GUIDE TO THE RIVER ETIVE
(Triple Falls to the Allt A'Chaorainn)
NAME OF RIVER: Etive.
WHERE IS IT?: In Glen Etive. Heading south on the A82 from Glencoe and Fort William, it's a minor right turning.
PUT-INS/TAKE-OUTS: Put in at Triple Falls (NN 21887 51926), the first falls seen from the road (guess how many falls there are at this point). Take out at the confluence of the Allt a' Chaorainn (NN 19716 51218), or in very low water just after the Right Angle gorge (NN 20350 51292).
APPROX LENGTH: 2.5km
TIME NEEDED: Somewhere between 20 minutes and 6 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: A subject of great contention, the Middle Etive is normally paddled at very low levels when all other rivers are dry. At these levels it is a scrapey giggle that is fun, but can debatably be classed as kayaking.
Ideally, a little snowmelt or a little rain will bring the level up so that you don’t need to portage any of the boulder gardens in between the drops.
More water and the trip becomes actually worthy of it’s inclusion in the extreme category.
The easiest way to gauge the river is by looking at Triple falls - see the photos for an idea! The second drop should have a rock splitting the flow for a good level. A good medium flow is one of the best, where the hole here is just starting to get munchy, but the rock is still splitting the flow. If the rock is gone and the hole looks extra munchy, the river is high. If you could jump across and the water is all in one channel, the river is very low.
If you can’t see the bedrock, you might want to check your car’s not about to be washed away.
GRADING: At low water, grade 3/4, however the falls will require little to no technical skill, so take this with a pinch of salt! With a reasonable flow it will be more true to this grade.
At high water, Grade 4/5 and best left to the experts.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: It's ALL falls. At low flows at least one of the falls is a mandatory portage.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Quite possibly the finest canoeing river in Scotland? The Etive commands cult status among paddlers.
This description is for low - medium flows. If you want to run the Etive at high flows, maybe you should look at it for yourself. There are small boulder gardens and drops between the falls, though nothing exceeding grade 3 in difficulty, except in very high flows. In very low flows you will have to portage some sections where the river disappears between boulders.
There’s no warm up here! from the layby you walk straight to the top of Triple falls.
Triple Falls (Grade 4/Low levels grade 3)
You won't be surprised to learn that there are indeed three falls here in this superb rapid. The first two have to be run together. The second has quite a stopper in anything less than low levels and even at fairly low levels it is worth having a throwline here as the pool is boily and pushes up against the side walls. There is a mini gorge before the third drop containing one tiny little hole known as Simon's folly. The third drop is a 3 metre plunge which really clears the sinuses and gives 'down time' if the river is flowing well. You can easily session this rapid by walking back up on the left bank.
Rebecca Smith runs the first two drops of Triple Step in low water. Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Mark Mulrain boofs the third of Triple. Photo by Luke Partridge.
Letterbox (grade 4)
This drop of about 3m has a number of boulders close to the base of the drop and a slot on the lip which can trap a kayak. Normal route is boof on the left, heading hard left. This fall is worth looking closely at if you don't want broken ankles. The hole at the bottom is surprisingly sticky and can recirculate swimmers at most levels. Generally unrunnable in very low flows, the portage on the right bank is straightforward.
Rory Changleng runs Letterbox in low flows. Photo by Iain Carson.
Ski Jump falls (Grade 3)
Immediately below letterbox is the easiest fall on the river. Drop off right of centre for an auto boof kicker! The hole on this is sticky in high flows.
Paul Crossan running Ski Jump at very low flows. Photo by Ruth Tait.
Crack of Doom (Grade 4)
Boulders lead to a drop sideways into a fissure quickly followed by an 8 foot fall into a pool. Catches many people out, perhaps one of the most technically difficult rapids? Portage/protect on the right. There is a convenient ledge from which you can do line safety or take pictures.
Jamie Crossan paddling the first drop of Crack of Doom. Photo by Jodi Jennings.
Andre Phillips on the second fall of Crack of Doom. Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Crack of Dawn (Portage/Grade 4)
A 10 foot drop into a mini gorge. At anything lower than a good medium flow (the hole on triple is getting a bit munchy), this is a portage. The ledge collapsed in the 2000s and the main fall lands directly onto rocks! If you have enough water then a sneak line opens up on hard river left, though it’s not easy to make. Portage left to a ledge (the sneak line with enough water) where you can seal launch into the gorge below.
Portaging crack of Dawn. An easier portage for smaller boats is to seal launch off the ledge that doesn't quite have enough water to paddle off! Paddlers Jen Hartnett and Patryk Szczeblewski, photo by Graeme Kidd.
John Bomlinson on Crack of dawn at high flows, when it is one of the easier rapids on the river. Photo by Ben McKeown.
Rockslide (Grade 3/4)
A ramped fall with a small drop to finish. Nice “playhole” halfway down if you're awake to catch it. Best run on the left to avoid the wall at the bottom.
Freya Larsen paddling Rock Slide, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Right Angle Falls (Grade 4+) (Eas an Fir Mor/Big man’s falls)
An awkward right angle drop around a rock dog-leg leads into a small eddy on the brink of a long fall. There is much potential for a pin at the right angle and it can be tricky to get out so bank support essential. A capsize in the eddy is not advisable! The right angle can be portaged by launching into the eddy, or if you have a good medium flow a channel opens up over the rocks. The fall itself is the largest and most scary to this point. The drop is about 20 feet and can create what can be a severe boil at the bottom with higher water levels. The unwary can get into quite a bit of bother here and rescues are not overly simple. Boofing flat is a quick way to a broken back and a helicopter trip to Fort William.
Luke Partridge gets an ear dip on lip of Right Angle in high flows. Photo by Scott Robinson.
Right Angle at very low flows when boofing is a very bad idea. Paddler Mark French, photo by Eddie McDiarmid.
Twist and Shout (Grade 4)
A tight right line on a corner to avoid splatting into the cliff. This is followed by a narrow rapid that leads below a bridge to the get out at the confluence of the Allt a' Chaorainn...which is well worth a look! Interestingly, at very high water levels this rapid has a fantastic short grade 4 section that runs from the low water get out below the right angle gorge to just below the bridge, but instead of the usual line over the fall around the corner you go left of an island and down what is normally dry land.
Dominic Burrow and Nick Bennett paddling Twist and Shout. Photo by Sam Roberts.
Downstream of this take-out is a section with more falls and a 'nasty' called Dalness Falls.
OTHER NOTES: If the water levels is too high, consider the Lower Etive or in very high flows, the Coupall and the Top Etive.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Kirsten Rendle, Jon Harwell, Frazer Pearce, Mark Rainsley, Jim Wallis and many others.