Posted on

Four Star Open Canoe

Tandom White Water - Photo cropped from original by Giles Trussell

Below are some thoughts on my recent four star canoe leader training at Glenmore Lodge. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive guide of what to cover, or even include everything that I covered on the course, however, hopeful people wondering about the course or preparing themselves to become a four star open canoeist might find it useful.

Day One – Open Water

We started off with a few methods for lifting boats, particularly interesting was using the ropes as a slide to get the boat off the higher rungs of the trailer. It involves two people holding the ends of the ropes out perpendicular to the canoe (still attached to the central point on the trailer) a further two people slide the canoe onto the ropes. It will then roll under its own weight and turn the right way up to grab the handles off and carry to launch. I quite liked this method as it definitely saved backs and lifting especially where boats are high on a trailer. It does however, use a lot of people and is probably more time consuming than lifting boats manually. One to use with weaker groups or people not used to lifting boats where you might team up as a four to lift anyway.

Finally, before getting on the water we discussed the tactics for the prevailing conditions (strong, out of remit wind).

With the boats by the shore of the loch we discussed kitting them out. In general attaching dry bags and other items on a length of rope just long enough to reach from the middle of the boat to either end. That way maximum options are available for adjusting the trim (weight distribution for and aft) of the boat. We also learnt the highwayman’s hitch to secure items. I was carrying:

  • First Aid
  • Group Shelter or tarp with a few pegs
  • Spares and repairs – including two pulleys and three carabiners to rescue a pinned boat.
  • Throw line
  • 16ft sling
  • Tape sling
  • Knife
  • Spare warm layer, woolly hat and neoprene gloves
  • Food and drink
  • Kneeling mat
  • Bailer
  • Two paddles (a deep water wooden paddle* and a white water paddle)
  • Pole, in two sections
  • Sail

Finally, before getting on the water we discussed the tactics for the prevailing conditions (strong, out of remit wind). We hugged the shore to find any shelter we could and wait for a lull to get around into the next bay which was very sheltered. We also pre-adjusted the trim on our boat to naturally turn front to wind. With a group we’d have options of carrying, or lining the boat. It was important to brief them not to get between the boat and the shore as well. A canoe is heavy if full of water and blown at you by a gale.

Sorting kit before our open water day - Photo curtsy of Ali Rose
Sorting kit before our open water day – Photo courtesy of Ali Rose

On the water we had to do some strong paddling into wind and looked at where best to paddle. It turned out that trimming forward and paddling up wind was easier for strong wind conditions (with the boat self-correcting into wind and less pushing against it). Trim is crucial in this instance. As the wind dropped we also tried paddling on the down wind side. This also proved effective depending on how the boat was trimmed. My preference fell on the up wind side once you got the hang of the trim. This meant less battling against the wind with every stroke as you didn’t have to push the boat into it and wait for the boat to correct instead you could rely on the paddle to correct as it naturally braced against the gunwale of the canoe. This was totally counter what I had initially thought.

The wind died away a bit and we found enough shelter to give polling a go. This is the process of propelling the canoe using a 12ft long (in our case) metal pole like you were in Venice. Hand orientation took a bit of getting used to, ‘bicycle grip’ where the thumbs point towards each other for wide steering strokes, otherwise top hand with thumb up to give more natural drive. The pole should enter the water as near to the centre as possible allowing the boat to glide past it until it reaches a 45 degree angle and pressure applied to increase movement. Keeping it near the central ‘keel’ line of the boat means minimal correction needed to keep going in a straight line and requires stacking hands over the side of the canoe, a good test of flexibility and balance. There are two techniques for recovering the pole for your next stroke. The first is called ‘wind-milling’ and uses a flip at the rear hand to spin the pole in a large cartwheel with lots of momentum. This should bring it around ready to drop straight into the central line again. I found this particular method somewhat elusive to master and one I really need to practice to make sure I’m set for assessment. The second, more intuitive to me but perhaps less efficient, is where you fire the pole up through your hands to clear the water after moment is achieved. This allows you to bring it forward and reset ready to glide on again. Correction strokes for the inevitable miscalculation in direction can be done using the end of the pole and full turns by using the biggest lever you can muster i.e. placing hands at the end and using hips as a pivot with the far end entering the water to turn the boat – very effective when mastered.

