Sea Kayaking Around Flamborough Head

We whitewater kayakers always joke about how we’ll take up sea kayaking when we’re old and no longer hardcore, but hey I’m thirty now so…

Flamborough head Saturday sunshine - Photo Rik Williams

A fairly big group of us “oldies” decided to go for a weekend of sea kayaking. It was also originally supposed to be an experiment in multi-day expeditioning, but some of the oldies were not even hardcore enough for that, so we didn’t bother trying to cram tents and sleeping bags into our boats, and just parked up the car near our overnight camping spot.

Flamborough head is a craggy peninsular on Yorkshire’s East coast (map), with spectacular white cliffs and caves. Exploring these was good fun, and mostly not too scary, although I did have a lingering feeling that a slight misjudgement of a wave could leave you with broken bones. Mostly the waves were fun too, and quite surfable in places. In retrospect though there were hardly any waves at all on the Saturday, and blue skies.

Sunday’s waves on the other hand were really quite something. Here’s Rik’s photo of me setting off into the relatively small waves of this sheltered inlet.

Flamborough waves on sunday - photo Rik Williams

Further out beyond the breakers, we were bobbing up and down with some really mountainous waves rolling beneath us (the ones you kind of see in the distance). The wind was blowing onshore, but also slightly to one side, so we could get across to the next cove, staying well away from the cliffs this time, but we had to abandon attempts at getting back. That all felt fairly hardcore, although we were off the water and into a tearoom by midday like the bunch of OAPs we are.

photos by Rik Williams, stolen from his facebook album

30th Birthday BBQ

Big thanks to everyone who came and helped me celebrate my 30th birthday! Lots of people came and squeezed into my back garden for a BBQ. It was really great to assemble this random collection of mates. It was that classic slightly odd meeting of worlds, with groups of kayakers meeting OpenStreetMappers, meeting friends from back home, meeting brothers and sisters, and everyone in-between. Having said that we did partition off into different parts of the garden quite effectively. Hopefully everyone had fun. Much meat and beer was consumed, and best of all we actually had sunshine!

Comedy highlight was hearing everyone singing “Happy Birthday” with a dawning collective realisation that I was actually upstairs on the toilet at the time!

Where’s Harry?

More photos on facebook

Doug Ammons kayaking talk

Doug Ammons
I went to see a talk by super-kayaker Doug Ammons last night.  He flicked through slide photos of amazing wilderness locations and big rivers, while talking about his philosophies and the mindset needed for taking on these big whitewater challenges.  It was interesting and slightly hypnotic  (I think Francine found it more hypnotic than interesting)

Photos don’t really show the scale of things well. That’s why seeing fireworks for real, is always more impressive than photos of fireworks.  It’s true no?  But it works for landscape scenery too, and seemingly also for really big rivers.

There is also a classic problem, even when looking at a river for real, that if you’re viewing from really high up the valley side, it’s very difficult to judge whitewater. You see white rapids and you’re always tricked into thinking “Yeah that looks like it could be some nice whitewater” (when if fact you’re looking at a terrifying honking great deathfest)

A lot of Doug’s photos were from quite high up,  and although he had quite a few pictures with kayakers in, showing scale, it only really registered when he showed some video.   …”Ok so it’s *that* kind of whitewater we’re talking about“. …Absolutely insane. I won’t be paddling the Grand Canyon of the Stikine any time soon.

At the beginning he also showed a beautiful photo of “Agua Azul”. Amazing light blue colour of the water. That looked more tempting. Hang on….  no maybe not.

I’ve never been to a kayaking talk before, although I have been invited to a few (river rats used to organise a lot) Quite liked it. It’s a different way to spend a Friday night.

Kayaking, Mapping, and Accidental GeoCaching

Another great weekend of kayaking. We’ve had some evil cold spells recently but happily last weekend we had a some fluffy warm rain clouds over North Wales. As detailed on the trip report , and Adam’s blog, we paddled the Dwyfor on Saturday, and the Wnion on Sunday. Both completely new rivers, except that I do remember paddling the easy bit at the bottom of the Wnion before. The Grade 4 bit coming before that was a pretty awesome highlight of the trip.

