Well, today I had a mixed paddle on the Upper and Lower Blackwater.
Mixed because it started really well, with a lovely boof off the top fall, but ended with bit of green room action under the old Wade bridge and a second swim on the lower section.
The river was reasonably low and with pack ice still clinging to the banks, the water was freezing. After a good run down to the get-out, I decided that, having run the drop under the bridge a few times at this level, I run it again – despite everyone else giving it a miss!!
With everyone else standing by on safety, I hit the eddie under the bridge, took a few deep breathes and went for it. While my line was fine, I fluffed the last stroke above the drop, missed the boof and pencilled into the base of the fall. Over I went, hit the freezing water and lost my breath immediately.
I tried one roll, which failed, and stupidly pulled my deck instead of trying again. Within a split second of coming out of my boat I got that sinking feeling as the stopper below the fall sucked me down…it felt like ages, but was probably only about 10 seconds. Up and came and, before I could get a full breath, down I went again.
The only thing in my mind was Stewart’s last comment to me: “If you don’t make it, can I get your ticket to New Zealand?”
So, not wanting Cerian to be meeting Stewart in South Island rather than me, as my head popped up again, I looked round to where Ron was supposed to be on the bank and noticed a line right behind my head. I managed to grab and hold on just as I was getting sucked down for the second time. Ron pulled, I got free and then had a long swim to the far side of the pool to collect my boat.
Lesson learnt. If the good guys don’t want to run it, don’t run it!
After that, my confidence was a bit knocked and the cold really got to me. I couldn’t focus properly and my energy levels were low; but as the others were heading to the lower Blackwater, I thought I’d best tag along for the ride.
I took the section gingerly and knew I wasn’t paddling well or focusing. Had one or two wee plays on the waves at the top, but after that it was really just a case of getting down without another swim. But that was easier said than done!
On a small, reasonably easy section I flipped over (I just wasn’t concentrating) and half rolled. I tried again and couldn’t get up, so had to pull my deck. What a terrible day! I generally pride myself on having a fairly solid roll, but today it just wasn’t working for me.
So, after a self-rescue and second boat emptying exercise, I put back in and paddled to the end of the section. By the time we got out I was seriously cold and fatigued; I couldn’t wait to get changed and get home.
So, the moral of the story is this: Remeber, even if you’re paddling well and a river’s grade is within your ability range, freezing temperatures add a whole extra raft of complexities and hazards. If it’s cold, don’t take risks!