Somehow we’d all escaped falling in during the polling session so we celebrated with a lunch break. We used this to talk about shelter options for groups. Tarps are great with canoes – somehow it fits nicely with the ethos and they provide great shelter from the worst of the weather as we found out with some torrential downpours while we tucked into our sandwiches. They are also versatile – making great sails. At some stage I intend to replace my group shelter with one for canoe trips.

Using a tarp to provide shelter - Photo curtsy of Ali Rose
Using a tarp to provide shelter – Photo curtsy of Ali Rose

Talking of sailing, after lunch we set about rigging up a raft and a couple of canoes with solo sails. This is fairly straight forward. The best idea though is to check the rig you’re using before being assessed. Some require the poles in particular orientations where subtly different lengths can make a big difference. This brought back memories from my childhood sailing days and made me consider the effect of lee boards on turning the boat. These can be used for “rudderless” steering and placed/angled correctly require less effort to hold. Another item on my list to practice and master before assessment. As with everything in canoes, trim makes a big difference and setting it back will allow the boat to surf downwind much better.

After dropping the sails, and in calmer waters, we spent a bit of time looking at strokes. These included linking strokes and knifing Js. We were using lots of turning strokes and did both forward and reverse figure of eights. A good session to do with groups before getting on a river as it allows you to assess their ability and enabled us to check for “three star” performance.

Rescues were next and simpler than expected; the curl and X methods being the two main types, as well as dealing with a swamped boat and an empty upright boat. We also talked about having strategies available for scenarios such as dislocated shoulders and what to do in strong winds to look after the group if a member capsizes. Depending on circumstances, should you get them to shore potentially having to paddle or line back to the group, or should the group follow the rescue leaving them exposed to the elements with the possibility of further capsizes?

Finally we paddled back. Throughout the day we discussed Communication, Line of sight, Avoidance and Positioning (CLAP principle) and its application such as where we might position ourselves in the group/why. These are key topics for the four star and leadership on water in general. They are beyond the scope of what I’m discussing here but worth having an excellent understanding of before assessment.

Back at the centre, tea and cake was followed by a homework exercise – what river would you do in your area ‘tomorrow’ with the current forecast?

Day Two – The Spey

In the morning we discussed potential river trips from our homework exercise. The area around Torridon is good for open water and there are a few short rivers that could be worth a look. In general the geography of the west is for quick run off and therefore short sharp rivers. Some to look at include the Balgy, the Ewe and the Carron.

After this discussion we drove to the Spey. While the shuttle was taking place we had a play with tracking and lining. These are methods of moving your boat up and down the river while controlling it from the bank using ropes. Saving you getting wet feet and enabling you to move kit against a wind or flow you couldn’t paddle into. There were various rope options shown. These included a single large loop, attaching extra lines to the front and back, using a bridle, or using a throw bag and extra long painter. All the options worked but my favourite was the throw bag and painter. This involved less rope being around and therefore seemed less hazardous and complicated then the other methods. In a stronger flow or more technical section a bridle seemed to give the best stability so a second section of rope or throw line could be used in this instance with the painter tucked away.

Setting off on the river it was immediately apparent we wouldn’t be doing lots of ferry gliding or eddie hopping as many were washed out and the river itself was wide and pushy. This combined with a strong wind made for some physical paddling.

I was in the boat with a kneeling thwart and found this much better for moving around than using feet tucked under a seat as I had been the previous day. This is probably due to an old ski injury but when I purchase my own boat I may make the seat a little higher then average to alleviate this ‘problem’.

We focused a lot on leadership as you’d expect from a four star river day. A clear brief was very important. Make sure the following points were covered:

  1. Swim brief – what to do? (make sure you’ve been seen, get to the side then go to help, keep the paddle if able).
  2. River signals – eddie, point where to go, one at a time, all down, stay where you are. Make sure the group repeat these or have some form of ‘I’ve understood message’ to keep things simple.
  3. Distance to follow (e.g. two boat lengths), position of members within the group.

We also discussed the option to right a capsized canoe with a quick curl so it was easier to tow, even if it remained swamped. A swimmer could do this for you and save valuable time if they felt it appropriate. Worth thinking about rather than the usual, leave your boat and get to the side, approach.

