After a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas I managed to escape for the day on Tuesday and headed to Dartmoor.
I had been watching the weather forecasts intently hoping that there would be enough water the bring the Dart up to an enjoyable level. On Monday afternoon the forecasts were looking very good for Tuesday, so I sent out a few messages on UKRGB trying to find people to paddle with. I was gracious when Chas replied to my message saying that he had a group heading down to the Dart on Tuesday and would be happy for me to come along.
Waking up on Tuesday I checked the Dartcom Weather Station which was showing about 12mm of rain had fallen overnight. It was looking good to go! Upon arrival at Newbridge the river was just lapping at the bottom of the ledge and it was continuing to rise. After meeting up with Chas and his group we headed up to Dartmeet and got on. It was obvious that the level here was about a foot higher than we had seen at Newbridge.
Paddling on downstream a couple of the more difficult rapids were inspected and portaged by some, and before long we had arrived at the Ledges. In higher water, the first of the ledges forms a particularly nasty almost river-wide stopper, which can be snuck past on hard river-right. We all got out to inspect this stopper and worked out our lines. A few of the group decided that they were going to portage downstream as far as Euthanasia. With our lines memorised, those paddling it walked back up to their boats and got back in. I went first and made it through without any issue. Ross (well, I think that was his name?) came next but got caught in an innocuous looking stopper just about the main one. As Ross managed to fight his way free Chris immediately dropped into the same stopper but was less fortunate. He ended up swimming and Chas was quickly upon him with a line to pull him into the bank. His boat quickly flushed and started to make its own way downstream. I set off chasing after the boat and Ross started making his way down the bank. Shortly above Euthanasia I decided solo chase-boating at this level wasn’t necessarily the best idea so started making my way downstream on foot. At Euthanasia I found another group who were looking at one of their boats which was firmly pinned in a tree just above where the rapid normally forms. At this level Euthanasia was almost unrecognisable (well, I ran past it without noticing first-time – it was only on the way back up that I twigged where the rapid was!). The other group realised that they were not going to be able to retrieve their boat and so continued downstream.
By this stage Ross and I had managed to meet up with each other so started to inspect what lay in front of us. Euthanasia looked quite scary with a difficult line to make. As we discussed we came to the conclusion that river left of the island looked a nicer line. Walking back to our boats we found Chas wandering down to us and discovered that the rest of the group had decided to walk out to Newbridge. Chas didn’t like the look of Euthanasia – either side of the island – and so portaged around it. Ross and I got back into our boats and launched out into the flow. The line down the left side of the island was tricky with trees and holes to avoid but we very quickly both made it to the bottom safely. Whilst we were sat in the eddy catching our breath Chas was in the process of discovering that the portage he had chosen was not as easy as it looked! Chas ferried across to us and continued his portage down past Surprise Surprise. Once again Ross and I peeled out of the eddy into the flow and we were very quickly in the midst of the lead-in to Surprise Surprise. At this level all the rocks in the centre were well covered and the line almost easier than it is at low flows. I almost came a-cropper as I took a brief play in a stopper just above the main part of the rapid, before escaping just in time to see Ross right on my tail. We ran the drop only a boat-length apart! Chas decided that the main part of the rapid was not as bad as first thought and certainly a lot easier than the last part of the portage!
Chas starting his run down Surprise Surprise
Chas in the middle of Surprise Surprise
The rest of the paddle down to Newbridge was uneventful, just fast and bouncy water to cope with! Just upstream of Newbridge we met up with the rest of the group, plus those who had decided not to paddle the Upper section. They had found Chris’s run-away boat already on the bank, so thank you to whoever rescued that for us. Back down at Newbridge the level had risen up. The ledge was well covered and the river almost flowing through the third arch.
We ended the day with a nice paddle down the Loop to Holne Bridge. Apart from a little swim from Gordan at Triple Step and a few rolls from others, the run down was uneventful and I found it quite relaxing – a nice end to the day 🙂
A few more photos are available at http://photos.andywicks.com/UpperDartDecember2009