28 January 2008

Pretty pictures...

Self portrait on the Kent with some big boat surfin' in the background.

The drop at Prizet Bridge on the Kent.

Looking to get surfed in the main gorge on the Kent.

Oooh!!! Artistic. My Dad's Werner Sherpa reflecting in a section of calm water on the Kent.

Running Force Falls on the Kent.

Don't know whether you've gathered but I went paddling on the Kent today. It was just off touristy levels, but was a grand day out never the less. Being on the river is starting to feel good again and I can't wait till I'm next on the water. Maybe Sunday. Perhaps earlier in the week.

More pictures can be found here.

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

27 January 2008


Paddle for Clive

Today was the day I headed back up to the Lake District to make a descent of the River Crake. Hopefully a successful one. This was the first time I had even gone anywhere near the river since it all happened and I was determined to paddle it and show that it isn't going to beat me. In all the plans I had put across the Internet I had said we were meeting at Brown Howe for 10. I arrived early to an empty car park and within minutes I was surrounded by seventeen boats all belonging to Leeds Canoe Club. They soon got on and more boats arrived, they got on and yet more boats arrived, got on and headed south to the mouth of the Crake. The group from Ribble Canoe Club, who I was paddling with, got on last and made their way to the mouth of the river.

Getting on the water at Brown Howe, Coniston and heading to the river.

It was like any normal river trip. We paddled and tried to have fun. Occasionally we didn't have fun, but that was when it went temporarily wrong like when we had a swimmer. That was quickly sorted and we moved on continually looking to have fun and nothing else.

Some of Ribble Canoe Club's member's playing on the only other rapid of note.

I can't really say a lot about the trip. We paddled and paddled a bit more. At times it didn't feel right and slightly weird to think that twenty-seven days ago I was on this river at a similar level with my dad. Laughing, joking and just having fun. Unfortunately when it went wrong, it went wrong, and it wasn't sorted quickly. It wasn't sorted at all. I was determined to not let that little fact stop me, my friends, or others being put off a river which at the end of the day is only grade two with some three's and has helped introduce many people to the delights of paddling.

Running the diagonal weir somewhere on the Crake.

Paddling through a small rapid.

Eventually we reached Bobbin Mill Rapids. The scene of it all. I had been leading the group from Ribble Canoe Club all the way down the river and I paused at this moment. Not because I was hesitant about dropping into the rapids, but because I wanted to get the paddlers to regroup a little as we had got spread out a bit too much. Eventually I dropped down the weir leading from the front. Took a break out and then another, before I came to the steepening in the river. I carried on, looking for the break out that I knew was there.

Where it all happened; the bottom of Bobbin Mill Rapids.

There it was. The break out. There it was. The place dad had been pinned. Four metres from where I was sat happy, but slightly shaky, in my boat. Two more paddlers descended the rapid and out I jumped from my boat to stand with a throw line. There were no problems though. Not this time. We all made it down and people moved on.

Dropping down the last bit of Bobbin Mill Rapids.

I climbed back into my boat. Had a bit of trouble putting my spray deck on because of the swirly eddy, eventually ferried across the top of where my dad had been pinned and into the eddy in the middle of the river, where my boat had been left tethered. I then cut back across the river to just below where my dad had been pinned into some slack water. I fought my way back upstream enough to surf across the small wave formed by the rock which must have pinned my dad. I moved on downstream to where some of the group where getting off. I was carrying on with a bit of false optimism in finding my AT's somewhere on the banks as I had lost them during all the events of New Years Eve. I was out of luck.

Paddling towards Greenodd after passing through Spark Bridge.

Eventually we made it to Greenodd and got off the river. It was just another river trip at the end of it all. We packed up and headed north to the Church Inn House at Torver where we were planning to meet up with the other paddler's who had based themselves over at Waterhead. I had one text message on my phone: "70 plus on the Rothay. I have run out of fingers." That's a fair few and didn't take into account the people that headed for the lake instead of the river. The pub was going to be full.

My mum (centre; white PFD) with more Ribble Canoe Club member's about to get on Lake Windermere.

Through the day money was collected for the Village Hall at Spark Bridge. Throughout New Years Eve and day's after the accident many of the resident's have been a great help and have allowed family member's to traipse through their houses and gardens to see where it all happened and try and comprehend what happened on THAT day. Collecting for the village hall was some way in which we could repay them for this help. We raised £236.50 - hence the title of the post.

More pictures can be found here.

