Back on the Soča

I’ve not finished editing the video from last year’s trip yet, and here we are, generating more footage. The weather is blisteringly hot, the Rainex is fresh and I’m getting better quality on a lot of stretches, especially the Bunker section (which we’ve run twice) where the critical bit at the entry to Canyon 3 last year was spoilt by a big drop of water on the GoPro. This year I have clear 4k footage from both runs (and good lines both times).


Dropping into Canyon 3 on the second run. 0.13m on the gauge.

The penalty for the hot weather and a low snow pack is, inevitably, low levels. The Koritnica ran at the start of the week, but is looking pretty empty now. The Bunker section is probably now out unless the thunderstorms we saw over the Austrian side last night return and drop some water a bit closer. The classic sections lower down are still fine, of course, and we’ve been having plenty of fun around Srpenica. Not sure if we have the group to do the slalom section, but there is talk of doing the Otona on Friday which is the only section (apart from Siphon Canyon which no-one sane runs anyway) I’ve not done.


James Lock in Canyon 3

More photos to come !

A return to 4k peaking – Morocco

Having walked up a 3000m peak in 2015 – the first one for twenty years, we decided to go higher for 2016 and do a trek taking in a couple (or three) 4000m peaks in the High Atlas.

I started a feedback essay for the company running the trek, but this diversified into more of a blog write-up. Then, adapting it for the blog, it strangely starting morphing back into feedback. Looks like I’ll be rewriting both from scratch shortly… But meanwhile, this is a placeholder blog entry, to accumulate a set of photos which I can write the blog around. The executive summary is that it was a successful trip, but with reservations. I don’t think I’d do a commercial trekking trip again – I had rather expected more independent walking between meeting points. I’m not really suited to walking in a crocodile like we did at primary school, and I developed a bit of an “escape from the chain gang” mentality which rather clashed with the guide’s expectations… Eventually I omitted the third 4000m peak (Mary and Sarah went up it) as my patience was exhausted.


Andy on top of Jbel Adrar n’Dern, 4001m (photo: Sarah)

Outage – lightning fries the village

On Tuesday 13th September, we had a massive thunderstorm, with a lightning strike on a house almost directly opposite ours. Many houses in the village had power problems, and almost all lost phone (and internet). BT and the electricity companies were both a bit overwhelmed by similar incidents across northern England and did well to fix many of the faults by the next day. The fault with our phone line proved to be outside the house, somewhere in the network, so we didn’t get phone back until after we had set off for our Morocco trip, at which time, since the house power was still tripping out once or twice a day, we had all the computers off (although UPS-protected, this doesn’t cope with long power outages when we are away from home and can’t rush about shutting down systems cleanly). On our return on October 2nd, the phone line was back, and we brought up the systems. Unfortunately, power is still tripping from time to time, so we can’t guarantee continuous up time, but at least we are back online most of the time. Currently, the hard disc on the firewall is reporting a lot of errors, so I’ll have to take us offline to clone the system onto a spare drive this week, too. Hope this will be resolved over the next couple of weeks and I can bring you a write-up of our trip to the High Atlas, but meanwhile, apologies for the extended outage.

Update: October 18th – fault traced to one segment of upstairs ring main which we’ve had to isolate pending some rewiring, but power does now seems stable, so we should be back online pretty much full time (apart from the usual rural broadband dropouts, of course – business as usual).

Update: January 16th – we were losing internet connection more and more frequently and have just replaced the ADSL modem, to see a remarkable improvement suggestive that our old modem suffered some degradation, perhaps in the thunderstorm. Anyway the good news is that the line is no longer dropping, and our upstream connection speed (what limits the speed of this website) has gone up considerably. At the moment, however, downstream speed has dropped to less than the upstream speed, so possibly we’ll need to do yet more tweaking… Whilst we are still missing a segment of ring main, the power seems to be stable, too (barring the usual occasional ten seconds outage for the whole village – they never seem to go away).

Islands and waterfalls, round trip to Cascade Bay (Alaska episode 3)

We all landed at the Salmon stream across from East Flank Island on Sunday morning. With the tide out, many of the Salmon had been stranded or picked out and eaten, so the beach was pretty smelly, but still inhabited only by birds. Although the fish in the pool at the top were expiring through crowding and oxygen starvation, many more were fighting their way up the tiny stream, doomed to the same fate.


King Salmon fighting upstream to certain doom

After getting enough water to survive a day or so visiting only islands, we headed out into the Sound, aiming for Bald Head Chris Island, a crossing of about 2.5 km. We quickly passed this and continued SE, with a slightly longer crossing to Dutch Group. Here we landed for lunch and explored, looking for the “Abandoned Oil Tank” marked on our maps. It looks as though recent construction work has been in hand to remove all traces of such wartime installations, so there was little left to see except a rather scruffy road made of rafts of planks penetrating the rainforest. We soon headed on round the south side of these islands and noticed a lot of noise from a big skerry over to our right which had many sea lions hauled out. These guys can be a bit aggressive, so we chose not to make a closer visit, and headed for Axel Lind Island, passing another set of skerries on our left towards the end of this crossing, which was just shy of 4 km. There was now a little doubt over island identities and we paddled a little way along the north coast to be quite sure that our destination was not hiding out of sight just round the corner, but as soon as it became clear that we had correctly identified Eaglek Island, a break was made to cross to this, heading downwind. We aimed for what seemed like the biggest beach, and on landing, found that we could just about fit the three tents in gaps in the forest above the high tide mark.

