17 January 2009

Uncharatered waters

"Wild stream of Aira, hold thy course,
Nor fear memorial lays,
Where clouds that spread in solemn shade,
Are edged with golden rays!
Dear art thou to the light of heaven,
Though minister of sorrow;
Sweet is thy voice at pensive even.
And thou, in lovers' hearts forgiven,
Shalt take thy place with Yarrow!"
- The Somnambulist by William Wordsworth
Since Monday's paddle and Wednesday's walk in the clouds the weather has been mixing it up and rain has been put down, but amounts that make you question if it's really worth paddling. However, paddling is always the right thing to do so some plans were put in place late Friday night via Facebook, and then by phone, to meet up in Penrith and head off and find a beck or two to bash down.

We met up and headed for Ullswater, and then up one of the valleys, to just above Dochray, on the banks of Aira Beck. This beck isn't mentioned in the guidebook meaning that only recently boaters have started running it. Kit was sorted and boats rearranged before vehicles followed the same course. Heading off on foot, across country, brought us to an entrance into a gorge, with the beck at the bottom.

Heading into the river from above Dochray.

Much of the opening stages of the river were scouted from our boats, however after a paddle got wedged we got to experience the true pain of being deep in a gorge. The easiest way to retrieve the paddle was from the river right bank, however to get up the bank and back down to the paddle involved a nightmare climb up steep, muddy banks where for every two steps forwards, one was spent sliding back downhill. Eventually we moved on downstream and passed through Dochray, making point of how the river was dropping like a brick, before heading for the bank so that we could inspect the main interest, what I think is named the Seven Sisters.

Looking up the Seven Sisters.

There were some sweet lines down the Seven Sisters, however my line wasn't the most picturesque. I had too much speed going over the drop in the background of the above picture, which meant that I got the desired boof but on landing I ramped up onto a slab of rock. This was no problem, it was just more of an annoyance. The remaining drops went well though.

The first portage of what is still an un-run twenty footer.

Aira Beck is renowned for its big drops and none more so than Aira Force, however we soon came to a section that did not look pretty what so ever. We portaged the fall, but spent some time staring at it. It certainly did look possible, but just rather nasty if, when in the plunge pool, it didn't really go your way.

Getting back on the water after another portage.

Moving on downstream we were soon portaging again, and like the previous portage we scouting out the drops as they may just have been possible. The last few certainly were and one of our group stepped up and ran them with some degree of success. They got washed into a cave, the right way up, got spat out through a slot and ended up upside down for a while before rolling back up.

The final mandatory portage of the twenty meter Aira Force.

The really big one was on us, and no amount of water or protection will ever open this monster up. The water drops some twenty meters, slamming, about halfway down into the cliff side before, on finally reaching the bottom, flowing through a really narrow slot. We portaged, however I think the tourists on the footpath's were hoping for some macho showmanship on our part; we ran away with our tails between our legs.

We put back on the river below a staircase of three drops that did look possible, but none of us fancied them in these conditions. The first one didn't have a defined boof lip and pencilling it look far from ideal, the second one was almost immediately afterwards and the third one looked pretty nice, but would have just been a hassle to run if the first two were portaged.

We eventually made it downstream, the lake in view at the bottom of the beck, and got off by the gauge reading 7. When we pulled up at the river it was reading 9 so the river was definitely dropping like a brick. There's more boating tomorrow, however for me, it'll be a 4 Star Leader refresher course, bringing me back up to speed so that I can get the prerequisites for the 5 Star Leader. It's all a bit annoying, but I suppose it's got to be done if I want a career in the industry.

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

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