the start of this yarn.

It was a hot sunny day in late August and my wife (Rachel) and I had decided to paddle up the Thames from Reading to Henley-Upon-Thames. We launched from the public car park at ‘Marsport & Wokingham Watersports Centre’. This is a free public car park with a 2M height barrier which can be unlocked, just ask in the centre and they lend you the key.

Upon arrival it could not have looked more picturesque, 29 degrees, sunshine, Swans, Geese, reed beds, launches and barges serenely sailing bye, certainly wasn’t ringing any alarm bells in regards to risk at this stage. Spent the usual 20 mins packing the boats with all the equipment for the day. After risk accessing the environment I’d already made a decision to forgo my spare paddle, spray deck, deck pump ect as it seemed overkill for the conditions and location. I had the basics, lunch, spare CAG’s, first aid kit stowed but then Rachel started hassling me to hurry up so my final panicked selection was to grab my TOW rope, little did I know how significant that final choice was going to be.

So we embarked on our journey down the Thames and what a wonderful journey it was. An abundance of wildlife, Herons and numerous birds of prey plus all the usual suspects from the water foul front. We paddled past a college with a canoe store the size of an aircraft hangar, numerous rowing teams, and all manner of interesting craft, our favourites being the barges with roof gardens, complete with BBQ’s, sun loungers and cats peeping around flower pots.  We started to pass some BIG houses, the money on this river is quite staggering, and then we came to Sonning Lock which was our first LOCK experience and quite good fun. Everyone we encountered were ultra friendly and chatty, everyone waving and saying hello as we passed, even the anglers were engaging us in conversation and smiles as we past. This was simply a prime time, text book, perfect paddle with my wife, in the sunshine, amazing setting, the only thing missing was a Blue Bird singing on my shoulder.

But then there was a fork in the river……

I nearly missed it at first, it’s a small side stream to the right called ‘St Patricks Stream’. I’d been looking for it, my ‘pub paddles’ book described it as a fast flowing backwater, they recommended this route if you are looking for a fun paddle. Well we like fun and it looked innocent enough, signs stated unsuitable to launches and powered boats but there was additional signage for canoeists so no cause for alarm there. The entrance to the stream was stunning, low hanging willow trees, time for a quick photo, everything still looking serene but I did notice that all of a sudden we had gone from no current to quite a strong current, still no cause for concern though at this stage.

Around the next bend though the environment changed rapidly, lots of low branch’s, fallen trees, the flow increased significantly. We then started to encounter the first of many choke points, where the reed beds had become so overgrown you could barely identify a route through, in places the gap was down to 2 feet wide and the flow through these gaps was fierce. In a play boat this really would have been great fun but I’m in my Northsore Sea Kayak, my wife in a 15ft Tourer, we were in trouble.

To make matters worse the river bank was a mess of Brambles and stinging nettles. By the time we’d gone through the first 2 choke points we had both sustained significant nettle stings to our arms and face and the flow was sweeping us along. Fully face planting yourself in nettles to the point that the left hand side of your face feels numb is quite a sobering experience. Controlling these kayaks was difficult given the length of the boats, the fast flow and the tight confines we were trying to navigate. At this point my wife got the nose of her Kayak stuck deep in a reed bed and the tail in the opposite riverbank and she had effectively turned herself into a DAM! She was stuck fast.

I was well aware at this stage that I had made a serious mistake, neither of our boats were suitable for this environment and my wife didn’t have the skill set to deal with these conditions. However we were 1K into a 3KM backwater with no other river users, no towpath or other signs of civilisation and no route back. You could paddle against the flow if you put some effort in however the choke points prevented you from paddling so the only option was to continue downstream and ride it out.

To resolve my immediate problem I turned by boat and towed my wife back upstream while she hang on to my back toggle, we got her straightened out again and off we went, this time I was in the lead. At this stage, despite the nettle stings we were still in good spirits.

Being in the lead was much easier, using draw strokes and stern rudders navigating the tight spaces was quite good fun. However my wife does not know how to do draw strokes or stern rudders. At this stage the term ‘Stern Rudder’ probably suggested to her where she planned to ‘shove’ my paddle when she finally got out of this hell hole.

