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Friday, 6 March 2015

Paddle paddle paddle paddle...

A week or so of canoeing and kayaking at both ends of Wales has been shattering, but loads of fun! It started with my 4 star leader open canoe training and ended with a club trip to North Wales and the River Dee, separated by a short break to attend a tutor induction event for the new(ish) Hill and Mountain Skills scheme at Plas y Brenin.

4 Star Training
The first day of a 3 day course with Ray Goodwin began with all six of us scraping the hail and ice out of the bottom of our boats at Pontiscill Reservoir. Despite the finger-numbing sub zero temperatures and the occasional snow flurry, the morning mist over the still water was somehow both calming and uplifting at the same time. We worked on refining our forwards paddling technique as we journeyed around the reservoir, stopping for lunch only long enough to scrape the icicles from our noses! In seriousness, the cold was significant enough that we had to keep moving as much as possible. 

A lack of wind in the morning threatened to dash any hopes of sailing, but by the time we had learned a few improvised sailing rigs, a gentle breeze had become a powerful wind cutting across the lake. Powering downwind, it was difficult to keep our pair of rafted canoes on course, but some timely bow jam strokes from Haydn steered us in towards the shore in a sheltered bay. The next challenge was getting back out again with the wind against us!

This challenge proved a great opportunity for me to experiment with micro-trim: positioning myself a little further forwards in the boat in order to dig the bow into the water against the wind. Progress was slow, but steadier than I have sometimes managed before in similarly strong winds.

Back on the River
The following two days were spent on the River Usk, running the Aberbran to Brecon and Sennybridge to Aberbran sections, both of which were familiar to me in a kayak, but not in a canoe. Nonetheless, I was pretty comfortable with the territory and relaxed a little as the sun came out on the final day. This proved to be a great opportunity to learn a bit more about lining and poling, skills which I had only rarely used before but which are essential on longer river journeys. I left the course with a pretty clear idea of what I need to work on before assessment and an eagerness to progress.

Heading for the Hills
The Hill and Mountain Skills scheme was introduced about a year ago by Mountain Training UK to offer an introduction to the UK's hills and mountains for the general walker. The ever-industrious Will Kilner is one of the approved providers for the scheme and offered me the opportunity to get involved as a tutor for his courses.

The two day induction took place at the National Mountain Centre at Plas y Brenin and covered everything from the ethos of the scheme to top tips for delivering training to participants. It was nice to get back into the mountains of North Wales, and it also meant I was just down the road prior to the first of what I hope becomes a regular Monmouth Canoe Club trip to the area.

Back on the River Dee
I met the rest of the club members taking part at Mile End Mill outside Llangollen and we wasted little time in getting straight on the River Dee (well, after a short break for tea and coffee anyway). I've run this section a few times now, so I was happy to lead. After a short warm up downstream of Horseshoe Falls we eddy-hopped down to the top of Serpent's Tail rapid. The river was as high as I have seen it, and the usual island by the rapid was almost washed out. With no-one leaping forward to have a go, we decided to portage the drop and headed on downstream.

A few easy drops and ledges took us to the top of the Mile End Mill site, where we got out to head up to the luxury cottage Tracy had booked for us (which worked out even cheaper than a bunkhouse would have been!).

Another run on the Dee the next day found Tracy's son Jack taking on some of the leadership too, picking sound lines for the group and even having a go at the Serpent's Tail. Unfortunately for him the legendary 'sting in the tail' was particularly sharp that day and tipped him out at the bottom. Sharpshooting Hugh hit him first time with a well aimed throwline though, and he was soon back on the bank.

As heavy rain began to fall we headed on down through the Mile End site, taking on a couple of extra drops before getting out in Llangollen this time. The rain put most people off the afternoon's planned trip across the Pontysyllte Aqueduct, but we made it across the following day instead. 

Sadly both me and Laura had to return home for work, so we missed out on the further exploits of the club, taking on a new river in Snowdonia and convincing one terrified member to sign up for the forthcoming SARA charity abseil, but that's another story!

My next trip out should see me safely on dry, if somewhat snowy, ground. A five day winter skills course in Scotland to look forward to!

(Photos borrowed variously from Haydn and Tracy)

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