Yesterday (Saturday) Penny, Mark, Bob and I headed to Wallowbarrow for some early season climbing. It was the first multipitch of the year and a chance to enjoy the dry and reasonably warm weather (I did not put a jacket on all day).Penny and I started on Trinity Slabs, a VDiff on the East Buttress. I linked the first two pitches and and last two to make it a two pitch climb. I thought it had one move that was quite tricky for Vdiff. Penny climbed well despite the handicap of her bump! but after this route she read the paper whilst I joined Bob and Mark to climb the Logan Stone Route. Continue reading
The grade four rapid Jill’s Folly came next. Penny had been talking about portaging it but the large cows in the field persuaded her that running it would be the easiest option (or perhaps she just mtfu). This time there was a line down the far right under the holly tree. This left a sharp left-handed turn at the bottom but gave more room for error than threading between the two rocks like we did last time. The photos below show Penny edging to get round the corner at the bottom. This was where she hit a rock last time and let go of her paddles resulting in a swim. This time it went very smoothly which was probably a good thing as the water was considerably colder than only a month ago.
[slideshow]The next section didn’t start too well when I got wedged between two stepping-stones, however I managed to free myself before Penny had got too far ahead. This few hundred metres is great fun, weaving in between boulders, going with the flow. I found one or two semi-submerged rocks and Penny had a huge grin on her face after ‘doing it perfectly’. We eddied out just before the gorge section for a quick inspection.
This was higher than last time and bouncy. Again we started far right before hitting the centre halfway down. Towards the end we went back to the right to avoid a hole on the left. Today I noticed how deep and slow the water is after the gorge, this would be useful if anyone had a swim in this section.
The final section was still bouncy and fun, the stopper on the right-handed corner was in good shape and the wave went up to Penny’s chin! A dog on the bank seemed a little upset that we were there but we did not encounter any fishermen, only 8 days to go until the end of the fishing season.
I have been itching to do some Lake District white water paddling ever since we got back from France. Now that the Environment Agency has very helpfully put their gauge data online it is easy to see what most of the rivers are doing. Whilst this is very useful in making plans it is also doubly frustrating if the rivers are at a perfect level but I can’t get out paddling.
Anyway, after a day instructing rock climbing with the 2nd form at Upper Shepherds yesterday it was time for a bit of me and Penny time on the Duddon. The gauges said that it was at a low runnable level, perfect for Penny’s first trip on the Duddon. The last time I was there was with Mark during the Easter Holidays. Today’s level was a little lower than on that day, resulting in hitting a few more submerged rocks but there was no scraping on gravel.We started at Hall Bridge, having been to look at Jill’s Folly on the drive round. I took the car down to Ulpha Bridge and cycled back. We had a gentle warm up down to the gauging weir and bumped our way down the right wall. Having read LDWW since we could probably have descended the fish ladder with less bumping. Some quick water brought us to the pool above Jill’s Folly (IV-). Here the river bends round to the left with two rocks to fit between on the approach and then one final rock to miss on the exit as the water does it’s best to push you to the right. We landed on the island and had another inspection and then Penny watched as I attempted to show her the correct line. I was very happy with the outcome, hitting the line perfectly. I got out with my throwline ready for Penny’s go, choosing a position on the right, level with the final small drop. She had the correct line to start with but got pushed a little right and just hit the right hand of the two rocks you have to pass between. In stopping herself being tipped in onto the rock she let go of her paddle, so she had kept herself upright but now had the final drop to negotiate without a paddle. At this point I got in and reached her paddle but she had drifted past before I could give it to her. Going over the final drop she had nothing for support and fell in. Quickly she exited her boat and swam it into the eddy on the right. I was pleased to see her with a big grin on her face and talking about how she had ‘nearly’ hit the right line on her first grade IV rapid.
