As the summer season draws to a close, we get some spare time on our hands, so what better to do than see where the water is and get some good old fashioned adrenaline! So Liam, Terry and myself had a few days off together, and there was plenty of rain forecast for the night so we decided to head to the Orchy...
We aimed for a descent over two days from Loch Tulla to Loch Awe, it would be reasonably leisurely, but it gave us some options for the second day when the levels came up. We decided to camp at the witches step ( I say 'camp', but we were glamping! Terry has done an cracking job with his van, and we had a very comfortable night ahead.) Arriving at the river, the levels were slightly lower than we had hoped, around 1(SEPA 0.5 - that always seems to be offline..) on the gauge as you peer over the bridge, downstream on river right, we decided to give it a bash anyway. Shuttle done, we made our way down a scrapey river, pushing off the river bed at points but still navigable and not too frustrating; at least the main rapids had enough water to make them enjoyable.
We made good progress down to the witches step, running all the main rapids apart from Easan Dubha, Eas a' Chathaidh and Chicken Chute, the latter being a bit boney. We settled in for the night in the van hoping for good levels the following day. After a good nights rest, we poked our head out the van to find that the levels were up a little, but it was forecast to rain all day. We decided to head back up, and get in at 'Big Rock' rapid to enjoy the higher levels. The river seemed to be rising as we paddled down making for an exciting trip with lots of new lines opening up and the main ones becoming bigger! Certainly for the bathtubs anyway.
We cheered and laughed our way down to Chicken Chute; with some water, it looked a little cleaner today, we checked out the line and decided to give the main line a bash! There was a big offline stopper that looked very swampy, and it would be hard to miss, but we set up and went for it. Swamped but not swimming..yet.
It was down to Sheep trolley gorge next, which proved to be pretty interesting; pinned a boat that then popped out its airbags, which got caught up in the huge stopper below. So, I carefully aimed my boat down the rapids to try and bump it out! A few swims later, it made part of story to be told in the pub for years to come... We laughed our way down to Easan Dubha, which we debated running but thought better of it. By the time we portaged and chatted through some lines on 'Sore Tooth' the falls above looked considerably bigger. We got some cracking lines and kept making progress to try and get to Loch Awe before dark. The river already felt big, but it was getting noticeably bigger as we paddled down; we continued cautiously avoiding lines we thought were too risky.
Roller coaster next, which had some huge waves and a big stopper at the bottom, it had a narrow but clean line at the bottom, it turned out to be pretty exciting riding the waves, I see where it gets its name! 'End of Civilization' is a long committing rapid, particularly in high flows, we would need to inspect. We popped out and had a look, it looked incredible, big water, fast shoots, long, committing and bloody good fun! We picked a line through some weakness as in the main shoots the waves were easily big enough to flip a raft, never mind a canoe. We portaged early on Eas a' Chathaidh as even the day before, the eddies above the rapid weren't that big and egress was a little slippy, so the big eddy above did the job. It was impressive to see how much water was pushing through the main lines, with a new line starting to come through in the middle, between the two falls. A boily, stoppery mess, not somewhere to get it wrong.
We paddled on down to the 'witches step', this is where we got our first clear picture of how much the water had risen, the main shoot looked messy, so we decided to try the right shoot which had a nice rolling tongue, great line and great fun. We had one of the vans here and Terry decided he'd had enough (with his boat just about hanging in there!). Me and Liam were keen to try and get to Loch Awe and it was already 2 pm, we had about 2 and half hours of light left. We knew there would be one more portage for the falls of Orchy and a few more grade 3 rapids following but felt we could make it.
Below the falls was mainly flat with three more main rapids that were good value; long, fast and fun. The SW wind was proving not so much! A few bridges passed, and we knew it couldn't be far as Loch Awe came into view, we reunited with Terry to finish up an awesome trip with some awesome people.
A real highlight, one of the best days paddling this year for sure, great to spend time with like-minded people in an exceptional environment with exciting water levels.
Let's hope for many more adventures like this to come!
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