Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Farewell Scotland!

I have had an amazing week of paddling here in Aberfeldy; Thanks mostly to the generosity of good friends like Steve Macdonald of Beyond Adventure.  They are true professionals and river experts.  If you are ever up over this way, check them out.  You will not be disappointed.

Steve and his two oldest boys are all fantastic paddlers.  It was a true pleasure to be on the water with them for my last trip down a Scottish river for awhile.  (Hopefully not too long though).  The last time I was here was 3 years ago.  In that time, the boys have become giants.  I have a feeling I will be back for another visit soon enough.  Hopefully before Steve's youngest lad becomes taller than me too!

We had a friend's wedding to get to later in the evening, so we opted for a short run on the Lyon.  The Lyon is a quintessential river in Scotland and is one of my favorites.  It has a little of everything.  It's tight twisting gorge provides enough entertainment to keep you on your toes without being too threatening.  The banks are lined with beautiful autumnal colors and the shuttle is an easy jog or bike ride providing a great one car option close to town.

We arrived at the river just as the morning light was warming the hill tops.  The air was clam and the water glassy smooth.  The morning fog still hanging low over the river provided a touch of mysticism and intrigue.  The stage was set for an amazing day celebrating life and good times with friends and family. 

We slipped downstream deeper into the gorge.  Struan, Ben, and Steve followed behind hopping in and out of eddies with slalom like precision.  It's so fun to watch these guys ripping through curves and carving their way down the river.  I have always and will continue to maintain that slalom paddlers make the best paddlers, but perhaps I am biased as a slalom paddler myself.  

While scouting and setting support along the bank I stumbled upon this cauldron of swirled rock.  It's amazing to think how long it must have taken the pebbles and swirling water to carve out these pockets of granite.  The special things we paddlers get to see are part of why I continue to explore rivers.  I may never have seen this special spot had I not taken the time to get out of my boat along the bank.  It's something that no hiker, hill walker, or mountain biker would ever have experienced.  

The crux rapid was too low to get through so we made the short hike around and ended the day with a fun seal launch into the silky pete colored water below.  

I will miss the rivers here in Scotland, but I will miss the friends I have made here far more.  Aberfeldy will always hold a special place in my heart.  I know I will continue to travel and explore other amazing places, but it's the people here that will keep me coming back in the years to come.  Thanks Macdonald family and all the new and old friends I've made during my visits!  I couldn't have done it without you.  I will be back!    

Monday, November 7, 2011

2 in 1

One of my favorite parts about paddling Scottish rivers is the ability to easily paddle multiple runs in a day. While the rivers are typically short lived, they are often quite exciting.   I had been keeping my eye on the rain forecast.  When I arrived to pick Nell up from Grandtully he said it had been raining all night and his rain gauge (his topo left cockpit up) indicated about an inch had fallen.  His boat was already at the gate when I arrived.  Let's go boatin!!

The Hermitage viewing room

Nell had yet another new river to show me.  I had paddled the easy section of the Bran before, but this time we were headed to the goods.  The lower Bran was one that I have been meaning to check out.
With only one rig we dropped the boats at the bridge then drove to the take-out below The Hermitage.  There Nell showed me the observatory hermitage building that gives an amazing view point of Hermitage falls while channeling the deep roaring sound given off by the water cascading into the pool below.

The circular concave room in the gallery was said to be built to allow fair ladies (likely Victorian) to view the falls safely.  The story was that the falls were considered so awesome that ladies could not look directly at them lest they should faint.  The room it's self was fitted with several mirrors that would allow a "safe" viewing experience while protecting the ladies from the raw power of nature!  I know at least one lady that would find that just a bit insulting.  I know a few other ladies that may just huck themselves straight off the thing.  Oh how times have changed...for the better.