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

24 January 2008

One to tick off the list

Tuesday night I received a text: "R u paddling wed any preference?" I text straight back: "Yeah. Not fussed what it is." The next day I was on the road by quarter-to-nine heading north to meet two other paddlers just outside Halton. However because of Preston's early morning traffic problems we were running late so instead, after another text message, the meeting point was changed and we all convened just off junction 37 of the M6 before heading for Sedbergh New Bridge. On arrival the customary paddler checks were carried out: peer over the bridge, make a few noises and all agree that the water flowing over that shingle bank means there's enough water to get down the river. The river in question was the Rawthey. The section in question was the classic section of the Rawthey, which is aptly named, in the Lake District oracle, the Rawthey Gorges. Fancy that? There's two gorges and the section mentions gorges. Genius!

Something else to add at this point is that I had never done this section of river before. I had done a lower section several times and really enjoyed it, but never this section, and all I knew about it was that a mate had got a bit of a pasting in a hole. Once he had parted company with boat and paddle they recirculated for a while before they were fished out on that lovely yellow floating rope that comes in handy on so many occasions. Anyway we kitted up, had a brief chat, and got on the river before heading on downstream. We were soon onto 'that' hole and I was nervous. I was more than nervous really I was worried, very worried. The other guys on the river got out of their boats to give it the once over, whilst I stayed seated, composed myself and bombed off it, straight into the eddy on the right. Good work son! The camera then appeared and pictures were taken of the next two paddlers styling it. No swims, boats or paddles recirculating this time around.

Hitting the line for Daffodil Drop, just after putting on the river.

We moved on downstream like you do on a river. We caught eddies, surfed on waves and played in holes. It almost felt like any normal river trip, but that niggle was still there in the back of my head. I had however settled down a bit, now that we had passed the only bit I had heard stories of. Never the less it was still there, and I'm sure it'll be there for a long time, maybe it'll be a permanent thing? Maybe that's a good thing? A way in which I can remember. Remember the fact that no matter what I'm paddling there is a certain risk involved and the outcome could be catastrophic. Maybe it will make me treat the river with the respect it always deserves? We headed on downstream.

Descending one of the easier sections as the river cuts through the bleak surroundings of the Lune Valley.

Eventually we came to something of importance and out we all popped for a little stroll down a very muddy bank and we perused Loop Scar from upon high. This rapid was the final feature of the first third of the section and is given grade four. I could see why it was. There was only one clear route through the rocks, and it could only be seen from upon high. It was just a shame that to see it the muddy bank we had to traverse swallowed your legs and tried sucking your shoes off as well. Once my line was spotted - a diagonal run from left to right, with a break out half way down to kill any speed I didn't want - I headed back to my boat, washed my dry suit and shoes off, then climbed back into my boat and popped the deck over the cockpit rim. I turned my boat into the current, lined up, headed off down the rapid, broke out halfway down, then finished the rapid off. I managed to stop in a suitable eddy to watch the others descend and get some of the moments on camera. We moved on downstream.

Dropping over the final fall of Loop Scar after a successful descent.

We were now into the second third of the trip and I may even go as far to say I got a little bored with it all. I don't know whether it was boredom as in "I'm bored of paddling," but more of a "it's all a bit too much" kind of thing. I carried on downstream now with an added frustration that I wasn't enjoying the river and that was unusual. I usually am like a little kid in the sweet shop when it comes to something new, but it wasn't there. The excitement of new places, new stretches of water, new rapids, new lines and new moves. It just wasn't there. Then it happened. A swim. Not from me, but from another member of the group. I freaked slightly, but I was able to act and a successful result was brought about by the three paddlers, me included, that were still in boats. We moved on downstream now coming to the end of the second third. This is marked by "an awkward twisty slot," which we all got out to inspect.

All of the group, except me, decided to portage it. I studied it for a while, considered the idea of walking it because of the added risk of paddling such a drop, considered the fact that once home I would be annoyed if I didn't run it, then considered the route to take. Run the boat up onto a pillow of water and then kind of slide down that all the way to the bottom totally avoiding the undercut on the right, but not the small outcrop of rock which connected quite nicely with my elbow. Dam them Six Six One Elbow Pads that I was bidding on - why didn't you finish earlier and be ready for this trip?

Running the last "awkward twisty slot" of the Rawthey Gorge with success.

Now, in the last third of the section, I had settled a lot more and started to actually enjoy being on the river. I zipped around, tried to capture some stuff on camera, which just didn't turn out how I wanted it and then was amazed by the conglomerate gorge we serenely floated through.

