I feel fortunate when I manage to paddle one river, but today was something to remember. Some of the local paddlers and I bounced down three of Scotland's finest this Sunday. My new friend Dave, whom I met last night thanks to Biscuit, picked me up mid morning from the house. I was still feeling the home made elder flower wine that Dave shared with me the night before. We made the hour and forty minute drive to the Etive to start things off. Once there we met his buddies Neil and Richard.
The Middle Etive is a tight little class IV creek that starts off in a hurry. The top three drops are visible from the road that follows the whole run on river right.
The top two ledges of Triple Drop seen from the put-in
These first three ledges are aptly named "Triple Falls," and serve to weed out those not up to the rest of the run. There is a good run-out and easy places to set support on the right hand bank. The first person I saw run the rapid swam... Not a re-assuring sight.
The Glen (valley) Etive looking downstream from put-in
I started things off for the group. I was eager to get the first one out of the way. I had already watched a group of about 10 paddlers go down while the boys ran shuttle and the line looked straight forward. There is no real opportunity to boof, so you just have to gut it.
Paul droppin into the Etive for the first time
If you look closely you can still make out my paddle
I emerge from the depths unscathed
Just a few moments after Triple Drop, the next horizon line comes into view. Letterbox, a class IV + ledge didn't give our group any cause for concern. Below that is the easiest drop on the run. Ski Jump is a smooth rolling ledge with an auto-boof flake in the center. Hit that and your on easy street. Crack of Dawn and Crack of Doom are a fun pair that awaits you downstream from there. Crack of Doom had a VERY rocky lead in with a complex ledge that drops into a narrow slot that goes hard left. It was difficult to carry any speed through the crux because of the pile of boulders just before the slot. I got hung up and pushed left off line. Some hard paddling and last minute adjustments were needed before I managed to clear the drop. From there, Some easy ledges and slides lead you to the climax of the Middle Etive...
Eas an Fhir Mhoir, The Big Man's Falls, also known as Right Angle Falls (IV+) We all decided to run the drop, there was one swim due to the strong current that pushes upside down boats into the right hand wall.
After a quick scout Dave nails his line at Right Angle Falls
Paul Poised at the lip
Nailing this one felt GOOD!
After Right Angle, we picked our way down to the confluence of the Etive and the Allt a Chaoruinn that comes in from the river left side for a combined twelve cfs (cubic feet per second). At least that's what it seemed like. Realistically, the Etive was about 300 cfs and the Allt a Chauruinn can't be more than about 80 cfs!
The confluence of the Etive and Allt a Chaoruinn
The Allt a Chaoruinn
We all hiked up the grassy meadow, crossed over a small bridge and continued up the steep bank on river right.
We begin the short hike up the Allt a Chaoruinn, a small glimpse of the rapids can already be seen. Scouting as we went, I became increasingly excited by what was to come.
Richard, Neil, and Dave make their way to the top
When we arrived at the top, there was another large crew getting ready to make their descent. I snapped some photos and scouted as they came through.
It must be good to go...he seems to be having a good time. The rapid shown is called "Ecstasy"
I especially wanted to check out the line at Pin Ball, the third drop down. As we hiked up, it was mentioned that none of the guys I was with, run the very "physical" slide, so I ran back down to take a look. I still wasn't sure if I wanted anything to do with it after seeing everyone in the other crew go for it. The idea at this level, is to slide off the entrance ledge pointing right so you can take the big hit on the left side of the boat. That sends you careening down a twisting slot that slams you into the right (slightly under-cut) bank just before the final 4ft ledge that marks the end of the drop... I would make my decision at the lip.
An unknown paddler dropping into "Pin Ball."
Once Neil, Richard, Dave and I arrived at the top we were all looking forward to what lie just downstream. The run starts in a small pool above a tight slide called "Speed" It's no wider than boat width and drops about 30 vertical feet into a clear calm pool. The line was obvious, and we didn't waste any time gettin' after it.
Tuck in your paddle on this one...You won't need it anyway
The unique thing about this creek was how clear the water was. Most of the runs in the U.K. run a rusty brown color due to the peet bogs the rivers drain. This is a special place indeed!
Another crystal clear pool
After "Speed" comes, "Ecstacy." This drop reminds me alot of the granite slab creeks of N. California. There are a number of lines down this one, and all of them look horrific until you slide down and realize how smooth the rocks are below the surface.
Rich and Dave make there way down "Ecstacy"
Past the crux and feelin' fine
Dave, showing us how it's done
Next up was Pinball. Neil and Dave opted to take photos of Rich and I running it.
Rich ran it first and made some contact with the divider rock that splits the current. Elbow pads are highly recommended for this one...atleast on the left arm. OUCH!
It was my turn next. I knew I wanted to run it...I didn't come all this way to go hiking. I hopped in my boat, took a couple moments to visualize the move and started paddling towards the lip.
Goin for it ...at the top of "Pinball"
Taking the hit
The last drop was the most fun. There is nothing to it really. You just line up, and get your paddle out of the way. Gravity takes care of the rest. It's called "Chasm" for good reason.
Richard finds time to wave to the camera.
From there it's a 300 yard drag over small boulders back to the confluence. After some standing around talking about it, we decided to go for river number 3...The Orchy.
The Orchy is a relatively large volume run for Scotland. It has long flat water pools, punctuated by unique bedrock rapids. The whole run is paralled by the road and all the hard rapids can be portaged along the boggy banks on either side. It provided a nice change in character from the Etive and the Allt a Chaoruinn due to it's flow and wide open nature.
Easan Dubha (essan doo-u) at the put-in to the Orchy
Neil and I ran the class IV Easan Dubha to start the run. It's about a 10 ft drop from the top to the bottom pool with a dome rock in the middle to boof from to avoid the messy shoot on the right and the re-circulating slot on the left.
A little further left then I was hoping for...but it worked out.
We glided along through the large slow pools below "Sore Tooth," a bedrock rapid with lots of diagonal tooth shaped rocks. "Roller Coaster" and "End of Civilization," were fun class III rapids.
After ...civilization comes "Eas a Chathaidh." A demanding class V rapid that deserves respect. (It's harder than it looks). The river splits. There is a 15 ft drop in the right channel that dosen't get run much due to the fun line down the left channel. To run the left channel, charge the far left side of the diagonal ledge pointing left. I missed the line and went deep. I came off the ledge pointed right and was quickly stern squirted over my left shoulder into the left wall. A quick and somewhat lucky roll off the back face of my paddle saved me from scrapping down the rest of the jagged drop on my head.
The trouble starts...
Not a good spot to be
I rolled up just in time to slide into the bottom pocket...backwards
"Witches Step" finishes the run. It's an easy boof on the right over a 5 ft broken ledge. You also have the option of dropping into the seam on the left for some down time. Witches ends right at the take-out on river left. We loaded up, said our good-byes, and parted ways until another day.