On Monday evening myself and Steve realised that we had no plans for the coming weekend and so decided what better way to fill it then boating!!!!!!! An email was sent out to ‘trips’ email list looking for paddling buddies. We tempted them in with the possibility of paddling the river Conwy even though at this stage it looked likely we’d end up on the standard Dee/Tryweryn due to lack of water. The mention of the Conwy did the trick though and we soon had a team for both Saturday and Sunday. All we needed now was water. Between Tuesday and Saturday I don’t mind admitting that I rain danced like I’d never rain danced before. The only time that I’ve danced this hard before was at one of Bob and Dace’s ceilidhs. The dancing was only interrupted by the frequent checking and rechecking for Met Office and Rainchasers updates. If this sounds a bit over keen I should explain that the Conwy and myself have history. I’ve been wanting to paddle it since Steve returned from paddling it 2 years ago, singing its praises. Back in February I came so very close- myself with boat in hand at the A5 get on, only to be told that the rate at which it had gone up in the 10 minutes it had taken us to kit up (from 3 to 5 on the gauge) meant that there was a risk of it going into spate whilst we were on it. Thus I never got to paddle it that day and now we were back to the more common problem of lack of water.
Fast forward to 6.30am Saturday morning and myself and Steve woke to find that the heavy rain forecasted during the night had indeed fallen and the Conwy water level graph was on its way up. Trying to contain my excitement we set off for North Wales, willing the graph higher as we drove. The plan was to meet James (Goose) at the Conwy Falls Café with a brief peek over the A5 bridge at the river gauge on route. We needn’t have actually stopped to check the gauge in the end as we were greeted with a layby full of paddlers and boats indicating clearly that it was game on (3 and rising). Whoop whoop!!! The party in my head had well and truly started, only being interrupted by a few nerves.
Our plan was to combine the classic A5 to Rhydlanfair Bridge section with the upstream Ysbyty Ifan to A5 section, thus doubling the fun. We got changed at the café to minimise disturbing the locals at the village get on. We unloaded the boats, kit and myself at the get on, Steve and Goose did the shuttle and then we were good to go. After a quick brief, including a reminder of river signals, we were off. You need to paddle this river to appreciate how much fun it actually is, but to give you some idea, Steve claimed that it would be “the most fun I’ve ever had on a river” and it didn’t disappoint. Also, as Steve had only paddled this river once before, and that was 2 years previous, it was a great opportunity for him to practise his river leading skills for his 4 star on a river that he didn’t know like the back of his hand.
The first section was 4kms of continuous grade 2/2+ fun rapids with a fair few overhanging trees to steer round. We descended the river using a variety of river running techniques to suit the different sections of river, its features and our group. This involved a lot of eddy hopping to get closer to each feature enabling us to get a better view. Then depending on what we saw, we either played follow the leader down or the leader went down then signalled us down one at a time. This section was great fun in its own right but also acted as the perfect warm up for the following slightly meatier section after the A5. This next section had far too many fun features to remember (again a lot of 2+ with some pushing grade 3). The one that you can’t help remembering due to it being the biggest feature on this section of the Conwy and the only feature worthy of a name is Bryn Bras Falls. This feature looks worse than it actually is but having mistakenly thought we’d already run the falls we didn’t get out to inspect and we ran it with the thought that it was just another nameless feature. This actually worked well for me as if we had actually got out to look I probably would have chickened out but the three of us ran it with no problems. After the falls the river continues as before with constant rapids to keep it interesting. Steve pointed out the old get out and thus I knew the new get out was just round the corner. However, I soon regretted having my little ‘I did it without swimming’ party in my head as a brief moment of loss of concentration followed on the tiniest of drops and over I went. I set up for a roll but confusingly found myself stuck on a ledge just beneath the water. I poked my head up to see if there was something to grab onto to do a sort of T rescue but there wasn’t so I pulled my deck and stepped out onto the ledge. Does it still count as swimming if you don’t really get wet??? We all had a little laugh at me swimming so close to the get out (due to my track record of actually managing to swim past a get out) before finding the egress point. There was then a killer hill to walk up with our boats to the car. Tired and hungry we said goodbye to James, found a bunkhouse to stay the night and spent the evening chilling in a lovely local pub only a 30 second run from the bunkhouse (it was pouring down with rain at this point). We communicated with the Sunday team informing them that it was going to be even heavier rain tonight and thus tomorrow would definitely be a goer. In the pub we decided that we would aim to do the same section of the Conwy again tomorrow because A) it was so much fun and B) the people joining us on Sunday hadn’t paddled this river before. We did however have a little worry about water levels for the following day later that evening when the pub emptied their car park expecting it to flood.
We woke Sunday morning and immediately checked Rainchasers to see what had happened to the Conwy overnight. The answer was it had shot up massively high to a level that wasn’t appropriate for our group. Luckily though, it was now on its way down nearly as fast as it had gone up. It would be a couple more hours before we met everyone and then also the faff with shuttling etc. so we were optimistic. As our bunkhouse was right next to the River Llugwy we walked down to have a look at what kind of level that was running at as a backup in case the Conwy was too high. We were surprised to see Cobden Falls looking more like a grade 4+ feature in comparison to the grade 3 feature it was when we’d paddled it previously due to the high water levels.
After grabbing some brekkie, we set off to meet the rest of the group, again at Conwy Falls Café. Sunday’s group included Dave and James Elliott, Jason and Joy. We had a quick check of Bryn Bras Falls on route to see if it had changed much with the increased water levels. It hadn’t significantly but we did notice that the ledge that allows for portaging was under water which would make any portaging of the feature much harder. We also had a quick check of the A5 river gauge to find it was currently reading 5.5 and still dropping, we were happy with this and so the Conwy it was going to be. We met the gang and filled everyone in on the plan before setting to working kitting up and shuttling. We were aware that it would take us longer today with having a bigger group and with a possible difficult portage so we were keen to get going to ensure we got off the river in the light.
Steve did a quick briefing before getting on. One of the main issues he informed the group of was the fact that compared to the previous day there’d be less eddies and they’d be smaller due to the higher water level. This would present a little bit of a challenge as we had a much bigger group today and thus we would all have to keep a look out as wouldn’t be able to just all pile into the same eddies. Everyone paddled well and worked well as a team thus we descended the river without incident. It was interesting for me to see how each feature had changed with the different water level. A few of us decided to portage Bryn Bras Falls which involved Steve using throwlines to set up a hand rail along the submerged ledge and then the guys hauling the boats up a really big wall (again with throwlines). Dave, Jason and Steve then ran the falls without any problems and we continued on to the get out. James managed to beat me in the ‘how close to the get out can you swim’ competition when, like me, he swam on an easy bit after he nailed the rest of the river. Don’t think he even bothered putting his spraydeck back on, we were that close to the get out.
In summary, a fantastic 2 days of paddling on a fun river through lovely scenery, with great people in lovely sunshine. Oh and a massive trout jumped out of the river right next to Steve’s boat making him jump!! Bring on the next club trip.