First there was a SCREAM and my heart sank, I turned to see my wife stuck again in another choke point, nose buried in reeds, the flow is so hard her boats tipping right over and she is quite literally clinging to a huge nettle bush (being badly stung) trying to stop herself from capsizing, the situation was dire.

Don’t get me wrong, there was no risk to life, I could have simply waded ashore if required. However we were in a nasty situation, it was a mass of underwater and above water hazards and another 2km to get back to the main river. By far the greatest issue at this stage was my wife’s state of mind, she was panicked and very scared and I realised I had to get the situation immediately under control and focus on getting her calm.

The intense current was making everything difficult but I managed to back up and dislodge my wife. I then anchored myself against the current by gripping handfuls of reeds while my wife extracted my TOW rope from my rear hatch, YES I WASN’T WEARING IT, classic school boy error!!

So TOW rope in hand, and wife somewhat calmed I secured the nose of her kayak to my front rigging (just forward of my cockpit) and she then held onto the rear of my boat, so she was basically tied in tight alongside my boat. I then navigated us through the final 2km using every draw and rudder stroke I know to get us through. Bow rudders were out due to overhanding branches, stern rudders were erratic due to the dynamic of having the second boat attached, it was mainly draw stokes, sweep strokes etc. and I relied on the flow for the forward momentum. But my wife was calm, quite literally head down on my rear deck, we were under control and we completed the remaining 2km without incident.

I realise this was no high seas, force 10 life or death rescue, and I can imagine the smirks and laughter of the readers of this article which is essentially why I decided to write it as I knew it would amuse. But all joking aside there were several lessons learned for me.

  • Don’t underestimate your environment, no matter how tranquil and harmless it appears.
  • Don’t stow essential rescue gear in your rear hatch, if you can’t reach it you can’t use it.
  • Consider the abilities of your fellow paddlers before committing yourselves to a course of action.
  • Don’t base your entire risk assessment on what it says in your ‘pub paddle’ book, lol.

I’d wrap up my tale with a happy ending though, back on the Thames my wife was soon back in good spirits, peeking through the windows of the rich and famous who live upon the river bank, marvelling at their palatial mansions. An hour later we were having a beer in the sunshine at the St George & Dragon pub, the nettle stings all forgotten. A truly wonderful river for sightseeing and a relaxed paddle in the sunshine, an absolute feast of sights and sounds and a very English experience.

Just be wary of any ‘pub paddle’ shortcuts.

- Darren.

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Confidence

During a chance conversation between Tim Nolan and Darren ‘Daz’ Clarkson-King, Tim questioned why some people appear to paddle well within the ability levels and some seem to push the boundaries. The result was Daz offering to run a confidence workshop for the club and, remarkably, would do so free gratis. This was too much of an opportunity to miss and so Tim set about putting the weekend together.

To round the event off Daz also offered to present an evening lecture on some of his adventures.

So the call went out to the club; well in advance the bunk house was booked, projector borrowed, we were set. The weekend came around and the only problem; no water! How often does this happen! Even the ever reliable Tryweryn wasn’t releasing.

So the endlessly resourceful Daz came up with another cunning plan, meet him at a small village called Gellilydan and he would direct us from there, bring your paddling kit and he will run the workshop anyway. No paddling would be involved but he would find another way. One word of warning from Daz was to wear some shorts over any expensive dry suits if you didn’t want to risk damaging them.

Arriving on Friday evening we discovered Tim had come up trumps and booked bunk house accommodation over a pub. And it had proper beer! The weekend was looking promising.

The Eagles Bunkhouse, Penmachno, Betws-y-coed, Conwy, LL24 0UG

Saturday morning came and we collected Daz and travelled to a spot along a single track road to we’re the activities were to take place.

This was a freezing cold day but some welcome winter sunshine was warming our spirits. On a personal note I was nervous about damaging my dry suit and decided to wear an old wet suit and dry cag. Daz was in 3/4 length neoprene shorts and sandals so it couldn’t be too bad, could it? A school boy error! Having already spent two weeks with Daz in Nepal you would think I wouldn’t have been so gullible.

Daz had taken us to the River Prysor near the Rhaeadr Du waterfall, a demanding grade 5 when it has water but for us it was a day to try canyoneering.

