GUIDE TO THE AFON MAWDDACH
NAME OF RIVER: Mawddach.
WHERE IS IT?: Snowdonia, near Dolgellau.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in at a forlorn windswept bridge in the middle of nowhere, or GR 768291 to be more precise. You'll need to look at a map really, but the best direction to access this quiet spot is perhaps from the Trawsfyndd Ski Centre on the A470.
In low water, you can drive up to a forest car park and carry upstream to launch below Rhaeadr Mawddach.
This trip runs into the lower Mawddach (this begins when the Eden confluence is reached) and although you can stop here, it's recommended to run the first couple of kilometres down to a good takeout bridge and carpark, GR 730234. See the Mawddach guide for further take-out info.
APPROX LENGTH: 9 km, all away from roads and civilisation.
TIME NEEDED: 1 hour sprint to a whole day. If you haven't done it before then around 5 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Not known. It's pretty bleak...you won't meet many folk up on the moor.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: See the EA GAUGE for levels. A good minimum is 0.7 but 1.0 is a nice level. Becomes more intense above 1.3.
GRADING: Grade 3 (4+) & usually a portage. The grades go up at the water levels do, some rapids can reach grade 5-.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: You will be in the middle of nowhere in the Coed Y Brenin forest so take a phone/map. Drops sneak up on you so scout ahead. There is a 20ft technical drop near the top. 80ft Rhaeadr Mawddach is half way down (get out below the stone bridge on the right). Three nasties is 2/3 of the way down, scout/portage right and put back in left after the foot bridge. The last 10ft drop becomes sticky at high flows. This river is unforgiving at medium/higher flows, if you swim you're boat will go the whole river without you.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This excellent trip keeps you interested all the way with plenty of variation and surprises.
From the start, the river flows over and through small set-piece grade 3/4 rapids. Watch out for the first drop, where the river bends sharp right. A slot to the left saw Dave Surman dislocating his shoulder and earning a free helicopter trip to Bangor Hospital...see the 'OTHER NOTES' section below.
The first thing which will have you scrabbling for the bank is an ominous horizon line...you've reached a six metre waterfall with ugly rock formations to the left and right of the central slab. This is perfectly paddleable, down the middle. Can scout/portage river right. There is a sticky weir type drop straight after this which catches most people out.
The rapids crank up a bit as the river moves further into the forest, with plenty of interesting set-piece drops and good pools to recover between them. This is a classic grade 4 'mini-expedition'.
The second fall that you may find yourself portaging is a vicious single drop where (in low water) most of the water heads down a dangerous slot on river left, the slot does get paddles but you go deep. Alternative routes open up in higher water. Note that Chris Sladden appears to have placed this rapid and the 6 metre waterfall the wrong way around in 'The Welsh Rivers'.
Chris Sladden (Jan 2004)...'Have I got those drops the wrong way around? Ah well, that is the problem with doing 200 rivers+ in a country! I'd better try and do it again when I'm next back in Brithdir (where the inlaws live). Funny enough, I've paddled the river on quite a number of occasions, still nobody is perfect especially me!'
After that drop, the river builds up into some grade 3/4 rapids for half a km before reaching a stone bridge, get out on the right as you've reached Rhaeadr Mawddach, a rather large waterfall. This massive complex fall has been run around twenty times now (June 2013) over a 20 year period. Around 10 descents have happened in the past two years.
The portage is a track down the river right bank, launching near to the confluence of the excellent Afon Gain, or directly in the plunge pool of Rhaeadr Mawddach and into a technical rapid.
With the Gain and the Mawddach joined, suddenly you are on a much bigger river! The river from here on is continuous grade 3/4 with the intimidating three nasties not far ahead at grade 4/5, scout/portage right. In high water this section is superb, with humping waves and holes.
You can spot the horizon line of the second drop on this lower section, scout/portage right. The river splits around a rock, left is choked with trees and right is a straight forward drop but is super sticky in high flows. In really high flows, this drop becomes river wide and taller.
Directly below this drop, the river joins the Afon Eden. You are now on the lower Mawddach. Stopping here (main road on river right) is possible, but carrying on through two kilometres of bouncy grade 3 and 4 to the carpark takeout (see above) is recommended.
Ieuan Peace on the first waterfall, medium flows. (Photo by Ieuan Belshaw).
Dave Brown on the first waterfall, medium flows. (Photo by Joe Rea-Dickins).
Dave Brown and Ieuan Belshaw on a double drop, medium flows. (Photo by Joe Rea-Dickins).
Tom Powers on the second waterfall, medium high flows. (Photo by Ieuan Belshaw).
Ieuan Belshaw and Pete Sanger paddling out of Rhaeadr Mawddach's plunge pool and into the following rapid. (Photo by Joe Rea-Dickins).
The last of the Three Nasties in high water, boof left. (Photo by Ieuan Belshaw).
OTHER NOTES: Chris Wheeler explains the shoulder dislocation incident mentioned above (December 2003)...'For future reference, the incident happened on the very first little (3ft?) ledge drop that you come to after 300 yds. Normal medium level. Only as you get very close to the drop do you realise that to river left there is a tight little slot, which is avoidable if you go over the ledge just to the right of it. Seeing a paddling mate you've known for over 20 years in that much pain isn't my idea of fun and it has been thought provoking...'
The Afon Gain tributary is well worth doing also if you have time...this means paddling the lower half of this trip again as well.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Chris Wheeler, Chris Sladden and Ieuan Belshaw.