Saturday, 26 July 2014

STAUCC "Easter" trip

It was the 16th of March when I turned up to a chaotic boatshed, so actually nowhere near Easter. However, the uni club have always called the trip that falls on spring break the "Easter trip", so hey ho. The weather in St Andrews was warm (ish) and sunny, though the forecast promised that by the time we were trying to camp tonight it would be pouring with rain. More water for the rivers!
We headed first to the Ericht, fairly close to St Andrews and an easy grade 2/3 paddle.

Playing around on waves and bouncing down the little rapids, we were soon at the get out. Next on the cards was the Blackwater, a tributary of the Ericht up the Glen Shee road. The river starts with a meaty 4 tier grade 4, then later goes through a chunky grade 4 gorge. Today it was looking unfriendly and most of us just got changed back into dry clothes right there and then. Some gnar hunters stepped up though, giving us all some good entertainment. John got a proper trashing in the nasty left side drop at the bottom of the first grade four and decided to also call it a day. Izzy, undaunted by running rather a lot of the rapid on her head, twice, set off into the rest of the river with Rory, Andre and Hugo.

Andre on drop 1.

Rory about to style drop 3.

Watching the carnage unfold.

We ran the shuttle and left John and Dave by Rory and Andre's cars, so we could get a head start on the drive to the Orchy. As we drove west and the sun set, the rain started up, beating incessantly on the windscreen. At bridge of Orchy, unfortunately several tents were already pitched in the wild camping spot just off the road, so we headed down the glen to a half remembered picnic spot below the falls of Orchy. As it turned out, it was really easy to find, super flat and easy to camp on. Contact was made with the others, they'd arrive about midnight, apparently Rory swam and lost a paddle, these things happen. The only problem was that all the food was in Andre's car... Except mine. I'm not that stupid. I set up my stove under an umbrella and cooked some pasta while everyone else rooted around in the cars to find anything that looked vaguely edible. After a bit of miserable chat in the back of the AU car, the students curled up in their tents, while I laid out my sleeping bag in the boot of the car. Nice and dry and warm. Score 1 for estate cars.

Last fall on the Allt Kinglass

The next day we drove to Bridge of Orchy and dropped off some layabouts who wanted to go to the pub rather than go kayaking. The Orchy was at a nice medium level, so while some of the guys ran the Allt Kinglass beside the get in, Jon and I ran a shuttle with two guys we met at the put in. On the drive back up, one of them started talking about paddling the Nith at Christmas time, so of course I told him about the trip I went on to the Nith at Christmas. Turns out it was the same trip. Small world!
We put on at the Allt Kinglass as the others came down the last drop. Floating down to the confluence we listened to tales of gnarly waterfalls and close encounters with rocks. Soon the first rapid came into view, a really big rock in the middle of the river with a grade three rapid passing either side. Imaginatively, this is called "Big Rock". With a bit of muddling our sprawling mess of a group organised themselves into a duckling-follow-my-leader style train, each hoping that the guy in front knew roughly where to go. Bouncing down, the line was fairly easy, but Sarah ran afoul of some sneaky rocks and had a dip in the river. Quickly enough she was back in and we could bimble down to the next rapid.

Chicken Shoot, the non chicken shoot route.
Next up is Chicken Shoot, a big volume grade four with a tight and technical grade 3 chicken shoot. We actually inspected this rapid and set safety, an odd occurrence on this river. From the right bank, the (grade 4) line is obvious enough. The first drop sends you down a flume into a large crashing wave which will spit you either left or right. From here, you just paddle in the direction given, avoiding the large boulders in the middle. Seems fine. A couple of the guys went down, so I hopped in my boat and set off. There was more of a horizon line than I was expecting, but I'd measured the line at a boat's width from the right bank, so I paddled strongly to the lip and shot over, flying down the flume, smash! Into the wave, which way? Wait, centre? Balls. Paddle hard left, left, left, clip a boulder, into the outflow, relax. All good.

