Unfortunately Jon has a nasty boss that won't let him leave work early, so it's about half six by the time we leave the house in a car laden down by five boats, four people, a bag of shoes, six paddles and four people's kit for a weekend. The suspension objects to the speed bumps outside the house, but soon enough we're off!
We trundle south and make it to Keswick by half nine, which, it turns out, is actually quite early because everyone coming from the south is stuck in some horrific traffic jam on the M6. Jenga structures are constructed in the intervening time as more of the Scottish and northern English people trickle in.
Hugs, catching up and eventually everyone is here! Tom brings 70 litres of beer and Davey and I eventually give up on the party about 2am and crash in the bunk house annexe.
The next morning I wake at half six and go back to sleep for two hours! Fuelling up on porridge and other breakfast goodies, team kayaking check the gauges online and pour over Kirstie's guide book. We decide to head to the Kent, near Kendal, and after some faff involving getting everything into/onto three cars we set off, waving goodbye for the day to the walking teams. After being less than impressed by the road drainage in the Lake district, we get to Staveley, only to be confronted by a bridge with very dubious headroom. Apparently the Kent is higher than was originally advertised.
Not to worry, that means we can go to the Sprint! The guide describes it as easy grade 4, pool drop style. We drive up the valley, unsure as to whether we've missed the put in because the river looks a lot like a tree filled ditch. However, there's the put in car park, we're fine.
We quickly run the shuttle and traipse down to the interesting put in which involves balancing your boat on a tumble down wall under a tree. Hmm.
|Get in for the Sprint.|
James has less successful launch and has a quick roll, although he's quite happy to have the first one out of the way! Off we head. Supposedly this is a nice grade 2 bimble, ideal to warm up before the grade four downstream. In reality, what we saw from the car is in fact worse on the river. 2 miles of submerged forest, stressful ferrying and copious swearing later, we reach S bend, the first grade four.
|So. Many. Trees.|
|Top of the S bend on the Sprint, viewed from the bridge.|
We hop out at the bridge to have a quick look.
It looks fairly straightforward as long as you're paying attention, and after two miles of punching trees we're pretty excited. John paddles down first with no issues and I follow down. As I pass under the bridge a wave catches me unaware and splashes my eyes, soaking my contacts. Uh oh. I can see the blurry outline of the horizon line and the tongue I should be cutting across, but I'm too far right. However, I know there's a lateral coming off the wall of the S that I can probably surf out. I spin, blinking and paddling furiously and feel the wave catch beneath me. Ooooh yeeeeah. I fire towards the run out and bounce down, laughing madly. John and I high five and wait for the other two to come down. Couple of rolls, nothing major!
|Bottom of the S Bend on the Sprint.|
On a high, we head off down the river. The trees have pulled back out of the river and it's pretty good paddling now. The next challenge is a little weir with a large hole, so we send John first. Seems ok, so we pile on down. A big horizon comes up - Garnett bridge falls. This is nearly impossible to inspect or portage, so some of us had looked at it on the drive up. "Start right then head for the middle of the next drop," I tell John. "There's a big hole under the bridge but it looked pretty flushy." He heads off and I follow ten seconds later. It's bigger from below! The second drop is pretty massive, however I was right, it doesn't hold at all, thankfully. Wheee!
We bounce down grade 2/3 before stopping at a big horizon. We peak out and have a look, but it's easy peasy, big drop into a fluffy hole. John bets me 20p that Tom will backloop the G force in it, soon I am 20p richer and Tom is still upright!
|John: I like this river!|
Another large rapid follows, long with some interesting stoppers. We run it blind on the basis of John getting to the bottom ok and waving for the next person to come down. I get power flipped by one of the holes part way down, but I roll up in a convenient eddy and boof down the final drop.
|Grade four rapid on the Sprint.|
A tricksy weir with a sneaky lateral flips Tom and I'm too busy checking that he's rolled up ok and end up capsizing as well. Oops. A final big bouncy rapid under a pipe brings us to the get out and the other team, waiting impatiently because I have all the car keys.