Now I had planned to do some whitewater mapping on this trip. I did get GPS tracks on the rivers. This is good for mapping out the waterway=river position more accurately than it was before (traced from low-detail out-of-copyright maps)  And the track looks very pretty shown against the green landsat imagery of the welsh countryside:

Afon Dwyfor trace

And I had also been taking lots of photos to remind me of whitewater grades and other details for the map such as footbridges and power lines which we’d passed underneath, but unfortunately ‘X’ marks the spot where I dropped my digital camera in the river and lost it!

Accidental GeoCache – Pentax Optio W30

It is a waterproof camera.  I dropped it into the river at latitude:52.9394149 longitude:-4.2483416 (well actually about 10 metres upstream from there)   I know this because after spending about 10 minutes wading around in the current trying to find it, I recorded a waypoint on my GPS. I thought maybe it might make an interesting accidental geocache for somebody.

That’s right! If you want a fully functioning Pentax Optio W30 waterproof digital camera, head to those coordinates. However you might need some waders and a metal detector! If you do manage to find the camera I’ll be so impressed I’ll post the battery charger and USB cable to you! …so there’s a challenge

Only trouble is, I notice on the description there it’s only supposed be waterproof for up to 3 hours. My poor camera has been languishing on the river bed for 2 days already. How long before somebody rescues it?!

I bought that camera seven months ago , so not really a very good innings. It’s annoying to have lost it for such a stupid reason. I had it tied to me, but the crappy bit of string was too fat, and the knot evidently untied itself.

But in truth the Pentax Optio w30 is a pretty pants camera. Not a very smart purchase. It was starting to annoy me. I had decided to go for a waterproof one, without testing one in the shop first, thinking surely all compact digital cameras are much-of-a-muchness these days.  At first I was terrified of submerging it because it really doesn’t look waterproof, but actually the waterproofness was fine.  For general use though, it took way too long to switch on and be ready for taking a photo, and it took about an hour to focus in the dark.

ICCC Freshers Trip 2008

I can’t help feeling a little old when hanging around with Imperial College Canoe Club these days, but the “freshers trip” (first trip of the university year) is still an exciting time for freshers and older club members alike. Just at the time when all these new beginners are joining the club and nervously taking their first paddlestrokes on moving water, the weather turns really wet and the UK kayaking season steps into full swing. Beginner kayakers and peak river levels! This unfortunate combination occurrs every October. Personally I relish the extra challenge of advising newbies on how to stay upright, and fishing them out when they fail to do so.

This year was certainly challenging. We had a relatively high proportion of beginners arriving in the two bus loads and three car loads to the Lake District …and flood conditions which made the news!

Flooded River Lune

Read the Freshers Trip 2008 Trip Report for the full story and see more photos. Happily the weekend passed without a hitch… well OK… without any serious incidents. All in all I’d say the kayaking season just kicked off in style! Awesome fun, but I’m aching and blisterred and bruised today.


Alps 2008

Alpine paddlingExcellent week of boating in the Alps!

I think there was quite a lot of snow on the mountains still, which made for unusually high water for this time of year (as the sun melts it all off). In fact we were arriving just a few days after a too-much-water kayaking ban had been lifted, and the rivers were indeed a little more bouncy and pushy than my memories of the same runs on previous trips.

This turned out to be a good thing. Plenty of challenges forcing rolls here and there, but I got into the zone pretty well. No swims, and I came away with a good feeling of paddling achievement. Our day on the Guile was perhaps the only exception. My nerves were on edge for some reason. Triple-step was looking too fearsome for me, although I would have loved to conquer this after fluffing it back in 2005. And when we got to the “slandslide” section (A.K.A. “staircase”) I bottled it and portaged. However there was some vindication when Ralph, despite being in the hugest creekboat known to man, got an absolute munching in the stopper at “letterbox”. He took a swim and was left looking a bit shaken. Apparently the hole almost stripped his shorts off him!