Rumbling Bridge falls looks disgusting.  It has a manky lead in that would drop you onto bedrock from about 30 feet up.  From there you would be twisted down towards a nasty undercut cave and into the opposite bank with some force.  Just after the base of the falls the river squeezes under a boulder that has fallen into the gorge from above.  Needless to say, it does NOT get run and is considered a "grade 7"?  I had to ask, but over here if it's considered "un-runable" they call it a 7.  It always amuses me what gets called a 6 around here, but there is no doubt about what a 7 is.  Just goes to show you that rating systems differ depending on region.  A simple number can never tell you everything you need to know.

The run from the bridge down had a portage or two and was quick blast down, but was well worth the effort.  With a bit more volume than the other rivers we have been exploring I felt right at home.  Check out Nell giving the crowd a thrill.  I chose the slightly slower route down to the river.

For the afternoon we hit up a section of the Tummel below the dam.  We took a gamble and it paid off!  They were releasing a bit of water due to the overnight rain so we put on before they turned off the river for the night.  I have run fish ladders in the past, but none quite like this.

The run it's self was pretty and secluded with a really good class IV drop in the middle.  After a quick scout from the road on the walk up we put right on and were done within an hour or so.  

My time in Scotland is quickly coming to an end.  I have one more blog post from the Lyon to go.  After that I'm off to Ireland for some quality time with my lady.  Stay tuned for my last day on the river for a couple weeks.  The withdrawals are going to be painful, but I have a feeling she will keep me  sufficiently distracted until we get back home.  


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ben down The River Etive and Alt a Choaruinn

Today was another great day on the water here in Scotland.  (My 13th day on the water in a row to be exact).  We left Aberfeldy this morning jonesing hard.  We felt a serious need to feed our vertical addiction.

One of my favorite things is taking someone down a section of whitewater for their first time.  Not just any stretch, but one that they have propped up on a pedestal as being THEIR big goal; their personal benchmark on their road to whitewater bliss.  Ben Macdonald, now just 15, has had his eyes set on the Etive for quite some time.  Today was the day.  So critical to his personal development infact, that his folks gave him a pass for the day off school.  Here's to having your priorities in line!!  Thanks Ben's Mom!!

Nell, Justin, Ben, and I made our way into the highlands to likely the most infamous piece of whitewater in all of Scotland.  The Etive is a right of passage for whitewater boaters in the UK.  It is not the hardest run in the land, but it is likely the most photographed and videoed runs around and is ALWAYS a blast to paddle.  Check out my post from a few years ago here.

Ben drops into triple just below the put-in.  If things don't go as planned here, you may as well call it a day.  This drop is indicative of the rest of the run, and is within sight of the shuttle rig.  He styled it!

Nell hits his line on this sweet angled boof move.  Is that a Topolino?  Oh yes it is!

Justin styles the move here too.  If you punch out too far you can nail the wall opposite the drop.  He did well here with a sweet side boof.

The crux rapid on the run is Right Angle Falls.  The lead in is tricky and technical involving a class IV move into an eddy right at the lip of the drop.  Those that miss the eddy typically end up dropping over the falls with less than ideal results. 
 Ben absolutely stuck this one.  How's this for your first waterfall?  

We just weren't done yet.  When we got to the take out it seemed our vertical addiction was only made worse by the previous drops, so we hiked up the glen into the Alt a Choaruinn to find a fix.  I remembered this one from my last trip.  It's unbelievably fun.  While it looks "a bit dodgy" it's good to go and go we did!  Never before has so many feet per mile felt so welcoming.  I compare it to a water park for big kids.  It's a MUST if you've had a good day on the Etive.  

The view down into the Etive valley is incredible from high atop the Alt a Choaruinn.  Justin, Ben, and I posed for this shot after running "Speed" to start our descent.  You can really get a sense of the gradient here.  The horizon line is enough to raise even the most seasoned paddler's eyebrows. 

This is the first drop on the Choaruinn is called "speed".  Hey diddle diddle...right down the middle!  Ben drops in as Nell plays catch at the bottom.  

I don't think he will be able to wipe that grin off his face for a week!  