Monday saw us off from the south-facing beach, rounding the east end of the island and heading west. The weather was threatening to deteriorate as we hit the next island and headed north towards Eaglek Bay. We followed the coast round, but avoided being fooled into paddling through the cut towards Ragged Point which would have taken us the wrong way. Instead we turned right again and headed north, taking another little cut between islands to visit an oyster farm (not much to see, as it happened, just buoys) by which time it had started to rain. However, by the time we were crossing Derickson Bay, it had cleared up somewhat, with visibility good enough to allow a choice between straight-lining to the next headland, or following the coast more closely and still remaining within sight of each other. We found a small beach with a little stream, and took the opportunity to fill up on water again. Another brief landing was made to scope out a possible camping spot where a small tidal lagoon drained out. I didn’t much like the look of this, as there were some very obvious trampled trails, and we would be very much open to being surprised by a bear emerging from the forest. Ahead, we could see the small wooded Cascade Island, which was on the far side of Cascade Bay, which was our immediate destination. Rounding a small headland, we could see white beyond some trees, and as we paddled into the bay, we soon got a better view of the biggest waterfall in Prince William Sound. We were able to paddle right up to this, where a sizeable river falls directly into the sea. The final drop, seen in the photo, is less than half the total fall, which is around 60m.


Andy getting a close view of the Cascade, Cascade Bay (Photo: Mary)

Back down the bay, we checked out an alluvial fan with a fine view of the waterfall, as a possible campsite. However, bits of seaweed strewn among the tall grasses suggested that there was nowhere for tents which was reliably above the high water mark, so we paddled back out into Squaw Bay and had a bit of debate. I favoured crossing the bay to where a number of beaches and grassy patches could be seen. However, a check with binoculars made these look less attractive and we decided instead to head south – a kilometre or two down Eaglek Bay, Derickson Bay opened and looked to have less steep slopes. We checked out a couple of small beaches at the entrance, but a short way into the bay a larger beach offered a definite camping opportunity, so we hauled the boats out. Examination of the ridges and seaweed lines here convinced us that as we were now at neaps, we could set tents on the highest level of the shingle and expect to stay dry.


Camping in Derickson Bay – at neaps we can afford to be on the shingle

As Tuesday’s route would, again, take us out to islands, we were keen to stock up with water as soon as any could be found. We could see a couple of small but steep valleys on the opposite side, and as we paddled out into the bay, could definitely hear a stream. But even as we got close to the far shore, no water was visible until we had almost landed, when a stream could finally be seen pouring over rocks under the trees and sinking promptly into the back of the beach. A bit of shingle moving dammed up enough of a small pool to allow us to work our filter pumps, with the added benefit of being able to work under the shade of the Alders.


We could hear this stream from across the Bay, but it was well hidden !

We now reversed our course of yesterday until we reached the narrow channel leading south west towards Ragged Point, which this time, we duly took, heading south down the west-facing coast of the island which it isolated. From the tip, we crossed back to Axel Lind Island at the point we’d briefly touched two days ago. Now we headed round the south west side, being stalked by a couple of sea lions on the way. This was an attractive coast with various small wildlife, and several beaches where camping would have been possible. However, still no large wildlife. We skipped past Jenny Islands and on to Little Axel Lind Island, paddling along its south east side. A tombolo beach might have provided a route across the island at a high spring tide, but there was no way without a carry today. Another narrow cut near the eastern end looked as though it would go, and did indeed continue beyond the large rock apparently obstructing it. However a couple of smaller rocks just beyond meant we’d need another 30 cm of tide to get through. We duly backed out and went right round the eastern tip of the island.


Rounding the NE tip of Little Axel Lind Island

The plan now was to head back to Jenny Islands, before crossing back to our camping spot of two nights earlier on Eaglek Island. A couple of skerries provided a channel to hop through, but Eaglek Island looked a little different from this angle and we couldn’t immediately identify the beach we wanted. As we got closer, however, a distinctive fallen tree at the west end of our beach became visible, so we changed course a little and landed at just the right place.


Half a moon – neaps on Eaglek Island

Heading west on Wednesday, we left Eaglek Island, passing the bigger island almost joined to Ragged Point, and hit the “mainland” again. Once again, we were in search of fresh water, and hoping to avoid the Salmon stream where we felt there was a real risk of meeting bears. A narrow bay contained another oyster farm, but didn’t seem to have a stream at the head, so we passed on, heading for Squaw Bay, where a river was marked on the map coming in on the west side at Papoose Cove. Reaching this was no problem, though we could guess from the number of Bald Eagles and Glaucous-winged gulls wheeling around that this one, too, had a salmon run. Unfortunately, arriving not far off the bottom of the tide, we found the sizeable stream cascading directly into the sea (into a pool full of salmon) and no freshwater pool. A rope offered a tantalising chance to climb up – but as it ended more than a metre above the current water level this was not going to help us today. A scrambling route did look possible, but there was nowhere close enough to land and reach this, so we reluctantly concluded that this stream was not going to supply our needs.


Getting fresh water proved impossible in Papoose Cove at low tide

Back out into the bay, nowhere else looked a likely prospect, so we headed round the headland and visited the salmon stream for the third time. By now, the smell of dead salmon was oppressive, and fish skeletons were everywhere as the Eagles and gulls rose into the air from our disturbance. We hastened to the little waterfall to fill up. Most of the fish in the pool were now dead, so Mary and I climbed up the little waterfall to get to clean water. There were obvious game trails both sides of the stream, and with the noise of falling water and lots of vegetation we felt there was a real risk that an approaching bear would have little warning that we were there, so tried to make plenty of noise as well as being as quick as possible in filling up. John and Pete filled up in a little pool at the bottom of the waterfall and we escaped without incident, back down the beach and into the boats where it was less than a kilometre to paddle across to East Flank Island and the same beach we had used four days ago. There was still plenty of firewood, so a last evening was spent relaxing and watching yet another sunset from the beach.


