29 April 2007

Teva Sunkosi Water Shoes

Having finally got my hands on Roger the Rocker yesterday I decided that today was the ideal day for taking on board what Tom Parker had said on the White Water Safety and Rescue course about footwear. This means that I now have some very dapper looking Teva's heading my way from the rather nice people at Wiggle. This online shopping site was a gem of a find and was all down to Froggle UK. Froogle found me the cheapest deals and I selected the one I liked the best - £67.49 for some water shoes normally retailing at £75. During checkout I was asked for an e-Voucher number to get £5 off the special offer price. I didn't have one, but another good Goggle search produced the goods and after filling in this form I had a code to get the further reduction. I'm rather pleased with myself now that I have some Teva's for £12.51 less than I should and postage was free. I may just have to have a little jig I am that happy about the whole thing.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

28 April 2007

We will call it Roger

Yes, it's true, my Jackson Rocker eventually turned up today. Well actually it has been in the country since Monday and at UK Canoes since Wednesday, but I only just got around to collecting the boat and paying off the final balance. It's been a long time coming and much aggravation has been caused because of it (see post here), but I can say that it has definitely been worth the wait.

The boat, at home, in it's giant stocking, ready for a big outfitting session.

The Jackson Rocker.

Me stood with the boat before starting the outfitting session. It was weird to actually have a boat that towered above me when I've been use to my All Star that is the same height as me.

After fitting the boat out I was a bit hot because of the fact that I had my normal boating kit on indoors on a fairly warm spring day.

The boat should be on the water tomorrow as I am attending a Coaching Standardisation course at Calder Canoe Centre, which I have organised for the local canoe club.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

26 April 2007

Kayaking is not a Crime

Left to right: Me in college with a "Chorley Euxton" sign - amazing; the t-shirt I was wearing in college today.

After receiving my WCA Access Campaign t-shirt on Friday and putting off wearing it for a good few days I finally got around to putting it on and heading to college this morning. Wow this is an amazing blog post[!] However, I thought I'd just put down what the simple, emotive slogan on a basic blue t-shirt managed to achieve.

From getting on the bus after someone misread it for "Barking is not a crime" to getting off this evening and heading for home I have been bombarded with people asking me why it says "Kayaking is not a crime"? I dutifully explain the current access problems we face as paddlers and how we only have a crap percentage of rivers we are actually allowed to paddle, and the remaining percentage we can only paddle if we are willing to bow down to the big, bad landowner and do what they say or we piss the land owners and fisherman off and paddle them anyway. After telling them this tale, which is a complete juxtaposition of what they usually here from me about kayaking they all agreed that it's a bit crap to be a paddler in the United Kingdom when we are faced with such troubles to do something that people see as an amazingly cool activity.

Obviously these t-shirts are working and pushing the access campaign into the public domain. So if you want to support the access campaign buy a t-shirt and shout loud about the problem - sign the petitions, which are linked down the side of my blog under "Fighting for Access" - go paddle rivers and ignore the problems and maybe the people that don't like it may just realise that they will have to start accepting us paddlers.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

20 April 2007

Biting the bullet once again

It was Friday and the last opportunity to get out paddling, however there was still no water in the rivers so once again I headed out with the group of sea paddlers that I had ventured out with yesterday. Today, however their trip was something slightly more extravagant to yesterday's jaunts around the islands off Arisaig so I was put in a sea boat (fibre-glass Skerry), which was going spare. I would now be able to keep up with the group on the planned 10.5 mile paddle.

The location of the trip was to be Loch Hourn, an isolated sea loch, accessible only by a twenty-five mile single track road, found on the northern tip of the Knoydart peninsula. At first the prospect of this single track road terrified me, but on completing the drive, before we even got on the water and off paddling, the day had very nearly beaten all those that had gone before it. The scenery along this single track road was some of the most spectacular I had seen and something that not every one will see in their lifetime. This makes it that bit more amazing. Like yesterday not a lot can be said about the paddling, but I'll leave you with some pictures.

On the drive up the single track road we came across countless herds of Deer.

The sea boat I was borrowing for the trip, laid at the waters edge by Kinlochhourn, ready to be put to water for the trip.

