So once again I find myself in North Wales with a good bunch of friends. The weather is reasonably mild at about 8 degrees, and at the moment it’s not raining. We’re standing in a layby at the get in for the Wnion. We were discussing whether to paddle the Wnion, or weather to choose an easier river, as there were several running that day. There were some nervous looking faces in the group, in particular mine! I felt we were almost starting to talk ourselves out of paddling this river for an easier one. Then someone spoke up and said “yes let’s do it.” So the die had been cast and come what may we were going to give it a go!
I am the weakest paddler in the group, but this river was my choice. I’d asked a paddling friend at work to suggest some nice grade 3 rivers in North Wales. As he mentioned the Wnion, I thought it was a good choice. What I didn’t realise is that he had added a caveat, that being ‘level dependant’. The level was hovering around high (ish). This made it a grade 4 river. I’ve only ever done grade 3 rivers with the odd grade 4 feature. Next time I must either keep my mouth shut or actually listen to what I’m being told.
We got on just below a bridge, and set off downstream. I settled in quite quickly, and can remember thinking to myself, “well this isn’t too bad, grade 4 Rivers aren’t much harder than grade 3’s”. Well that thought didn’t stay with me for long, neither did it entre my head again for the rest of the paddle!
We came to the first feature soon enough. It was a vertical drop of around 8 feet into a pool. We all got out to inspect it and choose a line. For me it was very intimidating, although with hind sight it may have been one of the easier obstacles we had to negotiate.
To try and convey the scene, the water is cold and dark. Rocks are breaking the surface all around. The submerged rocks are causing tell-tale waves on the surface. The drop itself has a gnarly lip with rock sticking out along its length. There was a small step on river right, which lessened the height of the drop, but I didn’t fancy that line. The pool below consisted of frothing aerated white water, and the noise alone was enough to put shivers down my spine.
Anyway, Ben went first. He paddled up to the lip, boofed it, and with a lovely flat landing continued into the eddy to pick up any flotsam and jetsam (that’s me and my boat) that may float by. “Well Ben made it look easy” I thought, I’ll go next. I climb into my boat (I’m pooping it at this point), I make my way to the lip. I have been trying to learn to boof on man-made courses with not much success, but I still gave it a go, for the first time on a proper river! You’ll never guess what happened next……………….I landed it! Not in text book style I admit, or with any style at all really, but I stayed the right way up, just, and the boat continued away from the drop. The rest of the group came over with no problems at all as I expected.
We continue on our way. I suspect one or two of the group were feeling slightly more confident at this point. Unfortunately it may be true to say that my confidence, for once, outweighed my skills. We came across what I though was a smaller drop. BOOF!!! I shouted in my head, so that is exactly what I tried to do. The trouble was that it just turned out to be a nice easy green tongue with a wave at the end. I got myself all out of kilter, ended up on the wrong edge, and as is probably obvious to you now, I was straight upside down. My roll comes and goes. I did try, but ended up with a silly swim, the first of two.
Steve kindly sorted me out, as usual and we were on our way. With my confidence now in check, things were going really well. I’m sure I can say the whole group were enjoying themselves.
The next big feature was for me, and maybe one or two others terrifying!
The river had narrowed slightly, thus speeding up the flow of water. In front of us was a Boulder Garden. If you’re not familiar with this term, imagine if you were strong enough to pick up a load of BIG Boulders in one go, and throw them into the air so as to land in the river. They would be randomly scattered on the river bed. Now add several tons of fast moving water and “hey presto” you’ve got yourself a boulder garden.
I think Ben went first, followed by Steve. I don’t know what really happened after that for what seemed like a life time. It was absolutely BONKERS! There were rocks everywhere. It was almost too much for someone of my ability to cope with. In a split second I had to decide whether to go left or right of this rock! NO a hole! Oh my another rock, which side? Splash, a big wave straight in the face! Oh no, not another rock followed by another hole L. And so it went on until we were all through. I made it to the eddy and then capsized to my embarrassment. With hind sight I think what happened was that I actually passed out with fear! (Well that’s the story I’m going to tell to my grandchildrenJ), I don’t want to admit to another silly capsize.
Steve and Ben had another go, they seemed to have all the time in the world. I had the chance to catch my breath and off we went again. As we went the side of the river seemed to get steeper, for in front of us is a committing George run. Once you’re in, you can only paddle out. Before that though was one more obstacle to negotiate. It was a reasonably big drop, 6 feet (ish) I think into a boily pool. There was an eddy on the right, but in quick succession after this first drop, was another much narrower drop into another pool. Once again Ben went first, followed by Steve. They once again made it look easy. Ben set up safety from the rock’s on river right. Steve sat in an eddy between the two drops. I went next. I dispatched the first drop without problems. I couldn’t quite make the eddy on the right, so decided it would be better to take the next drop, and found a nice quiet eddy to wait for the other’s. Dutch went next and joined me in the eddy. Last but not least was Tom. He made the first drop, from what I could see from my slightly obscured vantage point. The next thing I could see was poor old Tom swimming. He was unable to make the eddy between the drops. He was washed down the second drop. It must have been quite frightening. He was washed past me, closely followed by Steve. I reached out with my paddle while shouting encouragement. Tom couldn’t reach the paddle due to the speed of the water. He and Steve disappeared around the corner. They were out of sight now. Steve did what he enjoys doing, and quickly had the situation under control. Unfortunately while dealing with Tom, his boat and paddle were swept off towards the George at great speed. That was the last Tom and I saw of his boat and paddle for the best part of an hour. Tom and I had to walk out. This involved pulling my boat up a steep wooded bank to the road at the top. Tom deserves a big thank you for helping to get my boat up the bank. I was huffing and puffing all the way up. Tom managed most of the work. If you want to find out more about the missing boat and paddle, please read Steve’s write-up. To finish I want to say a big thank you to the team for keeping their eye on me. They were Steve Banttams, Ben Stone, Dutch Holland, and Tom Brooks. From the river bank, on this occasion was Sarah Davies. Sarah had all the info on the rivers and levels we could possibly want.