Yet another perfect sunset on our last night – East Flank Island

Thursday was pick-up day, but not until 2 p.m., so we had plenty of time to tidy and pack up gear before Epic Charters arrived to take us back to Whittier. The boat, “Ellen J” is well equipped for carrying sea kayaks and kit, and even had a cooler with beer for us !


Pick up at East Flank Island for return to Whittier (Photo: Mary)

With the boat cruising at 29 knots, it was just about an hour through Wells Passage south of Esther Island, across Port Wells, and up the length of Passage Canal to Whittier, to meet Levi. Boats and kit loaded into the trailer, we still had half an hour before the tunnel would open in our direction, so had a wander round the general store (some buying clean tee-shirts) before piling into the truck and waiting for the tunnel to open. Back at Hope, we all had to shower in double-quick time to make it to the restaurant in time to eat, but Halibut and chips, and absolutely no shortage of beer made a definite return to civilisation. We had a day to get sorted and packed up, and a leisurely walk into Hope for lunch. Another fine meal of Sockeye Salmon on curried lentils followed, with rather less emphasis on the beer tonight. Up and off by 08:30 on Saturday, for the drive to Anchorage, where we put all our baggage into storage and took a cab to downtown, where we visited the museum. There are a number of baidarka frames, some definitely historic and weather-beaten, but one appeared recently built and noticeably different from the classic baidarka shape such as the Lowie Museum specimen which has been used as a base by so many modern baidarka replica builders (including my own Borealis project).

All trips must end, so we cabbed back to the airport, checked our bags in, and flew back, getting some splendid views over Greenland as we flew a slightly less polar route than on our outward flight. It was strange to look down on the snowy landscape below and realise that the shadows were on the south sides of the hills, as the midnight sun shone from the north. We also got a glimpse of the east coast of Iceland, but cloud covered the Orkneys, and we flew over the North Sea on our way to Frankfurt. A much shorter layover here soon saw us on the short hop to Manchester, and the drive home.


There is a page of additional notes for this trip. covering outfitting, watertaxi, maps, charts, tides, etc.

Harriman Fiord to East Flank Island (Alaska episode 2)

On Thursday morning, we lay in the tent listening to the rain coming and going. It eased off, then stopped, and I took the opportunity to get up, drop the food bags, and wander along the beach. Suddenly, a glint of sun through a gap in the clouds cast a shadow in front of me and this presaged a transition to glorious weather for the rest of the day. We put on and headed south west up the Fiord, pausing to chat to the occupants of the tent we’d spotted last night. Surprise Glacier continued to creak and crash, but as sound was taking 10-15 seconds to reach us, we never saw any ice fall. As we paddled on through almost flat calm, the curve of the fiord revealed the mile-wide snout of the Harriman glacier.


Heading SW up Harriman Fiord – the glacier face is a mile or so wide

However, we saw no ice floating ahead of us, and it was apparent that the bigger glacier was not actively calving. We paused for a snack and to take stock. We knew that if we waited until tomorrow morning to head down Barry Arm, we would have a strong tide against us (though we could probably eddy hop against this), but if we paddled all the way to Harriman Glacier snout, we would undoubtedly have to camp again within Harriman Fiord. As Surprise Glacier seemed more active, we decided to turn back and paddle up Surprise Inlet, then see how far out of the fiord we could get in a long day today.


Paddling towards Surprise Glacier which was calving noisily (Photo: Mary)

Turning the point into Surprise Inlet, we were still 3 km from the glacier face. Now there were icebergs to paddle among, and the reason for Cataract Glacier’s name became very apparent as a huge meltwater stream cascaded down beside and below it. Although we’d still not seen any large icefall from the glacier, the booms and crashes continued, and we kept a safe distance back from potentially large waves, paddling across the inlet to the north side before heading back between scattered lumps of ice.


Paddling away from Surprise Inlet dodging icebergs

Many long and steep streams were falling from the glaciers high above on the SE side of Mount Muir making this a spectacular stretch of paddling, all the more impressive owing to the vastly improved weather which enabled us to see the scenery !


Ann and Pete on our way back down Harriman Fiord (Photo: Mary)

We headed along, passing a couple of bays, one dotted with icebergs, and the second opening on to the extremely dirty snout of Serpentine glacier. We paused for lunch at the east tip of this bay for a late lunch stop. There were a couple of areas of the sea where bubbles constantly rose to the surface from the sea bed. I’m not sure what gas was being emitted here, or how it came to be here, but wading out and testing the bubbles with a lighter showed that the gas was not inflammable.


Andy threading between icebergs, Harriman Fiord (Photo: Mary)

From this point, we crossed to Point Doran (a little over 5km), picking up some tidal assistance, and seeing many groups of otters with kits in the water (at one point I could see six groups, one of which contained eight individuals). We were just congratulating ourselves on our timing and expecting to pick up an even faster tide down Barry Arm as we reached the shallows at Point Doran. However, it became apparent that the tide here didn’t quite conform to our expected timings – the assistance we had been getting was from the eddy on the end of the incoming tide and in Barry Arm the flow was still against us in two or three narrow streams, though mostly it seemed slack. We headed across to the east shore and paddled along this, intending to camp at least past the narrower part of the channel, to avoid an adverse tide tomorrow. We found a good beach another 5km on, Not all that far short of Pakenham Point, which was to have been our camp not tonight, but tomorrow night, so we were now well ahead of schedule, though it had been a long day. A noticeable feature of this campsite (and quite a lot of the coast west of Port Wells and College Fiord) was the line of dead trees right next to the beach. All of these look a similar age, and it became apparent with a bit of thought that all these are 52 years old. On March 29th 1964, the area was hit by a magnitude 9.2 earthquake (the second biggest on record anywhere) which produced changes in level of up to eight metres. All along this coast, the level seems to have dropped by a metre or so, flooding the roots of those trees nearest the shore with salt water and killing them.