The next section of the river is a fast and bouncy boulder garden. This was great fun, Penny was making happy noises from behind me but I was wishing that I had rear view mirrors to keep an eye on her as the paddling needed most of my attention I didn’t have much time to turn and look back upstream. We were woshing along and suddenly I realised that we were almost at the gorge section. A quick eddy on the left allowed us to get out and inspect this steep and confined section. We identified a line that started on the far right and then moved into the middle. This meant we did not have to miss the rock in the middle of the more obvious line (that Mark got close to last time). Penny again watched as I showed her how to do it, but this time she nailed it and had an even wider grin as she sailed past me in my eddy. After a little gentle section we went through the right-handed turn rapid with the stopper at the bottom and some more bouncy flowing padding through boulders before taking out on the left at Ulpha Bridge.
We had had a lot of fun, the river was at the perfect level for building confidence and it was only 1pm so we decided to run the next 6km down to Duddon Bridge. This involved collecting bike from upstream, buying drinks from the post office, driving to Duddon Bridge, and cycling over the large hill back to Ulpha to put on a wet wetsuit ready to continue. All of this took around an hour and by 2 we hit the water.
This second section was not as bouncy, but the water was falling. It still had some very interesting technical paddling. Soon after Ulpha we met one fisherman who told us we were not allowed to paddle until the 1st November. I just smiled and agreed whilst we paddled past, he didn’t even have a line out as we approached him.
The major excitement of the Lower Duddon is Duddon Hall Falls under Rawfold Bridge. We got out at the confluence of Logan Beck and went to inspect. There were two obvious lines, a twisty one on the right and a more straightforward one in the middle passing just to the left of the central dividing section of bedrock. The concern was that he main flow then hit a boulder on the left bank just under the bridge, this looked like it could be serious for a swimmer. After some consideration I decided to run it taking the middle line. I must admit I was a little nervous, it is a big drop and despite the river being at a relatively low level there was still lots of water. The approach was a little rocky in the upper section but I got my boat to exactly where I wanted it. I slid down the tongue of dark water but at the bottom I needed a monster of a support stroke on the left to keep me upright. This didn’t give me much time to avoid the rock and so I gave it a glancing blow. Penny was tempted to have a go but in the end we both agreed that after such a fun and confidence building day it was probably time for a portage to below the falls.
Just after the bridge is the second gauging weir. This can be very serious in high water as it has a vertical face and long towback. Today very little water was flowing over the higher side sections and we both boofed over on the right. From here there was one steep twisty rapid where we got a little caught in a dead end on the left and then the last km of so of gentle paddling to reflect on what an excellent day we had had. We took out on the left after the bridge.
When we got back home the level of the Ulpha gauge was 0.63m and the lower one was 0.55. I think this was perfect for a slightly nervous paddler’s first trip on the Duddon and I wouldn’t want to paddle it any lower as it did get a little bumpy on the second section from Ulpha down.
Written on my phone, spell checking and photos to be done tomorrow.
Firstly let me thank Estelle for her guest blog. The response was very positive and it has put pressure on me to let my inner monologue feature more prominently. I have one slight problem, my inner monologue is nowhere near as entertaining as Estelle’s, in fact I’m struggling to connect with it at all.
So a quick write-up of yesterday evening’s exertions. Another prompt departure from school and the decision that I was not too ill saw us packing both climbing and canyoning gear just in case the rock was too wet. We picked up Mark and Bob en-route and reached Wallowbarrow by 6. This time we parked at the farm which reduces the walk in considerably. The first of our two routes for the evening was The Plumb (VS 4c) which had an excellent final section pulling through a chimney crack that had loomed above the whole route. Our second route was Kestrel (HVS 5a). This had a bold start (crux) but then the rest of the fist pitch was absorbing climbing. At 36 metres it was a long pitch, Penny enjoyed it too, with the exception of trying to remove a microcam I stuck in early on whilst worried about having nothing to stop me hitting the ground. We both felt that Kestrel deserved at least one star.
Next time we must get round to Digitation and Agitation, the first pitches of these two routes look excellent.
After climbing the weather closed in quickly and after the mandatory been at the Newfield Arms we drove through the fog over Birker Fell and back to St Bees.
