Dalwhinnie Canoe Expedition 2005Perth High School “Dalwhinnie - Home” Canoe Expedition 2005
Unlike any other state school I know of in Scotland, Perth High has two full time Outdoor Education Instructors and this foresight by the school has created many opportunities for the students at Perth High such as…
In December of last year a meeting was held to ask pupils if they were interested in a canoe expedition. The attendees were offered ideas ranging from the Bowron Lakes (Canada) to the central massif (France) or here in Scotland. After group discussion it was decided that we have some of the best water here so why travel! Now where? Great Glen? Loch Shiel? River Spey? Rannoch Moor via Loch Rannoch, Loch Tummel, River Tummel and the River Tay to Perth? A few meetings later the group decided they wanted to paddle home but didn’t fancy Rannoch moor in July as the water levels would be very low. So were to start? How about Loch Ericht and portage (carry)the hill down to Loch Rannoch then home? Sorted.
Now these guys have never canoed before so three days of very intense training ensued, based at Grandtully campsite looking at basic paddling, trim, rescues, sailing, camp craft etc etc. These guys showed natural tenacity and enthusiasm to learn and help each other. Considering the age gap of 11 going up to 16 these 6 guys were impressive.
Now the summer holidays in early July and were off!
An hour and a half after leaving Perth on our way to Dalwhinnie, mumblings start in the back of the bus.
“It’s a long way” “yer I know we’ve gotta paddle this” “ummm”
Loch Ericht is a steep sided Loch shadowed by peaks predominantly Ben Alder, dammed at both ends one being Dalwhinnie. By the time we started it was heading towards three o clock and we’ve got 20km yet today. The Lads stopped after 1km for Lunch! Two nervous Instructors Dave and Tony watched on. “Have we bitten off more than we can chew?” However the group got into gear and motored on keeping up with the pace of the two solo staff boats even into a small but constant headwind. Arriving at Ben Alder bothy for 10pm. Time for Tea!
Waking up to breakfast…for the midge. Staff wondered how the lads would be after there Intense previous day. The answer was obvious; they were packed and ready to go before I had time for a cup of tea. So off they went into a force 3 headwind to cross Loch Ericht to the egress (take out) side of the loch 6 km away. This slowed the entire group down reaching the dam for a late lunch. Now the 6km portage! Thankfully with trolleys (wheels that strap onto the base of the canoe), and off the guys went, down the tarmac service road, to the locked gate at the bottom, (opened for us thanks to the hydro guys). The day has been slow; a constant headwind of force 2 to 3 down Loch Ericht and a few problems with trolley’s later. A turn in fortune as the team arrived at Loch Rannoch to find a tail wind. Promptly setting about making a raft and sailed down the whole loch to our next camp at Kinloch Rannoch in two and a half hours. Another short day just 9 paddling hours.
Tony said to Dave “Should be a bit of shorter day today, a bit of a rest day for the lads”
Day Three started off with a portage around the Dam via the Spar. Continuing on through the very beautiful Danalastair water and the tree lined passage to the second portage / dam of the Day (no Spar, rubbish!). After clambering about across the hydro assault course and portaging the 2/3 km (around the grade 4 rapids), time for lunch. Now, the dam is letting out very little water and we have laden boats and some grade two rapids ahead, you’re getting the picture. The guys negotiated them well taking the lines that were available to them, or looking like a turtle clambering up the beach when they couldn’t quite get through. All good….until opposite the Tummel bridge holiday park and spectatoritis was at its peak. The first boat went down the last rapid and met the last rock side on pinning the boat. Two hours later z drags (ropes and pulleys) a go go… that conversation over breakfast came back to me.
All sorted but its 5 pm. So we stopped for tea next to the rapid. The guys decided they wanted to carry on paddling and try to get down Loch Tummel tonight…fair play boys! So we paddled out into the loch, found a tail wind, a sail and 6 smiles. Arriving at camp near Clunie dam gone 10pm. Time for some Tea and Muffins thanks to the outback oven. Another easy day 12 paddling hours.
Tony and I had previously sorted out the shuttle so the minibus and trailer were near Clunie dam. Clunie dam and the rapids below on the lower Tummel (grade 3/4) had to be portaged, as did the dam in Pitlochry a few Km away. We suggested to the group that they had done quite a lot of portages and offered to drive them to just below the Pitlochry dam, near the shops for some supplies. Guess what they decided…
Putting in on the Tummel it became obvious to Tony and I that we had 6 proficient canoeists who were self-learning i.e., Stern pry’s, j strokes and support strokes and working together naturally with rhythm. As they negotiated the corner shingle tree lined rapids, strainers and fishermen. The river soon joined into the Tay, the river started to widen and the shingle rapids continueing down into Dunkeld for a late lunch of Chips (keeping it real). The landscape changed downstream as the river started to widen and gravel bars appeared. Driftwood lining the banks and decorating the trees from last years flood. As we reached our Last camp next to the confluence with the river Isla, the trees reappeared as did the moon. The guys had just paddled 40km.
The team for the first time were sleepy…they are mortal!
As we left camp, paddling straight into a slalom course of rods, lines and fishing boats. Through slightly larger volume tree lined rapids. Upon entering Campsie Linn and Stanley the group were looking slightly nervous as rumours of Stanley had been told, huge waves, raft eating stoppers and steep weirs (got to keep it dramatic). Stanley as ever didn’t disappoint with the weir and rapids downstream producing bouncing wave trains, small stoppers and many a Kodak smile. The team negotiated the rapids with style, these boys can paddle. (Well the swim on the s bend at Thistlebrigg was just amusing). The river flattened out entering Luncarty and then Perth. As we turned the last corner to approach the city bridges the team were greeted by friends, family, teachers and local press who had come down to cheer the guys into the final egress. Finally the last portage across the park in Perth, with a few bemused onlookers. The Team were home.
Just as a parting word. We the Staff would like to thank the group for there company.
Monday 6 young people
Friday 6 young paddlers
A massive achievement for them gained with dedication and enthusiasm. All this and for the first three days some of them were on their Duke of Edinburgh assessment and Tony and I were remotely supervising.