Extracts from a 2000/2001 diary
By: Jerry Murland
First published in 'Canoeist' magazine.
The day began with a bad omen, we turned up at the Tryweryn expecting to find water and then realised that everyone had thought someone else had rung to check if it was running. After staring at a bone dry Graveyard in disbelief muttering about two hours in the car and mumbling evil incantations about the 'silly sod' who forgot to phone we examined our choices.
'Lets go round to the Mawddach and see if the top section is runnable.' Nice one John', I thought, 'just what I needed, a Grade 5 airborne descent of the Upper Mawddach'. Confident there wouldn't be enough water, I agreed with the rest of the nodding heads and prepared my case for going seaward and finding some surf.
Climbing out of the car at PT Falls' car park it became clear there was enough water - no point in fumbling for excuses now, there was no choice really, everyone else seemed really keen! 'What's this river like then?' I asked, hoping someone would say, 'easy, no problem, it's a walk in the park.'
'Technical,' was the reply.
'Great!' I muttered, knowing full well that meant hard and horrible.
'I'm too old for this hard core stuff.'
The rest of them ignoring my whining and moaning loaded my gear into the car before I could pull a sickie and bottle out.
Arriving at the get in at Pont Aber-Geirw was a feat in itself. Six paddlers and boats in Jones's clapped out Sierra estate, radiator boiling and the heater full on to disperse the engine heat. It was like being in a sauna. I was knackered before we started! Surrounded by nothing and the odd sheepy thing, we launched into an uninspiring ditch that got better after the first bend. Most of the group ran the first two drops, 4 metres and 5 metres respectively. Casualties on these two drops included Tim who ricocheted off the left side of the first fall with his shoulder and John who let go of his paddle on the second. Flying kayaks over big drops can have its moments! The third drop has reputedly been run - a 10 metre double drop - we all walked. John Jones led the seal launch back into the river and in his enthusiasm forgot his paddle again, we watched him relocate under a tree waving his hands frantically. 'Paddle!' He kept shouting. 'Its here!' We kept shouting back.
After the main falls the river starts to get a tad technical and sustained with several biggish drops. The difficulty and the constant scouting pushing the time away quite quickly. Finally in the last gorge section we could feel the end in sight. Tired and brain dead I lurched over a fall, failed to drop the landing gear or adjust the flaps and landed on my head in the pool below. 'You do that on purpose?' Said Gordon after I had surfaced amid the jeers and quite unnecessary laughter from my so-called mates. "Yeah right! All the time."
Arrived at the Brianne Dam early, the jungle drums having broadcast the rising waters since before dawn. We had intended to run the Sawwde but the water looked low. 'I know ,' said John Jones (full of ideas again), 'Lets do the Tywi.'
Oh God, I thought, another epic in the making, as I tried to read the guidebook account of the river on the way up the valley. It certainly looked impressive as we launched in the shadow of the huge dam. Two pipes were producing a goodish flow and the overflow was adding to it. They say the overflow is as good as the river, but who's going to admit to that? However it was raining which was a bonus. Quite alpine in character this river, pool drop and remote, the only thing missing was the sunshine. First two gorges were fine, it was the last one that nearly finished me off. Completely cocking up the last drop I ended up swimming down this nice little gorge, until I noticed everyone else getting agitated, shouting at me and drawing their fingers across their throats. Come on guys, I know I messed up but it wasn't that bad! Then it dawned upon me that there might be something of a terminal nature downstream of me. There was, ahead of me the river vanished into an evil pile of boulders that gurgled and burped like a demented river beast. Back on the bank they were taking bets I would make the first underwater exploration of the lower section. In the event I managed to get out, but the boat was eaten alive by the sump. The day ended with a cross country gallop to the get out and the inevitable, 'thought you had a boat when you started', jokes together with several offers to buy my paddle. Never saw my LT again after that, consumed and digested by the river. Re-read the guide on the way home, obviously I had missed the bit of Sladden understatement, "Some parts can be run at Grade IV - V. In big flood there is a line down all of it, yet to see all the sheep stuck under the rocks at low water has put everyone off to date." Yeah right!
Arrived at Eddylines to find the Dee high and stonkin' along at a rate of knots. White water racers were all over the place on some mission or other. They always look so dammed serious when they paddle, I thought this sport was meant to be fun? It turned out they had the river to themselves which we though was very selfish and decided to join them. It would have been rude not to, as Jim loudly pointed out. No-one seemed unduly fussed when we got on at the Horseshoe Weir so we plodded on down to the Tail which was nice and big and so ended up back at Eddylines. Went back to do it again and then drifted down to Town Falls. Bit of a bonus day really.
Quick blast on this Welsh classic from Talybont to Crickhowell, much underated the Usk, its got to be high for maximum fun and well worth the dash down the motorway when it is. Arriving at the get in we were introduced to one of Jim's mates, looked like a paddler and was certainly in the right gear, although it looked a little familiar. The warning bells sounded when he launched and put his hand on the water to steady himself. I forget how many times he swam, I stopped counting after ten and perfected the art of looking the other way.
"You done much before?" We asked.
"A bit in the scouts", came the reply
"Is that your spare gear he's got on Jim?"
"Err yes", was the sheepish reply from our man
It turned out this 'mate' (who was called Andy) had met Jim in his local pub and hinted he was an ex-boy scout paddler and wanted to go on a nice easy white water trip. After a few Stellas Jim had agreed. By the end of the trip Andy wished he had stayed in the pub and kept drinking the Stella. So did we.
Had to go off and paddle the Grwyne after that just to regain a bit of sanity. Jones lost his wing mirror in the car park after this run, loading five kayaks onto a Maestro is asking for trouble, car had a severe case of 'paddler's wing mirror' which needed half a roll of tape to mend it. All in all an interesting day!
Frantic phone call from Jones, the Shropshire Rea was up and very big, how long would it take me to get over there? Normally I would have no reaction from my long suffering partner about such a call, but at 6am she was loudly abusive and unable to understand why I would want to drive for an hour and a half in the rain to get wet in a river when there were other delights to be had under the duvet. It was a tough one, apparently a 'quick one' was out of the question so decided paddling was the winner this time.
This river is a classic and when it runs in flood it's a full on paddle over some quite demanding water. "It's the weirs that kill you on this river."
'Thanks John, I'll bear that in mind'. It starts with a gnarly little drop with waiting strainers just below it, this is just a taste of what is to come, a mile or two further on and Jones proceeded to run the most horrendous weir I had ever seen. "Local knowledge," he shouted up at me as I walked round this horrible aquatic death trap. "Is it all like this?" I yelled back.
"Sure, great fun, trust me, I'm a white water paddler."
The next drop looked just as evil, hanging back I watched Tom hit a stopper just before the lip and get trashed in the hole below as he went over sideways. He rolled and called me down.
'Good roll that Tom' I thought, hoping I wouldn't have to repeat it, no time for accolades as I chose the right line, the next broken weir was on us almost straight away and demanded a rapid change of course to get through the gap before the inevitable strainer got you. Other tasty bits followed until we finally arrived at the 'Cheesegrater', a huge weir that is akin to paddling off the roof of a three story house. It looked horrible but once you are hurtling down the face pulling 3G and hoping the boat will maintain its line you quickly realise its great fun, fun enough to go back and do it again. Don't you just love this sport?