Rescuing a swimmer - Photo by Giles Trussell
Rescuing a swimmer – Photo by Giles Trussell

I went second with the leadership and used gestures well but perhaps a touch early on some occasions. I also need to get comfortable with standing in moving water so the line ahead can be seen better. This seems like a really useful ‘trick’ to master giving a much better viewpoint over features.

While heading down the river we had a lunch break and used it to look at rescuing a pinned boat. I’m familiar with 3-to-1 pulley systems from my experience as a climber but seeing the 4-to-1 pulley was good. It has the advantage of being able to reset without having to slide a prussik. Some people refer to this as a pig rig. While hard to describe it involved a carabiner on the boat, a second carabiner on the loop at the bottom of the throw bag. The rope then runs from the top of the throw bag to the boat carabiner, up to an anchor (e.g. tree with sling and a third carabiner) then back to the second carabiner on the bottom of the throw bag before coming to your hands to pull. The anchor and boat carabiners can have pulleys to lessen the friction when pulling.

Ropes all safely stashed we continued further down the river. We did some surfing before finishing with the rescues. These were more straight forward than I expected given the flow. Paddling a swamped boat is hard, as is having a person on the end of the rope. Both are however very do-able and a swift response with plenty of effort makes the rescue much simpler. We also used this time for a bit of boat handling or messing about as I like to call it, managing to get three of us into the 13ft boat provided plenty of laughs.

The homework exercise for the second day was to think about what skills I felt I was stronger or weaker. From the days so far it felt like I should work on my ‘trad’ skills, particularly polling. I also needed to work on reversing the boat as we’d done precious little of this so far.

Day Three – The Findhorn

This was an “extra” on the requirement for the course but I certainly found it very useful. It allowed us to concentrate on learning areas we felt weak on and try other conditions that weren’t available on the other two days. We had this day as a second river day, all of us feeling we could improve more by trying our skills and leadership on a different type of river. For this trip we went to the Findhorn.

Lucy in a half way eddie as she leads us down river - Photo Giles Trussell
Lucy in a half way eddie as she leads us down river – Photo Giles Trussell

While the shuttle was happening we set up and launched the boats with our challenge being to ferry glide facing downstream and set into eddies. This initially proved tricky as we experimented with paddling on the downstream or upstream side of the boat and with the trim. After a few amusing pirouettes. The key was unlocked – as always, trim – and smooth progress was made. My preference was to paddle on the upstream side of the boat and trim well forward. This allowed prying off the front of the canoe to steer and also moved this steering nearer to the end of the canoe making it more effective.

Having master ‘setting in’ we ‘set off’ down stream looking at leadership styles again.

The section we were paddling is often described as bottom end grade three or upper end grade two. This gave us an ideal opportunity to see where the remit of the award would extend to. I would definitely call it grade three in the conditions we found it.

Playing on a wave - Photo curtsy of Ali Rose
Playing on a wave – Photo curtsy of Ali Rose

We spent the initial section doing S-turns, setting and playing on a wave. This didn’t seem to have much to do with leadership but once we discussed the fact that doing this early on gave us all confidence for the rest of the river and would potentially allow us to look at the group and see how able they were for the more challenging sections to come. A useful idea and ideal for what we later came to do when looking at portages and lines to take on rapids.

A bit further down the river we came to a shallow section with a big eddy at the bottom. This was ideal for practising our polling. This time on moving water. As an aside, Harry Rock is a legend at this particular art-form and worth looking up having been several times ‘world’ champion. However, I am not Harry Rock . A bit of wobbling, some amusing moments of almost capsizing and floating off down the river followed by even more practice left me just about able to get up the edge of the main flow or hold position. Definitely a skill I’ve added to my list to spend a load of time working on.

Time was pressing on so we carried on down further and stopped to look at a couple rapids, we discussed when you might do this with a group and how to judge the grade of a rapid. The ‘is it within remit?’ question. All being keen to test ourselves we paddled some grade three and I think it would be true to say, learned a lot from it. It’s a testament to the enthusiasm and skill of the others on the course that we got to do this and I feel really lucky to have enjoyed this experience with them.

As our get out approached we got to the trickiest rapids of all and to add even more fun the first of these we paddle tandem. This was great fun though at the bottom our boat was so full of water we had to get out and empty it.

