Thursday, 6 November 2014

Wet West Paddlefest 2014

It's now the 10th annual Andy Jackson memorial weekend - which is kind of scary as I was at the 3rd one in 2007! I remember being there and finding the Garry pretty challenging and the Moriston was for watching only. How things have changed!
After fish and chips in Pitlochry, Jon and I arrived in Fort William about 10pm on the Friday night and went to register. Unfortunately we managed to miss Calum and Sarah by about 5 minutes, so we decided just to head to the campsite and get some sleep. At an undisclosed location near Spean Bridge we pitched the tents in the pitch dark and nodded off.
The next morning we headed north to the Moriston, accompanied along the road by probably every cyclist in Britain. Apparently there was some big race on from Fort William to Inverness. It did no favours to our fuel consumption. Finally we got to Invermoriston and met up with Calum, Sarah, Jonny and Richard (Jonny's friend). Jonny and Richard were easy to spot as they were the only ones around who had sea kayaks on their roof!

So many paddlers!

We kitted up, Jonny and Richard nabbed boats from Pyranha, and we headed up in a shuttle bus. Jon, Calum and I formed one group. Calum, knowing I hadn't paddled the Moriston before, says:
"Do you want to look at the first drop?"
"Will it help?"
That settled, we headed straight to the put in! Paddling around in the dam outflow I did some practice rolls to calm the nerves.

The dam at the put in.

Then we were off into the flow. The river was still relatively quiet so we didn't have much of an issue with queueing. A few little drops on the lead in and we were in the eddy of fear, right above the drop with the roaring water just beside us.
"See that rock? Aim for that, you'll be fine. You might have to roll at the bottom."
Calum and Jon disappeared, so then it was my turn. Eeeeek, and go! Stroke out of the eddy, turn, push towards the rock, holycrapthatsalongwaydooooooooooown.

Gracefully falling in, photo by DaveSt from UK rivers guide book.

I didn't quite make the left hand line and in fact plugged it straight down the middle. Everything went white and I had no idea which way was up. A couple of seconds and my paddle broke the surface. I rolled and screamed with exhilaration. That was awesome! Grinning, I bounced down another small drop and eddied out. Calum and Jon joined me and we paddled off down the river. Some fun grade 3 drops led us down to Sticky Hole. This is a simple boof on the left hand side or a major trashing on the right. We went for the boof!

Sticky Hole, photo by DaveSt, UK rivers guide book.

The pool below this leads into Cheese Grater/Graveyard, with multiple lines down. We went for the slide on the left and all ended up in different places down the next part, but it all combines again for the last few drops down to the take out. Sarah, who was spectating in the natural amphitheatre at the bottom of the rapid, took some great photos of us coming down.

We went for a second run, and though walking back to the top was pretty knackering, it was worth it. I actually managed to have worse lines the second time down, though nothing horrific. On the top drop, determined to get the left line, I ended up too far left, bounced off the rock and did the drop backwards. Oops. On Cheesegrater I took the slide slightly wrong and got dumped into the slot on the left at the bottom, upside down. I was very glad of my helmet and elbow pads at that point as it was very shallow. I rolled both times though, no worries. We did have to queue a bit at some of the rapids, but everyone was piling through pretty quick.

Double the run, double the fun!

After this I decided to stay at the take out while the boys went for another go. Sarah and I were starting to get worried as they were taking a long time - it turned out Jon had been for a less than fun swim in the less paddled right hand line of the top drop and they'd spent ages fishing his drybag out as it was recirculating in the hole!
I took some pictures of them at Cheesegrater:

Random open boater comes down the slide.

Jonny goes for a central line.

Richard subbing out on the second drop.

Jon getting super speed on the slide.

Calum goes for the far right boof.

Feeling kind of hungry, we headed off down the middle section, which has a couple of grade 2/3 drops, but is mostly grade 1. We hopped out at the car park and scoffed some lunch.

Next up is the Lower section. The rapids are harder, but the two really hard ones have sneak lines on the right. The run is in a deep gorge, so you're better to either inspect before hand from the path on top, or go with someone who can tell you the lines. Bear in mind if you're inspecting from the path, it's much bigger when you're down there!
We did not inspect - Calum and Jon knew where they were going anyway. We joined up with Jonny and friends for a big group run down. It's a short paddle from the football field to the top of the first rapid - Headbanger. An intimidating crowd was already gathered on the bridge above, catcalling paddlers below and cheering at the carnage. Sarah gave us an encouraging wave and took some photos!

