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...

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