Winter has been a cruel training partner. My wife thinks I suffer from S.A.D’s as I tend to hibernate in the winter these days. My only solace has been of the two wheeled variety, so after taking delivery of some new bright lights my Yeti has been out in the mud and grit of the Derbyshire hills in the evenings. However the Beast, as my Yeti is known, has been knocked down the pecking order. A new steel framed mono-cog whippet has been the weapon of choice this winter, with its cross tyres and rigid forks it beats me hard but gives me pleasure at the same time.
My shed has seen plenty of movements of bikes but it definitely hasn’t seen the boats jumped into action at all. Until last weekend that is. Months in the planning I managed to hook up with Jace, Steve, Cheeseball, Wiggs and Dicky for a sneaky long weekends creeking in Scotland. Boating’s like riding a bike, once you know how you just jump back in right? Jace and I decided to warm up with a blast down the upper Tees on the way up whilst the others decided to test their boats resistance to tarmac with a load shedding incident on the M74.
I probably paddled the Tees about the same year I last paddled in Scotland and I was in a ‘V’ hulled Microbat with a fluorescent Palm P.F.D. The Tees was exactly as I remember it, a beautiful track of water cutting through the hard bed rock of the Tees valley. This river is how all rivers should be designed with the features gradually getting bigger and more consequential as you descend. A well trodden footpath runs alongside so you are guaranteed an audience with classic photo opportunities to give that extra bit of Kodak Courage. I guess that should be altered to Canon Courage, Nikon Nerve or Pentax Pluck with the demise of film cameras. With smiles on our faces we headed on up past Glasgow to meet our comrades.
Despite the world ending weather forecast the wind was light and it definitely wasn’t raining. The local raft guide and barman recommended a run down the Roy would be our best option for the day. This would get us a sneak of the Nevis and the Spean both of which were running on empty. The Roy was low to but we thought we’d be able to sneak down its rocky lines.
We set off spirits high and the banter on the river was good. We haven’t paddled together for a long time and it was good to chew the fat as we ambled slowly down the calmer stretches. The low water had exposed the rocks and lines were pretty tight but I felt on top of my game.. but rivers can be cruel adversaries. Briming with confidence I dropped over a ledge, slid down the face and bounced off the lip… straight into a hole that I was to surf out of the bottom of. It was then I realised my kayaking reactions may have slowed a little. If I was just a few milliseconds quicker I wouldn’t be writing this tale but here we are. Upside down, my boat pushing down onto my thumb which is nicely resting on a fin of rock. I wriggled a little to try and free the boat which happened quite quickly but then my thumb started to really hurt. My auto-roll button seemed to have malfunctioned and I had to really think about my body position by which time my head bounced off another rock and my legs had already started to jump ship. So here we are in the drink gathering myself, boat and paddles. Another swim ensued later on the same river which left me thinking my paddling days were over.
Gee’d up by the rest of the team, some of which had suffered the same cruel fate as me on the Roy, they lifted my spirits for an onslaught to the Etive the next day. Nervously I paddled into Triple Falls. Having paddled with Univeristy clubs for several years I have seen some nasty incidents here. “It all goes” ran loudly in my head and within seconds the Etive had reignited my passion for paddling again. With the rain falling we all had smiles from ear to ear so we headed up for some double run, double fun action. Every drop just continued to heighten our senses and then we approached Right Angle Falls. I don’t mind heights too much but a 20ft waterfall with a nasty bend on the run always gets my heart racing. To this day I have never managed to get the line perfect and with my missing milliseconds I wasn’t feeling 100% about today either. Cheese’s annoyance at his poor line didn’t inspire confidence. Steve then made an impossible eddy before turning switch to ride the bend. Again not a ride to inspire. The only saving grace of this bend is your mind forgets you are about to hurl yourself off a 20ft cliff. I lined up for my turn dropped over the first lip and lent off the cushion wave which gave me a sweet un-momentous ride to the eddy above the falls. I gathered my thoughts and paddled hard for the lip. Holy F**K!! that was higher than I remember it. Boof, box, landing went out of the window. In a perfect T-Bird position I flew over the lip shouting prayers to all who could hear me.
With the main river paddled Cheese suggested the levels should be perfect for a run down one of the tributaries. I’d heard rumor of these tiny rock slides in the valleys flowing into the Etive valley but never seem them. On getting out of the cars Cheese pointed at a tiny spec of white that could have been snow for all I knew someway in the distance with a meandering 1.5km path to it. “That’s the last drop” he said, “now chop to it lads” and set off, with his boat trailing from a sling behind him. I won’t talk much about the slides as I think the photos tell the story but imagine a toboggan track with jumps and all the snow has melted.
Right then… I’m off to find those missing milliseconds.