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canoeing, kayaking and other adventures

canoeing and kayaking adventures born in the Southeastern U.S. and now centered in Scotland...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

River Dee weekender - 14/7/2006 - 16/7/2006

Every summer, the Edinburgh Kayak Club hires a small fleet of open canoes and, on a first-come first-served basis, hit the river in style. Past trips have gone to the Tweed, the Spey, the Dee and I think the Tay. This year marked a return to the River Dee. Charlie organized the logistics and reserved our little patch of Hell on Earth at the Ballater Caravan Park. Ali organized boat hire. Lucas and I were fully-equipped. Charlie was too – he asked us if we wanted a lift, thus guaranteeing full petrol share, only one boat on the roof and no need to take the Land Rover. I invited Neil and Alicia to join us and got them a lift with Rob and Emily, still avoiding the need for the Land Rover. We arrived to a full caravan park Friday night. It was not exactly Hell on Earth, more akin to Purgatory with the aging bikers blasting easy listening until only 10pm.

Charlie did a great job organising the trip. The river was beautiful. The weather was gorgeous. I would have called Charlie’s organisation skills superb if the river was anything more than nearly empty. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Lucas was up well before me and had the Pakboat nearly assembled by the time I crawled out of the tent. Almost perfect timing. We took a leisurely breakfast and then brought boats and gear to the river while the drivers ran shuttle. The drivers returned. One by one, we launched our canoes. Andrea was first but we weren’t far behind. Graham and Helen were last on the water getting started, the start of a trend.

I started in the stern. We scouted and scraped our way downriver with occasional 1+/2- rapids to keep things interesting. At each of the lowest sections, Robin of broken collarbone fame was evicted and forced to walk or jog along the river bank. The fully-laden canoes scraped a lot. With three adults and one child per boat, scraping wasn’t much of a surprise. After a while, Robin got sick of being evicted as well as sick of not paddling. Despite the broken collarbone, he paddled anyway. The under 8 crowd enjoyed themselves immensely and we put a lot of miles behind us, as well as a few swims, before lunch. I started the day in the stern, but gave up after about two hours of just ruddering. I wanted to see more than half the river!

I am not sure whose idea it was to take lunch at the pedestrian bridge, but lunch we did. At least half of our group channelled their inner lemming and tossed themselves from the bridge into the water. The rest of us enjoyed food, lounging in the shade (it was almost hot!) and photographing the entertainment. Photofiends Neil and Alicia had a field day.

After lunch, we continued our scrape downriver. Aside from a few bony spots, we were able to pick our way through most of the shallow stuff. The Pakboat happily caught eddy after eddy. The rapids picked up as the day wore on. The gunwale grabbing and subsequent swims did, too. At one point, Rob tried to help Ali and Jean negotiate a shallow spot. He had gotten out to help Emily through the shallow part and stayed to help others. He made Ali and Jean swim. Neil photographed madly. Ali, Jean and Rob swam the canoe back to the bank. Charlie gave Neil a lift to the rest of us.

Grade 1+/2- became grade 2. We slowed down to make sure people were reading the water more. People did well at that pace. Kayakers reading the water like kayakers does not necessarily translate to fitting 16+’ open canoes through technical rapids.

The rapid to scout was waiting for us at Dinnet Bridge. At that water level, it looked like a 3- to me. It wasn’t hugely difficult, but the moves would be a little challenging in big boats. Most people decided to paddle it. A few opted for the dry line. We weren’t the first to run it, but nearly so. Our plan of entering centre, making a hard right at the first chance and then bouncing through the last of it was thwarted at the turn. The water said left was the way to go. I glanced right and agreed, abandoning my crossbow draw. We negotiated the remaining rocks with just a few draws and caught the eddy at the bottom. Rather than wait in boat for the ensuing entertainment, we beached the Pakboat and hiked up. Lucas went to the top to see if anyone needed help or encouragement. I stayed with pregnant Emily, she with rope, me with camera.

