On a Mission! - South Wales - Melte River - flood conditions!
After making a vague plan Saturday night, the boats where loaded and we were on our way to wet Wales in search of water! We suspected there may be water around, but at the take out of the Melte river the flows were not that high. It was pishing down and motivation took some time to pick up. I pulled an Ammo from my quiver, thinking this would be a mellow read a run, but on the drive up there was evidence to suggest this could turn into quite a mission!
Our team consisted of Myself, Jimmy Evans, Andy Hurford and Lowri Davies, but cought up with 'The lads' Ali Marshall, Piers Bucknell, Scott Simmonds. Only my self and Andy had done this run before and 'the lads' were fired up to huck their meat!
Whilst tramping down to the put-in it was clear that the ground was sodden, water was flowing everywhere. Walkers were about in abundance but we were the only people looking happy that it was raining so hard. Approaching the river we started to hear the thunder of the falls deep within the canyon, but when the first fall (portage) came into view I was happy to see it was not as high as last time I was here. The lads on the other hand headed further upstream to a different start point in search of more drops, not really knowing what they might find.
Now if you know the Melte River you will remember how, when you look downstream, the whole world seems to drop away at an amazing rate. This run gives you several falls to huck off and all sorts of ledge and drop rapids to test your skills, but it also has a couple of drops your body would rather NOT run. You may also remember that one of these 'portages' has little warning and not the largest of eddies above it. Needless to say there is evidence of desperate fingernails on the bedrock slabs just below the normal stopping eddy!
So off we went, the senior team, taking the lead, which was not quite in the plan - I was hoping the 'lads' would be ahead, then we could relax far more as every portage or scout would be marked by a pile of boats. The water was fresh, relatively warm but still not that high, but it was rather brown. No sooner had we reminded each other of the small eddy above the next portage we were there. The world drops away and there is one small eddy just above. We walked around and down and were scouting the next runnable fall when we heard the 'lads' catch us up. When they got down to us they mentioned that one of them had very nearly missed the eddy!
We ran the 15 footer, then carried on down to the most well known falls - Sgwd y Pannw. By the time we got there the river was still at normal 'high' flows, the ledges were covered and it was time to fly. This fall is great fun, you run down the entry slides knowing full well what your in for with no option but to commit. At the lip you aim to fly, but dip the nose so you get a soft landing. It is very easy to boof the hell out of this one, but not advised! Lowri learnt some waterfall techniques the painful way as she flew off the fall perfectly, dipped the nose, and braced for the landing. Unfortunately she kept her paddle across her front and ate it on landing, removing half a tooth in the process. ouch!
A little later I remember mentioning that 'it should be pretty mellow down here for a bit until the next scout', but then dropping into a section of continuous boily large rapids. At the next eddy Andy and I exchanged glances as we knew the river was rising fast. Further down the rapids joined together, tight corners, sticky holes and great play waves?? Thats right, play waves, after all I was in an Ammo. The Ammo, although the largest of its breed is quite small for my 92 KG mass and I had started to feel a wee bit small in the flooding river. I had also started to realize what I was in and how I could use it. Being so 'nippy' to turn and easy to boof was great fun, the flat hull and nose rocker meant jumping over pour overs and drops was a breeze, but you could spin it round and surf the next wave, then carve off across the river to avoid the next hole.
Eventually we reached a rapid which is usually a narrow drop with a tree right where you would like to be, but by this time the water had risen at least a couple of ft. That rapid was now sweet, no worries, but the one below was all very exciting! A river wide 2 meter high ledge drop is fed by a boily, backed up pool, which is fed by a narrow fast shoot. The hole at the bottom looked like it would flush as it pulsated back and forth, but the first 3 'lads' all discovered its retentive possibilities in a bit of creek-boat rodeo action! Jimmy and I had watched the show, the 'lads' were now out with ropes ready and it was our turn. My plan was to run with Jimmy,watch the 'lads' reaction to see if he was in the hole and drop right in after him. Jimmy entered the rapid, didn't paddle half as hard as we had just decided you should and found himself pushed left so he would take on the hole smack dead center. The 'lad's looked on, they did not move, there was no arm waving, then someone grabbed a throw bag! Jimmy had been 'sucked' out of his boat, (year right) and was now swimming Olympic style to the bank.
When the person in front of you just had a swim it does not generally instill confidence. But there again you might be needed to help, so as soon as the 'lads' looked up smiling I started the wee Ammo on its charge. My plan was to jump the wave at the bottom of the narrow shoot, skim across the pool and drop off the lip, then sub through and under the edge of the hole, using 'theory of insignificance' or 'dense boat theory' to my advantage. To my astonishment this all worked. The wee boat did jump the wave, skipped across the pool and plunged through the hole, no surfing, no problem.
Scott had managed to save Jimmy's boat just above the terminal weir, we regrouped and headed off for the last few drops down to the take-out. The river at this point had risen maybe 3 ft and we were loving every minute. Being rain water it was relatively warm and the adrenaline gave us all a buzz all the way to the pub!
Morals of this story?
Nice to know where your going when the river is raising!
Ammo's can be pretty fun and creeky runs in flood!
Photos thanks to Andy Hurford