Despite the forecast suggesting that it would just be 5mm of rain last night everywhere was soaked this morning and so we loaded up the boats with a tentative plan to head to the Esk. Driving over the Ehen it was HUGE, over the concrete outflow at Low Mill. The Calder and Irt were both high and brown but we still held out some hope that the Esk might go. It was very fast and deep, the large boulder that is normally on top of the shingle at Forge Bridge was underwater. We went and looked at Penny Bridge and Doctor’s Bridge, at Penny bridge the gorge was at least one metre deeper than usual, most of the boulders downstream were covered. At Doctor’s Bridge there was a new route on river left, the usual route had a large stopper.
So with the Esk a little intimidating we headed over Hardknott Pass to the High Duddon. We looked at it yesterday at a much lower level on a gentle walk. Today most of the boulders were covered, with fast flowing clean water. A quick inspection of the take-out above Birk’s Bridge and then a bike shuttle and we put in just below Cockley Beck Bridge. The start contained the most interesting rapids but the whole run was continuous with a fence to portage and two sets of stepping-stones that were just underwater. There were only a few scrapes and plenty of splashing from the strong headwind. Whilst we were on the river the level dropped by around 10 cm.After getting out we went back to Cockley Beck Bridge to pick up the bike but also to shoot the rapid. It is given III in LDWW and the main flow goes right but over a pourover with a long towback, the left channel is rockier and harder to approach but has a more gentle descent. Note that left and right are reversed in the photo because it was taken facing upstream. I went first and took the right channel, all was fine until the stopper grabbed me and it took a couple of anxious powerstrokes to get me free. Penny ran the left line, a couple of good support strokes were needed but she ran the rapid in good style. However in her haste to eddy out she ended up on a rock and tipped out of her boat. I am pleased to say that I was there to rescue her (even though she was doing fine on her own).
Is was good to get on a river that does not reach paddleable levels very often. With the exception of the rapid under the bridge and the fence there were no major hazards and again Penny had fun.
What a day! Two rivers in one afternoon. A great blast on the Duddon after a warm-up on the Esk.
Penny had been to the dentist early in the morning and by lunchtime was not feeling strong enough to join Mark and me on the Esk. We left St Bees at 13:00 and passed over the Ehen, Calder and Irt on the way to the Esk. Of these the Ehen was at a runnable but not brown level, the Calder was low and the Irt was runnable but at a slight scrape.
The Esk was up enough to run it but there were a couple of sections that made it difficult to avoid hitting the bottom. We ran it non stop with the start rapid, the gorge section and double drop being the most interesting sections. I was surprised how easy it was to surf the stopper at the bottom of double drop. As we were reaching the bottom of the Esk we debated whether it would be worth heading over to the Duddon, the risk was that Mark might run out of diesel since his fuel light was already on.
We took the risk, and it was worth it. The Duddon was at a bouncy level, covering all but the biggest boulders which made it a great ride. We put in at the bridge below Seathwaite and took out at Ulpha. This was my first proper run of the Duddon. After our spanking in November it was good to see what our nearest three star river is like in better conditions. There were three more interesting sections linked with more or less continuous II/III paddling. The first was The Slot, a left hand bend where the flow is determined to take you right. There are a couple of drops as the river turns, I hit the first one fine but had a little pause in the stopper before hitting the second right on line. Mark was taken a little off line to the right but came through with a smile on his face. The second was the gorge section, similar to the Esk’s but bigger, bouncier and with two possible routes. The flow is divided by a large rock at the start, since the river bends to the right we both took the right hand route to keep away from the left bank. The only drawback with the right route is that there is a small rock to be avoided half way down. Mark showed an excellent boofing technique off the rock whilst I was more conventional and avoided it. Further down the river splits into three channels, we took the left one which was fine but had a sharp right turn at the bottom into a big stopper that gave a refreshing facefull of cold water.
That was about that, a few more big bouncy boulders to avoid before the takeout and the best paddling I’ve had since the alps. I am keen to do it again as part of a longer run down the Duddon. It goes to show that the Duddon can be up when the Esk is a little low.