Floating through the conglomerate gorge, which is inescapable by foot.

Just before the end of the trip a narrow chute of water entered the river from the left. This wasn't unusual. Little streams and falls had been pouring into the river all the time we had been paddling, but looking upstream of this one we were greeted with a lovely little fall, a canalised channel and all accessible by foot. This was Hebblewaite Hall Gill and unusually, when perusing the Lake District orcale by Stuart Miller back at the cars, doesn't appear on it's pages. I climbed out of my boat, dragged it some way up the cobble banks, before ditching it to go and scout higher up. It all looked good so I returned to my boat dragged it up to where I wanted to put on and put on. I ran the top drop fine, clipped a rock, and then carried on down under the second bridge where the water was canalised and flowed at a fair pace. All I had to do was enjoy the ride and let the water do the work and let it deposit me back into the Rawthey. That's what it's all about. That's... why I got back into a boat so soon.

A successful descent of the last drop on Hebblewaite Hall Gill.

Dropping back into the Rawthey from Hebblewaite Hall Gill.

The end was almost in sight. The banks were starting to get wider apart and the river was changing character and it wasn't long until we would reach Sedbergh New Bridge where the cars were abandoned. However, we did manage to find a few decent waves to have a big boat soul surfin' session on before the imminent happened and we would have to get out, pack up and head for home.

Big boat surfin' under Straight Bridge.

More pictures can be found here.

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

20 January 2008

"The sound of water says what I think."

- Chuang Tzu (c. 360BC - c. 275BC)

Today I headed back to the river. Not THE river, but a river in the Lake District where I could get back on the water and do what I like to do best: paddle. I paddled a bit and paddled a bit more, then paddled some more. I was glad to be back on the water, looking for those little things I enjoy in paddling like a rolling edge transition in order to boof out into an eddy or a ferry across the current using a stern squeeze or just being in a boat with some good quality company. Though, all the time, in the back of my mind, there was a niggle: what happens if I miss that stroke? what will happen if I hit that? what happens if I'm off line?

All stupid things I suppose, because it'd probably be unlikely to happen and even more unlikely that the result will be as catastrophic as the accident on the 31st December 2007. That was what it was; a freak accident. Something you don't really expect to happen to you on the river because your invincible, your prepared for things where quick work is needed, you carry the gear to sort any scenario out, you've done the courses and you have an idea of what your doing. Yet still the result was not a positive one: it has made me think. Made me address many issues in my paddling and it may change my style slightly. I'll always try and be prepared for the time where speed is key, but I'll try and avoid the situation. I'll still carry the gear and I'll just get better at using it. I'll do more courses so I've more idea of dealing with rescue scenario's but it's more the things that go on inside my head that will have to change that no amount of gear or training can fix.

I know I'm not invincible - many a time I've taken a pasting in a hole, crashed into a rock or found myself upside down and yes I've got away with it. I think I should say that at times I've been careless on the river; not treated it with the respect it deserves; not really thought everything through even once I've found my line. I've just been like: "Yeah I'll survive. The worst that's gonna happen is I'll swim." Is it the worst thing that can happen? I've seen countless people swim past me as I've chased after them and once, only once, it got much worse than a swim and I saw it all. I don't want to be the one that treads that thin line. I don't want anyone to tread that line anymore, but people will and I still will but before I do I'll be thinking long and hard before I get back in the boat and pop the deck over the cockpit rim.

Maybe that's why I headed back to the river today, a day before my dad's 52nd birthday, eventually thing's upstairs have put themselves in order and it felt, well, it felt right, to be back on the river, not disrespectful or wrong in any way. Everything wasn't quite there in the way of my positioning, speed, angle and paddles, but I think my confidence was still there in some form or another. It's just time on the water is needed to get me back to some thought of level where I am happy, with in myself, to be on a river that may mean I have to walk close to that line again.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you feel the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven...

- Eric Clapton, Tears in Heaven 1991

Paddle for Clive:
River Brathay, Crake, Rothay and Lake Windermere Sunday 27th January

More pictures can be found here.

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

Gone paddling

... so will post soon about paddling adventures on the River Greta, Keswick.

As for the picture: no relevance; I just like it.