"Pinball" is the crux of this trib.  You basically come bouncing off the lip into a center rock that projects you down into the right wall and off a slide into the pool below.  It was described to me my first time down as "a bit physical."  (elbow pads are not a bad idea here).

Chasm is the last drop in gorge and is by far the easiest.  Just tuck your paddle and hang on for the ride!  Justin show us how it's done.  I challenge anyone to drop into this one and not come out with a smile a mile wide.  It's just too much fun!

A little flesh is a small price to pay for such a memorable experience.  Justin is heading home today, so Nell and I will have to find someone else to boat with tomorrow.  I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for rain.  I need to get my 14th day in a row in tomorrow!!  The addiction is like any other... it needs to be fed DAILY.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Now for some proper Scottish Whitewater!!

After an exhausting week at sea coaching, training, and passing my 5 star sea assessment under the British Canoe Union in Anglesey; I am ready for some light hearted fun in some shorter boats.  I need to do some paddling just for ME!

3 years ago I came for the month of October to paddle all the rivers I could in Scotland.  (check out the MANY blog posts from that trip here) Steve Macdonald and the Beyond Adventure crew showed me the time of my life.  When I was invited to coach at this years UK Storm Gathering this year I KNEW I had to take the opportunity to get back up north to visit my old friends in Aberfeldy.

I'm soo glad I did.  This week has been amazing and it's only a few days old.  So far I am at twelve straight days of paddling and have not had enough yet.  I'm headed back out tomorrow, but I wanted to get a blog post out asap to share all the fun I've been having here in Scotland.

My first day here, we headed out to the River Tay for a quick morning run before blasting off to the Lyon.  The Lyon is a GORGEOUS run with several fun technical rapids separated by brief calm pools.  The fall colors are incredible in this the longest (and possibly the most beautiful) glen in Scotland.  Around every corner awaits an even more spectacular view than the last.

Today we hit up a new river to me.  The North Esk.  The N. Esk is a famous salmon fishing river on the East coast of Scotland.  It is fed by the Lee and the Mark rivers near Invermark.  Just downstream from there, it is joined by the Tarf, another important spawning trib.  The stream runs Southeast for about 35 miles before emptying into the North Sea.  The river is known to produce about a thousand salmon and grilse each season.  While we did not see any fisherman we DID manage to see several large salmon making their way up the river.  

Justin even managed to capture one on "film" as he was shooting pics of us paddling the last rapid on our second lap.  (yet another bit of proof that fish are not afraid of kayaks).

Local river expert and guide Nell picked the perfect river for the day and I can't thank him enough for his expertise and willingness to get after it day after day.  Thanks Nell!!  See you again tomorrow...  

Enjoy the pics and check back soon for more from my Scottish River adventures...

Justin and Struan have a look at the center wave at Grandtully my first day here

Justin gives it a go

Struan shows us both how it's REALLY done.  (While his classmates sit in their first period classes)
To his credit, Struan has worked hard enough throughout his high school career to afford himself a free period every Monday and Wednesday morning.  He takes advantage by getting some "training" in as he is striving to join the Great Britain National Slalom Team as soon as he can qualify.  It's amazing how far he and his brother Ben have come in the 3 years I've been away.  

Tom Sibbald looks towards yet another blind horizon line on the Lyon

Nell dropping into the double drop on the N. Esk as Justin sets support on river left

Justin boofing the last ledge on the double drop

I ran this one super clean sight unseen on the first lap of the day.  My second go around was average at best.

This was the last big one on the Esk just a few hundred meters above the take-out.  It had a super clean tongue on river left that made for an easy no stroke finish.  

Where's Justin?  I think he is looking for that fish he took a picture of...That was a DEEP hole on the first tier of the double drop on the N. Esk.  He managed to blast right through once he re-surfaced.  