Fitting shorts over a dry suit can be tricky

The next 3 or 4 hours were spent sliding down rocks and jumping into freezing cold water interspersed with words of wisdom from Daz. Everyone came away excited and laughing from pushing their personal comfort zones and simply playing in water. I think it is something common to all of the paddling community that we all like simply messing around in water!

The first of many slides

Excited anticipation?

Some great fun!

Dan found just how deep that little puddle was!

Positive communication was one of the key themes of the day.  The difference between describing a rapid in positive and negative language was highlighted; “avoid the stopper on the right and then there’s a big slide!” vs. “stick left and enjoy the slide!”.

Some cold hands

Also the group dynamic was critical, the importance of speaking clearly and in terms people understand, not letting your nerves influence other peoples decision making.  Even down to speaking in sunshine not shade when you can!

Big Drops

Daz spoke of the importance of personal risk assessments in running rivers and rapids.  What Daz thinks of as risk might be different to ours but his logic can’t be faulted.  Just because something is a risk, it shouldn’t always be discounted as an option.

Slide Off Drops!

We all went our separate ways for the second part of the day and various activities including walking and exploring (if only to the bar for some!). I went mountain biking on a purpose built track half a mile from the bunk house. Another first for me.

That evening we all enjoyed Daz’s presentation. Daz spoke of his personal experiences on his expeditions such as the Rivers of Everest and the Paddling the Stikine. Rivers where getting it wrong could end fatally and not just a bumpy swim like most that club members are likely to paddle.

Daz continued the theme from earlier that day of being positive and avoiding negative thoughts and supporting each other; spreading that positive mind-set throughout your group.

Daz is an unusual character. Anyone who has spent time with him will come away with something to think about. He pushes boundaries and questions our norms. His conversation is relaxed but engaging but almost without knowing it he challenges your beliefs and mind-set.

For me a great day and my whole hearted thanks to Daz.

Maybe for Daz but not for me!

Sunday was spent doing whatever we fancied. I went to a fantastic mountain bike centre at Coed Llandegla Forest just north of Llangollen. Some hired kayak coaches and spent the day on the Dee at mile end mill and some took to open boats. I know for some this was their first time in an open on moving water and there were many excited tales with big smiles of stories of high drama at Serpent’s Tail from disembarking paddlers.

A big thanks to Tim who yet again arranged a great weekend.

- Pete Barton.

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Inaugural 2013 Sea Kayak trip

After looking at the weather forecast our new sea kayaking rep, Don THACKER decided to arrange the inaugural trip for 2013. Which was a paddle from Eastney, to the Royal Oak PH at the top of Chichester harbour on Saturday 9th March.

Seven of us met at Eastney about 0900hrs and were on the water shortly after 1000hrs. It was a really good spring morning, with the sun shining, excellent visibility and sea flat calm. After a bit of forward paddling coaching from Don and Ian NUNN, we went up the harbour helped by a following wind. Those of us that were wearing dry suits with an under suit began to wonder how much weight we would lose as we started to slowly cook in uncharacteristic warm weather.

The highlight of the day, especially for those of us that went on the last club trip to see the seals in Chichester harbour, only to find that they had gone awol from their usual resting place. Was to have one of these engaging creatures pop up about 25metres from us at the top of Langstone harbour and stay on the surface for a short while. After a quick lunch break on the harbour wall we caught the ebb tide towards Eastney. By now the sun had gone, our tailwind was now a headwind and blowing over the tide which created a slight chop. Those with the under suits were glad to have them as the temperature dropped several degrees, which just shows how difficult it is to judge what to wear.

All in all it was really good to be back on the sea after several months and to have the myth of the disappearing harbour seals dispelled. Thanks to Don for arranging the trip as well as for the coaching from both Don and Ian NUNN.

Chris KIRBY

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First Aid Kits

 

Hope for the best – Plan for the worst

Ok, perhaps not the most thrilling thing to consider when you are sat on your sofa reading your emails on your laptop or tablet, but just what is in your first aid kit right now? Your heart may well be beating a lot quicker as you unpack it for the first time on the side of a river to find just a small pack of damp and mouldy sticking plasters, some peppermint ant-acid tablets, and a pair of tiny scissors that couldn’t cut tissue paper.

