July 19, 2009

After 3 years of working (and playing) hard my time at Manchester has come to a close. I graduated with a First Class BSc (Hons) in Physics and got to put on the purple and gold robes to collect the certificate from the Vice-Chancellor in the beautiful setting of Whitworth Hall on Oxford Road. Some photos from the day are shown below.

IMG_2321Me and the Parents in University Place before the ceremony

IMG_2370Collecting my certificate from the Vice-Chancellor in Whitworth Hall

IMG_2401Belinda and I in the Old Quadrangle after the ceremony



July 19, 2009

This trip was devised after being inspired to go somewhere new after a series of talks of where other people had been. The plan was to go somewhere hot, beautiful but not too hard, it fit the bill pretty well. We started the trip with a few days in Istanbul visiting the standard tourist attractions.On our first day we visited the blue mosque, the Topkapi Palace and ran to the underground Basilica Cistern as the heavens opened.

IMG_1443The Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

The next day we visited the newer part of town, experiencing Turkish ice cream which has a marshmellow like texture before hitting the grand bazaar in the afternoon all while being ripped off for storing our boats at the airport (£60 for 3 days).

IMG_1527Inside the Grand Bazaar

We then flew to Erzurum and drove to Yusufeli where we would be based for the rest of the trip. We stayed at the greenpeace campsite, where we met Birol who’s help would prove to be invaluable over the course of the trip. If we wanted to do a river he’d tell us the get in, get outs, hazards and have a driver waiting for us in the morning. For our first river the next day we decided on the Lower Barhal from Sarigöl which finishes at the campsite, this was supposed to be a nice easy introduction for everyone who hadn’t been in a boat for a while. In reality it was a pushy grade 4/4+ run, forcing all bar one of us to take a roll but it was my favourite river of the trip.

IMG_1618Beth on the Lower Barhal

The next day we decided on something easier and did 15k of the Çoruh from Meydan finishing at Yusufeli which was a much gentler grade 2/3 section. Most of us then continued on into Yusufeli gorge where there is a great 9k, big volume grade 4 section. After spending the evening planning we decided to do a 3 day trip along the Çoruh from Ispir to Yusfeli, a distance of 95km. After driving along the dusty main road, and stopping for Çay with the builders while they did work on the road we arrived in Ispir 4 hours later and set off. After setting of late we found a place to camp in a dried up paddy field not far from Ispir. the next day we completed about 40k of grade 2/3 before setting up camp again on the bank of the river.

IMG_1636Team Photo, taken by Oktay

The next day saw us complete the final 40k, including a few stops, one up to a castle which we saw from the river. The multiday was a great trip and a good introduction to living out of the back of the boat and the differences this makes to your paddling. After completing the multiday we were met at the bottom of Yusufeli with a minivan to take our boats back and we walked back through the town before relaxing back at the campsite in the evening.

IMG_1691Tom and Dave on the Çoruh on the multiday

We decided to do something a little pushier the next day and decided on the Upper Tortum which started below a lake and waterfall high in the mountains. It definitely lived up to this and within the first kilometer I had my first swim and broken my paddles in doing so. After changing to Dave’s homemade splits we carried on. A few km’s later we reached a river wide strainer formed by a fallen telegraph pole which I failed to clear and ended up rolling under to everyone’s shock. Carrying on we reached a tricky rapid which needed inspecting and I decided to portage. However the others ran it and Rhiannon ended up dislocating her shoulder despite still rolling up. This effectively ended the day as we got out and got her to hospital to get it checked out.

IMG_1903Tortum Waterfall

The following day we decided on a day off paddling to let everyone to recover. Birol gave us a lift to Dörtkilise Monastery which was hidden up in the mountains but we decided it would be a good idea to walk the 21k back in the 39° heat, which didn’t help in resting.

IMG_1988Dörtkilise Monastery

Back on the river the following day we set off from the campsite and did the Lower Barhal through Yusufeli with the locals watching from the bridges before passing through Yusufeli gorge again, although this time in much lower where I took my second swim through exhaustion and lack of concentration. From here we continued down to the King Kong rapids which we good fun and in high water would be pushing on grade 5. Unfortunately this is where my paddling ended as I was hit by a tumbling rock when we pulled the boats out and up the cliff which has ‘possibly’ fractured my rib.

The last paddling day saw Beth, Dave and Tom run the Upper Barhal, a notoriously hard run which has a fairly significant gradient from up in the mountains. A week ago two guys from Leeds lost their boat here which we luckily enough to find and recover for Birol but it was a nice finish to the paddling even if half of us didn’t do it.