This was my favorite image of the day.  I managed to capture Nell peeling out of a pocket eddy.  I love it so much because it reveals the incredible fall colors here.  The steep gorge walls are speckled with brightly colored fall leaves that matched his boat perfectly.  This shot simultaneously shows the peacefulness and serenity of the river in autumn contrasted by the exciting action and intensity of our sport.  What amazing places we get to experience as kayakers!  I would not trade it for anything in the world.   



Monday, October 31, 2011

This is ME in the Sea!

Justine Curgenven 
"Cackle TV produces award winning seakayaking and adventure films which are available for purchase on DVD. The company was set up in 2001 by Justine Curgenven to combine her professional television background with her love of kayaking and the outdoors. Justine has successfully pioneered a new genre in seakayaking films – the inspirational ‘This is the Sea’ series features talented paddlers, some of the world’s most beautiful paddling destinations and cutting edge expeditions. The films are shot with a kayak mounted camera system which captures warts-and-all action in the most challenging rough water. Justine’s films have been shown on the National Geographic Channel & BBC Wales, and have won awards at prestigious film festivals such as Banff Mountain Film Festival and Kendal Mountain Film Festival. In 2010 she released her first open boating DVD “This is Canoeing” which has been called the best ever collection of open canoeing films. Her aim – through films and her website – is to inspire everyone to escape from everyday life, and get out on the water."

So what's next?  

Get ready folks...the 5th installment of the award winning film series, "This is the Sea" is in production now.  I was lucky enough to be asked to do some filming with Justine just after the storm gathering.  We had a great time working together and I can't wait to see what else she has come up with for This is the Sea 5!!!

Her and Barry Shaw were such gracious hosts and showed me such a great time during my visit.  Justine and I went out for a couple of really fun paddling / film sessions around Anglesey.  We went for a super stormy surf session at Cable Bay the first day, then squeezed in another day of filming before I headed North to Scotland for some whitewater boating this week. 

 I got a chance to hit up The Swellies Wave in the Menai Straits of N. Wales with her and Barry, then we cruised up the hill to do an interview.  Be on the look out for her next flick.  From what I can gather, it's going to be another classic.  Some huge expeditions, a few laughs and a lot of sick boating.  Check out a few images for the shoot below and be sure to visit her website http://www.cackletv.com to see the rest of her work.  

Paddler: Paul Kuthe      Photos By: Justine Curgenven

Photos By: Barry Shaw

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Coaching at the 6th UK Storm Gathering

Being invited to coach at the UK Storm Gathering was quite an honor.  Never before have I been surrounded by so many amazing coaches at once.  Having never been there I wasn't sure how I would fit in.  There were many unknowns for me leading up to the event.  For instance...Would I even have anything to show these folks?  What are the venues like?  Will I be able to manage a group of students on my own in unfamiliar waters?  What class am I even scheduled to run...? and with whom will I be coaching??  Where will we go???

It all became clear as the event got underway early Saturday morning.  Nick Cunnliffe and Matt Giblin did an amazing job of organizing coaches and students into groups based on the conditions of the day.  It was actually really good for me as a coach to not need a plan the day before.  Having the ability to set up and run a successful session with only about 20 minutes notice was key.

For more information about the event check out my post on the Kokatat Blog at http://www.kokatat.com/blog/2011/10/the-uk-storm-gathering-2011/

Check out some more photos from the event below:
A proper Welch breakfast at the center...when in Rome I guess... ;)  

Matt Gibling sorting the classes in the morning

It's even more rainy in Wales than it is back home in Portland!

 Axel Schoevers copying down his class list for his session the morning of.  
Once the classes were announced it was GO time!

Watching a student get after at at Treaddur Bay.  Go Jackie go!

The heavy South winds were churning up the water into a thick foam

Getting our nav on.

I love it when students go big!  Nice one Brian!!

A little fun with the coaches after a long day on the water.  

I had a great time coaching at the Storm Gathering and can only hope that one; there will be another one next year and two; that I will be invited back.  What an amazing event!  Thanks to everyone involved, especially Mark Tozer for organizing this year's event and for including me!