During the latter part of the day, I had harvested a lump of ice into a ziplock bag, and now enjoyed the view back up Barry Arm whilst drinking whiskey on the rocks of freshly calved glacier ice.


Andy taking in the view whilst drinking whiskey over freshly calved glacier ice, Barry Arm

Friday morning after our long previous day, we were not off too early, but were soon passing over the tidal flat below a sizeable river. This provided one or two very shallow spots (John had to back out and try another route) but mostly we found a route through and any incoming tide was slowed enough not to impede our progress. A series of small headlands culminated in a spit with many birds, where we could round the corner into Port Wells.


Coming out of Barry Arm into Port Wells

With the sun shining brightly from the direction of the more open Sound, this was a pleasant place to linger, watch the birds and take photos.


Andy just after the exit from Barry Arm (Photo: Mary)

We decided that perhaps an even better view would be had from Pakenham Point (our original planned destination and camp for tonight) and paddled across the short stretch of water to reach this.


From Pakenham Point we had a distant view of the huge Harvard Glacier

Our route next was to reach Esther Passage, whose entrance lies on the SE side of Port Wells. We were also on the lookout for a source of fresh water. A stream is shown on the map just south of Golden, so we started our crossing aiming roughly for this. The big glacial valley we could see ahead was occupied by Davis Lake, but the river from this was behind an island, and we were hoping not to have to paddle the extra distance up behind this to find water.


Crossing College Fiord toward the glacial valley of Davis Lake

Before we’d started our crossing we’d seen the first of several huge prison ships heading up College Fiord and reflected that for cruise passengers, even with wildlife head-butting their boat, they were a more distant view than we often got from our kayaks. As we reached the far side of College Fiord, the outflow of the valley was far from obvious, but eventually we found a little waterfall crashing out of the trees. Landing was little problematical, as there was not much in the way of beach (and the tide was rising). Most got out and tied boats up, still afloat. I found a little beach a little further up the coast, hauled out, and scrambled along to join the others. We spent some time here pumping water through filters before heading down the coast looking for the entrance to Esther Passage. A bit of rock-hopping was to be had on the way, and we picked a beach just at the entrance, facing north, with a fine view back over our route here. The Trails illustrated map suggests a spot right on the point at the north side of the Passage entrance, but this had not looked particularly attractive as we’d passed.


Looking back to Barry Arm from camp on Esther Island

Our earlier stop for water was now proved a little superfluous, as the site we’d picked had a sizeable stream. Indeed, I’d paddled into this (under and over some interesting sweepers) to get behind the beach for an easier haul out. Mary, always obsessively wanting to be rid of sweat and grime, found this entertainingly cold for a (very swift) bath, but would not permit photographs (or video). We easily got a fire going here, so toasted treats were on the menu.


Toasting Marshmallows on the beach, Esther Island

We dithered considerably over a site to hang food, until I found that I could climb up and traverse to the back of a dead tree, where (when my foot didn’t break through into space between the roots) I could throw the line over a branch of a live tree overhanging the beach. This gave us one of our more convincingly bear-resistant hangs.


One of our better bear-avoiding food hangs, Esther Island

Saturday morning dawned bright, but with a bit of cloud, and some breeze. We put on and headed east, then south east, noticing quite a bit of traffic through the passage (another weekend) including a couple of jet skiers as well as numerous of the fast boats used by sport fishermen. For the most part these gave us a wide berth and we had little trouble with wakes.


John, Mary and Pete paddling down Esther Passage

We paused for lunch on the SW shore about halfway along the Passage. Whilst there, the “Klondike Express” (a big tourist boat) went past at speed, kicking up such a huge wake that our boats (fortunately tied on) were tossed about with water sloshed into the cockpits. Given the amount of traffic, I suppose it was fortunate that this was the only boat we saw driven in such a cavalier and inconsiderate fashion – in general we were pleasantly surprised at how many boats gave us a wide berth or slowed down whilst passing. As we reached the wider part of the passage, we knew we wanted to be on the east side, so set off to cross towards a small headland. I was keen to avoid mid-channel where the traffic passed, so took a slightly divergent route closer towards the shore. I noticed some splashing just off a beach to my left and steered a little more offshore. I was surprised by a big gasp of breath just behind me and wondered if I’d encountered a whale, but as I looked around, a head surfaced and took another breath. This was a lot bigger than the seals we are familiar with at home, but clearly not a cetacean. As the group came back together, this turned out to be a sea lion hunting along the shore, and popped up several more times, usually just a short way ahead of us. This last section of coast proved to be quite rocky with no landings or streams, and after we made the short crossing to East Flank Island, Mary was worried that we were a bit short of water, as she’d not been very successful in filtering water at the previous camp.


Evening view back up Esther Passage from East Flank Island

After camp was set up, we got back into our boats and crossed back to the mainland to find a small stream shown on the map, maybe a kilometre away. This proved elusive at first, and we got almost to the corner into Squaw Bay before being certain that we had missed it. On returning, we found it coming down a waterfall hidden in a corner at the back of a bay. Below it was a pool absolutely seething with big King Salmon. This felt like a place where we were quite likely to encounter a bear as it was nearing dusk, so we were very nervous. When the filter proved not to be working well again (we realised it needed cleaning rather more often than we’d expected), we beat a retreat back to the camp.


