At the start of the run in to ‘Surprise Surprise’ the thought flashed through my mind that that this might not be such a good idea after all.
I couldn’t recall ever paddling the Dart this high before and it had all ready bested two of our group. I hadn’t capsized all day but surely it was just a matter of time? Then again I’d seen Andy disappear down without any problems and there were two boats to catch in front so down I went…
Twenty four hours earlier I was siting in front of my computer making the final arrangements for Sundays expedition. The gauge on www.dartcom.co.uk showed sixty odd millimetres of train had fallen on Saturday which added to the twenty something on Friday meant that despite the fact it was July then the rivers or Dartmoor had to be running.
The 0530 start was tolerable, at least I’d arrange to meet Andy at by the M4 less than half an hour from my house so I wouldn’t have to drive all the way. Collecting Louise and Vicky on the way we were soon on our way to Devon for some summer boating.
Checking the Internet on the way it appeared another twenty millimetres had fallen over Devon since midnight and a flood warning had been issued by the EA. Reports on www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk suggested the Upper Dart might be around the third or fourth step (for those who don’t know, that’s quite high). This convinced us to drive straight on past the Dart to check out the Erme.
We didn’t need the chap from Kayaks & Paddles we bumped into in Ivybridge to convince us it was too high to put on, that much was obvious, however his suggestion of the Middle Tavy seemed like a good idea. After consulting one copy of English Whitewater, one AA road atlas and Google Maps we managed to find the way to Hill Bridge.
None of had paddled the Tavy before and despite a few butterflies we all decided we liked the look of it. The weir below Hill Bridge was being rebuilt so we got on beneath this and found a rather pleasant paddle. Rather like and easier version of the Erme in fact.
The butterflies obviously got to Vicky as she went over and got pushed against a wall resulting in an undeserved swim. The rest of the river passed without incident and we only had to get out to inspect once.
Five kilometres of river later we decided that boating in the summer means more tree dodging! Then we discovered the flaw in my summer boating plan, one car means no shuttle opportunity. As we’d used Andy’s car he got to walk back from Harford Bridge to Hill Bridge fetch it (he managed to hitch a lift for the last mile).
Consulting the map again we realised there was a short cut across the moor to Dartmeet so we headed off to check out the Upper Dart. On arrival we met some other boaters who told us the levels had dropped to a more manageable ‘on the ledge’ level so we arranged to blag a shuttle off them and put on the river.
The first few hundred metres brought huge grins to our faces despite the weather that had taken a turn for the worse. Rain and gray skies weren’t going to stop us enjoying this.
Soon I realised that the river was bigger than I thought and probably bigger than any of us had paddled before. Still it wasn’t that much bigger and everyone was enjoying it didn’t seem like a problem.
As we started round the island at ‘Lucky Tor’ we soon realised that it was a different beast to the normal low-medium levels we normally run the Dart at. Later on we decided that it wasn’t huge, but at the tipping point where the river changes character. Holes had formed that we weren’t expecting to be there and it took a little more concentration and effort than normal to avoid them.
Vicky unfortunately managed to get caught by one of these holes, only to be knocked out of it by Louise. Whilst she was attempting to roll Louise was surfing the hole attempting to extricate herself to no avail.
With the help of the gentlemen we met at the get in we quickly recovered both their boats and took a quick breather. Despite the swims everyone wanted to carry on so we headed off.
Things went much better between here and ‘Euthanasia Falls’ everyone was on top form. Boofs worked, rolls worked and apart from my brief surfing experience at the bottom of one of the ledges we had no problems.
Deciding to take the hard left line down ‘Euthanasia’ we went down one by one. As the last of the group to run it I managed to reach the bottom upright to be greeted with sight of Louise rolling (successfully) and Andy making sure Vicky was safely on the bank.
Vicky was the unfortunate victim of a snapped set of paddles. Despite a valient attempt to roll with only one blade she ended up with a bruised finger and out of her boat.
When we sure she was safe Andy, Myself and Louise started to chase Vicky’s boat. Unfortunately (and I didn’t see what happened) Louise took another swim. Making sure that she was okay Andy and I resumed the chase. This time after two boats…
And that’s how I found myself watching Andy disappear over the horizon line towards ‘Surprise Surprise’.
Following him down I took the left line and , to my surprise, came through unscathed. Floating in the pool before me was Vicky’s boat which I quickly tied to a branch on the bank to stop it floating off. Heading off downstream again I soon came across Louise’s boat pinned on a rock above the next rapid. With no sight of Andy I realised we would never be able to reach the boat where it was so I rammed it off the rock and followed it down the river.
At the pool following the rapid I was rather glad to find Andy and have the opportunity to secure the runaway boat. Taking a moment to catch our breath I realised what both Andy and I had both done; essentially soloed a significant portion of a river that had already handed out a beating to two of our party and found it exhilarating! I wouldn’t recommend it as a regular activity but I can see why Knees seems to enjoy boat chases so much.
Shortly Vicky and Louise appeared on the opposite bank and indicated that they were both going out walk out, Louise’s shoulder hurt and they’d both had enough. With the meat of the river over Andy and I decided to carry on so I secured Louise boat well way from the river for later retrieval and we headed off.
Reaching Newbridge Andy collected the car and I walked back up the river to collect Louise’s boat. A walk that was further than I expected. By the time I returned Vicky and Louise had returned safely. Unfortunately Louise had taken a bit of a beating; her face was bruised and her shoulder was painful enough to require a sling. Despite this she decided that she would rather head home then visit the local hospital.
The journey home was was only interrupted for a brief stop at Andy’s parents to eat what felt like the most deserved fish and chips ever. Eventually we arrived home around midnight, nineteen hours later.
Louise visited A&E the following morning and unfortunately it appears she’s partially dislocated her clavicle. Hopefully she’ll recover quickly.
Despite the end of the story being a downer I think everyone enjoyed their summer boating, after all its not often you get to paddle the Upper Dart in July.
Andy’s write-up: http://andywicks.wordpress.com/2008/07/08/high-water-on-dartmoor/
Finally a great big thank you to the guys who helped us with boat recovery and the shuttle.