We still had more to cover and had to wait back while a couple scenarios were setup for us to deal with. Shouts suddenly came and we paddled around the corner to find a bit of wood “trapping” a victim in the boat and a second boat full of water and pinned against a rock. Quickly dividing the work we set about sorting the situation out. Prioritising the trapped paddler. It’s surprising what you find out about kit doing something like this. One of us stating ‘I had to be very careful not to cut my hand while sawing as it was wet and sliding over the handle of the saw.’ Something I hadn’t thought about until this point. I’ll definitely be looking for a grippy handle when purchasing a folding saw for canoeing.

All that remained was to paddle the alarmingly named ‘chaos corner’ and we reached our get out and the end of the course.

It had been a fun, educational and rewarding few days. Next step spend some time preparing for assessment.

Thanks for Giles for running such a good course and Ali, Lucy and Hannah for putting up with me / making it so much fun. I’ll look forward to more adventures with you guys soon.

Also thanks to Giles and Ali for the photos used in this post.

How many people can fit in a canoe
How many people can fit in a 13′ canoe? – Photo Giles Trussell
Posted on

Paddling and Mountaineering

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with the weather in wales alternating between heavy rain, light rain and snow. This has meant paddling and winter mountaineering have become the order of the day.

Conditions on the rivers seem so variable that I can’t believe paddlers can ever plan anything in wales. They were up and down like yoyo’s and lead to a memorable boat chasing expedition when my kayak got away from both me and Dan on a very pushy Lower Llugwy – luckily said kayak was recovered not too much worse the wear and I managed to test out my swimming. In other paddling news we did a trip the the Seiont which is a beautiful river journey into Caernarfon finishing with a view of the castle. This time the initial rapid went smoothly unlike my trouble-sum last attempt.

It’s not all been about the rivers though – amongst the paddling there’s been a bit of time getting out on the hill in the Snow. This included an evenings trip around the nameless coomb in a very dark whiteout – testing nav meant that Hidden Gully stayed hidden and instead we pottered up the back wall of the coomb to play around in the cornice. This was followed by a day on the perfect winter condition Crib Goch with Sid and two clients (one for each of us). Finally a bit of wintery rock with short rope practice on Ordinary Route and Cneifion Arete; Jen being my willing victim.

Thanks to everyone who I’ve been out with over this period – it’s been great fun. I’m looking forward to heading up to Scotland now for some more play in the white stuff.

Posted on

Fi and Si’s Visit

The Monday morning started off damp as the previous evening had been. This put paddling rather then climbing on the agenda. The group was Alice, Dan, Jake, Matt, and myself. We dropped Dan’s car with roof bars down near the ugly house then headed off from the centre.

We started by playing around in “The Pool”, an area of the river just below the ski slope. This has “The Shoot” which is a little area of faster flowing water including a bit of a wave to surf on. A few tips and a bit more used to the boats we started to head down the river. The first section we’d covered previously. It was fun to give it another go and see if I could make a better line through it having learned more about paddling in the mean time.

This did go really well with less rock bashing and not almost capsizing when I “eddied out”. We then had a play around “ferry gliding” across the flow and trying to hit small eddies as practice for lower down the river. After a few attempts I was just about getting the hang of it so tried a steeper turn but messed up and got capsized (swim one). A bit of faff later I was back in the boat. We headed down to the next set of rapids and eddies. This time there’s a bit of a loop around a rock in the middle of the flow that provided it was approached correctly allowed some wave surfing We must have spent a good half hour playing about on this, practicing different strokes and edging to try surf the wave or “eddie out”. This proved really good fun and again I found my limit when I tried to paddle over the wave without full commitment and ended up pinned on the rock – I could support myself here but had no way of moving the boat so capsized again (swim two). A few more goes and I managed it again before we headed down the river again.

The next section was nice and flowy with a mixture of easy shallow rapids and calm sections of water. That was until we came across the first drop. This was just before the Cobdens We got out of our boats to have a look at the flow and watched Jake go down it like the pro he is. A little bit of advice and we had to choose to go down it. “Launch off the tongue of water with a strong right stroke then let the flow carry you.”

Alice was first to say lets go and the rest of us soon followed. Paddling down to the staging eddie, the drop looked pretty innocent. However, having previously looked we all new there was more to it. When my turn came up the words strong right stroke were ringing in my ears as I set off. It was quickly over paddle hard to the top, one heavy right stroke just on the lip and ride it down. Lots of fun and I even avoided a swim this time.