Samsplint in action: http://www.sammedical.com/sam_splint.html

I’m not going to tell you what you should have in a first aid kit, what I will tell you is that you need to consider what you might need for the situations and locations where you are likely to use it.

If you’re travelling miles from the nearest source of help consider what you might need to hand to treat casualties within your capabilities, and what you can and will do for those beyond them.

There are some items that you might want to consider that don’t appear in many first aid kits:

  • vet wrap is great for paddlers
  • a small mirror can be very handy
  • spray on plaster is great for awkward cuts and grazes
  • energy tablets
  • foil blanket (or even better a Blizzard Blanket)
  • magic marker (to write names on foreheads etc)

To keep your kit dry I’d recommend a hard box like a Peli Case or an Explorer Case, and then sealing items in small clear bags to keep it organised. Also make sure that it’s clearly marked as a first aid kit.

I also usually carry a small pocket first aid kit so that I don’t have to hunt around for a small plaster – I bought a small Ortleib pack, and it seems to be holding up just fine after over a year.

You’ll also want to add some casualty cards, and perhaps some first aid reminders on waterproof or laminated card.

Of course having a first aid kit is great, but just like a throw line you need to know how to use it – so make sure you get some training, and encourage others you paddle with to do the same – specialist courses for outdoor first aid like a REC course are great. The further away from help that you go, the better your training needs to be. And check your kit regularly!

Lets all have great first aid kits, great training, and then hope we never need them!

Here is a great article and some more first aid resources:

Words by Pete G, formatting by Chris P.

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First Whitewater Trip

The approach of the Dart weekend was full of mixed feelings. Whilst both Liam (my son) and I had done some training to lead up to this trip (learned to roll, trip down the Frome and several weekends at Woodmill weir) we were both  very aware that the Dart was going to be a whole new experience. For anyone considering doing the Dart I would recommend doing the Frome trip as it gives you a very quick and safe introduction to the idea of throwing yourself off weirs that are for the most part bigger straight drops than you will get on the loop but with a lot less water flow to contend with. This develops the frame of mind you need to ‘go for it’ rather than approaching everything tentatively.

In the last few days before the weekend it had become clear that if there was any rain, it wasn’t going to be much and we were definitely in for a low water level experience  or ‘scrape down’ as some people confidently informed me.

Not wanting to get caught up in the Friday traffic I planned to leave at 2pm and after packing the car, double checking the checklist of stuff to pack and coaxing a teenager into the car we quickly covered the 3 hour drive without hitting much traffic and arrived at the Dart Country Park.

A quick scout around and nobody seemed to be around, reception was closed and I started to wonder if the sat nav had brought us to the correct place. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the sat nav had led me astray. We found some staff in the bar (where else would you look after driving for 3 hours?) and were somewhat relived that Upper Hamble Canoe Club were meant to be there. A quick unpack of stuff into the dorms – not bad at all as it turned out, comfy enough, although they did get very hot and stuffy during the night.  After unpacking we went back to the bar (yes, a pattern may well be emerging here). As we got there we met up with Dave, James and Jamie who had been down the chippy (in Ashburton about 5 minutes drive away). We were just contemplating doing the same and then others started to arrive and a trip to the pub to eat was arranged. A few others joined us and then it was back to the site bar (I don’t think I need to point out the pattern here anymore) where a lot more had arrived and conversation had turned to the coming two days of paddling.

My group consisted of Nigel and Joe as the coaches and the coached group was Jamie, James, Richie and his very young son Nicholas (who turned out to be a fantatsic little paddler for his age), Liam and I. Given the mix of experience in the group the decision had been taken for a gentle introduction on the lower Dart on Saturday with the possibility of doing the Loop on Sunday if everyone coped OK with Saturday’s challenges.

This years trip included quite a large contingent of open boaters and there was quite a bit of discussion amongst those who had been in kayaks down the Dart and how different it would be doing it in an open boat.

Evening chat done with and the bar closing everybody retired for the night as we were meeting at 9am and on the water for 10am. As usual for me I didn’t sleep a wink (first night somewhere different) and was first up, mainly due to boredom waiting for morning to arrive. At least the showers were nice and hot and got me into the right mood for the coming day.

