GUIDE TO GLEANN CIA-AIG
NAME OF RIVER: Gleann Cia-aig...does anyone know how on earth you pronounce this??
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: This tributary is passed on your right hand side, about a quarter mile before you reach the River Arkaig get in. It's visible from the road. Put in at the top of the bottom fall (or higher up if you feel brave!), access is gained via footpath on river left bank. Get out from the plunge pool below. Yes, it's a single drop stunt!
APPROX LENGTH: 15 Feet down for the bottom fall. A rather longer trip is possible...see below.
TIME NEEDED: Seconds for the drop, inspection and deciding how to launch will take a bit longer.
Paddling the whole river is a rather longer undertaking...see below.
ACCESS HASSLES: Not known, but see also the SCA notes on access to Scottish rivers.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It needs a bit of water to allow a "safe" launch, in fact most would not be near the Arkaig if there was this much water about. At lower water levels the drop looks OK, but the launch site becomes a nasty tight slot which makes the actual launch more difficult and only for the brave.
GRADING: For the bottom fall make up your own mind, the launch is harder than the drop.
For the whole river, perhaps Grade 5-6.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Getting to the edge of the drop in your boat pointing the right way.
Tackling the whole river is a major undertaking; see below.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The large series of falls can be seen from the road and car park. The bottom fall is the one described. A small plunge pool above this fall allow access and inspection, launching is probably a two man job as close to the edge as you can get. The plunge pool below seems deep enough.
Stuart Miller has 'paddled' the complete river (April 2000)...
'I ventured into the upper reaches of this burn a few weeks ago with a few of the Edinburgh group who made the Scottish System-X video. An amazing trip which unfortunately due to a late start after a late night ended up in us being benighted and having to escape before the end.
It is possible to walk up the path on the left bank for about three kilometres to where the burn starts to drop out of the flat hanging valley above.
It drops into a tight narrow gorge with NO ESCAPE for about a kilometre. The entrance fall into the gorge is unrunnable being about 20m and twisting through a 50cm wide slot half way down. We lowered boats into the gorge on the left bank just below this first fall.
What then follows is a canyoning, gorge descent more akin to caving than paddling. Imagine all the falls on the Middle Etive and it's tributaries joined together with no let up, all at the bottom of a hundred foot deep gorge with vertical walls only twenty foot apart. Difficult to see the bottom of many falls; it needs a great deal of confidence, faith, experience, skill, cunning and luck to inspect, protect and run this river.
The last fall and exit from the first gorge is half as high again as the bottom fall you have picture of which is impossible to portage, equally impossible to set up protection for the probe and it suddenly appears round a blind corner. Brilliant!
The water level when we did it was probably similar to the low water picture you have of the bottom fall and you wouldn't really want any more in the tight gorge.
We got benighted about half way down, where it is possible to escape just before entering another gorge section which starts with another definite portage.
I was a bit reluctant to send this info as it is so serious that it is only really a place for people who are willing to suss it out for themselves and publishing info will inevitably encourage someone in there who shouldn't be there.
But that said I believe it is planned to put it in the new Scottish Guide so it may as well be here as well.
Grades...Technical V; Seriousness VI; Fear V; Stress VI; Hard Graft VI; Fun X
An absolutely amazing trip which I can't wait to go back and finish.'
Paul Steel adds his own account of the river...'It is a very committing run. Continuous and steep as well as narrow and very inaccessible, Not recommended for anyone other than the foolish..... or very bored! The run itself is excellent (if you like that sort of thing) but as I said it is very committing (very). Serious creeking at its best.
Jamie and I ran everything from where we got on (below the big fall) to a rather abrupt end.....I will explain in a moment.
Hazards: Rocks, trees, and undercuts...the usual only worse!
Time: Not sure we started late, about 2 and we're off the river by 6.....kind of. 5 hours should cover you.
Water level: Substantially higher than the pictures of the last fall on your web site.
A kind of description:After a long and steep 2 or 3 km calf burning walk in up the left bank and a steep descent to the water the fun starts immediately.
The gorge is steep and enclosed, it is also continuous. Lots of the falls have rocks in them that need avoiding via slots and many of the others are undercut. Some of the drops are very difficult to see from above and vary in height and accessibility for inspection.
They are also hard to protect (in fact I made that up because we didn't protect any, I should have said "could be hard to protect") The other thing to note is that each drop runs into the next so you really need to be on the ball.
As you work your way down the creek it gets more serious, steeper walls and bigger drops. A lot of it is boat scoutable but some horizon lines have very unpleasant landings, so be aware.
As you feel the gorge enclose even more (it is hard to remember exactly at what point, or features that point it out), the river turns more sharply and drops into the beginning of what is a steep S type bend (not a single fall more a section). The whole section is enclosed and once you are in you have to paddle out!! You go over a 6-10 foot drop then another 6-10 fall on the next bend and then over another similar fall. Each fall has a small eddy after it (note that you can't get out, merely wait for a moment). A tree (may change) in the flow marks the last section and drop which has a small eddy on river right enough for two boats or maybe three!