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

17 January 2008

Paddle for Clive

On the 21st January it would be my dad’s, Clive, 52nd birthday and I think it only fitting that we mark my father’s birthday by going paddling on the 27th January, the first Sunday after his birthday, which is a day he would usually head to a river, lake or canal. One of his favourite areas of the world was the Southern Lake District and it would only be fitting to base paddling activities on the 27th January in this area. He spent many days in his childhood at the Brathay Pool eating picnics and skimming stones and in later years his first river experiences came from descents of the River Rothay, which flows through the town of Ambleside, which he loved to visit. Days were also spent on Lake Windermere with his wife, and my mum, paddling there two person kayak.

It is only fitting therefore that anyone who knew my dad – or even people who did not, but want to help his friends through this hard time – come out paddling. There are many options available depending on conditions and paddling abilities and these include descents of the River Rothay or Brathay, a play at the Brathay Pool or a potter along the shores of Windermere. There is always the option, for those who are happy to paddle the River Crake, to paddle the river and show the river it hasn’t won this time.

This will be one of the first times in which I get back in a kayak and return to the river after the tragic events of New Year’s Eve on the River Crake. It’s what he would have wanted and I think it may be one of the best ways in which I can come to terms with what has happened. Paddling in the past has provided me with much solace when things in other areas of my life have not gone to plan. Let’s just hope it helps when I’ve needed it the most.

For those heading to the Ambleside area there is excellent parking at the northern end of the lake where plans can be made to paddle the Rothay or Brathay or even go straight for the lake. May I suggest things kick off here at 11am. Those that are happy with the idea of paddling the Crake can I suggest that meeting at the Brown Howe Car Park at 10am could be a good idea.

Once the days paddling activities are over I think it would only be fitting to head to a local hostelry (to be announced) where the two different groups can meet up, discuss the days activities and be with friends in one of my dad’s favourite areas.

There will be donation buckets going around at both venues in the hope of raising some money for the village hall at Spark Bridge, which is a regular sight for paddlers to base themselves for a weekend away with a boat.

We will be meeting at the Church Inn, Torver on Sunday after the paddling activities. We'll be in one of the back rooms. The Church Inn is south-west of Coniston and is at the junction of the A5084 and A593. It's about 10 miles from Ambleside and 8 from Spark Bridge.

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

03 January 2008

Why do we paddle?

On Monday I went paddling again for the third time in three days. Some of the canoe club were up in Coniston at a camping barn to see the New Year in so we chanced a trip up there in the hope of making a descent of the Crake, which flows out of the lake, with a few of the paddlers staying up there for the festivities. We had a brief chat in the camping barn over a cup of coffee before kitting up and setting off down to where we would put on the lake. The drivers headed off to Spark Bridge to leave two cars before returning to us on the lake to head south for the mouth of the river.

Paddling across Lake Coniston to the mouth of the Crake.

Waiting for the rest of the group to catch up before setting off down the river.

We were paddling with a group of seven. Each of us had paddled the river at least once before and many of us were very experienced paddlers who have attended many courses on white water safety and rescue. We were carrying all the kit you could think of; probably too much. Most of us had throwlines as well as equipment to deal with most incidents that can occur on the river. On heading off downstream not much was said as the group had paddled together on many occasions so we knew each other's style really well. Eddy's were caught and we maintained line of sight for most of the trip. When we came to the first difficult rapid we followed the usual measures. Send a couple of the better paddlers off downstream. One eddied out half way down and got out with a line, I headed to the bottom so I could see all the way back upstream and watch each member of the group descend the rapid and be ready for anything that occurred. It all went well and we moved on.

My dad descending the first main rapid on the Crake.

We carried on downstream doing what we loved doing - being out on the water, in good company, having fun escaping from everyday life for that short period. It was all going well and nothing unexpected had occurred.

Successfully paddling the weir somewhere on the Crake.

We eventually had one paddler swim and automatically things were put in motion by the other paddlers. One paddler got the swimmer on the front of his boat and made his way to a suitable eddy to get the paddler to the bank. Meanwhile the paddle was recovered and I dealt with the boat with another member of the group. I emptied the boat upstream of the rest of the group and then made my way down with the boat on a sling held between my teeth so if anything went wrong I could easily get away from the empty boat. Things were sorted and we moved on down river doing what we loved doing - being out on the water, in good company, having fun escaping from everyday life for that short period.

Packing away after a successful rescue just above Bobbin Mill Rapids.