We had the obligatory huge cooked breakfast (very nice although it was freezing in the site restaurant) and then suited up and headed for the meeting. As we were on the lower Dart we were actually getting on the water within the confines of the country park but we had to do the obligatory shuttle of cars down to the Southern Steam Railway station for the get out.

It had been a clear night and it was pretty cold getting on the water with some opting to wear pogies and everybody in dry suits. We got on just beside the bridge over the Dart and immediately paddled upstream a little distance to where there was some gentle flow to play in. This happened to be right alongside the Dartcam which was indicating levels a few inches below the slab at Newbridge.

 

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First job was Ferry gliding practice and then we headed down river and through some gentle rapids under the bridge. The lower dart consists of mainly gentle rapids and a few fairly small drops but there are certainly quite a few places where the river narrows and the flow picks up to something a fair bit more brisk. This was where breaking in and out practice really got going and doing ‘s’ turns to practice hoping across the flow from one eddy to another. It was in this stronger flow that we had our first swimmer which unfortunately was Nicholas. He broke into the stronger flow for the first time and didn’t quite get enough edge on his boat as well as being right on the eddy line rather than crossing it. This rolled him over and he was quickly out of the boat and swimming. The coaches had him picked up and out of the water very quickly, his boat emptied and his enthusiasm not dented at all Nicholas was straight back in and practicing – good lad!

We headed off downstream and after a while came to our next fairly challenging decent. This was the steepest we had seen and part way down were waves moving diagonally across the flow. This was also somewhat complicated by the low levels and the need to continually dodge rocks just under the surface. Liam was first down and part way got side swiped on a rock and then hit by one of the diagonal waves leaving him inverted and travelling relatively fast down the rapid. In the blink of an eye he had rolled back up, carried on down the rapid and eddied out at the bottom. We all followed down now aware of the possibilites but all made it down ok. Liam wasn’t phased by his small spell inverted in a fast moving rapid and had managed not to headbutt any rocks so he was unaffected by the event all though he was also now aware of how quickly it can go wrong.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful with no more swims, althoug Jamie managed to get himself rolled upside down on a bit of a grabby stopper wave we stopped to play in. The whole session focused on eddy hoping, break ins, break outs and learning all the various hand signals from the coaches. We also got to play in some stronger flows to get used to what we would experience on the Loop. We eventually got to the railway station, whilst I was a little tired from the days paddling it was nothing like doing a flat water paddle for 5 hours on the Frome. I think we were on the river from 10 until 4 so a good 6 hours!

We packed up and shuttled everyone back to the Country Park.

The evening had been arranged as a meal down at the Dartbridge pub and around 30 of us turned up on mass. A nice meal ensued with lots of discussion of the days events. The open boaters had done the lower lower Dart, most were surprised at how stable these bigger boats are compared to kayaks and they all had clearly had a good time. A few paddlers had been round the loop in kayaks,  again I was duly informed that the Loop water level was lower than the belly of a snake but it was still OK for some fun and the rocks would add some extra difficulty to some of the features – marvelous, more rock dodging :)

We headed back to the dorm and this time I managed a couple of hours sleep, at least it was an improvement on the previous night of clock watching.

Due to the autumn clock change we all got an extra hour in bed and this did help with the restaurant being a bit warmer for Sunday breakfast. Another mound of sausages, eggs, beans etc was duly demolished and we once again set to the business of doing the shuttle.

As we had all coped fine with the lower Dart the day before we headed for Newbridge for the put in. We were also a man down this time as James cold had got significantly worse and he didn’t feel up to paddling, a real shame!

The water was quite significantly below the slab. We all got on and set to playing in the two flows under the bridge. More practicing of breaking in and out and getting into the eddies.

We then headed downstream and for me this is where things become a bit of a blur in terms of what came next. Certainly the loop was much steeper than the lower Dart and we did do a lot of fairly fast flowing rapids. There are a few memorable bits that I’ll mention. One of which was triple falls which I really enjoyed as there was plenty of water going down it to make it interesting. At the bottom of triple falls (I think) there was a fantastic play wave which had really fast flowing water but was super friendly to surf. I spent quite some time playing in this wave as did the others. Liam who usually doesn’t like getting into waves also had a play in it.