We walked around Cobdens then a little further on around Pont Coffin, Dan and Jake paddled them both which was very impressive to watch. The rest of the river proved fun but simpler with flat areas to practice strokes and gentile, shallow rapids to practice hitting eddies on. It was soon over.

At the get out it was entertaining to watch Jake show us how 5 kayaks can be stacked on a car, admittedly only for the short journey back to the centre.

During the evening I got a call from Fi and Si saying they’d be in Wales the next couple days. This was a shock as I thought Fi was in New York and Si was in Australia! Anyway it would be fun to see them and catch up.

So the following day started out with a kitchen shift. After finishing this we headed back up to Craig Yr Ysfa for a rematch with the E2 I’d forgotten rock shoes for last time we were up this way. The walk seemed quicker this time though still not the “short walk in” I’d secretly been hoping for when Niels came up to me saying “fancy a climb?”. I brought poles to help out my playing up ankle and we arrived at the foot of the climb just in time for the sun to come off it. Luckily it was so warm that it didn’t matter. Unluckily the midges were out though. So looking more like someone prepared to rob a bank (a buff on the face did stop them getting into my eyes) I started belaying Niels up the first pitch. He set off up the dark wall above looking like he was climbing smoothly though I couldn’t see clearly because of my masked face. What seemed like an eternity of bites on my hands and ankles later I heard the welcome call of “Safe” and it was my turn to set off.

At about this time the breeze picked up slightly and the midges disappeared, thankfully. What followed was some of the best climbing I’ve done. The initial wall is technical but all the holds arrive just as you need them though they still require good body positioning to make the most of them. the initial moves of the deck felt powerful and then you gain a slanting crack system. This succumbs to a combination of laybacks, outside edges and flagging moves. further up this turns into more wall style climbing before returning to crack style moves with a final sting in the tail just before the belay. My pitch was then a short linking pitch over some steep wet grass, nothing to write home about before Niels set of again up the third pitch. This proved to be a tricky groove / corner climb with some strange contortions required to get up it. Short lived but fun. Then it was my turn again for the long crux pitch. The start of which involved some very delicate bridging with not great gear until you reach a jug after which the gear arrives and the climbing changes to a layback / bridging crack system with sustained interest. Swinging around on the pinnacle to reach the upper slab gives a fun exit and pleasant climbing to the top.

Fi and Si were somewhere near milestone buttress at this point so we swung by there on the way back. spotting them after a bit of looking (they weren’t on the main crag) we all then headed back to the Brenin for some food and a well earned nights rest.

The following morning I was in the kitchen again so I left Fi and Si to make there own plans and headed that way. By this point my ankle was complaining again so figured I’d use this as a bit of a rest day and take it easy once I’d finished work. Carlo had also called a meeting to discuss booking onto courses which is pretty exciting news for a Centre Assistant as this forms one of the main reasons for taking the job (the other main reason being the stunning locations to get stuff done in). After the meeting a couple of the others setup a slack line but my ankle didn’t want me to play on it and then we went for a quick boulder at the RAC to stretch the muscles.

Thursday started with a damp and showery scene in the mountains though it looked passible towards the coast so we headed to Tremadog. Unfortunately the dry weather there was short lived and we only managed a couple first pitches under the trees and overhangs before heading back to the centre. While pondering what to do Helen suggested we go out in the kayaks on “the pond” with her. She’s a qualified coach and a really good in a boat so we jumped at this oppertunity and got kitted out and on the water. After some paddling arround practicing more of the basic strokes we headed down a short section of the river to “Jim’s Bridge” (I’ve no idea who Jim is). This section is nice and crusy with a little rapid at the end to test out what we’d leard during the day. I’d done it a couple times before and enjoyed refining my “line” and strokes.

Si hiding from the rain at Tremadog
Si hiding from the rain at Tremadog

More rain the following day meant we carried on where we’d left off the day before and got straight back on the water – this time in Canoes. These are funny craft, initially they seem simple but then you realise you’ve got to learn a dozen more strokes to control them and that that kneeling isn’t comfortable on knees when you can’t get the whole lower leg section straight. Helen thankfully made things simple again with some good quality instruction showing us how to control the boats in all sorts of directions without constantly swapping paddle sides. Helping me progress from what I’d picked up on my previous days in canoes since starting at the centre. This time we spent most of the day practicing strokes and leanring new bits before Fi and Si had to depart.