Looking westwards from the Skerry into the unknown and where we were heading.

Two of the group, the one in the back was the person who lent me the Skerry, paddling down the southern shore of the Loch.

The canoe club's chairman paddling up to Eilean Mhogh-sqeir where many Herons nest.

Once again the mascot for the sea paddlers came along for the trip. Here he is sporting a rather fetching shell baseball cap, available at all good retailers.

One of the many bothies that line the shoreline. This area is one of the last remote havens of the United Kingdom for walkers and other outdoor enthusiasts and the countless bothies provide them with accommodation on their trips.

Dinner was spent on an island, Fraoch Eilean, which is at the eastern tip of Barrisdale Bay. We started out return journey from here.

The house at the foot of the Loch.

On finishing the trip we headed along the road to the house (pictured above) to see if the Tea Shop was still open. It was not, but when stood at the gateway deciding what to do the owner appeared at the door. After a polite conversation he re-opened the Tea Shop and served us tea and coffee. It was just what was needed after a great day out on the water in such amazing scenery. Once re-hydrated, the owner of the house chatted for a while and even in such a short period of time you got a true feeling of the remote Highland life: no electricity, no running water, no gas, snowed in for up to two months of the year, no refuse collection, etc.. I honestly don't know whether I can say I could survive in such a place even though I enjoy being in the mountains so much. I prefer being somewhere remote, but I don't know whether such extreme remoteness day in, day out where the next person you see could be a week away is for me. It sure does put life in perspective.

Six days complete, three rivers done, two sea trips done, no more days to fill.

More pictures can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

19 April 2007

Biting the bullet

By the time Thursday had come round I had given up any hope on finding a river with anywhere near enough water in to warrant a paddle and therefore I teamed up with the other section of paddlers I was staying with. This section wasn't the hardcore river paddler or thrill seeking adrenaline junkie, well some of them maybe, but instead they were sea paddlers. Paddlers who went out paddling for enjoyment and to discover new places from a vantage point very few people can say they have experienced. However, I did not have a long, pointy 16ft+ sea boat, instead I had my dad's Diesel. I was told I would be fine in such craft as they were only pottering around the small chain of islands south of Mallaig. We headed off at 10 o'clock and arrived at our destination some 90 minutes later.

In good sea kayaking fashion I'll include a map - cheers Ordnance Survey. We launched from that small yellow road north of Gortenachullish and paddled out to the islands nor'-west from here.

I don't think I'll write much about the trip as what can be said? Not much really, however I had one of the best days paddling, which hasn't involved a river, and can see why there is such an attraction with sea paddling. It is one sure way to blow your mind and turn your perspective of the world on its head. Maybe it isn't such a bad place after all.

My boat sat on the shore waiting to be launched into the salty waters.

Whilst in the chain of islands we saw plenty of wildlife. There is a sea otter in this picture, which you may see if you enlarge it by clicking on it and putting it at full resolution.

Some of the more thrill seeking sea paddlers, out beyond the island chain and in a small rolling swell.

One of the paddlers taking a breather from paddling and taking a moment to reflect on their surroundings.

A seal laid up on a piece of high land. There were plenty of seals around, but this is the only decent photo I managed to get of one.

The island (think it is Sguirean Gobhlach on the map above) where we had dinner. I was trying a bit of an arty shot with my Astral Aquavest 300 - I don't know whether it worked.

One thing I noticed about sea paddlers is that nothing is ever rushed. Dinnertime lasted a fair while - 2 hours - allowing us to build a fire, have a sleep and just admire the view. Amazing.

Two of the paddlers stood out on a headland of the island taking a moment out from the group to take in their surroundings during lunch.

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolute nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing..." [Ratty, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham]

The mascot the group of sea paddlers adopted for their trips during the week sat on one of the boats at the end of the day.

Five days complete, three rivers done, one sea trip done, another one day to fill.

More pictures can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

18 April 2007

We're all in between swims

Today was the day we knew there would be water as during the previous week, whilst drawing up a list of low water runs in Scotland, I pulled a few strings (actually I posted a message on the UK River Guidebook) to find out when the Garry, a lovely Grade 3 dam release, was running. It came back a couple of hours later that it would be Wednesday. So on that day we headed up the Great Glen, turned left at Invergarry and eventually pulled up in the car park at the first take out point for the river. We expected it to be busy because of the lack of water and the sheer number of boats we had seen around the area over the previous few days, but on parking up and milling around the river it all seemed rather quite.