Sunset from East Flank Island on our first night there


There is a page of additional notes for this trip. covering outfitting, watertaxi, maps, charts, tides, etc.

Passage Canal to Harriman Fiord (Alaska episode 1) in three days of rain

First episode – fly from Manchester to Frankfurt, overnight at Frankfurt, 9 hour flight to Anchorage, a night at Hope, three days paddling from Whittier, down Passage Canal, out into Port Wells, up Barry Arm and into Harriman Fiord, in almost constant rain and low cloud.

Saturday 2nd July saw five of us (Pete Bridgstock, John Bates, Ann Jones, Mary and myself) checking in bags right on the weight limit for the short flight to Frankfurt. The amount of batteries and electronics in my hand baggage also caused a bit of a delay at security. At Frankfurt we had no need to collect our heavy goods (checked right through to Anchorage) and were soon in the bar at our overnight hotel. A quick shuttle back to the airport and a fairly easy check-in saw us with a bit of time to wait for boarding the nine-hour flight to Alaska. This took us not quite over the north pole – 87° north in fact, just the northernmost tip of Greenland. Since I didn’t have a seat anywhere near a window, this was somewhat academic. Landing in Anchorage, the time zone change meant that it was essentially the same time and day as when we had taken off at midday on Sunday. Levi from Turnagain Kayak met us, and shuttled us round to REI and Walmart, then the long drive to Hope. Going all the way round Cook Inlet was interesting – we saw a number of stand-up paddle boarders just getting on to surf the tidal bore. Cook Inlet is mostly very shallow and is notorious for fast tides – up to ten knots in places.

We got sorted out with boats, paddles, buoyancies, bear vaults and gas, packed things into dry bags and headed for Portage to find (it being July 4th) large queues for the tunnel to Whittier. Fortunately, the quarter hour slot that the tunnel was open in our direction proved enough to clear the queue, but we were a little dismayed to find the weather at the far end (only two and half miles away) rather inclement (“It’s always shittier in Whittier”). However, as we were changing into drysuits anyway, this was not a real issue. We seemed to have vastly more kit than usual to pack away (this would be for ten days paddling away from resupply) and anticipating cold/wet conditions, I had brought a rather bulky (new) man-made fibre four-season sleeping bag. This unfortunately took up enough space that I couldn’t get a bear vault in the aft hatch, and had to paddle the whole trip with this between my legs in the cockpit. However, soon enough, everything was in the boats and we were ready to set off.


Putting on at Whittier in the rain

As visibility was now pretty poor, and Passage Canal has a lot of traffic (especially on Independence Day), we crossed right over to the north shore to avoid being run down. This brought us neatly to some big, and really rather active, waterfalls down cliffs crowded with Kittiwakes. Every now and then a loud noise from across the fiord would set the whole lot screeching and wheeling about over our heads.


Kittiwakes nesting between waterfalls, Passage Canal

We made steady progress past Billings Creek (fed by a glacier only a mile or so inland which, somewhat bizarrely, is within Anchorage city limits). Another river entered at Poe Bay, from where we could just about make out the curve of the shore at Logging Camp Bay. The rain came and went, never particularly heavy, but fairly persistent. A navigation marker indicated that we were passing Point Pigot, and the shore now led us out into Port Wells.

Not being used to paddling with straight shafts, I was finding my right wrist to be getting a bit sore (not a promising sign on the first day of a ten-day route), and dropped the feather on my paddle to 30°, which did seem to help. We had a short crossing of the end of Pigot Bay to reach our planned campsite at Ziegler Cove. This proved to be a small neat circular bay with a number of possible camping spots. The one I chose to inspect (which looked like a nice flat area not fully infested with tall wet grass, as seen from the water) proved to hold a midge-infested pond. In the middle of the cove was an area which seemed to have been used before but wasn’t very flat. On the right, a tent was already set up, but with no-one about. Just next to this was enough space for three tents where we were able to get well above the high tide line and camp in the grass. Another kayak group arrived shortly after us, and picked the middle area, whilst the owners of the tent arrived later in a power boat and proved to be a fishing party one of whom had come all the way from Albuquerque just for the holiday weekend.


Typical second day paddling conditions, Port Wells

We were off before the other kayakers on Tuesday, just after the power boat group had departed. Our original plan was to continue up the coast of Port Wells and cross over the entrance to Barry Arm to camp on Pakenham Point. In fact, in the miserable conditions, progress seemed slow and we also realised that we would save two hours paddling today by camping at Hobo Bay, for less than an hour’s extra paddling tomorrow. This gave us a considerably easier day than our first, and my wrist gave me almost no more trouble after this “rest”.


Camp at Hobo Bay. Spring tide would come right up to the grass tonight

Tonight would be the highest spring tide – the overnight tide came more than half a metre higher than the daytime one, so were careful to set up tents as high as possible, well into the grassy area. The ground was wet almost everywhere, but one spot a couple of metres across under a big tree still had dry stones, so we picked this as our cooking area (some way away from the tents). I found a big fallen tree, the underside of which was crumbly rotten wood, protected from the rain and providing enough dry material to start a fire. In fact we found a surprising amount of wood dry enough to maintain a fire as a defence against biting insects.


We found a dry spot under some dense foliage for our fire

As the tide fell, a little tombolo linked us to one of two islands I had paddled between on our way in. Sunset was very late and the rain had stopped by the time people were going to bed. I had a wander around, as more of the coast was accessible at low tide, and heard a loon calling on the far side. Round the point, I got a fairly clear view of the island that we had been seeing on and off (as the visibility came and went) all day. After I’d walked along the beach for some distance, it occurred to me that it would perhaps be a bad idea to meet a bear coming the other way at this point, so I turned round and retreated to the tent. We’d managed to hang all our food in two enormously heavy bags earlier in the evening.


