Steep Creeking course - 16/17 January 2016
Paddlers: Keith, Bill, Dylan (Shrewsbury CC), Karl (York CC)
After cancelling this course back in December due to MASSIVE water levels, there was some concern that this weekend would prove the polar opposite and curse us with NO water! Luckily, although levels were low, there were options to run at.
For those that are not familiar with Steep Creeking - This is a particular type of kayaking that takes you far into the mountains, entails seemingly endless amounts of planning, trekking, carrying, inspecting, planning, discussing, looking, planning, worrying, more planning, etc. which is then rewarded with the most exhilarating and rocket fuelled 10 seconds of pure adrenalin! At least that's how it felt to me. Creeking is much more about running set-pieces and individual features over and over again to get the skills right, not a Grade 2 section or a car shuttle in sight!
Friday started with the obligatory meeting for Beer and Eats at Swallow Falls hostel, from all ends of the Country, Bill had made his way from Runcorn, Karl from York, I'd been in Banbury and Dylan joined us on Saturday from near Oswestry (the local boy). Saturday morning breakfast saw us meeting with Andy Grimes, our coach and leader for the weekend. After a quick brief we set off the short distance to Llanberis for a quick scout of the Afon Arddu. Levels looked low but enough cover to run the bottom drop, we walked up for a look at Llanberis falls which does get run from time to time but is strictly for the big boys (or the dick-brained!)
Heading back to the vans to get kitted up and a little discussion with the locals (thanks to Dylan for translation services) saw us heading for the first of the weekends paddling, learning the mysterious Boof..! This entailed un-learning some of our previous "skills" and challenging our natural instincts. A very short, shallow, rocky and uneven run-in meant having to make the most of tiny strokes to get every scrap of speed before hitting the lip of a 10ft drop into a shallow pool. 2 dented boats, and a sprained ankle was the result and a lesson in ensuring correct boat trim during freefall.
Day 2 brought an altogether BIGGER and more nerve wracking challenge! Afon Gamlan - After our initial hike and inspections we started on a feature near the car park, which gave a choice of lines and the chance to try a new skill - Flairs! Again, a shallow bumpy run-in but with the ability to gain a little more speed, then a choice of an 8ft Boof line, or a 6ft Flair. We all had a few goes at each, with varying degrees of success - Karl taking a great "flair-to-dry-rock" line and Bill having a memory from his childhood "Dig for Victory!"
Then it was on to the main event, the 25ft waterfall...!!!!! OH S**T!
After much planning, and setting up of safety the first runs ensued after a demo from Andy. Bill styling it with the first run, Karl the second which left me (Dylan, being unfortunately injured, was on camera and signalling duties) ......... The climb up was a daunting enough affair, being a steep rocky scramble in muddy conditions with a boat on your shoulder. A quick look at the line and take off pad, then drop into the tiny eddy behind the rocks from which you can see nothing, although you can clearly hear the roar of the falls just around the corner! Getting in is a 2 person job, slipping into the water without a boat at this point is NOT wise, as Andy and a previously viewed video attested to! A few signals, a whistle and then there is nothing else for it - time to go...... or is it.! A lot of soul searching saw me very nearly bottle it, I had definitely left my big boy balls at the bottom!!!!! GO, a nudge is all it takes and you're in the flow, no turning back, no more eddies, just a few strokes to set your line and then it's DOWN you go!!!!!
A fantastic weekend, not for the faint hearted, but some great skills to take away and practice. All in all a VERY good start to 2016!
All the best, see you on the water (or in the air!)