Before there was any further chance of the place filling up we hastily got changed and headed up the river left bank on foot: we didn't dare drive up to the put-in in case on our return our parking spaces had been nabbed. It was a pleasant walk anyway and it also allowed us to have a look-see at the river, which actually looked a bit low even though the dam was definitely releasing. We decided it was probably rising and this was confirmed when a raft guide we passed mentioned to his clients that "the river was rising."

Walking up the trail to the put-in at the foot of the dam.

When we reached the top of the river the place looked a bit busier with a couple of rafts waiting to get on and numerous groups of paddlers stood around chatting and chilling out with out any worry in the world. The group I was with followed suit and waited around for the section of river by the put-in to clear. It also allowed us to have a bit of a rest after the carry up. We eventually hit the river and even though there had been so many paddlers getting on in front of us it still didn't feel busy, like a quite Washburn release would do. The group headed off downstream some faster than others as people either blasted down the rapids in the hope they could reach the play spots quicker, others, me included, went at a more leisurely pace soaking up the atmosphere that hung over the river and catching the eddies that looking interesting. Is it possible to have an interesting eddy?

The main play hole on the river. Ideal for spins and low angled cartwheel, but not loops.

The group spent a fair amount of time at this play hole. At times we shared the eddies with other groups and exchanged the odd friendly word and at other times we were alone, just the one single group sitting, waiting and wishing that their mates would flush so they could get another ride in the hole. This was the life. Eventually, on sight of a rather large group heading down the river, we moved off downstream knowing that when we returned later the hole would still be there.

Jump forward in time...

Four of the group, including myself, decided that on completing one run of the river we would walk back up to the main play hole and carry on from were we left off - having fun. We did this and played in the hole for some time. I sat in the eddy watching the action after what I felt was an alright run, then when the person flushed I moved off, ferried across the current, caught the stopper at its lowest point then forced my way higher up before I was sat comfortably in a side surf. I move to the spin corner and set off in a spin. I started to flush as I threw the boat into reverse so I backed her back into the hole and then went back into spinning. However, I tripped over an edge and over I went. No big deal. I'll set up to roll and wait a wee while to make sure I don't roll back up in the hole as I was now getting a bit tired.

When I was happy I went for the roll and came half way up before going back over. I set up again, not really worried and failed again, and again, and again. It was no good I had run out of air, I didn't feel like I could get the boat to roll no matter what I tried so I ripped the deck release and swam out with a momentary worry about the Happy Seat, which usually holds me in the boat when upright and upside down. My head broke the surface to a cheer from the group of people stood on the bank who had come along to watch and take pictures. I was a bit miffed that I had swum as it was the first time since June 05, but when it comes down to it everyone is in between swims and it was better to get mine out of the way on nice, safe, flat water with some current where I could simply swim everything to shore, sort myself out and go straight back into the hole albeit slightly nervous.

Jump back in time...

A Jackson Rocker, which was on the water. Unfortunately I never did managed to find the owner of the boat when I was on the bank to see if I could have a sit in it.

Moving down the Garry is quite nice as there is so much to do. There are waves to catch on the fly, eddies to catch besides waves, which could be surfed momentarily before moving off downstream, holes to side surf for as long as you want and then move onto another feature that your mate had just vacated. However, when we rounded one corner there was a mass of paddlers sat at the top of the entrance into the mini gorge waiting for people to clear the bottom.

We sat around for a while enjoying the fact that we were on the water and eventually when the masses had cleared we moved on down. The entrance to the gorge was rather splendid with a multitude of lines to hit, one of which had a boof at the end. I went for this one, just because I am trying to get my boof sorted. I took the line I wanted rather well, though I did get a bit mixed up in the lead-in to the boof as I got stuck on the occasional rock which lurked under the surface.

In the gorge. Messing around on the eddy lines.