With the weekends arrival came the sun and now that my spa was only a few weeks away it felt like time to get some more group work experience in so I volenteered to help three of last years Centre Assistants with the “adventure day” they were running. We headed over to “The Pinnacles” a crag a few minutes walk from the centre. This is an ideal group venue with some easy boulders at the bottom to get used to moving on rock followed by several easy lines up the slab. We started off with some bolder walking and hopping before introducing a few different games. Next we setup three seperate routes and got them “bell ringing” in groups of three so they were all entertained while climbing. This took up the remained of the morning and unfortunately I then had to head to the kitchen. Keeping up with the paddling theme I headed out on the lake again in the evening with Helen and Becky working towards getting my two star signed off.

Sunday started again on the water, this time with Alice who was keen to get out in her boat having recently padded it out to get a better fit. We did more stroke practice and some edging and support strokes. By this point I’m feeling a lot more confident in a boat and ready for the start of July.

Posted on

It’s all about variety

This last week has been a fun mixed bag of work and play. The first two days all the new center assistants (myself included) got put through a REC First Aid course. This teaches you the basics of first aid with an emphasis on the outdoor enviroment. Topics covered include CPR, Bleeding, Common ailments such as asma diabeatise, or anaphalaxis as well as a section on trearge. The course also has a heavy element of scenario’s where you play both the part of the casualty and first aider; though not at the same time. This was followed by two days off then a session on working with young and vunrable people focusing around abuse. This was my first time at such a session and it was quite intresting, particularly the praticle element where the instructor got us to give each other a hug while making us feel initially uneasy using commands such as “stand toe to toe with the person next to you”, “look them in the eye”, “put your hands on their shoulders”, “run them down their backs to the small of their back”, then – after a long pause – “give them a hug”. Seems very strange not knowing what’s happening next and as he pointed out following the instructions of a complete strange just because of some assumed athority. During the week I also did my first ‘sleep in’ night porter shift. This all went smoothly with no alarms sounded, thankfully.

During my evenings and off days I also managed to get a mix of stuff done. Monday started well with the really nice “western rib” on Dinus Mot being climbing by myself and Rhys in the evening. This is now one of my favourite HVS’s featuring lovely varied climbing up the slabs and walls of The Mot in the evening sunshine. The climbing varies from delicate to pumpy and is pretty sustained throughout. Well recommended. It was time to pull hard again on Tuesday evening where Niels and I headed over to the Grochan. We did First Amendment (e2 5c), Kaisergebirge Wall (HVS 5b) and Quasar (e3 6a); where I had to rest on the rope for the later due to getting the sequence wrong a couple of times. They’re all great climbs though and we would have stayed out longer but for the arrival of the dredded midges.

Rhys psyched on Dinus Mot
Rhys psyched on Dinus Mot

On the first of my days off (the Wednesday) we headed up to Diffwys Ddu to complete the classic rock route “Main Wall”. Asside from the slightly loose and run out but still enjoyable first pitch it was easy to see why the climb got it’s classic status. I got the lead for the last three pitches and these turned out to be the best of the bunch with brilliant arete and slab climbing in a beautiful situation. We also had a look at the crags of Clogwyn y Parson above and main of the lines looked brilliant unfortunately Niels had to be back for a hours work at the centre though so we didn’t managed to get a route done on them. Our evening wasn’t wasted though as we did some “pulling hard” practice bouldering around the Cromlech and lapping on one of the traverses there to tire the muscles out.

The weather didn’t bode as well the following day with strong winds and horizontal rain blowing in the mountains. Still having some psyc we headed up to the coast and found a couple dry caves to shelter in. At one of these caves we managed to climb on of the strangest routes I’ve climbed in a while. It was a tufa fest but also covered in green something to make it a bit slippery with added objective danger from dive bombing pidgeons. It did prove good fun though. We were also joined in the same cave by John Dunn providing some good pointers and a demonstration of just how good technique can be.

