GUIDE TO THE RIVER SPEAN
(Upper section below Laggan dam)
NAME OF RIVER: Upper Spean
INTRODUCTION: Massive wavetrains, big water and non – stop fun! If you are lucky enough to catch it in high water it is probably the best high volume run in scotland - Only the garrybezi and maybe the arkaig can kick ass like this stretch can! Though big and scary, for the most part this run is surprisingly straightforward. That said it is definitely not a good place for a swim and should be treated with respect – particularly the final gorge as there is the 40 ft Inverlair falls to look forward to below the take out.
WHERE IS IT?: Below the Laggan dam, about 10 km east of Roy Bridge
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Park your car at the viewpoint for the dam (NN 37186 80887) and enjoy the odd looks from the tourists as you take your boats off the roof of your car. Scramble down a rough worn track down to the river on the field below the dam and put on below the dam – on a big release the spray from the outflow can be pretty impressive! For the take out drive down towards Roy bridge and take the third left you come to signposted Fersit. Follow the road down to a bridge and park in a layby (NN 34038 80557). Choose to take out either above the gorge upstream or just after the bridge. DO NOT CONTINUE BELOW HERE UNLESS YOU WANT TO RUN INVERLAIR.
GRADING: 3 for 1-2 pipes. 3+ for 3-4 pipes, 4 for 5-6 pipes. 6 pipes with lots of overflow should probably be considered 5 on grounds of the consequences of a swim.
APPROX LENGTH: 4 km
TIME NEEDED: 45 minutes plus time to inspect/paddle the final gorge.
ACCESS HASSLES: Not usually an issue but I have heard of people running into a landlady at the put in who complains kayakers have damaged her fence. Park with respect and try not to damage anything on your way down to the river
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Sustained rain is needed to fill the loch and then even more to get the dam to start releasing. If everything in the area has been high for a few days it could be an option. Ideally the dam should be releasing two or more pipes, but one pipe might make an ok improver’s trip. No pipes means a completely dry river bed and some sad kayakers ☹.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: About 200 m below the put in there is a house sized pourover that could cause some serious beatdown – it’s pretty obvious from upstream but make sure to avoid it hard left or right.
Inverlair falls is a serious waterfall which would be extremely dangerous to swim down. If there is any doubt over making the final eddy then skip the final gorge and portage to your car river left.
Putting in below the dam is an awesome experience in itself, as even though you are more than 200 m from the dam the spray from the water jets is still powerful enough that you can’t look upstream! Seal launch into the river and let the fun begin! Your immediate challenge is the infamous pourover not far from the put in. The cleanest line is to ferry hard river left to avoid it but right works as well – decide early what you are going to do as a swim right at the top of this run is a very unpleasant experience. You can now relax (a little) and enjoy the ride as from here it is just one long rollercoaster wavetrain for the next 1.5 km. Even on 6 pipes it all goes with no nasty surprises – the waves just get bigger! There is the odd big hole to avoid (or punch…) but they are all easily avoidable. All too soon you go under a rail bridge and the river flattens – if you aren’t whooping for joy by this point then you either have no soul or are way too hungover to be paddling! The river is flat for about 1 km from here with the exception of a bedrock ledge that can form a big hole in high water – run it left if in doubt. Be sure to check out the Treig as it enters from the left – it is a rare treat to find it with water in so seize the opportunity and hike up as it’s meant to be really good!
The river has one final surprise waiting for you in the form of a small gorge which is surprisingly small given the river’s size at this point. Take out in a massive eddy river left to inspect. Picture squeezing the Tay at Stanley into a space meant for a river like the North esk and you have a picture of what you get. Normally it’s a fun grade 4 rapid but at 5 pipes and above it warrants a lot of respect as it gets extremely boily and the final hole below the bridge is a lot bigger than it looks from above. If you do chose to run this a good safety team is a must as below the gorge you have only a short section of grade 3 before the river plunges over Inverlair falls. There are rumours of people getting stranded on an island on the lip of this monster and being evacuated by helicopter – don’t let this be you. Take out river right and revel in your experience. Anyone for round 2?
OTHER NOTES: A truly truly awesome river!
Pictures don’t really do this run justice, so here’s a video instead! The level shown is all 6 pipes with a bit of overflow. The final gorge is kind of a silly idea at this level but they do it anyway.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jon Harwell