GUIDE TO THE RIVER NEVIS
(Steall Gorge to Polldubh Falls)
NAME OF RIVER: Nevis.
WHERE IS IT?: In Glen Nevis. Yep, as in Ben Nevis. Head up the valley from Fort William, keep on going until the road ends at a carpark...and stop.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in some way upstream of the end of the road...follow the path from the car-park a few hundred metres until you see a track heading off to the right. Follow this down to the river. Take-out above or below the lower Falls where a bridge crosses the river. Another alternative is to continue downstream on the Lower Nevis.
APPROX LENGTH: 2 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 2-3 hours first time.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: We've only done this in low and medium levels, numerous times. At these levels you can see some rocks exposed in the riverbed upstream of Polldubh Falls, aka the lower Falls. If they're all well covered, consider walking away unless you want plenty of Grade 5!
GRADING: 4+ at the levels described. Grade 5 or harder at high levels...an entirely different story from what is described here.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: It is possible to put in where the Nevis comes out of a (very impressive, well worth a walk up on the Tourist path) gorge but the rapid here is a bit bony unless the level is high.
Neil Farmer adds (June 2002)...'I have run 'Boulderblast', the rapid above the car park, nice but rocky - walk up the path from the carpark, then over a small burn (steep section of path) and follow a small track down to the FOOT of the Steall gorge. It is obviously unrunnable/ grade 6+ above here. Difficulty (medium to well hard) depends on water level, look and see; serious and long, a serious and painfull swim (probably - I hope not to find out!).
Directly below this boulder rapid, the river enters a long steep gorge with some confined falls which produce munchy holes. The Great Stone Slide stream then appears from the right (you'll know it when you see it) and there is an easier stretch.
Don't go to sleep, as the river soon feeds into the second gorge, known as Scimitar Gorge. Get out BEFORE the gorge and inspect the following section on river left. Grade 4 water in the gorge leads to an ominous horizon line...DON'T paddle over, get out and portage using the sloping rock ramp on river left. You really need to inspect this take-out before you paddle as it may be covered by the water and impossible to use!
If you decide to run Scimitar Gorge (Grade 5), you are looking at taking on three walled in drops in one go. You can recce the whole of the gorge from river left.
1] The entry fall to the gorge is a 1.5 m vertical fall with rocks in the bottom. Boof it left of centre. (October 2005, there was a large tree lodged below this drop - be careful)
2] The second rapid is about 20 m long, splitting around an island. The river right channel should be avoided, there are lethal siphons which are fairly obvious. There is a good straight channel down the left, fortunately.
3] The next drop looks a bit dodgy. It's a flake with undercuts on river right and some gnarly spikes on it that could do a fair amount of damage to your boat. A left-hand line is best, but the stoppers can be pretty sticky. I reckon it would go on the left if you were paddling someone else's boat! A portage is possible in very low water...get out on the left immediately above the fall and seal launch in just below. No mountaineering skills needed and you don't miss any other drops.
If you are walking around Scimitar Gorge, as most people will want to do...carry along the river left bank until you can regain the river. You are now directly above a big confused fall; work the line out for yourself...remember to breath in. Straight after this is a small drop which has an annoying tendency of backlooping you and then stuffing you under an undercut. A line on the right works in higher water levels.
The next gorge is more technical Grade 4, with numerous boulders to dodge. This gorge finishes with an awkward constriction where a pipe crosses the river.
Now comes a great series of 'pool drop' falls where the surrounding rock goes 'pink'. These are narrow and have pinning potential. The first ledge is known as 'Legbreaker' and the second which follows directly after, 'Dead Sheep Falls'. After this section, Grade 2-3 water winds down to the lower Falls, which you will have noticed during the drive up. Get out above and inspect, as they drop 20 foot into a confined gorge. The Fall is actually fairly straightforward, but it deserves respect and if you can't see the route, you certainly shouldn't be doing it. Boofing it hurts quite a lot. Below here is a Grade 3 rapid and you can take out below. Or you could consider paddling the remaining river down to the sea...the Lower Nevis.
OTHER NOTES: Note again that this description is for low and medium conditions. In high water this is extremely hard and serious.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Neil Farmer and Jim Ellis.