We also find a little wave from a side stream onto the Dart and this was where I just about managed to pull off my first 360 spin on a wave….. awesome :)

Again this was a super friendly little wave and you could play about in it with little fear of being tipped over. Side surfing and backwards surfing were all possible and all of us had differing levels of success with it but without any mishaps.

The loop was definitely delivering a step up from the previous day with the water being bigger and faster for pretty much all of the features and rapids. There were a lot of places where small holes in the fast flowing water had formed and for a boat that is good at surfing (like my Z-One)  they were perfect for playing in.

All had been going great up to this point, no rolls, no swims and everyone coping great with the step up in conditions. We rounded a corner and Nigel instructed Nicholas that he should get out and walk down this next bit with his dad. Apparently this next bit was a likely place that someone would be swimming and it wasn’t a particularly nice swim!

This was Lovers Leap and half way down was a big rock we needed to pass river left. I was second down following Nigels line and as we got into the fast flow toward the big rock it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to make it river left and after some indecision about just what to do about this problem I hit the rock smack on in the middle. My boat had beached up the rock a fair bit and it seemed I may be stuck so I referred to earlier advice of ‘hug the rock’. However to hug this mountain of a rock I really needed to let go of my paddle with one hand. As I took this decision the boat lurched backwards and I realised that I wasn’t stuck anymore but I was now going to go down the rapid backwards past the rock. Suffice to say going round the rock backwards resulted in me rolling upside down and with the paddle only in one hand it got pulled straight out of my grasp. This left me with only one option which was a swim as the paddle was now gone and my hand roll is a non-event. I could feel rocks bouncing off my shoulders as the boat was starting to get moving again so I pulled the deck and got on my back for a feet first decent. Here I learned a lesson about keeping your bum up on the top of the water…..rocks hurt quite a lot when you hit them bum first at speed! Once I had learned this I soon ended up at the bottom without any further impacts and swam to the side where my boat had already been retrieved. A quick empty of the water and I was back in the boat. The lesson learned here was to make sure I hit the line the coach indicates and if it’s not going to plan just paddle like crazy to make it happen. I spent time dithering over whether to turn the boat to the right of the rock and as a result hit it right in the middle. ‘Muppet’ was the word that best described my internal dialogue of the event. Which was reinforced by Nigel saying to me at the bottom ‘I told you to go left of the rock’. As it turned out I wasn’t the only one who decided to surf that rock as someone else had done it only minutes before me and apparently it’s quite a common mistake. I’ve always believed that you don’t learn much by doing everything right and I learned some valuable lessons about how to swim a rocky rapid in what were really relatively safe conditions. I also learned to only hug small rocks not hulking great massive ones :)

After the events of Lovers Leap nothing more eventful happened and we completed the rest of the loop without any issues. Although there were still plenty of nice challenging pieces of water along the way.

One event which I captured on video was some crazy idiot paddling the Dart Loop with both no helmet or buoyancy aid, despite Joe having a word with him he still ran the drop we were scouting before running it ourselves. Proof that no matter where you go you always find some looney willing to risk life and limb for no good reason. His excuse for this madness was that he usually paddles the upper Dart, I reasoned he must have a very thick skull!

We finished up back at the Dartcam and got out where we got in the previous day. I certainly feel proud to have done the loop and in many respects the low water levels provided a perfect introduction to white water, next time I hope there’s a bit more rain and we can step it up again. With regard to my whitewater skills, well I’m sure they still need lots of improving but equally I’m also sure I gained a huge amount of skills over the weekend. Huge thanks have to go to both Nigel and Joe who were on hand giving little tips, demos and so on throught the whole weekend.

I’ll definitely be going again and had a great time as did Liam. I’m now looking forward to the Wye and Usk in five weeks time. If anyone is not sure whether they should do it then I would definitely recommend it as the Dart offers all different levels of challenge and the coaches will only ever match you to what they think you can handle. What you learn over the weekend with regard to boat control and reading the water is worth far more than the price paid to attend the weekend.

- Ashley Davis

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