First part of the Headbanger grade 4 route.

We went down the grade 4 side on the right, a series of drops. The first is a narrow shoot into a big hole which flushed pretty well, though I did tail squirt quite a lot! A couple of small ledges follow down to the trickiest drop which is badly undercut on the left. The line seemed to be into the "eddy of fear" right above the undercut, then a strong break out and boof the drop. I did all that, but forgot about the landing and capsized, having a cheeky roll. Oh well.
We puttered on down to Cannonball, the next drop. The left is a drainpipe style shoot (grade 5?) while the right is a big grade four slide like something out of Val Sesia. Jonny, Calum and Richard headed off down the left, while Jon took the less brave (including me) down the big slide. It was reeeeeally big!
Options over, we ran the next big bouncy grade four follow the leader style. Awesome. A small grade three rapid and we found the take out at the loch side. The walk back up was brutal, so I dumped my boat and called it a day. Camera out, I took some photos of the guys running a couple more times.

Calum nailing the line on the grade 5 side of headbanger.

Jonny about to get shoved into the cliff
Jon heads into the top of Cannonball

Riding the flume on Cannonball!
Eventually (it took a while) they got bored and we headed back to the shuttle and up to the car park. Changed and packed, we drove to Fort Bill, amazed by the lack of cyclists.
After a bit of searching we found Wetherspoons and ordered food. As the evening wore on we discussed moving to the party venue, quickly followed by a discussion on how cheap the beer in Wetherspoons is. Not long before door closing, though, Bruce Jolliffe and company from the Wet West organising committee came round the bar trawling for kayakers to send along to buy raffle tickets. Bruce is a persuasive man, so we drank up and moseyed on over to the night club. Raffle tickets were bought and someone volunteered to try and find the bar in the throng of kayakers. After a bit of trying to have a shouting conversation over the music, Mark Mulrain came on the mike to do the raffle. Jon won a fancy Palm thermal, some elbow pads and a Kayak Session subscription, and was exceptionally pleased as it was the first time he'd ever won anything in a raffle!
Midnight came and we called it a night on dodgy dancing. Jon and I drove up to Spean bridge and stumbled through the woods to our tents which we were intensely glad we didn't have to put up tonight.

The next morning dawned way too early and it took us a while to get going and packed up. Thankfully, there were no great glen cycle races on today and we made good time to Invergarry. Parking was at the shinty pitch and we strategically got a space no where near the goals. Calum and Sarah then Jonny and Richard turned up and Calum and Richard managed to snag Jeds from the Pyranha stand while Jonny got a Nano. Off we went in a shuttle bus up to the dam.
Carrying to the river I was much appreciative of how much lighter my Jed is than my Burn, given the abuse I gave my shoulders the day before! We hopped on and bimbled down to the playhole. There were a few people in the eddy, so we just had a couple of shots of paddling into the hole and falling in before heading further down.

Calum, tailsquirting at the dam outflow.

Jon surfs the playhole.

At the playhole, photo by Fiona Ainslie (SCA).

The big drop was exciting as always, and I had a little upside down moment, oops.

The main drop, just before I fell in. Photo by Sarah Duley.

Jon, Calum and Jonny had a go at the looping drop for a while, doing some impressive flopping on their heads.

Calum looking up at the looping drop.

Just downstream Jon surfed the bridge wave for a while before we paddled down to the last rapid. I've always run this rapid on the right, but Calum and Jon took us on a little known line down the left which was much better, with a continuous bouncy alpine feel.
Back to the car park and just as we were getting out Jonny had an emergency dive into some bushes to lose his breakfast. Probably should not have stayed out till 4am then...
We grabbed a bit of food then Jon, Calum and I left Richard tending to a sleepy Jonny and went for another quick blast down. The playhole was mobbed this time, so we just headed straight through. A more successful line on the main drop this time for me!

Floating to the take out.

The long drive home was, yeah, really long. Jon, Calum, thanks for keeping me company and pointing out the lines.

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