Sheep trolley gorge.
The next challenge is sheep trolley gorge, a grade 3 with a monster final wave. We ducklinged it down this one with the vague instruction of "Start left then go right! Or, is it maybe left all the way down? I think you want to paddle hard at the end." Predictably, there was some minor carnage at the bottom of this one, but it was soon dealt with and everyone returned to their boats. All I remember of this rapid was seeing the river open up in front of me as if it was trying to swallow a bus, then I was rocketed skywards and out the end of the rapid!
A bit of bimbling later, we come to the sharp horizon of Easan Dubh and get out. This is a grade 5 and certainly deserves the grade. A bouncy rapid leads into a large drop with various routes. Left is into a really grabby hole, right is a boof, though you risk being stuffed in the cave if it goes bad. Centre was the line of the day, and John, Rory and Patrick styled it, apart from Patrick having a cheeky roll. Meanwhile, the rest of us portaged and found a nice eddy to put in above "Sore tooth", the next rapid, just downstream.

Setting throwline safety on Easan Dubh.

Sore tooth, the ideal line (not my line).
Having never done Sore tooth, I elected to follow our glaswegian shuttle friends who seemed to know what they were doing. Red boat set off first with green boat following (sorry I forgot your names). I followed on behind. We started on river left, with a couple of small drops. Red boat headed off to the left after a larger drop, but I wasn't paying much attention due to green boat dropping into a huge hole and being spat out vertical right in front of me! Quick direction change through a diagonal and I was on some sort of line, heading for a large drop. Boof and hope! I plow through a massive hole and tail squirt out. The run out from here is grade 2 and I float down it, laughing my head off with green boat guy who rolled up and plugged the hole I boofed, but ended up ok anyway. Good times.
We float down for a while, a massive group of us all higglty pigglty across the river. This is not the ideal way to run rapids. John and I are at the front of the group when we hit Rollercoaster, an easy grade 3 that hides a munchy hole if you aren't paying attention. Going through the first wave, water goes in my eyes and blurs my contacts, so I desperately paddle after John's blue blurry blob and hope he's going the right way. Thankfully he is. As I clear my eyes the rest of the group come crashing down the rapid every which way, including quite a lot of upside down ways. Uh oh. There're so many bits of kit and swimming paddlers that I'm not quite sure what to do at first. I look for swimmers, but they all seem to be getting attention. An empty red Ammo floats towards me, so I grab it, dump some water out and nose it to shore. Looking around, no body still needs help, so I hop out and pour the rest of the water out of the boat. People are everywhere, though rather a lot of them are further up the bank, so I head up there. I'm confronted by Izzy's face and lots of blood. Lots of blood. But she's got half the group around her and someone is bandaging things, so that's good. Patsy runs off, phone held in the air to call the guys with the other car that are in the pub. Thankfully she finds signal only a couple hundred meters away. I run down to tell the other guys, who were rescuing various bits of kit and people on the other bank or further down and are now grouped around a couple of swimmers getting back into boats. They have Izzy's boat, so we find a tree and hide the boat beside it. Sam finds the paddle and that goes there too. The red car arrives and speeds away again with Izzy.
Everyone had a little chill moment. The disorganisation at the top of the rapid had led to most people coming down at one time. Unfortunately, quite a few were capsized by the sizable hole at the bottom, including Izzy, who tried to roll up. Into a rock. The rock split her fore head just above her eyebrow because her helmet hadn't been sitting quite in the right place. However, she was conscious and moving around ok, so we hoped for the best.
End of Civilisation? A fun rapid nonetheless!
Soon enough we're back on our way, picking up our glaswegian friends who'd gone around the corner to surf a small wave! The next rapid is named "End of Civilisation" though I have no idea why. It's bouncy grade 3+ down to a big eddy in the middle, then a grade 3 run out with some surf waves. From here it's just round the corner to Eas a Chathaidh, the second grade 5 of the run.

Portaging is probably harder than running the rapid...

John gets the crux boof perfect.

Rory, too far left!

If you've never walked through chest deep mud with a kayak, you just don't know what you're missing. And believe me, you don't want to. Apparently the SCA have put foward several proposals on how to make the portage path, well, a path to start with, but because of the distance to the road the work is too expensive. We slogged around, several of us stood in the river and washed ourselves cleanish, then clambered into good vantage points as John and Rory stepped up to huck the gnar. John styled it to whoops from the bank, while Rory had a little oopsie and bounced off a few rocks on the way down, nearly careening into James who was doing safety for him!
The end was in sight and only Witches step, a straightforward grade 3 drop stood in our way. James signalled everyone into an eddy and John, the Glaswegian boys and me pretended not to notice. Off we went, whoosh down the flume and out, into the final eddy, right beside the cars. High fives all round! Then we sat on the bank and heckled the others coming down.

