Last Friday, bright and early Jamie, Paddy, Bryn, and I set off for Fort William, Scotland for a five day paddling adventure. We were staying in a caravan from 'Cuilcheanna Cottages' based in Onich. The caravan was lovely and the owners very hospitable. They even gave us Easter eggs on Easter Sunday.
The Saturday and the Sunday were dedicated to the student safety course run by Tom Parker, Chris Easterbrook, and Dave Hollins. Jamie, Bryn and I did the advanced course while Paddy did the intermediate one.
The course was awesome.
On the Saturday we paddled the Garry taking a look at efficient paddling technique, picking lines, looking at dangers, general leadership, and rescuing boats. It was an awesome day - very informative. Unfortunately however I was pretty ill (food poisoning..?) and was not in any state to put my all into the day. In addition to that I was paddling a demo Stomper - a boat which I am really not a fan of. I did however learn a lot.
On the Sunday we headed to the Etive. I had always wanted to paddle the Etive, but it was not to be. It was dog low and we merely used a few of its features for practicing safety techniques. We learned about z-rigs, mechanical advantage, food entrapments, rescuing swimmers, holes, live baiting and much much more.
Bryn and I were with Dave Hollins who was awesome. Awesome guy, awesome coach. I would definitely recommend everyone do the course, as It cemented and confirmed a lot of my knowledge/was generally very interesting.
Having finished the course we began our three day hunt for a 'brown stoat'. I am not sure exactly how this came about, but during the journey up Bryn and I were live tweeting. Conversation flowed from topic to topic, jokes were made, and all of a sudden the brown stoat was born. I believe it was in reference to the ridiculous over use of the brown claw by the Americans. I am personally fed up of people who take themselves way too seriously. As such we formed the aptly named 'Team GUA', an extension of the initial 'Wonderful Wednesdays' team, a team of super serious, super good, gnar bashing stoat hunters who will paddle super hard shit like the Upper Tees in medium flows ! (On a serious note, it is a bit of fun which might get the brand out there a bit more, so why not - boats and helmet vinyls as well as embroided badges are on order, and the design team are working on a series of kayaking related logo redesigns :)).
So.. on the Monday we went to run the Etive - a river that has been on my bucket list since the day I begun paddling. It was huge. Some of the better paddlers were up for running it, but after much wet deliberation we left and ran the Spean gorge. It was an interesting run - quite scenic. It did not however compare to the Roy Gorge which me and Jamie ran in the afternoon. I found it pretty intimidating, being the weakest in the group, but I feel that I handled the challenge well. I do not know the names of the rapids, nor will I attempt to describe them.. BUT the Roy Gorge is an awesome Grade 4 run.. probably the best river I have personally kayaked with an awesome variety of drops/rapids, and beautiful views. I hit the best line on one particular rapid (a curling wave around a rock which piles into the left hand wall) - I was pretty chuffed. Then there was that time I went into a nicely positioned tree branch strainer two metres before a siphon infested flare around a rock.. I rolled rather promptly. Peoples facial expressions suggested that they had been rather concerned. Then I hit the line too. Boom :)
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The views at the get on for the Roy Gorge
On the Tuesday we headed back to the Etive - I was super pumped to run it. It was higher than the previous days huge. There was no deliberation, we left and hit up the Kinglass and the Orchy. We were not sure if it would be running, but during the day, with the snow melt (yes - there was a ridiculous amount of snow during the night) the river filled up as we paddled, and ended up bigger than the first time I ran it. Unfortunately for me, the night before we had ended up with Barney and Swansea university at their bunkhouse and a little too much alcohol was consumed by me (we ended up singing Enrique Eglesias' Hero on the walk back home - THAT is how much alcohol was consumed). Three and a half hours sleep combined with the effects of the alcohol affected my paddling. Given the time constraints of the others I was not in a position/state to give the two grade fives the thought/skill that they required. Next time. The moral is, if you want to paddle well/hard stuff do not drink too much the night before, and get more than 7 hours sleep. I got down the river upright.. it just wasn't my best performance in a boat.. and I am easily angered.
On the Wednesday, we headed home. Paddy having hurt his back did not want to paddle but said we could stop somewhere on the way and do a quick run. We decided on the Leny, but given we were passing the Etive on the way we thought we would have a quick look, knowing that it would be too high still. We were pleasantly surprised - it was at a perfect medium level. Hell, who am I kidding.. I shat myself - I knew it was a level where I could and would run it, but it was going to push me.
We hopped on with a group of three awesome Scottish guys we met on the river bank. Having just done a safety course it seemed suitable to be extra safe.. especially given our small group size. I warmed up (did two bad ferry glides) then ran 'triple step' - I ended up upside down at the bottom of 1, did 2 on my head, rolled in the hole, and that owned 3. This is why I hate rapids at the start of runs :P In between running 2 and 3, i had the honour of using my safety skills live baiting a particular mamba belonging to a particular friend of ours out of two. tut tut.
The rest of the river was awesome. I ran everything, chose all my own lines. Hit them on near all occasions, whipped out some cracking boofs, chase boated blind down ski jump, and ran my bucket drop - right angle falls - twice. Jamie had a little incident on his second run whereby.. well.. he was backwards. He threw his paddles away to save his shoulders, and then swam. Sadly no-one was at the bottom to save his paddles from floating into siphon land downstream. Fortunately since some kind soul has found the paddles :)
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Tom running 'Letterbox' on the Etive
Overall the final day was awesome - at least for me :P I was super stoked to have run the Etive at a good level, and run it well. I also did my first serious waterfall.
We then headed home. Long journey, sleepy heads. We slept. Till next time.