Cloud lifted a little at sunset – view up Hobo Bay from camp

Wednesday morning dawned very similar, but now our dry patch under the trees had also succumbed to the rain. However, visibility improved as we were on the water and it was not too long before we found ourselves past Harrison Lagoon and heading for a long spit which was not obvious on the map – or at least, at low tide it extended considerably farther than shown on the map. We paddled along parallel to this until gaps started to appear, when we were able to cross it and enter Barry Arm. Ahead I could see a white object which at first I thought was a boat. But it seemed a strange shape. Maybe some sort of wreck ? But as we got closer it suddenly clicked into place – this was, in fact, our first iceberg, despite still being a considerable distance from the calving glaciers in Harriman Fiord.


Our first iceberg, near the mouth of Barry Arm

Forty minutes on, and we stopped at a sizeable river flowing from Mount Doran, to fill up with fresh water, in what was now quite heavy rain. However, things looked up soon after we put back on, as we picked up a considerable tidal stream, which neatly conveyor-belted us for four kilometres up the fiord to Point Doran. Staying close to shore would have been a bad idea here, as there was a considerable eddy line, and no tidal assistance closer inshore.


John heading up Barry Arm where we caught a tidal stream

At the corner, we could see three tidewater glaciers – Cascade Glacier, Barry Glacier and Coxe glacier and perhaps some of the cloud was starting to lift a little. No peaks to be seen, though.


Pete and Ann dwarfed by three glacier snouts c 5 km away in the murk

We now started to meet small ice chunks in quantity, but not close enough or big enough to be a hazard. We stayed fairly close to the south shore of Doran Strait, as we headed up the fiord until we reached a tidal flat where another stream discharged from the slopes of Mount Doran. Landing here at what looked the most likely camping spot, Pete found the somewhat limited space already occupied, so we retreated a little way to a beach we’d glanced at earlier. This proved to be a suitable location for our third night, despite the almost continuous creaking and crashing of Surprise Glacier at the head of Surprise Inlet on the opposite side of the fiord, over five kilometres away. As the tide would be out throughout the evening, we put up a couple of tarps but failed to get a fire started – everything was thoroughly soaked. Once again, it rained heavily during the night.


A tarp helps when the rain won’t desist – camp in Harriman Fiord


There is a page of additional notes for this trip. covering outfitting, watertaxi, maps, charts, tides, etc.

Venice

… was on the way to Slovenia for kayaking. It was on the way back too, though the weather had gone downhill on the second Saturday. It’s good for reflections – not necessarily kept right way up 😉

It’s difficult to take photos that look any different to ones I’ve seen many times before – avoiding St. Mark’s Square with its immense crowds helps a bit.


Again trying to keep away from the bustling main through routes (especially on a day crowded with eye-poking umbrellas) I was taken with this market-stall-on-a-boat.

Soča-bility

Six days skills development (rather than pure tourist kayaking) in Slovenia inevitably means mostly paddling the Soča – only one tributary is usually an option. It is, however, a fantastic river with lots of short sections of varying difficulty. One constant on all the sections is the clear blue water combined with idyllic scenery.


As a warm-up, we started on the section from the Koritnica confluence down to Čezsoča (where we had lunch while Jake rearranged the shuttle) and on down to the Srpenica 1 access point. These are both shortish sections which could be run at grade two avoiding all the difficulties, which made it an ideal run for deliberately looking for harder lines and moves off the many boulders and eddy lines. One little challenge, in particular, had me rolling up four times in the 8.1 Mamba I started off paddling.

For the second day, we stepped up a bit, to the Srpenica 1 section, with me still in the Mamba. This section is a little steeper, with a lot more spots to play and make lines. There is a wide flat bit at the end where we had a bit of flat-water coaching, and Jake persuaded me I should try a bigger boat. The Zet Toro which he’d been paddling felt very over-forgiving and slow to accelerate at first, but I soon found that it seemed to be very quick in ferry glides and lost less ground. After a quick bit of boat swapping over lunch, I ended up paddling the Toro for the rest of the week. So, for the afternoon, we repeated Srpenica 1, which did give me a good basis for comparison. The high cross to a tiny eddy that I’d failed on four times in the Mamba (managing to capsize on a cushion wave every time) proved to be trivially easy at the first attempt in the Toro, so it certainly inspired confidence to try things I might have been nervous of in the smaller boat. I did, however, find it quite a lot harder to predict the boat’s line in response to my paddle strokes – a bigger boat with harder edges, at least aft, made for a boat which carved turns when edged, but wasn’t deflected as much by currents from the side. I missed quite a lot of tops-of-eddies and bumped a fair few rocks. The trouble with the first Srpenica section is that there is a horrid climb from the take-out to the road, and although the Toro is actually no heavier than the Mamba, I did struggle up here – having been finding the boat required more powerful arm-tiring strokes to drive on the river.

For our third day we returned to the Sprenica 1 put-in and made our way down a little quicker, avoiding the Srpenica 2 egress climb by continuing down the next section to the Trnovo 1 access point, where parking is much nearer the river, just above the footbridge at the start of the “Slalom section”. The second Srpenica section has a lot more to it, with definite lines to make and manoeuvring across the current. The signboards give this section III-IV. Maybe we’d just settled in and were paddling well, but I can’t say it ever felt more than grade III. However, at one point, Mary was a little off-line and was rewarded with the gratification of showing that she could roll the Veloc she was paddling, in real white water. After lunch we went back to the Koritnica confluence to do a bit more intensive skills practice in unthreatening water, down to Čezsoča.

