Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Findhorn, December 2013

I'm going to do some posts about particular trips in the past year that I got quite excited about but then failed to write about. First up is a trip to the Findhorn, a river about 40 minutes north of Aviemore.

I traveled up to Aviemore on the Friday night and stayed with David and Kirsty, friends from uni. We watched "Despicable Me" which I hadn't seen yet, it was really amusing! Off to bed and lulled to sleep by the trains rumbling past the back of the house. In the morning Kirsty and I set off over the fantastic road to the river: the B9007, also known as the Dava moor road. We arrived at the take out at Randolf's Leap, got changed and left Kirsty's car there. Off we went up to Ardclach, spotting the standard uni group faffing at Logie bridge, an alternate put in, on the way up. We quickly set off from the church, hoping to get in front of the carnage! Not to worry, they were just getting on the river when we passed.
Downstream of Logie is the first challenge, a large midstream boulder to catch the unwary. Kirsty nervously asked me what the line was and my comforting response was along the lines of "Follow me unless I do something stupid."
First obstacle cleared we pulled into the big eddy below, saying hi to some other boaters on a skills course. They were all in big boats like Burns and were amused by my tiny Jed. More grade 2/3 rapids followed quickly enough and we bounced down them no bother. The "big scary grade 3" on this section is called Carnage corner for obvious reasons, though no carnage was had by us that day! After the corner, the river is easy wave trains down to Randolf's leap. Here, the whole river squeezes through a super narrow gap in the cliffs then pours over some stiff grade 4+ rapids below. Taking out above it is super easy as there is a big pool formed by the cliffs! It is really steep though, so I was glad to be lugging a small play boat, not my Burn.
We stuffed the boats on the car and set off back to the put in to collect my car. We met some uni paddlers just getting off the upper section which was at a nice level, hopefully it would hold for tomorrow!
Back to Aviemore for dinner and a demonstration by David of a very silly build a space ship game. Up to Carrbridge and into the B&B for a nice sleep.

The next day was a bit rainy, but hey, that's paddling weather. I drove up across the moor again to meet the guys from Aberdeen at Randolf's Leap. It was looking chunky. Discussions ensued. Eventually some of us did a strategic relocate to the upper section at Dulsie bridge! There we met Aberdeen uni and much banter was had. Looking at Dulsie rapid (grade 4) from above is deceptive. It looks like a friendly wave train, just avoid the really big rock in the middle! It's only from river level that you remember the inspection path is 60 feet up from the river and those little waves are looking pretty big right about now. Nevertheless, the line is obvious. Catch the eddy river left. Cross river right. Wait for signal. Break out hard, paddle, paddle. The river-wide hole you saw from above is a three foot drop, but the tongue you saw is there too, slide and through, power the last two drops and eddy under the cliff, shaking like a leaf. F**k yes.
There is only one swimmer in our group and we sort him out quickly. By comparison the next few kilometers are super tame and we float and bimble down, chatting happily. All too soon comes the horizon line of Leven's gorge, the next grade 4 section. Out we get for a look. Aberdeen uni joins us, all perched on the rock, peering at the crux hole like meerkats. Mike mans up and runs down, punching it on the far left and taking belter of a hit. One of the lads from Aberdeen suggests a boof move on river right which will miss out the hole completely if you get it right, but does land you right in the cross currents which could push you into the least friendly part of the hole. We suggest he tries it out. It goes super smooth, so I go next.
The horizon line is sharp, but I can see Mike on safety with a line and he signals where I should be. The move is a cross, coming from the left and powering right to land in the best water. Power, power, there's the edge, pause, paddle poised, pull and throw the boat out, BOOF. I love that sound. Pefrect landing, but we're still in it, correct and slide down the side of the next bolder, through a wave, eddy! I scramble out quickly and back over the rocks to watch the others come down. Some Aberdeen guys plop off the boof, then the rear paddler of the topo duo, having deposited his nervous bow paddler on the bank gives it the loudest boof noise I've ever heard before calmly paddling round the rock to pick up his passenger.
Next comes Harry, looking calm, but the move goes awry and he goes too deep, slightly too far left. Thankfully the hungry hole goes unfed, though he's still upside down and heading down the rest of the rapid. Popping his deck, he swims, but is immediately plucked out by the Aberdeen paddlers! The others in our group walk the crux and put in on the easier water below. Once Harry is back in we head off down a couple of grade 3 drops, then bimble down the easy water to the take out.
The drive home was long, but that was awesome paddling.
Crux hole in Leven's Gorge. Mike is in there on river left...

Safety first.

Harry boofing off the right of Leven's gorge first drop.
Ideally he would be a bit more river right, pointing right.

Uh oh...

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