IMG_2266Tom and Beth on the Upper Barhal

The next morning we left for Erzurum and spent a day there before heading back to Stansted via Istanbul. In conclusion it was an amazing trip and we were there at the very end of the season. High water is April-May and then dies of until July when it gets too dry. If you’re are thinking of a trip you’ll need to go asap as their damming a significant proportion and Yusufeli will be underwater in 2 years time.

The Alps with MUCC

July 19, 2009

After the stress of the May/June exams a trip to escape away from it all was much required. After months of careful planning we all met up outside stores to leave Manchester in search of sunshine and good boating in the Alps. From here we set out on the epic journey to L’Argentière-la-Bessée in Southern France in a convoy of two minibuses and one big van with all the boats in for the 22 hour drive.

The VanTaking a break from driving

After arriving and setting up camp a few of us got on the slalom site and not quite knowing what to expect I ended up getting a slight beating on my first run but managed to stay in my boat. The following day we started properly with the whole group and began with swimming practice at the slalom site before heading down the Durance to St Clement where there is another slalom site. A few of us then headed down to the wave at Rabioux.

IMG_0429On the Durance, Photo: Dave Perry

The next day we decided on a much lower volume river, the Lower Claree, to allow everyone to get used to their boats before the first of our coaches, Dave Brown, arrived. With Dave Brown here we first did an excellent flat water session which broke down all the aspects of strokes and paddling into their component movements before going back to St Clement to try out these skills on the slalom site.

The next day we did the Upper Durance in the morning before the Upper Gizane in the afternoon. This was a nice grade 3 with one grade 4 section which I ended up being far more nervous about than I should have been and did fine. The next morning after everyone was feeling confident after the Gizane we got on the Durant which was a very rocky boulder bash. After claiming 2 paddles and as many swims a few of us decided to walk out and the rest got picked up later on. In the afternoon we returned to something much easier and did the sunshine run on the Durance although even this was not without swims.

Not content with the ease of the rivers so far a few of us woke up early the next morning to go paddle the Onde, described by the guidebook as a grade 3+ similar to the Tryweryn in North Wales. We actually got on the Gyr by accident which is a 4+/5 “lightning fast, toboggan run”, I ran one of the grade 5 sections but we ended up walking about 50% of the river and to quote Chris “My arse is this grade 3”. We then spent the rest of the day at the slalom site  “providing safety” for the rest of the group as they got on with the coach.

IMG_0801At the Slalom site, L’Argentière-la-Bessée, France

Then as if yesterday morning’s run wasn’t enough a few of us decided to wake up early again to run Briançon gorge before packing up and driving to Slovenia for the rest of the day through Italy. As we had a competent group we could run it without inspecting and managed to do the whole gorge in 5 minutes.

Slovenia was the most beautiful place we visited, all of the rivers we went on were crystal clear and with the usual mountainous backdrop it couldn’t be much better.

IMG_0973Tom Barlow on the Soča, Slovenia

On the first day after a bit of a lie in and a late start we got on at the campsite in Bovec onto the Soča, a nice 2/3 bimble. Running the shuttle at the end I got into my first bit of trouble on the trip and picked up a speeding ticket through a tiny village which cost me €40, but luckily no points on my licence. The next day we did and easier section of the Soča, to give everyone a little break before we picked up our next coaches when we went to Austria. In the afternoon the minibus got a flat tyre so we had a lazy afternoon off around the campsite and the town. The next day was the last of our short stay in Slovenia and we decided to push ourselves a bit more and did the Kornica down to the campsite. A much narrower river but great fun which pushed our ability and our river leading around its narrow bends.

IMG_1096Me on the Kornica, Slovenia. Photo: Phil Mayer

In the afternoon we did skills before setting off to Austria via Germany to pick up Chris Smith and Jo Mackin our coaches for the next few days. On the way we got directed in to a weighing station where the van came in overweight at a hefty 3650kg, however our ignorance, lack of documents or inability to speak German got us let off €550 fine as long as we redistributed the weight at the next service station.

After we finally arrived in Prutz, the small town in Austria where we would be staying. The first river we did was the Inn, starting with the Pfunds section for everyone before some of us did the harder Tösens section where I took my first swim of the trip, ironically on my final river after getting stuck in a hole. I then took the next day off to wash and dry my kit before driving to Munich airport through a thunderstorm to fly to Istanbul the next morning to start my kayaking in Turkey.