Sunday 19th Jan.
River Level: 0.6
Paddlers: Sten, Emma, Paul, Brian, John, Alex
Honestly, at 8.30 on Sunday morning as I’m scraping thick frost off the car and the lights on the dash reliably inform me it’s -3 degrees, I’m debating the wisdom of today’s trip. Didn’t I see a kayaking film of Greenland once where the river was a frozen slush? Surely someone will call this off.
I check the club calendar. Nope. Calendar still says ‘Crake, 9.45am meet’. Hm. I hopefully check my phone, mentally planning all the other warm activities I could be doing with my day. No messages. I slowly gather my things together and optimistically check my phone one last time.
John: Meet you at Gilpin Bridge.
So. Kayaking it is then.
Breaking ice at the edge of Coniston to get the boats into the water feels like dubious start but, in truth, it’s a magical morning. The lake is glass calm, mists rising off the water around us and sun sparkling on the frosted reeds. Two moorhens flap across the water leaving a rippling wake and we paddle near silently and appreciatively to the head of the Crake.
I’ve been warned about the low hanging trees on the Crake. Basically, it goes TREES, trees, river, trees, river, trees, river, river, trees. TREES! Two felled trees, river wide, below Spark Bridge require a portage. Or, in one case, making a Sten-shaped hole between the smaller branches. His commitment to staying in his boat is impressive.
Brian and Sten play expertly on every wave they can get on…and that’s pretty much all of them. Paul paddles serenely through every obstacle as if it’s not there, pausing to drift elegantly on and off the waves of his choosing. Emma and John grow in confidence, joining in more and more of the wave-surfing as the river descends. I try to stay out of trouble and practise ferry-gliding in the lesser flows below them.
We stop for coffee and a snack, and the more experienced paddlers discuss their fear of particular rivers which, as a novice, is strangely reassuring.
If you break the river into three sections, there is a swim in each section. The first two manage competent self-rescues. The third, me, with a bit of a battering and swimming the rest of the rapid on the back of Sten’s boat, I arrive in an eddy where Brian is waiting with a throwline and my lost paddle. Paul and John are already emptying my boat. Emma waits reassuringly against opposite bank, checks I’m ok, and tells me my river swimming skills aren’t bad… If only it was a river-swimming club, not a kayaking club.
A deepening mist descend as we arrive at the cars: the sun is gone and we get changed and snack and chat. There’s enough time for a quick café stop and recce of Backbarrow Bridge for a future trip. Despite my bruises and still-dead leg, it looks kind of fun.
A good day’s paddling by everyone, and much gratitude for the team rescue.