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GUIDE TO THE RIVER KIACHNISH

NAME OF RIVER: Kiachnish.

WHERE IS IT?: The Kiachnish is the next major drainage south of the Nevis and is relatively similar in character, without the easy roadside access.

The Kiachnish is an incredible run, however it would be very easy to get in over your head in the gorge section. A small experienced team will have an incredible day out, but a large group will find themselves struggling for eddy space between the many grade 4 rapids.

PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in just below the hydro dam, above a small drop (NN 09870 66689) on the road from Fort William to Lochan Lunn Da Bhra. Take out where the river meets the A82 and the sea (NN 06584 69070).

APPROX LENGTH: 6.5km

TIME NEEDED: 3 hours or more.

ACCESS HASSLES: None known. Parking can be difficult at the take out, exercise usual discretion.

WATER LEVEL INDICATORS:

Prior to the hydro dam being built, this river needed a fair bit of water to come into condition. With the installation of the dam (2017), more water is needed, though how much more is not quite clear yet. The Nevis should be at least on very high (gauge on Where’s the Water), though you are better to look at the put in and judge for yourself. The river should look paddleable, but not high. The lower gorge requires less water than the top section, so it’s not a major problem if the level is falling as you paddle down.

GRADING: 4/4+ (5).

MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS:

The lower gorge is very boxed in and portage is difficult or impossible in some places. We came across one large tree lodged in a rapid, so if in doubt, try to get a look at what’s coming. There are a few difficult rapids in the gorge worth a look, though this can be tricky. This gorge would be a very serious proposition in high water.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION:

Kick off the action on the small drop at the put in. Grade 3/4 water slowly steepens and the river feels alpine in character. When the river starts to flatten out a bit, watch out for a small broken weir which has some spikes in places, and a wire strung above the river (though this is only an issue in very high water). If this section feels like it could do with a tiny bit more water, this is a fairly good level for the gorge. On the other hand, if this section feels full on, you might want to rethink paddling any further into the gorge.

Soon enough the banks steepen and the river becomes pool-drop grade 4. Numerous grade 4 drops follow, one after the other with sometimes limited space between to pick up any pieces. Inspection and portage options can be tricky with the gorge walls! Shrink Wrapper (4+) is a steep narrow shoot that was impossible to portage without significant backtracking, however the “paddle into it and hope for the best” method worked a treat. Once you can see the drop from your boat, you are pretty much committed to running it, so if in doubt, scout! This drop is apparently grade 5 in high water and the whole gorge (in high water) becomes fairly continuous grade 4/5 after it.

There is one ugly slot in the gorge that was unpaddleable at the level we had, and if that had enough water to clean up, the rest of the run would be terrifying!

Nearing the end of the gorge is Life on the Edge, a very significant fall with a dubious portage/inspection route on the left (we had to wade knee deep beside the gorge walls to get to a ledge on the very edge of the drop). The river splits around a central boulder and forms a massive horizon line with a cliff opposite. The right channel was stuffed with trees, but the left went well at grade 4+ - this would likely be grade 5 in high water.

A few more grade 4 rapids lead to the end of the gorge.

When you come out of the gorge, don’t relax yet, as Lucky Charm, a final surprise, horseshoe shaped grade 4 fall tops it all off. Get out at the road bridge, or paddle the 100m or so to the sea just for the sake of completion.

OTHER NOTES: The river is far from the road for most of its length, however if emergency exit is required, the hydro company built a track on river left from the take out to the put in. It is fairly high up, but closer than the road when you are in the gorge section. We used it to walk the shuttle when we had only one car!

We met a group on another river just after we'd paddled this, who sniffily observed, "You must have had much lower water levels than when we did the Kiachnish a few years ago - because we had an epic."

CONTRIBUTED BY: Kirsten Rendle, Jon Harwell, Mark Rainsley, also Kris Waring and Andrew Walkers.

If you would like to submit updates, new guides or photos, email ukrgb.scotland AT gmail DOT com

 

The first drop of the gorge section. Paddler Jon Harwell, photo by Kirsten Rendle.

Paddler Kirsten Rendle, photo by Jon Harwell.

Paddler Kirsten Rendle, photo by Jon Harwell.

Life on the Edge, easier than it looks? Paddler Jon Harwell, photo by Kirsten Rendle.

Paddler Kirsten Rendle, photo by Jon Harwell.

Paddler Kirsten Rendle, photo by Jon Harwell.

Lucky Charm, a really nice boof ledge. Paddler Kirsten Rendle, photo by Jon Harwell.

More pictures of the Kiachnish