The morning before both the young persons course and a night porter shift we headed down the road to pont coffin (not to self: check this is the right name). Here I watched a few of the other run a 10 foot drop and then jumped of another point into the same pool. I’m not great at jumping into things so this was probably the scariest thing I’d done since ariving at the center. The advice of “aim for the white stuff, it’s soft” worked a treat and it proved a fun way to pass the morning. I resolved to do more of the same in the future to get rid of my irrational fear (and allow me to make better rational judgements about such things).

Again with bad weather in the mountains we headed for the coast on saturday morning before my sleep in night porter shift. We only through a rope in just in case the sport climbs were dry in fact the sun was out so after some warm up bouldering we jumped on a couple routes. I was imediately pumped on the 6c I should have been easily crusing – obviously a sign that the continuous activity was getting to my energy reserves and that the lack of training was making me weak. Both things I’d need to address soon. Luckily an enfored rest day was happening on the sunday with all day spent behind the desk. A fun week.

Posted on

Learning to paddle

The forcaste for week four wasn’t as nice as the previous weeks and my body was feeling pretty distoryed from weeks on contunuous climbing – not that I’m complaining! So this week turned out to be a week of introductions to paddling.

It started on the monday (10th) with a “General” shift. This turned out nicely as a morning / lunchtime was spent in the bar being trained. This being something I’d never done before I found it really quite enjoyable. There’s something very satisfying about standing behind a bar and pulling a pint for someone. Dave was an excellent tutor and had me up to speed in no time. My bar shift then ended at 14:00 so I headed over to stores as there was a rumour they needed a hand. This was true and I was soon put to work helping to repair the bang plate on one of the canoe fleet. Again this proved fun and reminded me of model making as a kid. By 17:00 we were finished and I had a quick chat with Alice who conviced me it was a good idea to take a canoe out by myself. This was in fact a very good idea with Alice underplaying her teaching skill and actually showing me loads on how to control the boat. We did some figure of eights around rocks and even “reverse parking” if you can call it that in a canoe.

Alice on Llynnan Mymbyr
Alice on Llynnan Mymbyr

Tuesday and wednesday were both days off with plenty of rain meaning the rivers were full and climbing was out of the question (unless I wanted to practice being a troglodite by finding a cave to climb in). With a few of us needing to get as much time in kayaks and canoes as we could so that we could work towards our two stars one of last years CA’s and an expert kayak coach offered to take us out on the lake and teach us a bit about paddling. The wind was really blowing but the boat shed was luckily sheltered behind a headland so we could launch and get used to the boats. Having been out with Alice the day before I strated praticing my ‘J’ Strokes etc and soon got the hang of it in the sheltered bay. It was a different matter out in the wind though. the “correction” part of the stroke didn’t seem needed anymore as the wind would do that for you. Some of my sailing background did help though as trimming the canoe and traveling at what would be “close hauled” in a dingy allowed some progress to be made up the lake. More tuition later we were all moving about happily in the wind (although not without a fair amount of effort). We decided it was time to get back and find out what the soup of the day was so rafted up and used one of the canoes as a sail, racing back down the lake very rapidly. it was a good fun morning with lots learnt.

After soup, and with plenty of time left on our hands we decided a trip to “The Beacon” climbing wall was needed to find out just how weak lots of trad climbing had made us. It turned out fairly weak was the answer as the 6b’s were feeling pretty pumpy but the moves were feeling straight forward.

The following morning had a similar outlook so while hanging out in the bar we bumped into Pete Catterall (one of the insturtors here). He was heading out with a school group to the Afon Ddu for some gorge scrambling with Sid and invited us along. Having not done this before I thought it would be a great opertunity to see how one of the best in the business does it so jumped at the chance (along with fellow Center Assistant Rhys). Kit was – warm clothes we didn’t mind getting wet in, old trainers and waterproofs (to stop any windchill and provide protection) as well as warm clothes to swap into back back at the bus. The group was really good with all the kids being well behaved, super positivie and able on their feet. They had come up from Surrey for the week as an after exam break to learn some other life skills and have a bit of fun. The gorge itself is easy to get to with a short five minute walk from the car part taking you to it. We started with some boulder hopping to get used to moving around on the damp slipper rocks before a climbing traverse section (with spotters for submerged rocks) again with a close eye to see who was moving well and who might struggle later. Further on up the gorege we came to a feature called the Elephants Arse. This is a spout that comes out of two rocks you can scramble up between. To make this easier a rope was speedily setup and dropped down with a few knotted hand holds made. more scrambling and rope work later we were at the plunge pool at the top and having never been there before I was reliably informed that it was compulsory to jump in. Rhys being braver then I am went first and did it in style. I followed with less aplomb but enjoyed it in the end. tromping back down the steep road dripping from head to toe.