Sarah on Witches Step.
We head up to the Etive at the Kingshouse and pitch tents in the pouring rain. Hurriedly we all pile into the Kingshouse climber's bar and order food. I have some tasty salmon, yum. The red car arrives back from Fort Bill with a stitched up Izzy. Gina and Izzy are going to head to Oban and stay the night with Amy so Izzy doesn't have to sleep in a tent with a large head wound! Jon spends most of the evening wrapped in his sleeping bag, insisting he's fine and he's going to get up at dawn to go do the Etive. Eventually we persuade him that he should probably go with the girls and get some proper warm sleep and honestly, really, we promise not to get up at five in the morning and run the Etive before he gets here.
It rains all night. I wake up dry and warm to the pattering of raindrops on the windscreen. I waterproof up entirely before setting foot outside.

Photo by Dave Manley.

It takes a long time to get going. The campsite at the Kingshouse is basically a bog, so a few people wake up in puddles. Boats need shuffled around as Cami and James are going away. Some of the boys are insistent that we should look at the Etive put in, just in case it's not as high as we think it is. I point out that the raging river behind them IS the Etive. Finally we agree to go to Fort William Morisson's and from there likely to the Lower Roy. Someone contacts the guys in Oban to tell them where we're going. We head off and make it to Fort William for (very) late morning. Food is restocked, then we stand around the car park for a long time before everyone arrives. To the Roy!

The Lower Roy is on a nice medium level, though fairly boring in a creek boat. We have a swim from Sarah and discover just how hard it is to rescue a flooded Burn with no bow buoyancy. Once we've taken out and regrouped at the cars, there is a lot of standing around talking about possibly doing another river or just going to the bunkhouse, which after all has hot showers and is dry. With my usual tact I tell everyone to hurry up and decisions get made. Some of the guys go off to do the Upper Spean while the rest of us head to the bunkhouse. Today has not been the most successful, and it doesn't pick up yet. First of all, it takes about an hour to find someone to open the bunkhouse as they weren't expecting us so early. For those who went to the Spean, a local landowner in a foul mood confronts them and kicks up a fuss about broken fences and kayakers and "you need to tell them not to go over here". As if all kayakers are somehow in contact with each other... Anyway, being Scottish and a "bit argumentative", I'd have told her where to shove it, but the polite English boys ran away and came back to the bunkhouse. Needless to say, much mocking was dealt out.
The day started to pick up as everyone got fed. I had pasta and sauce, ah that wonderful staple of paddling trips, while the others had the chilli they were supposed to eat on the first night with copious amounts of potatoes! After food, much drinking ensued, including a ring of fire involving rather a lot of nakedness...

The next morning was maybe a bit too bright and early for some, but a bit of grumbling later we made it to the put in for the Upper Roy. The wind was pretty determined to blow us all away up the glen, but we managed to get onto the river without too much drama (I only fell over a couple of times). For some unknown reason someone decided to eddy hop down, which basically involved most of us sitting in eddies for an unreasonably long time, slowly turning into icicles. I got pretty hypothermic by the time we were through the first grade three gorge, so John got out a group shelter and the two of us sat in it while I ate some food and warmed up. Once I was warm(ish) we set out and did a sprint down the river, piling through all the grade three until we reached the first grade four, wish you were here.

We inspected and watched some of the guys paddle down, then got in boats and fired down. Since I was still getting really cold whenever I stopped moving, John and I kept paddling all the way to the take out. At the take out is the second grade four, Rooster tail. I was having difficulty paddling, so just got out and walked my boat up a bit, before walking back down to take some photos.

John on the main line of Rooster tail.

Jon and Patrick on the chicken shoot of Rooster tail.
The long walk out was no shorter than I remembered! On the way back to fife we stopped by the Laggan dam to gaze in awe at the huge amounts of water pouring out of and over it.

Five pipes and a lot of overspill!

Thanks to Andre for organising and STAUCC for providing entertainment!

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