Sunday, 4 January 2015

How not to paddle the Tilt

Mid November and water levels have been a bit mental. On Friday 14th the Tilt was running at a record level for about a decade, so when Jon H said he wanted to do the Tilt at the weekend, I was a little unsure. However, like the Braan, the Tilt does not hold its water, and it was running low on Sunday, so it didn't actually seem too ridiculous.
We met at the take out and had a right faff looking at the take out rapid and chatting about the rugby the day before. Note: when you have limited daylight, don't faff about inspecting the last rapid of the river when you could easily do this when/if you get there.
The Tilt Estate understandably do not like people driving up their track and leaving cars around the place on the narrow road, so we quickly drove the boats up to the top in the van, launched them out and drove back to the take out. Then came the fun bit - lets walk 6km. This took a while and we probably faffed a bit trying to see down into the gorge in places. Note: when you have limited daylight, you should probably do things with a bit more urgency.

Are we there yet?

Finally we reached the boats, got kitted and walked the little bit more to the put in.

Some paddling around, practice rolls and we were off. The first rapid, Genesis, is a nice grade 4- that I mostly didn't notice as Gina capsized on the lead in and I was too busy trying not to crash into her head.

I got her paddles and Jon H got her boat and we reunited all three, although since she wasn't feeling on top form, Gina walked out at the first bridge to meet us at the next bridge and paddle down the lower gorge. A bit disheartened, the rest of us continued down the next long grade 3 that leads into the tricky grade 4 "Tory back bencher" which you have to guess where the line is.

On the long grade 3 section.

The line looked ok, but the bottom hole seemed a bit grabby, so with Jon W portaged round and sitting at the bottom, Tim and Jonty on safety and me on camera duty, Jon H paddled down, missed the boof, subbed and popped out no bother. Not as grabby as we thought then. Oh well. Off I went next and learning from Jon's run, went for a flare off the roostertail which worked fantastically. Kept my face dry and everything.

Inspecting Tory Back Bencher.


Jon coming down.

Looking back up at the rapid.

Jonty and Tim followed on while Patrick did safety, then had a right faff portaging and getting in on the slidey rocks. Eventually Jon H did a super sketchy scramble back up and helped him in, then did an even more sketchy scramble back to his boat.

The next big grade 4 rapid, Rollercoaster, was just round the corner. We eddied out above and Jon H dropped over the first big slide. He had initially told us to punch the curler on the right, but clearly disliked this plan now. A bit of sign language and shouting and I headed for the left side of the curling wave on the lip and wheeeeeeeee, down the drop. It was bigger than I expected! I had hoped to find an eddy in the middle of the rapid, but no such luck, so I shimmied down the s bend drop and eddied out right at the bottom. Jonty, Tim and Jon W all came down fine and eddied out below me in various places.

Jonty emerges from the bottom of Rollercoaster.

Patrick did not have such a good run. According to Jon H he did a sort of kick flip down the fall and face planted a rock. Somehow, he was unhurt, but he did have to swim the second half of the rapid which looked uncomfortable. He managed to climb out on the bank and I got his paddles into a semi-stable position while Jon H chased down the boat which had disappeared off down the next grade 4, named "Sam's Hole" after a friend of ours who once spent rather a long time going round and round in the pothole. I had a bit of a butterfingers moment trying to get Patrick's paddle to a stable eddy and it disappeared too. Oops.
We then had a bit of a faff, because we weren't sure what Jon H would do with the boat and if he knew the paddles were coming down too. We sent a scout off downstream while we considered whether to get Patrick across the river. A failed throwline attempt later and the scout returned. Jon H was just round the corner where the river went really flat with the boat and paddle. Patrick climbed out of the gorge on a fairly worrying steep slab and set off downriver. Jonty and Tim ran Sam's Hole quickly while Jon W and I portaged as we weren't keen on the lack of safety cover. It was starting to look a bit darker than ideal...

Tim runs Sam's hole.

Jonty runs Sam's hole.

We came round the corner and eddied out in a large eddy opposite where Patrick and Jon H were sitting on the bank. Something wasn't quite right. Jon waved me over and explained the situation. While coming down the sloping rocks of the gorge wall, Patrick had slipped and slid all the way to the bottom, smashing his foot and leg off a protruding rock. The rock had gone through his wetsuit and thermals and made a bit of a hole in his leg which was bleeding rather a lot. More worrying though was that it seemed fairly possible that he'd broken his foot.
The Tilt gorge is not a very accessible place. At our location it was possible to get out on the right bank only, since the left bank, with the road, was a nearly sheer cliff 30-40 feet high. Downstream, the cliff continued for several kms before it became marginally less steep and possibly escapable. Light was also a major issue - we were definitely losing it. The rapids between us and the possible escape above the middle gorge were grade 3 ish.
It didn't leave much choice, so we got Patrick in his boat and slowly made our way downstream, taking every chicken shoot. We passed the huge 50-60 foot sheer cliffs at Exit Falls, then it wasn't far until Jon H stopped us at a section of forested slope. Jon W and Patrick got out and abandoned their boats to try and get Patrick up the slope.
Our final group of four headed off down the river to get to the bridge where we were supposed to find Gina as fast as possible. We portaged one rapid with a weir-like hole that looked nasty. The next rapid had Tim doing some mystery playboating and getting shoved in an undercut, but he rolled up no worries. The light was getting pretty convincingly dark by the time we made it to the top of the bridge. Gina was mildly fretful.
Jon W and Patrick were hobbling down the road, so I set about retrieving the keys I had squirreled away in my drysuit. Jon W ran off down the road with them while we got Patrick in a vaguely comfortable position lying down. Jon H and I were having a discussion about what to do now when a Landrover came down the road. I flagged them down and they kindly allowed me to hitch a lift in the back. En route to the bottom we picked up Jon W who was inordinately relieved that he didn't have to run any more. Thankyou was probably every second word that we said for a while.
Back we drove with the van and my car. We got Patrick in the front seat and nearly left Tim behind, but not quite! Cranking the heaters up we headed to Perth hospital and managed to find it surprisingly easily even with the phone sat nav not cooperating for a while.
Patrick was taken into an evaluation room so I went and changed out of my dry suit and into normal people clothes. Soon he was back out and we sat around for a while in the waiting room watching nature programs on the hospital tv.

Eventually a doctor came through looking for him and we wheeled him into a little room where his foot and leg were prodded and poked and his leg started bleeding on the floor, although the puddle made by his soggy wetsuit was much bigger. They were short staffed, so the nurse gave us directions and I wheeled him to x ray. I think we left a trail of drips all the way through the corridors.
When we arrived back the van had caught up with us and Jon W tagged in as Patrick's company so that I could get some food. We were making fun of Country File when Jon W posted on facebook that Patrick's foot was in fact not broken! Although he was getting his leg stitched up as it was still bleeding. Finally he limped slowly out and we could all go home.

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