Once in the gorge there were plenty of eddies to catch, the odd small wave to surf and countless eddy lines to squirt and cartwheel on. It was just pure, unadulterated fun with your mates. On reaching the end of the gorge I looked up to the river right bank where a small group of paddlers were stood inspecting a drop. On closer inspection of the group I realised that one of the paddlers stood wearing a yellow helmet, was Tom Parker, who had run a WWSR course for me the weekend before we left for Scotland. It was nice to meet up with him again. I took the particular drop they were looking at rather well with what I thought to be a sweet boof into the micro-eddy beside the drop.

The drop at the end of the gorge. There was a boof into a micro-eddy to be had on the left of picture. The group stood on the bank pointing at the paddler were on a course with Tom Parker (the chap doing the pointing).

We spent some time at this drop trying to loop and cartwheel whilst some of the group took refreshments before we all moved off downstream to the closing sections of the run. Eddies were caught, waves were surfed and people rolled before we reached the end. Four of the group, including myself, decided that on completing one run of the river we would walk back up to the main play hole and carry on from were we left off - having fun.

At this point I will stop writing as nothing spectacular occurred, apart from the swim mentioned above and on the walk back up the river I met up with Graham Wood. Graham was the chap who sent me the release date for the Garry and also assessed me for my Level 2 back in October. I'll finish the post off with four pictures from the second run.

The play hole where I had a swim. That's me in there. My parents were walking the bank with a camera so there are photo's of me for once.

Graham Wood in an inflatable two-man persuading the front seat passenger that they did want to surf the hole.

Tom Parker cartwheeling his creek boat. Who said you needed play boats?

The same paddler going for a loop in the new Pyranha Burn. It was so close to being landed.

Four days complete, three rivers done, another two days to fill.

More pictures can be found here and a video can be seen here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

17 April 2007

Into the depths of yet another Gorge

Drive away from Spean Bridge through Roy Bridge on the A86, then north along the A9 before turning right onto the A938 and then left onto the B9007. Drive further north and where do you end up after two hours? The answer is a little bend in the road by a gate which takes you down to Randolph's Leap and the put-in for the lower reaches of the Findhorn where there is yet another gorge section. This for me and the vast majority of the group was a first descent. Last year we had never made the trek this far into Scotland as there had been so much water around the Roy Bridge area to keep us happy, but it was Tuesday and we had only been on one river. We were therefore willing to travel far to get the paddling fix needed to stop us going mad and knowing that the Findhorn would go (thanks to some positive beta from a raft guide in Pitlochry who had paddled it the day before) we made the trek north.

Once out of the cars we sauntered down the tourist path to the river to have a look at it. We took a brief glimpse at Randolph's Leap thinking nothing of it and instead scouted out the get-in. On the return to the cars I took a bit of a lengthy look at the Leap and after clambering lower down the river bank to scout the lines, with a bit more enthusiasm, I felt that maybe I could just about make it through. I shouted to the others "It'll go" and they joined my at river level for a closer look. They were adamant they would not paddle it, but they'd set safety up for me. We returned to the cars to change and sort the shuttle out. Whilst the shuttle was being sorted the remaining three paddlers, me included, carried the four boats down into the wood covered path system. Three boats headed to the conventional get-in carried by the other two paddlers whilst I took my boat to the top of the Leap and then set about some serious scouting of the extremely tight gorge. I walked up and down the banks, took video and pictures, making sure I got a look at the river from every conceivable angle and height until the line was firmly embedded on my eyelids.

Eventually the shuttle drivers returned and after pointing where I wanted my safety cover I took a couple of minutes to visualise the line once more and remove any external distractions from my head. Then, walking with a purpose, I headed back to my boat, got in it and ran the opening rapids which would lead into Randolph's Lead. I made a couple of break outs, gave a thumbs up sign to the camera man up high on the bank and off I went. The first narrowing of the Leap I negotiated fine, got the boat on the lateral wave I wanted to drop me diagonally into the gorge, making sure to avoid the rock on the right. I didn't quite get my boat moving far enough right after passing the rock and collided, bow first, into the gorge wall. I eventually made it out and then headed off down to the next narrowing, which was simple enough. I broke out in the Cauldron and let the recirculating eddy carry me to the top before breaking out to cross the current and make it through the final slot. I didn't quite make it with style, but I got through. My safety crew headed back up the bank to join me below the next drop. This drop was probably the best of the day. I scouted it from my boat; it had been pretty inaccessible by foot from river level, decided a nice boof would sort it out and hit the line sweetly. The rest of the group were still trying to get down to where they had left their boats so I popped out of mine to soak it all up.

