ISIS Conquer North Wales

Tally-ho - Gabriel's Report

Afon Dee. Chainbridge Hotel to Town Falls, Llangollen

I report to you as an old (over 25!) member of an brave group of five paddlers from ISIS CC who tackled two big rivers in North Wales on the weekend of 17/18 January 2009. Myself, Gwylim, Hayden, Ruari and Seb, ably assisted by 'mum' Jane. We stayed in an excellent bunk house in the centre of Bala town, originally intending to run the Tryweryn. However, low rain during the weeks proceeding meant that the dam was closed so levels were too low. We were therefore 'forced' to look elsewhere and in retrospect, were glad that we did. We discovered two new rivers and were tested emotionally and physically well beyond that possible from the Tryweryn!

On the Saturday we ran the classic route down the Dee. Putting in just above the Chainbridge Hotel, the day started interestingly when Seb's decision to try sliding down a very steep field ended in a severe but impressive-looking tumble. Fortunately we have an historic record of this amazing feat, courtesy of the camera fixed to his chest which recorded not only the speedy decent and the tumbling, but also the very deep moaning that followed. Fortunately no bones broken - so onto the water!

Our first feature of interest was the Serpent's Tail. Ruari was confident he would spot this, and as he was the only member to have paddled this section before, we believed him. We came to an interesting section which looked pretty big. I capsized near the end of the rapids and when I rolled up I immediately heard the shout of 'swimmer'! I looked all around, while recovering my breath, but could see no sign of any boat or swimmer. And then something rather strange caught my eye. There, spread-eagled in the boughs of an overhanging tree, was Seb, in a curiously accurate impression of an cormorant drying its wings. Apparently, after being munched by the wicked stopper, he was spat out high and dry!

It was only a mile later that Ruari finally admitted that those rapids must have been the Serpent's Tail. The higher water levels had camouflaged the large area of rocks he was expecting to see river left. No doubt about it, the Serpent's Tail certainly had a sting in it. We spent plenty of time playing on a number of fantastic waves; the best being near the island just below Paddleworks (photos of Ruari above, Seb in new red boat right). Here we were humbled by some very skilful local paddlers who were doing things in creek boats that most of us could only dream of.

Finally we approached the famous Town Falls at the town of Llangollen. They were running high, certainly Grade 4, and provided a great end to the day. We were greeted at the road bridge overhead with a crowd of spectators, who watched rather disbelievingly, as one by one we disappeared amongst the turbulent waters only to reappear smiling and upright! Gwylim and Ruari had not yet had enough so ran the falls again while the rest of us provided cover and took photos/videos.

While we celebrated our great run and started to load the cars at the riverside car park, I suddenly spotted a swimmer down in the river below. Even as I shouted "swimmer" and we all went to grab our throwlines, another, then another, then another appeared! All of us ran down to the river bank and successful rescued two paddlers, whilst two of them elected to swim on to catch their equipment. My pride in a 'proper' rescue was tainted by the rescued paddler saying "but I didn't want to be rescued"! Anyway, I think we all did ISIS CC proud.

Afon Conwy, Upper and Middle Sections

We started rather late after a well-needed lie-in on Sunday morning. In retrospect we should have been keener to get going. We were headed for the Conwy, which we had researched the night before, over Fish 'n' Chips. We put in above the village of Ysbyty Ifan as we were told that there were access issues at the bridge in the village. After a rather eventful put in which included three of us capsizing (don't ask!), we headed down the small river. River levels were perfect for the small and rocky channel, and it provided a technical and immensely enjoyable decent. Due to the last minute change of plan, we had not known that we would come across a very severe section, probably Grade 5, around which we had to portage. There followed some great small drops with interesting features (photo of Gwylim). The surrounding countryside was beautiful but the river was so technical that every time we lifted our eyes off the water, we would end up pinned on a rock! As we approached the end of the Upper Section, we prepared for the famous middle section of the Conwy, which starts just as the river passes under the A5.

The middle section was Grade 3 with some 4 (river gauge at 4.5) and was with little doubt the best river section I have ever paddled. The river passes through a beautiful wooded valley which becomes increasingly deep until effectively a gorge. By this point the river had swelled considerably, thanks to a couple of smaller rivers joining. We ran some very exciting features, one of which was certainly Grade 4+. By now it was getting late in the afternoon, despite us deciding early on that we should limit our 'playing' and run the river to save time. Chatting to local paddlers we had been briefed that there were two sections, probably Grade 5, that we would need to portage. It was rather exhilarating not knowing exactly when these would come. Every blind corner accompanied by loud white water noise raised nerves and a careful approach. After portaging the first and while running a meaty Grade 4 section I approached a fall a little too tentatively. I ended up being dragged back into a meaty stopper and going through a couple of spin cycles! I pulled my deck resigned to a swim but as I surfaced and gasped for air I was meant by a face full of boat. The bash to the nose was quickly forgotten as I struggled to hold onto boat and paddles. The boat span in the fall and my paddle seemed to want to disappear to the depths below. Finally, I had to let go of the spinning boat and at the same time was spat out. I swam down a couple of large falls as the guys arranged to pick up the pieces. It was only some minutes later as I nursed my bloodied nose, that I realised that most of the blood was coming from my hand and not my nose. Then I noticed that the nail off my little finger had been ripped off!

Anyway, no time to delay as the daylight dwindled, so we negotiated a difficult portage around the second Grade 5 section. As we put in again for what we hoped would be the last section, it was getting late and almost dark. Jane was waiting for us at the bridge above Conwy Falls. We were concerned that she would be getting very worried about us. We had visited this spot at the start of the day and our reccie had confirmed that once the bridge came into view it would be too late to exit the river. The consequence of this would be entry into the falls themselves. We were told by a local paddler that broken legs would be the least serious result! We rounded a bend and I noticed the marker post at 100m to the last get out, and then the final white marker with red arrow. We were all relieved to get off the water and sent Ruari on as a runner to let Jane know we were safe. By the time we reached the cars with our boats it had gone completely dark. Jane was indeed very worried and had been minutes away from alerting Mountain Rescue.

In summary a fantastic weekend. With the Tryweryn closed we were forced to explore some new rivers. We were all challenged but really enjoyed some of the best white water paddling that the UK has to offer. We also learnt many lessons about safety and planning, and will all have gained a lot of experience from the weekend.

- Gabriel Hemery