Paddling the Upper Swale (the 'waterfall run')

This river is best done by idiots, with no particular desire to live.

With most of North Yorkshire completely underwater, the Ouse between York and Selby overtaking Windermere as England's largest lake, and reports of obscenely high river levels all over the place, tackling a spate river seemed like a great idea. Then Kingsley suggested the Upper Swale.

"Have you SEEN the guidebook entry?!!" was the horrified resonse from our club's vice captain, Ruth. "It's suicidal!"

So we went.

Well if you like regular grade IV's and V's, plenty of BIG BIG drops, and have that sense of "There's a line in there...somewhere...", well the Upper Swale would have been the river for you. It drops at the rate of 80 feet per mile for most of this section. Based in the heart of the middle of no-where, you have to drive over some interesting little roads (no markings, sudden drops and bends - definitely a grade IV road) to get up to Muker (the get-out). The road up from Muker to the get-in gave a spectacular chance to see some of the awesome drops that we would be paddling, and the nerves started to twang a bit.

Surprisingly enough, the river wasn't very full - it obviously runs off very quickly, being at the very top of the watershed - and was actually at a nice level. Any lower and it would be bump and scrape, any higher and the stoppers would be evil. However, it was COLD.

Once on the river, there's a nice little section of grade II-III to warm up on, before the first small drop, which is only a metre and a half or so. Anoher bimble, then comes a big falls, Rainby Force, a 4 metre grade V drop, with a couple of nasty ledges sticking out. We all got out to have a look........Kingsley said "naaa, not today", and the rest of us happily agreed that it looks a bit, well you know, not very nice.......

As the rest of us were all stood there planning a route to walk around, Jay was still glaring boggled eyed into it........so what does he do, he runs it.......! "Mad bugger" we all think. We waited at the bottom, waiting to fish out the body as he takes a run up, gets a line and makes it to the bottom. As he lands, there is a huge "BANG" as the rear of his boat bottoms out a fair few feet below the water level, making a nice dint in the bottom of the Redline.

Following Rainby force are a few more nice rapids and drops, then on the horizon appears a monster of a grade IV+ rapid. It has a small ledge to drop off, then a big drop which washes over a couple of large rocks at the bottom, with a huge boil in the centre. After a few ums and "AARGH's", the line was 'found' and run firstly - and as expected perfectly - by Kingsley. Following next was Pinky, who managed to collide with an under cut rock, but survived to get over the next drop OK. Next came Mr.P, dropping over the first ledge at a strange angle, but managing to struggle back on line for the big drop. Last came me, who got stuck on the ledge, to then drop diagonally off it, completely losing the line in the process, and needing a massive high brace to simply stay upright before the next drop. I didn't make what anyone thought was a line, but just ploughed on (not much choice really) - straight through the middle of the massive boil. My luck held, and it turned to be a nice smooth 'ski jump', that I just bimbled over, without getting sucked back into the stopper!

The body was now full of adrenaline and the cold water no longer noticed. The next big bit (Upper Kisdon Force) was impressive, bigger than Low Force, and just beautiful - a four metre vertical drop into a nice clean pool. Here Jay introduced a new move for doing waterfalls. Most people normally like to take big drops like this so that the front of the boat enters the water first, but not Jay, he managed to do something weird half way down, and land head first upside down, facing in the wrong direction, and winding himself in the process. A novel move, that one (reverse boof with faceplant, I think we'll call it).

Another double drop came, nothing too epic about this one, but it was VERY shallow - particuarly the first drop. Mr P. landed the nose of his RPM on a nasty little hidden rock from about a 3 meter drop, saying a few naughty words in the process as his ankles took the brunt of the shock. I also managed to hit an underwater rock, putting a fist-sized dent in the nose of the orange spud in doing so.

The last of the serious drops is a huge b+#*ard (Lower Kisdon Force), and is the biggest drop of the river, dropping into a steep sided gorge. Half the water goes over a nasty 'v' slot which shoots out against the cliff face and straight into an evil undercut, from which you probably wouldn't be seen again for a week or two. The alternative 'line' drops about 2 metres onto a large ledge, before dropping another 3 metres into a large stopper - the chances of entering the water bow first looked quite slim, while the chances of going Arse over Tit into a large stopper looked high. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour we climbed around, boating off a tiny little ledge right at the base of the fall(except for Pinky, who took the 'pinball' method of seal launching to extremes, bouncing off several rocks on his way into the water, and narrowly missing one with his head). By this point the light was fading and we still had some way to go to the get out. Luckily the river below this point is mainly bimbly grade II, with a little easy III, as it's on the valley floor, but paddling when you can't see the rock that you're just about to hit is an interesting experience, and one that isn't good for the plastic on the underside of the boats.

Finally we managed to get off the river, and carry across a field to the cars (where we bumped into the farmer. He was actually very friendly, and opened the gate for us - there's a first for everything). We gratefully sank into the cars and turned the heating up full, as our overstretched nerves unwound. Would I do it again? Yes, definitely - assuming the water was up. However, it isn't recommended for those of a nervous disposition.

Check out Jay's river guide to this section on York Uni canoe club webpage . Also see the Guidebook entry. Pictures will follow.

Paddlers were Kingsley, Pete (aka Mr P.), Si (aka Pinky), Jay and Chris.

Chris Barlow and Peter Croft.