Alvin and Michael had been ahead of us and had no difficulty. Graham and Helen as well. If either of them swam, I had no evidence. Ali and Jean swam at about the halfway mark. Niall and Jenny made the hard right that vetoed Lucas and me. It’s probably a fine kayak line; however, open canoes collect water. Niall and Jenny’s canoe submarined entirely. Jenny swam first. Niall tried to hold on and paddle his water to the right bank, but swam a few seconds later. Andrea made the rapid look easy. Stuntboaters Robin and Rob broached their canoe on the big rock in the centre. Robin and his broken collarbone stepped out on the right and yanked the canoe off the rock before continuing their run. Charlie and Emily demonstrated the trim on Charlie’s new Prospector needed some adjusting as Emily appeared to float several inches above most of the rapid. They went a little farther left than Lucas and I had, got pulled into the eddy and ran the second half of the rapid backwards. Alicia opted out of the rapid. She photographed. Lucas paddled with Neil in the bow. At the big boulder, Neil attempted to switch sides. Lucas may or may not have said something to him, because he never quite swapped. He just held the paddle in the air for the longest time before arriving safely in at the bottom of the rapid. Everybody was safely through. Sadly, my camera battery died just before Neil’s air braces. No charger meant that was it for the weekend. :(

Dinnet Bridge marked the biggest rapid of the day but it didn’t mark the last. We had about 4 miles to go before the get-out. Half the group disappeared. The rest of us worked our way downstream, sometimes catching eddies, but much of the time just trying to catch up. A decent grade 2 rapid not far downstream decided Alvin and Michael needed a swim. Recovery was easy enough. Slowly we worked our way downstream. We caught up with some of the group downriver. We found the rest at the get-out. Getting loaded into all of the vehicles proved more challenging than getting the boats loaded onto the trailer. The Pakboat got the topmost bunk in the centre. Nervous parent Lucas wondered occasionally if it was riding ok. We all made it back to camp with dinner foremost on everyone’s minds.

After dinner, we spent the remainder of the evening lounging in a circle around the grass swapping tales of adventure from the day and trips past. In other parts of the world that space would have been filled with a campfire, heat or no heat.

Day 2 began much like day 1. Breakfast followed by prep for the river. Our plans were to paddle a stretch of river further downstream in hopes of more water. The section would include a popular daytripping section of the river frequented by the Aberdeen-area paddlers. This time, we drove to our get-in, so prep was a tad less leisurely. While the drivers ran shuttle, the non-drivers hauled boats and gear down to the water.

We set off and enjoyed a little bit more whitewater than the previous day.

Little rapids became bigger rapids. The pace was a bit slower than the first day of charging and scraping through most things. The Pakboat was happy to eddy hop through many of the rapids and it surfed happily when it had the chance. I got to practice my bow correction strokes to keep us on the waves. A few times, we got left behind I think at least in part because of some jealousy.

The group was smaller than the previous day. Janet and her entourage chose not to join us. Alvin and Michael opted to head for home. In the end, there were no 3 ½ passenger boats. Still, without any outfitting or seat arrangement, surfing the big boats would be challenging. Possible, but challenging.

The highlight of the run was definitely the familiar whitewater stretch. The whitewater-configured Pakboat was in heaven, eddy hopping and surfing with nearly every opportunity. Novices Neil and Alicia enjoyed the opportunity to learn a few whitewater moves. They were not the only ones who experienced whitewater swims.

Derek’s daughter Niamh was not keen on doing some of the rapids on the whitewater section, so she walked them while Kieron and Derek paddled them. Derek had her following the road, which meant after one of the rapids, she was nowhere to be found. Derek and Kieron stayed behind and tried to find her while the group continued for a little while. We spent about an hour hanging out in an eddy waiting for Derek and Kieron to finally catch up after they gave up searching. The few last rapids weren’t as easy to enjoy until we saw Niamh waiting at the get-out. She ended up following the road to the get-out and got there much faster than us.

With as many hands as we had, loading boats and gear was easy work. Lucas and I (mostly Lucas) took care of disassembling the Pakboat and getting ourselves and gear stuffed into Charlie’s Honda. We fit, with a few things tied into Charlie’s canoe.

The drive home was quite nice, just like the drive to Braemar. Emily introduced us to the joys of the blaeberry. Charlie, Emily, Lucas and I swapped Top 10 lists to pass the time, which seemed a fitting end to such a great, warm weekend.

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