More midsummer whitewater

Posted by Andy Waddington on 2010-06-09

2010 midsummer - if there's rain, there's rivers to run


Upper Tees - July 17th

A very dry spring meant that we felt we had been quite right to give up on the Charity Paddle - it would have been yet another very low river this year. Early summer proved a bit drier than recent years, which has been great for the sea kayakers, but means our river paddlers were a bit restricted, especially with the Tees barrage finally closing for major re-engineering. The club seems to have held a low opinion of the Washburn over many years, so that I had never paddled it, but with Wednesday evening releases being the nearest reliable water to keep in form for the summer alps trip, it seemed worth while putting it on the programme this year.

So 19th May saw Sarah and I driving down for our first play. Being there early meant it was relatively uncrowded, so we took the time to run the top bit twice before continuing down - this seemed to be a popular option with other groups, too. It's a very fast river, which, despite its technical grading of II, makes it quite intimidating if you haven't been in a white water boat for a few weeks. We settled down after a few wobbles, and soon got used to the small eddies. As we continued down, there were lots of tight breaks-out to make and it all seemed like very good practice for the alps - certainly better than rock-bashing on marginal rivers or paddling on slow-moving water. A horizon line with quite a bit of noise ensured that we popped out for a quick inspection of the biggest drop, before continuing most of the way to the bottom and then doing a walking shuttle back to the carpark. It was good to have someone else with a car to do a shuttle on June 16th (Andy, Sarah and Iggy went on that one), but the all-afternoon June 2nd release (see below) had a frequent minibus shuttle.

See where the Washburn is and how far we paddled the first time on an OS map

Sarah on the biggest drop on the Washburn
Sarah on the biggest drop on the Washburn

Although it wasn't on the programme, we found that there was an extra Wednesday release during half term, starting at noon for "Children's day", so all four Waddingtons trekked down to the Washburn on another warm day. We all managed two runs down in good order, although not everyone had got the hang of tight breakouts from fast water, so we were a bit economic on stops for photography. Sarah had met a friend and done the top section an extra time, and Andy and Sarah joined three others for a final run, by which time we were all getting a little tired !

Upper Tees, June 9th

Wednesdays seem to be getting popular. Since the dry summer reverted to a wet one, with two days of heavy rain, Sarah demanded that she spend some of her GCSE revision time on the Upper Tees. A look at Abbey Rapids on the school run showed the river hadn't come up very much. We hoped there'd be enough water for the Upper, having got people to drive down from Durham to join us, but the water was obviously running off the moors faster higher up, as the level was very good indeed by the time we got to our put-in at Ettersgill (avoiding any contact with the High Force Hotel carpark).

This put-in drops you right above the first drop, which was very splashy. Then a few more rapids, all with plenty of water to warm up before Salmon Leap which had enough water (just) to be run straight as well as the usual Dogleg route.


Sarah on the first of two runs down Dogleg in her playboat

After a lot of faffing and carrying back for another go, as well as a bit of fishing out and reuniting boats and paddlers, we splashed on down to Low Force. Having watched one trashing on Horseshoe (although he went back and ran it perfectly second go), most of us opted to portage that bit and just do the main drop. Here's Sarah showing it can be done in a tiny playboat (although it did seem to spend ages as a submarine at the bottom).

Everyone having made it down Low Force safely, if not elegantly, we paddled over river left, where the oxbow channel was just running enough to make the last drop work well. Four of us ran that, just for fun, although there wasn't enough water to run it from where it forks off the main channel, so it was a matter of dragging the boat up the rocks next to the fall and plopping in.

Everyone took the river right route down the drop before Wynch bridge, some making a better job of boofing the big flat rock than others - you just can't see it until you are too close to change line - but no-one dropped into the slot and everyone came out smiling. The last few rapids always pass too quickly when the level is up and all too soon we were at the take-out and trek back to Newbiggin village hall.

Tees Racing Section, June 11th

Two days later, levels had dropped, but there was still enough for Andy, Sarah and Iggy to run the Tees Racing Section in the sun. A bit of a bump and scrape on the flat sections, but all the main rapids were good, and the playwave on Fairy Cupboards Rapid (the one next below Woden Croft) was working very well:


Andy on the playwave by Fairy Cupboards, which works well and is quite forgiving at low levels

The rain came down in mid-July, but no-one was available or keen for the two midweek days when the rivers were up, and the Racing Section was deemed a bit too low on Saturday July 17th, but two of us decided that the Upper Tees would just about go, and did the run from Ettersgill to Newbiggin bridge again - see the photo at the top of the page. I don't think a lot was done in the UK whilst we were off paddling in the alps, but August saw us paddling the Upper Tees twice more (once with a lot of playing and multiple runs down both Dogleg and Low Force) and a bigger group did Barnard Castle to Winston.

Article and photographs copyright © Andy Waddington 2010 except where credited: photographs copyright © Matt Gilles, Sarah Waddington 2010

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