By now we were getting the hang of the river, and went right upstream to put on at the top of the “Bunker” section, on down through “Canyon 3”, passing the Koritnica confluence and taking out at Čezsoča once again. That was quite a long shuttle for Jake, so we had a leisurely lunch. Mary didn’t want a lot more paddling, so decided to sit out the afternoon. We nipped down to the Srpenica 1 access, where the river police checked our river passes before we headed on down. We took a variety of different lines on the second Srpenica section today, and found a couple of places to do neat circuits between eddies and boulders. By this time I’d got the hang of keeping the Toro moving forward all the time by paddling with mostly forward strokes, so I was wasting less energy bringing it back up to speed. This does give less thinking time, so I managed to get one line wrong and have a swift roll. That is one thing to be said for the bigger boat – it floats much higher in the water, even when upside down, so getting the paddle right to the surface was remarkably easy. Since we were going well, we continued under the footbridge and onto the Slalom section. This is noticeably steeper with the flow often more channelled and quite a lot more moving about the river. The signboards give it grade IV-V, but at the water level we had (a bit bigger than on SOC’s trip a few years ago) it was no more than grade IV, and not high in the grade. We took out river right, and Jake went to get a bike from the Gene17 house, to go back for the van, Mary, and bike he’d left at the Srpenica section egress. Since he was expecting this to take up to an hour, I took the opportunity to drop back down to the river and walk up the right bank, taking a few photos and clips of video.

On Thursday, we paddled both Srpenica sections once again, making a few new lines and having fun at a few playspots on the steep second section. Whilst Jake was shuttling, I took a lot of photos of the top of the slalom section, as we’d noticed that there had been some major changes since the SOC trip of four years earlier. One boulder on the left in the entry rapid has split, and another huge boulder that was on the bank has vanished, leaving a large obstacle in the middle of what had been a flat pool on the earlier trip.

There were now only two bits of paddling we hadn’t tackled (well, also Syphon canyon, but that’s not really sensible to run at this sort of level, if ever). The Otona section is longish and perhaps a bit more committing than Mary was up for, so we headed past Bovec to the top of the Koritnica. The put-in is down a steep path (which would be hard work if you were coming up), leading to a short section which was a bit of a scrape as it was rather braided, over a cobbled bed (good weather meant that levels had been dropping all week). From an eddy on river left, we now headed into the “gorge”, which is a narrow section between rock walls, which weren’t high enough to stop it continuing sunny. This is easier than it looks, and only slightly steeper just at the entry before becoming boily but straightforward. A big sunny eddy towards the end really showed up the clarity of the water. It is then an alternation of wooded canyons and wider bouldery rapids for some distance until, under the road bridge which we’d crossed earlier on the way to the Bunker section, it got a bit more lively right down to the confluence with the Soča. Rather than the steep walk up to the parking here, we continued down the by now very familiar section to Čezsoča.

By the last day, we were perhaps starting to burn out a little – I was definitely not concentrating as hard as I would have liked and whilst I didn’t miss any lines on the now familiar Srpenica sections, I didn’t feel that continuing onto the Slalom section would have been as successful as the first time. Over lunch we came to the conclusion that perhaps we should call it a week – saving the Otona section to give an excuse to come here again.

We headed back to the chalet at Camp Koren above Kobarid and decided to have a walk in the woods looking for flowers. We started river right, looking at the lower part of the Otona to Napoleon bridge section of the Soča, which by this point is fairly pool-drop with some long flattish sections. The harder part is just below Syphon canyon and we really didn’t have time to walk that far up. Consequently, when we came across a sign towards a footbridge and indicating a scenic waterfall, we took this route, dropping steeply down to cross the Soča and ascend a pleasant path for twenty minutes on the other side. This intercepted a canyonny stream with a small waterfall, and a small path dropped off the main path just above and led us into a deep cleft with a couple of footbridges crossing the stream and back. Steps now led to an elevated walkway stuck to the canyon wall, but at the start of this, Mary suddenly gave a squawk and jumped back. “Monster ?” I asked. “Yes!” came the reply, and indeed there was. Guarding the bottom step was a Dinosaur. Well, OK, maybe not a giant Mesozoic warm-blooded reptilian, but a rather sluggish amphibian secreting potent neurotoxins from its skin – a Fire Salamander.


Stepping carefully past the salamander, we ascended to the walkway, which clung to the wall and rounded the corner to reveal Slap Kozjak, a rather fine 15m waterfall into a deep blue pool. Apparently this is the biggest of six canyonning pitches. As our eyes grew accustomed to the light, Mary spotted the abseil tat above it.


And that was essentially it for the week – our half days in Venice on the way out and back are covered in another post.

One thing I do feel obliged to mention – not really kayaking-related – is rural broadband. Here we were, in a small campsite, a decent walk away from a very small town, Kobarid. Perhaps a bit bigger than Boldron, but way smaller than Barnard Castle. Our accomodation came with free broadband (cabled ethernet or wireless, to taste) out of which I consistently got 20 Mb/s (despite it being shared with all the other campsite residents). That is a bit over thirty times faster than we get at the best times at home. So it looks as though a small, formerly-behind-the-iron-curtain country only recently free of violent politics, can manage a vastly better rural broadband infrastructure than the UK. So, well done Tory government ! Now stop spouting bullshit and actually get some decent bandwidth out in the sticks !!!

