Mawddach, Christmas 2010

The full story

Well.....

It started on a cold Tuesday morning in between Christmas and New Year. It hadn’t rained for ages, and it had been freezing for several weeks. Finally there was signs that there was going to be a thaw, so Andy Brookes and I headed off into Wales to meet Pete Burke, Kev Griffiths and some other reprobates. The plan was to meet by the side of Public Toilet Falls on the Mawddach, with a view to run the river. As normal I headed off in the general direction relying on my innate sense of direction to get us there. Unfortunately it can’t have been working that day, as I took a right instead of a left and headed off towards Birmingham. Which was quite a coincidence, as it happened.

Anyway, after a while we realised we were going the wrong way so we consulted the map ..... which didn’t appear to be in the car. No worries, I had put the destination into my new Android phone, that will get us there. No such luck, it wanted to download some kind of speech synthesiser and we didn’t have time for that, so we kind of just headed off in what we thought was the right direction. As we drove down the road, we passed a couple of paddlers sat in a car in a car park by the side of the road. After a while longer, we decided we had gone too far, so we turned round. The two paddlers passed us travelling in the opposite direction. A little while longer again, and we wondered if the car park we had passed was where we were supposed to be meeting Pete and Kev, so we turned around again. We pulled up alongside the car with a couple of boats on top, and a van. Coincidentally the driver of the car was wearing a Birmingham City football shirt, and had a couple of BCFC stickers on his boat. A man of impeccable taste then. It turned out that they were also waiting to meet Pete and Kev, and had driven off up the road to find a signal on their phones, but had failed to get hold of them. By now it was nearly 10.00, and we had arranged to meet at 10.30. Amazingly, my new phone on its cheapo Virgin contract was able to get a signal, but still no response from Pete or Kev, so we wandered off to take a look at the Gamlan. This was a hairy bit of water, to be sure, dropping over several falls in a very short distance. On returning to the car park we finally managed to get hold of Pete and Kev. They had stopped overnight in a bunk house in the middle of nowhere, and had struggled through the snow to get where they were. They still reckoned that they needed an hour to get where we were so a plan was hatched. We decided to run the lower section of the Mawddach, meet them at the car park, and then go off to do the full run. Only trouble was, we could not get to the start of the lower section as the road was full of snow. So we headed on up to the top of the river. There was still plenty of snow about, and eventually we got to a point where the road headed down a steep hill, and it didn’t look as if we would get back up, so we decided to walk the remainder, not really knowing how far it was. I have always been careful of my boat, so I carried it, but the others went for a mixture of carrying and dragging.

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Finally we got to the put in, and after a well deserved rest and a drink of snow we set off. It was all go from the start, with lines to hit and holes to negotiate, but before too long Andy had pulled into the side with a split in his hull. Andy decided that he would walk back to the start, and then walk down to the finish.

That left five of us. The river itself continued relentlessly, with no time to rest. There were constant lines to make and boofs to pull off. Fortunately Dan was well acquainted with the river and pulled us off before the first major obstacle.

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This was a 5 metre waterfall, with a nasty line on the left into a hollow in the rock wall creating a nasty little eddy at the base of the fall, and a rock sticking out halfway down the drop on the right. Therefore it was quite important to get the line right. Paul (the BCFC fan) told me to look out for the nasty hole on the lead in. Unfortunately I didn’t take sufficient notice, and screwed up my line, hitting the rocks on the bottom and capsizing. This is when I discovered how weak my kayak roll was, it took ages to get my paddles into position. When I finally rolled, I was just approaching the lip of the fall, but I was too far to the right. I went over heading towards the rock, and tucked up and bounced off it landing in the plunge pool upside down. I was a little dazed, and once again I struggled to get my paddles into position for a roll, and my desperation to breathe won out and I baled.

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A lot of scrabbling about on slippery snow covered river banks later, and I was reunited with my boat and paddle and we set off again. It wasn’t long before we had to pull out again, this time for a 25m monster, that has been run occasionally, the Rheadr Mawddach.

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The put in after this was interesting, just above a nasty little stopper that had to be boofed, before running down a challenging set of rapids. We had to portage one more big fall, but what strikes me most about this river was its relentless difficulty. It was a constant grade 4 at the level we ran it, except for the grade 5s. There were lines to be made, and even when you made the lines there were creases and holes to be crossed.

Finally, we arrived at the 3 Nasties. This we inspected. It involved three falls, the first was a pourover about 2m high, the second was a smaller pourover, and the last involved yet another nasty pourover on to the left of a rock that divided the fall, or a smoother ride into a nasty looking stopper that looked to throw you right into an undercut wall. This last drop looked very tasty, but unfortunately I never got that far. My excuse is that on my approach to the first drop I happened to notice that Charles was having a bit of (unintentional) fun in the bottom of the fall. That might have caused me to slow down a little, but whatever, I failed to clear the bottom of the fall and got backlooped into a mini eddy at the base of the fall. I managed to roll up against the rock, but was soon sucked back into the hole and spat out again upside down in the eddy. This time I scrabbled up the rock, leaving go of my paddles. As soon as I was up, I was again sucked into the hole, this time without my paddles. Capsizing again, I decided I had had enough and baled out. I came up under my boat, and had to fight my way to the surface. I got a hand hold on the rock and rested a while, then decided that the rock closer to the fall looked a little easier to climb, but as I moved towards the fall, I was sucked under so I gave up that idea and returned to where I started. Another rest and I climbed up a couple of steps and had another rest. Finally I dragged myself up over the rock and lay down on the snow covered grass for another rest. By now my boat was long gone, and I set off to walk to the finish, which fortunately wasn’t too far away.

As I approached the village where the cars were parked, I met up with David Bain’s dad who was walking up, getting a bit concerned as to where we all were, as it was now getting late. After reassuring him that everything was OK, we walked back to the car park, where we were shortly afterwards joined by the remnants of the party. They had succeeded in rescuing my boat and paddles, but had been forced to leave them on the bank. After we all got changed and run the shuttle, some of us headed back up the river to find the boat, but as it was getting rather dark, and the river was in the middle of a forest, we decided to give it up. When we got back to the car park we met up with Kev and Pete and their party. As they had arrived late, they had decided to give the Mawddach a miss, and do the Eden instead, which was shorter and more easily accessed. We went to the pub for a pint and to wind down a bit before heading off home.

And what about Andy? Well he had walked back to the put in, where another party had arrived having driven their car there. He decided to wait and try to blag a lift when they returned, so curled up for a sleep in his boat inside his survival shelter. Soon afterwards he was woken up by the other party, who had pulled off the river, finding it all a bit too much for them. They then drove him back to where we had parked our cars, and that is where we found him.

This river was undoubtedly the hardest paddle I have ever done. I have done harder sections, but they have always been shorter, and I have done equally long rivers, but there has always been more time between the features to get your breath back. I felt that I had done ten rounds with Muhammed Ali, it seemed that every part of my body ached, on top of the bruise to my upper arm, and various cuts and scrapes on my hands from scrabbling around the rock on my second swim. Finally I had to admit that it was all a bit too much for my I3, and I would have been happier in something a bit bigger.

I went back the following day, and found the boat fairly easily after spotting it from the other bank. I was not able to find the paddles though, so I am still hoping they will turn up eventually.

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