Then we had another swimmer, my dad this time. This wasn't the first time he had swum on the river, and that was dealt with promptly as was the previous swim. On this occasion we could not get the boat to the same side as my dad so a throwline was used to recover the boat. Whilst the equipment was being packed away from this rescue one paddler headed on down Bobbin Mill Rapids, which was just downstream to prepare some safety cover for the rest of the group. I followed on down and made my way to the eddy right at the bottom of the rapid to wait for the remainder of the group. Then it all happened again. Another swim.
My dad swam at the entrance to the rapids just below the weir, but because of where I was positioned at the bottom of the rapids I was unaware of this until I saw the boat and him swimming under the bridge half way down the rapid. There was an attempt at this point to get him out on a line, but unfortunately it just fell short. From here my dad carried on down the river bouncing off the rocks in the middle. At one point he managed to stop on these rocks, close enough for me to attempt to get him on a line. Unfortunately the line I threw missed and before I could re-throw it he had moved on downstream, in the main flow onto a submerged rock.

He was now pinned, but his head was above water and I could communicate with him whilst I tried to reorganise throwlines to get something over to him. I think it took me two attempts to get a line to him and on one occasion I got swept off downstream, but managed to regain an eddy and get back to my original position. When my dad eventually received a line I tried, on my own, to free him, but the force of the water was to much for any successful solo rescue attempt. At this point I think the force of the water caused him to collapse over the rock pinning him so now his head was under the water.

Three more of the group descended the rapids, unaware of what was really happening. I now ditched the throwline in the hope of swimming over to my dad and pulling him free. I missed on the first occasion, but manged to swim to the other side of the river, get out and try on several more occasions. At one point I managed to get myself on the rock which was pinning him and tried pulling him off. All this resulted in was his PFD and cag riding up his body. I eventually had to let go and swim to the side of the river and get out to try again. One of our group had now made his way back upstream with a rope and we now tried lowering him down to my dad. This didn't work and we repeated this over and over again until another member of the party descended the rapid and made the eddy in the middle of the river, where my boat was tethered. We now had two lines attached to a paddler and we tried lowering him down onto my dad, but the current of the water didn't let us get to him. The paddler in the water pulled their harness and swam off downstream and got out to rejoin the rescue effort.

The paddler in the middle of the river tried using the rope, now across the river as a handrail to get to my dad, but this again failed. At this point, I think, the emergency services arrived and started making their own plans whilst we still tried getting to my dad using the rope in the hope of cutting free his spraydeck, which we think was trapping him under the water. On realising this was not working we now tried floating a rope underneath him and again this failed. I now moved away from the river, as did the two other paddlers, and we let the Swift Water Rescue Team free him, which they thankfully did. From here he was flown to Furness Hospital in Barrow where they worked on him for over four hours trying to bring his core temperature up before trying to start his heart. This didn't work and unfortunately he was pronounced dead soon after.

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the Fire Services, Ambulance Crews, Police Officers, the crew of the RAF Sea King helicopter, locals of Spark Bridge, the doctors and nurses of Furness Hospital who worked continuously for four hours on my dad as well as the two paddlers, and my friends, Tony Morgan and Martin Russell who continuously jumped into the river to try and free my dad without considering the danger they were putting themselves in.
I now am really struggling to think why we go paddling? Yes it's something I loved doing, and something my dad and mum loved to do, but really can I say that anymore after what has happened and what I have seen. We both accepted the risks involved in what we did for ‘fun’ and the people we paddled with as well as ourselves always treated each others safety as a major concern. So much so that I never really expected anything like the events of New Years Eve to happen to my friends, me or my father. Unfortunately they did, but this does not mean paddling is gone from my life, like it has done for my father. He would have wanted me to carry on what I love to do and I think it may be one of the best ways in which I can come to terms with what has happened. Paddling in the past has provided me with much solace when things in other areas of my life have not gone to plan. Let’s just hope it helps when I need it the most.

Some people may think that it is weird, disrespectful or wrong of me to be so vocal in what I have written so close to the tragic events of only four days ago, but it has, in some strange way help start healing wounds, that will be left unhealed for a long time. I think it has prevented any speculation or gossip being created by imaginitive minds that may feel that in the same situation they could have done something different, when deep down, even though at times I don't think it, I know I, and everyone else involved did what they could to help a man who got into trouble doing something he always looked forward to.

He will always be with me on the river and I am sure we will meet up in an eddy somewhere one day and he’ll just ask where I’ve been and what have I've been up to. I’m sure I will have a long answer for him.

Messages of condolense can be found here and they have helped greatly in this hard time.

More pictures can be found here.

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