This article was original published in the ‘The Trasher’ newsletter of the Kingfisher Canoe Club
Extra, Extra… Dart had water shocker!
What’s this all about then?
The weekend of 8/9th December saw the annual ‘Gene17, Adventure Paddler’s Weekend’ held as usual at the River Dart County Park on the edge of Dartmoor. The event has run for the last few years bringing paddlers from far and wide to enjoy Devon’s rivers and in the evening be entertained in the bar by lectures and shows of kayaking expeditions from around the globe.
This year the RDCP has been closed to paddlers except for this weekend. As we have done in the past rather than risk the bunk houses we booked a cottage with all the comforts of home on site to base ourselves from. Getting there early on the Friday night enabled us to catch up with some other friends who were down for the weekend and enjoy a good meal in the Church House Inn before rising for an early start next morning.
After one of Louise’s wonderful cooked breakfasts we met with Ian and left the RDCP promptly at nine.
First stop Ivybridge to check out the Erme, it was high and it was raining. Heavily.
On the Thursday the weather station on Dartmoor registered 58 mm of rain, this is quite a lot. Friday had been relatively dry during the day but in the small hours it had been raining heavily and the the quick to rise Erme was rising fast. Not fancying spate run that was likely to reach suicidal levels just as we entered the gorge we switched to plan B and retreated back to Dartmeet hoping that we could catch the Upper before it rose too high.
We got there with the water a few inches over the slabs at New Bridge. As we started to get on a slightly nervous feeling started growing in my stomach. This grew when Louise and Andy decided they weren’t comfortable getting on at this level with the river rising. When messrs McMahon, Wheeler and Rainsley drove in to the car park and pointed that the amount of rain that had fallen meant the river could rise by a metre over the next hour we aborted.
Slightly less scary stuff.
So Plan C, after a quick meeting and discussion we decided to run the West Dart. Mark suggested we ran a tributary, the Blackbrook River, that led into this first to make it a longer run.
Starting just from a lay-by on B3212 just outside Dartmoor Prison this lasted about two and half kilometres before joining the West Dart. Fast, narrow and exposed this was a a great little moorland run of the kind that can only really be run in spate. Unfortunately this was marred by three portages around barbed wire fences that were strung across the river.
Once we joined the West Dart the river swelled and we began to realise just what spate meant; fast water, big waves, holes and most importantly trees. Lots of trees.
Before I continue I should say that everyone agreed it was a great day. Its not often that we get enough to paddle with decent water conditions and everyone appreciated it. Having told you that I should ‘fess up and admit that as a group there were six (okay five and half) swims, five runaway boats, one pinned boat, three people walked out after the lost their boats ans paddles and I’ve never used my throwline so much in one day before!
Not so good. Still in fairness those who swam (and I won’t mention names here, but you know who you are!) tried everything to avoid their OBE but fast water combined with trees made rolling tricky. Anyway enough with the excuses; with a bit of effort and help from other paddlers we managed to reunite all the lost kit with its owners eventually.
All together we ran about 10 -11 km of some of the most exhilarating white water I’ve run in this country and as I said enjoyed every minute of it.
Boozin’ and talkin’
The Saturday evening entertainments were held in the RDCP, which now resembles an airport lounge after its refit, for a series of lectures, raffles and inspired lunacy hosted by Dave Carroll. The new layout of the hall had some interesting acoustic properties which made hearing the lectures over a couple of hundred chattering paddlers difficult at times, but nether the less an entertaining evening was had by all.
The first talk was by by Kevin Frances and our own Andy McMahon on the West Coast of North America. Those who saw his DVD at the KCC AGM will understand what I mean when I say that the dodgy 70’s and 80’s metal kept the talkers silenced for a while. Of course the pretty impressive looking paddling being shown on the screen helped as well.
Following this was a talk and presentation from two guys who basically went around the coast of Greenland hiking up valleys and running the rivers that they found. It looked terrifying and most people came away thinking that they must be masochists. More about this craziness can be found here… http://fatcatslatestnews.blogspot.com/2007/08/greenland-whitewater-expedition.html
Deb Pinniger spoke about paddling the in Gabon (Africa), to be honest I kind of missed most of what was going on here but I did see some pretty pictures of elephants on the screen and the word ‘portage’ was used a lot!
Finishing of the lectures was a talk from the British Uni’s Four Borders Expedition team. These guys paddled the border regions around Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Mongolia and gave a great talk on their exploits more of which can be found here: http://www.fourbordersexpedition.com/
All four talks were pretty inspiring, and it was a great opportunity to catch up with people and see what they’ve been up to.
Slightly hung-over we decided to have another go at the West Dart on the Sunday. this time with much more success. The levels were lower, maybe a bit too low for the Blackbrook, but the reduced speed of the water made the river easier and the lack of incidents meant that we finished it pretty quickly.
Seeing as we still didn’t fancy the Upper at what were still pretty high levels (as opposed to monstrous the day before) we decided to take a blast down the loop. I haven’t paddled this in years and I don’t think I’ve ever done it in anything other that scrappy levels before so this was a revelation. No rocks! Speedy water! Decent sized wave trains! It was almost a pleasure to paddle it!
I came away thinking that it there’s water the levels we had on the Sunday made the West Dart and the Loop a perfect couple. Skip the Blackbrook and the two together would make a great trip for those who are comfortable on the Loop with a decent flow.
And that was that. Nothing more to do than stop for a bite to eat at the Green Ginger tea rooms in Ashburton (recommended) and drive back home with the satisfaction of knowing that it had been a great weekend.
This was the third ‘Adventure Paddle’s Weekend’ I’ve attended and it didn’t disappoint, in fact none of them have. if you’ve never been to one before then do yourself a favour and keep the second weekend of next December free. Even if the water levels don’t match this year gargantuan levels the rivers around Dartmoor cater to all levels and its a rare opportunity to meet other a great number of other paddlers and see what they’ve been doing around the globe. It may even inspire and encourage you to go further afield.
Credit where credits due.
Louise organised the accommodation for Vicki, Andy N, Lee, Dave S, Dave H, Ben W and Chris. All of us (except Chris who went off in search of scarily big water) paddled with Ian, Martyn, Andy, Dicko, Dave Booth and others over the course of the weekend.
Thanks to all who paddled with us for making a great weekend and Gene17 for once again organising a great event. And if anyone out there is reading who helped retrieve some of the lost kit thank you as well.