How Rivers change

As described in the next post, we’ve had a week in Slovenia paddling mainly the Soča. I paddled the slalom section on the 20th and found the water level a bit higher than when SOC had paddled in June, four years ago. There’s a photo on the SOC website, taken by a German lad the group met up with, from the footbridge at the start of the Slalom Section and I noticed on my own photo from a similar spot that things had changed quite a lot. So I went back a couple of days later and took a load of shots, trying to get close to the same position where Andy had stood to take his photo. Below you’ll see my closest match – the water level had dropped from my run, and is now only a little higher than in the 2012 view, and it was overcast rather than the late afternoon sunshine of the earlier photo.



The boulder on the left at the entry of the rapid at “A” has split. The upstream bit is still shown as “A” on the 2016 shot, but a larger part has fallen downstream to “A'”. The big boulder marked “B” in both photos has been washed down and round a bit. But the huge (5m on a side) boulder at “C” has simply vanished ! Boulders immediately behind it (as seen from the river, left in the photo) seem not to have moved much, but something must have washed out from under it and allowed it to collapse into the river. Where Pete Ball is calmly paddling across flat water in 2012, there is now a large piece of the boulder, at “E”, with quite a few new boulders also visible under the water upstream and river left of it, pushing a lot of water into the narrower right hand channel. This has had the effect of raising the water level in the short reach between boulders “A” and “E” which is one reason why it is quite hard to judge the relative water levels in the two photos. I suspect the boulder “D” in 2016 is the one which was lying between “B” and “C” in 2012, but it is hard to be sure.

Rubha Hunish – the final day

The weather continued improbably good, and with Ann off to get to a concert on time, we had all the maps and books out looking for a grand finale. It soon became clear that we couldn’t work the tides to paddle south past Neist Point to visit MacLeod’s Maidens and Idrigill Point (quite a long day, and not enough daylight), but that a trip from Staffin Bay round Rubha Hunish would have almost perfect timing if we got an early start. As Pete had particularly recommended this bit of coast, this was definitely a result, since not in our wildest dreams had we expected conditions to be good enough to head west in the tide race off the northernmost tip of the Island in September. We drove up past Portree and below the spectacular Storr and Quiraing to find the tiny road down to the slipway at Staffin. The shuttle to Duntulm went pretty quickly, and we were on the water by 9:30, heading out past Rubha Ban on Staffin Island in a northeasterly swell. A crowd of smaller seabirds mobbing something huge indicated yet another sea eagle (our fourth or fifth). A kilometre and a half of open sea led towards big breaking waves on reefs, which protected our passage through the gap between Eilean Flodigarry and Sgeir na h-Eireann. Although we were expecting some tidal assistance going north, I had the distinct impression of a bit of flow against us, just in this channel.

We now picked a spot at the start of the cliffs on the main island, and crossed a kilometre or so, to find the first of many caves and geos. Our early start (three quarters of an hour earlier than recommended by the guidebook) meant we had plenty of time to explore, and to watch no less than three more sea eagles hanging on the updraft or clinging to ledges on the cliffs above us. The swell gave us scope to rockhop through gaps, whilst not being so big as to keep us out of the caves.


Mary catching a wave through a gap among the basalt pillars

There were big caves, little caves and huge caves …

Caves with one entrance, caves with two entrances, and caves with many entrances framing views of stacks and rocks galore. One in particular only became visible as we paddled into another big yawning geo to its south, but had quite a long through trip with the swell gently lifting us up and down by a metre or so.

We had a particular tidal “window” to hit, so we stopped for lunch at Kilmaluag Bay to be ready for the tide to turn at Rubha na h-Aiseig. As a lunch spot, this could hardly be bettered, offering not only a bit of shelter from the westerly breeze, but also magnificent views both of the coast we’d just paddled and, over Balmaqueen, to the inland cliffs and stacks of the Quiraing.

We now set off round first Rubha Bhenachain and then Rubha na h-Aiseig, where several folk were fishing in the tide as it started to set west, pinched between Skye and Eilean Trodday, a mile to the north in the Minch. Crossing another small bay, we immediately reached more cliffs, and cave openings beckoned on all sides. One went off through a very narrow section to daylight beyond, back towards the way we’d come, but we opted to skip this one in favour of a darker cave ahead. Another one with daylight ahead led me in, chasing a seal. This had a big roof opening, and a breach back to the sea on my left. In the further and darker reaches, a small window back to daylight was too small for a boat, and ahead, as I struggled to retrieve a head torch, I could hear waves crashing in the dark. A bit of light on the subject showed it to end in a few metres, with some rough water, so I backed out to let the others have a look. Now we could see the swell breaking on and between the rocks of Bodha Hunish, but there wasn’t much tide movement in the bay between headlands. This soon changed as we started to give a wider berth to the crashing surf, and a lobster-pot buoy was trailing a wake as the race picked up. It was probably only up to two knots, and with wind more from the south than the west, didn’t kick up too rough. As we rounded the headland, our cornering was slicker than the tides, and the race headed away from the cliffs leaving us calmer water inshore as we turned south across the bay. With a headwind, and perhaps a bit of an eddy, we slowed quite a bit and Sgeir nan Garbh seemed to take a long time to pass astern as we headed for the sheltered side of Tulm Island. A fight again as we got to the south end and made our way past Ru Meanish below Duntulm Castle, then head down for quite a struggle to reach the landing in the bay.

We were still quite early so didn’t feel too pressured for the carry up the steep slippery cobble beach, and I walked up to the car, left a few hundred metres away where there was more parking space. Soon loaded and packed, and we headed back to Staffin to get Kim’s car and transfer his boat and kit. Kim was off back tonight, whilst we would head off early Sunday morning, passing many whitewater boaters on their way to the Garry at Wet West. Home by late afternoon, and what a fantastic few days paddling !