As I said before, we were staying in a posh chalet, but we’d met up with Ralph some of the other guys, who were slumming it on the campsite in the valley bottom, and we took pity on them on a couple of evenings when it was chucking down with rain. Everyone came round to the chalet, which along with James and his two mates, made for quite a gathering.

After the first three days of cloud/rain downpours, the sun came out. These are the conditions which make French Alps so enjoyable. Baking hot sunshine and blue/green glacier water to jump in and cool down. This picture is a nice tributary of the Ubaye which was particularly beautiful.

Holiday for a week

It’s funny how stressful things always seems to accumulate during the period in the run up to a holiday. This week’s been a bit frantic. I’ve ended up with a lot of work to finish off today, and now my PortalBuilder server has come up with a new and unexpected error message to thwart me.  Looks like I’ll have to give up on that. I’ll be leaving a semi-half-finished-non-operational mess behind.  That’s shame, but what the hell…. I’m going whitewater kayaking in the Alps for a week!

That’s right, I’m off kayaking, for the first time since January.  I feel a bit out of practice. I’m also feeling a little bit apprehensive because I will be the only one of the group in a silly little playboat. Everyone else will be in more heavyweight creek boats. I have visions of being left behind looping in a stopper while everyone else punches on through. The plan started out as just a small group, with at least half of us being of a “laze around in the sunshine, take it easy on the rivers, and have a relaxing holiday” persuasion. But the group has since expanded to seven people (I think), most of whom will be persuading me to stop being a wuss and take on some adrenaline challenges. Right now that feels like the last thing I need.

I will be spending a fair proportion of next week chilling in the Alpine sunshine with a plastic bidon of cheap french wine. Oh yes.

Because this is an oldies canoe club trip, not the usual imperial college uni group, we won’t be doing the usual cheapo slumming on a campsite. No no. We have a chalet booked. Very posh.

I ordered myself a new camera. I had to, because last weekend my nice little Casio Exilim became very broken (dropped!) I decided it would be too unimaginative to order another ordinary compact camera, so I pondered SLRs (But they’re too big for carrying everywhere, and I like to carry my camera everywhere), and I pondered a camera-phone (but I don’t want a contract, so they’re quite expensive. Second-hand on ebay could be a good option, but I need to spend more time researching).  Instead I’ve gone for a waterproof camera. Fairly ordinary compact, and not as beautiful as the Exilim, but great for kayaking! At least I hope it is waterproof. Some of the user reviews are saying that it broke as soon as they tried it underwater. I haven’t taken delivery of the camera yet. Picking it up a few hours before I set off on holiday this evening. So this is another thing I’m stressing about this week.

Never mind.  Deep breaths….  Sunshine, mountains, beers and BBQs…   mmmm

Whitewater Kayaking

[This was originally a top level website section, written approximately 2007. Moved to the blog archive]

Middle Cheakamus, British Columbia

Whitewater kayaking is a big hobby of mine. I have been kayaking fairly regularly for the past five years. This is thanks to the good people at Imperial College Canoe Club who lent me the necessary equipment, taught me the necessary skills, drove me to the necessary rivers, and fed me the necessary beer/chilli fuel. It always impresses me that this group of people can collectively organise the club and the trips, coping with complex logistics and unforseen circumstances, maintaining a culture of sensible attitudes towards whitewater saftey, and at the same time have a whole lot of fun.

I’ve also been whitewater kayaking with Kanu Club Limmat while I was working in Switzlerland. I went along to the local club in Baden, not really knowing what to expect. Happily I met a friendly bunch of Swiss kayakers. They were older than me, with big moustaches and families and such things. I had a lot of fun with them though. We did some hardcore alpine whitewater on a couple of weekend trips, and what’s more, it turned out the local river Limmat had some interesting playspots, including a wave which can get very big. I took a trashing on it, during my final run, and returned to London in shame.