Afon Ddu
Afon Ddu – image from Tom Hecht’s Blog

Bumping into Josie (another Center Assistant) back at the center she invited me to a rolling pool session so I could learn more kayak handling skills. This proved really useful; giving me a bit more confidence when tipped upside down. I managed a couple roles with my paddle supported but couldn’t do them without. A bit more practice needed i think.

The next day still had rain and was down as a staff training day so we all headed along to the morning meeting to see what was in store for us. Carlo (our boss and the Chief Instrutor here) had a suprise for us and told us to kit up for a mountain day but with a harness, two eight foot slings, a couple screwgates and waterproof clothing. He also picked up a rack and rope from stores before we all bundled into a minibus. Heading off down the flanks of Snowdon we pulled up by Nant Gwynant powerstation to be informed we’d be heading up the infamous Lockwood’s Chimnee, named after the caretaker of the powerstation who first ascended it of that name. Calling this route a climb would be a misnomer with much of the route being more an expedition over tree covered ledges through midge infested temporal rainforest until you reach a ‘passage’ into the heart of the mountain. Squirming your way up this you then pop out into the air above the cliff face before absieling back down to the bags 50 meters below. On a wet day this made a fantastic expedition with plenty of ammusement as we each took it in turn squezzing up through the cleft. The whole round trip got us back to the centre for 14:00 so we had abit of time to play about in the rain with Kayaks being the order of the day. With the “rivers running” there would just be enough time for a few of us to head down the short section to Jim’s Bridge before lugging our kayaks back. This was really good fun and my first taste of white water.

Paddling the river was fairly straight forward though needed some getting used to being sent in a direction by the flow of the water (up until that point all my paddling had been on still water). We learned a bit about “ferry crossing” the flow of the river and how to escape the flow by looking for eddies that act as islands of safety. Darting through the rapid under Jim’s bridge was an experience having to link both paddling different lines and negotiation a couple of obsticles on the way. Lugging our boats back up was also an experience but of a very different kind – I definitely need to get some shoulder padding for next time. Back at the centre the little rapid was running so we messed about for another couple hours paddling into it to see how to manover and control the boat. A few capsizes and much halarity later we were begining to get the hang of it but were very tired and food was on the horizen so we packed up.

The following day I was a mock student for a level two canoe and kayak coach assessment. This envolved three assessee each taking it in turn to teach us a new level of skill with the boats. First up was Ant (one of last year’s center assistants). This may sound stupid, but it’s not as bad as it sounds, he taught us to go in a straight line. This is actually harder then it seems and to be perfected requires good control of the core muscles as well balance in the boat. The second assessee then introduced us to turning the boat starting with sweep turns and moving on to leaning. With the final assessee we covered more of the same and started to introduce tighter or wider turns. After lunch we swapped to canoes. Given wind conditions, pairing up was the order of the day. Plenty more strokes were taught including pry, draw, bow rudder and off side bow rudder. Finally there was the rescue so we all ended up getting wet capsizing the canoes.

When I got back Becky arrived and we optimistically headed out bouldering (given it had been dry for about twenty minutes) unfortunately it rained as we arrived so one problem down we headed indoors for some more unfortunately I tweaked a finger on the second problem so had to call it a day early on.

Saturday was a night porter day and wet in the hills so we headed down to Tremadog climbing a couple routes before heading back to the centre. We did a route I thought quite hard for severe and continuing the theme of slightly esoteric routes it involved asending a tree at one stage. Then went and did a pitch of a route that’s definitly hard for severe involving some delicate moves with little gear on polished holds. Not for the faint hearted.

Sunday was unfortunately a reception shift but afterwards I managed to get out on milestone butress for a lead pitch by becky and then some moving at speed with scrambling techniques in the rain and midges. Throughly tested we raced back for some food. Unfortunately Becky then had to head off to get back to work on monday.