We pack the cars and run the shuttle. The Lower Kent is close by and a short grade four run, so we head over to the put in. On the shuttle we meet a paddler who assures us that everything goes - just run it left. The put in is a fun seal launch off a small cliff and we are entertained by a swan surfing the wave on the rapid upstream!
|Seal launch! Kent put in.|
We head downstream en masse. Inspection seems like too much effort, and hey, it's only grade four, any line goes... The first rapid has some massive holes - I get very up close and personal with one but roll up after easily enough! Next we boof a weir by the left bank. A funky little gorge catches me off guard and I flip on a lateral. I'm not very awake today! Suddenly a big L shaped drop comes up, looking pretty scary. It's actually a super easy boof off the left hand side. Jon has a surf of the wave at the bottom, but when he falls off it shoves him in an undercut. He manages to roll and we head off downstream, deciding against having a surf.
|The L shaped drop|
The final rapid, Force Falls, catches us out a bit. The lead in is easy grade 3 down a sloping weir, but there's no chance to stop and we're all piling over the drop! Giles is first and pops out upside down. Not a good start. Further carnage and I'm flying over, and bloody hell it's a big hole. The impact at the bottom is painful and I belatedly think I should probably have tucked up for that. I try to roll up and smash into rock, wait, try again, more rocks, try again, I can see the sky but can't get up. Crap. Swimming is surprisingly quite pleasant as me and all my kit and James and all his kit end up on a little ledge at the back of the eddy without much effort on our part. We empty most of the water out and launch, hoping to find a better place to empty round the corner. I've just jumped out on a grassy bank when someone realises we're at the get out! Oh well. Kirstie gives us the tally out of 9 for Force Falls: 1 wobble, 3 swims and 5 rolls.
|Force Falls, picture by Kirstie MacMillan|
Back to Keswick and the toasty warm bunkhouse. Giles and I have a fight to get the two showers in the annexe to a reasonable temperature, apparently they adjust their temperature depending on what the other one is doing! Jeez. I microwave my pasta bake and run through for the AGM. Somehow Sarah works some magic and the meeting is done and dusted in record time.
After everyone else has a group meal of spag bol and apple crumble we get Jon's Canoepoly out and Andre and Patrick thrash everyone at it. Much beer, wine and kayaking chat ensues.
|Canoepoly - photo by Sarah Duley.|
|Canoepoly - photo by Jonny Hawkins|
The next morning dawns bright and rainy. A quick scoot across the road reveals a Greta that's going off, probably high, maybe huge on the gauge. Everyone agrees on a pub to meet for lunch and the walking teams head off. Team kayaking shuttle up to the Greta put in then spend a while in Keswick not sure if James is also shuttling with us. Eventually we head back up in Giles's car which turns out to be a good idea as his and Tom's paddles are still in there.
The gauge line on the bridge is apparently about a foot under water when we get to the river and the water is pouring past in a brown roiling mayhem. As we break out it feels like it's going to be incredible.
|Put in for the Greta.|
It doesn't disappoint. Big waves and fast water, occasional big holes and crashing surf spots. I have a small collision with Jon and end up in two holes, but the river is deep and I roll quickly, giggling. We start a stopwatch at the put in and it takes us half an hour to run the 8km to the park at the take out! It goes too quickly and while we all want to go again, we're also aware of meeting everyone for lunch, so we call it a day and pack up.
We drive to Pooley bridge, near Penrith, and run into the Sun Inn through the rain. There isn't much choice for me and I end up with grilled chicken, boiled potatoes and ketchup! There's lots of chat and promises to meet up. We manage to get everyone organised into a group photo and eventually the waitress works out how to make Jonny's camera take a picture! Home calls and we trundle up the motorway through some pretty interesting high winds.
|Group photo! Thanks to the lovely waitress.|