As I made it into the second last eddy Jamie made the classic comment " we could be f--ked here". Always good.
Anyway we ran the next fall into the last eddy above an uninspectable and unportageable fall. Not knowing what to inspect Jamie managed via a 7a climb to get up the gorge wall, to discover it was of little benefit other than for a picture. After passing me the camera he said "just go centre"! Which I did with out letting myself think about it. I landed upside down in the base of the fall, rolled and grabbed for the camera, washed round the corner and snapped Jamie coming over the fall that must be 27 foot high! All good, it seems like an okay fall, didn't get much of a look at the area I landed in but it went fine. An excellent section.
You could say that was enough, but no...it goes on..... what happened between that section and the next is a blur, I am sure it was good but it hasn't left much of a print on my grey matter in comparison to the next bit that I do remember...vividly.
As you come down the river it opens slightly before turning left into a narrow slot that is blocked by trees (may change). We hopped out on the right bank and found the next gorge.....mmmmm.
I think that the following gorge is mentioned to be a 'definite portage' in the write up by Stuart Miller that is currently on your site. The gorge entry, after the tree blockage, is a narrow channel about 4 metres long that disappears over what must be a 30 foot vertical fall into a large but not pleasant cauldronish type of affair. Lots of rocks and completely unprotectable and unescapable without a boat. (The base of the fall had a big enough pile but the landing was crucial as all the water feeds towards the undercut) It should be mentioned that to swim here would be very very very unhealthy! The nasty looking undercut that the whole river feds into at the left wall marks the exit!!The exit is a boat wide S shaped constriction.
After this there is a smallish drop and a well placed eddy. There is no escape though. The next drop is a 12 foot fall that is seriously undercut on the left wall. again the water is all heading that way... after this there is another eddy.
The gorge closes in again, then as you approach the next drop, a tree (may change), with just (only just) enough room to get under, blocks your path. Immediately once under the tree there is a 10 foot fall into a rock that blocks the main flow and creates a constriction. After this there is a 10m or so boat wide channel that is under cut down the left side. You are then nearly out of the gorge. Around the next bend you can bash your way up the right bank and walk your way to freedom.
After an inspection of the gorge Jamie and I decided to run it.
Jamie made it look easy, not much room to paddle over the big drop and no speed, more of a last minute stroke to get himself in the right place, then down. Paddled like hell towards the undercut then through the constriction and on down the next now insignificant drop. He waited for a second and ran the next badly undercut drop, vanished and reappeared.
You have to bear in mind that you are high above the river looking down, so keeping track is difficult and dangerous! Jamie nearly fell in while I was running it. Jamie managed to duck under the log blocking the river went over the fall, dodged the rock, through the constriction and flushed out of the channel and into the eddy at the end. Very nicely done indeed.
He made it round the next corner of the river below and trudged back up the right bank to the top of the gorge which is perhaps 200 metres long and high! Then it was my turn.
Pretty much floated up to the edge of the big fall at the top, one stroke to get the angle right...landed on my right hand rail/ edge and my rib caged collapsed!! At least it felt like that, turns out I dislocated my rib....anyway screamed and blasted for the constriction, got down that okay. Relaxed for a second before the next drop, got turned, had no strength to rotate so boofed it backwards and got down it clean.
I was sore, dizzy and a little concerned about the next two big drops, the undercuts and of course the tree blocking the river, never mind the channel at the end! So there you go, after swearing about the pain in my chest and the lump that was now sticking out of my sternum I took a run at the next drop...badly undercut. It went fine going right, away from the undercut and on to the next without a break. I was finding it considerably more difficult to move but i was relieved to be in my boat....bad things could have happened otherwise.
The tree was my undoing really, I couldn't lean back on my deck. So I got flipped. I ran the next 10 foot drop upside down and got pinned vertically upside down (I was strangely calm, but did question if things could get any worse). I tried to roll but only succeeded in removing myself from the pin, (not without relief). I promptly ran the constriction upside down, lost my blades and continued down the channel upside down.
At the end of this channel there is a very comfortable rock that I lay on for a while!
Beyond this around the next corner there is another dirty fall that is very twisted and again undercut but you have plenty of time to get out before this!!! I tried to paddle on but failed, way too sore.Due to my inability to move my day was over so we walked out, slowly. Then followed it up with a trip to the AE in Fort Bill.
Once you are clear of the last gorge you are not far from the end of the run but no doubt there is some form of nastiness lurking in that short section, guess I'll find out when I go back.
The last fall by the car park also had a log in it at the top of the second tier so be aware of that.
I would not recommend this run to anyone due to its seriousness, but for those who have the ability and the piece of mind it really goes off, and off course you can portage the second gorge if you want.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Bob Evans, Paul Steel, Chris Floyd and Stuart Miller.