Sat on the bows of the the Diesel after a successful descent of Randolph's Leap. The picture was taken by me - the camera was on delayed shot and I just propped it up on the rock wall. Not a bad picture considering.

The group were finally reunited on the water and off we headed downsteam into the unknown. The river at this point was fairly wide and with little water in the drainage basin it was a scrape at times, but we made it down.

Scraping down the opening rapids.

We eventually came to a point where we felt it necessary to inspect and out we all popped from our boats. It was fairly noticeable that we had now started entering the gorge. The banks were closing in slightly and they had grown quite considerable in height. On inspection of the rapid we all decided to run it with out any safety. Well there was some - me with a rope, but primarily there for video. We carried on downstream with out any problems. However, sitting in the boats was short lived because after passing a couple of cheery fisherman we were back out of our boat to inspect Triple Steps.

Inspecting the first drop of Triple Steps.

The whole group ran the first step. I took it on river left and the others took it on the right. We had no problems. At this point the other three got out of their boats and walked around the second step, which was a pour over. I decided to step up and run it. I wish I could say it all went to plan, but I didn't manage to pull off the boof I wanted and plugged it a bit more than I wanted. The bows reared up and I stomped them back down to float away from the drop. The group was once again reunited and after running the final drop of Triple Steps, after inspection, we floated through the flatter stretches of the gorge remarking on the pure beauty of this remote, inaccessible place.

Looking upsteam at the boulder chocked Corkscrew.

This moment of relaxation and contemplation was short lived as the opening rapids of Corkskrew bobbed up in front of us. Out we all jumped and off we sauntered to have a closer look at the rapid. It didn't look promising at first and the group was just getting ready to start the portage. However, I felt that there may have been a line down the river right of the rapid. Maybe it could have been classed as a Chicken Chute. Either way it could still be said that I ran the rapid instead of shouldering the boat and walking it. The other three paddlers decided to do this once they had got the line I decided to run stored on XD memory.

By now I think we were all starting to get tired and slightly hungry as none of us had, had anything to eat since eight that morning so once the portage of Corkskrew was over and we could gently float, relaxed, down the gorge we decided on the next inspection of the river we would have a quick bite to eat and see if we could get in touch with the two people that came along for the drive, but not the paddle to let them know everything was going well.

Walking down the river inspecting another series of rapids just before having dinner.

The next series of rapids looked like fun there was a small rock infested, river wide drop followed by about thirty metres of grade 2 water and then a pour over. We ate dinner by the pour over where we had managed to get a signal with Vodafone and then we set about running and portaging the rapid. I ran it first with some difficult on the first drop as I got spun by a rock, but managed to sort it out by the time I reached the pour over. I boofed it and rolled away from the drop and waited for a short while on the flat water below for the rest of the group to portage. It looked like it could take a while for the portage so I carried on further downstream to scout out the next drop, which on inspection was decided to be The Slot. A nasty affair with a huge undercut on river right. We all walked it and then headed on downstream.

Just after the slot. A picture showing the sheer scale of the gorge. There was probably another ten metres of rock, which I could not capture on the picture.

One of the closing rapids.

The gorge was now over. There were just a couple of closing rapids to run, which could all be inspected from the boat, but still they were of interest. Looking back on the day these last few drops may have been the most entertaining as by now we were all mentally and physically exhausted from the amount of effort put into paddling and the concentration needed to keep the group safe at all times. This meant that some mistakes were made on these rapids. For example I had a moment with the fishes as I flipped on a rather simple drop, which was a two tear affair with a break out half way down. This roll resulted in a cut thumb, but nothing major.

Paddling out of the gorge and down to the get out to tape my bleeding thumb.

Starting the long walk back to the cars.

Three days complete, two rivers done, another three days to fill.

More pictures can be found here and a video can be seen here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...