On Saturday I did a practice run on the North Esk before the race on Sunday with Jonathan and his friend Poppy from Forth Canoe Club. The level was very high at ~0.7m which provided a good level of challenge. I for one have paddled this section many times before but only about twice before at this level or above. Overall the nature and difficulty of many of the rapids changes significantly with water levels, some getting harder and some getting easier, which adds to the variety and excitement.
We bounced over the early rapids which are often technical with awkward rocks but certainly not with this much water. Shogun or Rock Garden was next up which was like a fast and twisting roller-coaster and a lot of fun. Then Witches Step which is a drop which had both sides running and boils at the bottom to catch the unwary. We went for the usual right line on that one which worked out fine for all of us.
Rocks of Solitude or Triple Step was soon upon us which we had inspected early before we got on. It was pushy and boily at this level but the stopper was somewhat washed out compared to medium to high flows. We all went down the main line instead of the probably easier line on the right. After Jonathan and Poppy I went down managing to clear the stopper on the second drop but flipping on the one at the bottom. I was calm and waited for a few seconds and then rolled up nicely much to my pleasure. The others I learned also flipped at the bottom and needed to roll up so we were all in the same boat at this point.
President's Corner was right after which was just boily and pushy at this level leading through quite a narrow passage but caused no issues for us. We soon came round to a little drop rapid which usually does not seem much but was quite boily at this level. This caught me by surprise a little bit, causing me to flip and roll once again.
After easier rapids followed we soon came to the run up to Fishladder. We inspected it and it was punchy but the tree that is usually there was visible but well covered. So for the first time in a quite a while we could run it which is great. Jonathan and I decided to go for it while Poppy chose not to because of the tree. After Poppy got safety set up with a throwline, Jonathan went down and I soon followed after that. I did not quite clear the drop and flipped at the bottom but rolled up again. I learned that Jonathan also flipped and needed to roll up. The rapids from here to the get-out were easy enough and caused no issues.
We then headed to the hotel in Edzell which Jonathan booked where we were relaxing, swimming, hot-tubbing and having dinner which was all a very nice luxury. But my plan was to wild camp like last year so Jonathan dropped me off at the nearby spot I had in mind. It was pretty dark but I managed to get my tent up and get a good sleep before the race.
By morning the water level had risen to 0.8m. After packing up and getting picked up, we all got to the meeting point and got registered. Poppy was in the Intermediate category so did her race in the morning. Jonathan and I were in the Advanced category so took the opportunity to join up with two others for another practice run before our race.
This time I decided to run the right line of Rocks of Solitude while the others did the main line. This seemed much cleaner for me and I got through that rather smoothly so had in mind to take that line on the race. President's Corner came up quick which was perhaps more boily than yesterday. This caught me out and flipped me this time but after I waiting for a few seconds to clear the boils I then rolled up yet again.
After this there came a point where I did an unplanned taily when going through a boily constriction which was rather funny. I really don't think I could repeat it but I am glad that happened because it was good fun and another one to add to the roll count. I was pumped with adrenaline and felt the need to relax a bit and have a breather before the race. So I got out before Fishladder and trekked to the meeting point while the rest of the group continued to the get-out.
I was feeling both excitement and nerves as the race approached. But I had time to relax before the race and calmed down and prepared myself for it while waiting for the shuttle. So when the race came I was feeling great and ready for it. By this time the river level was about the same as yesterday. I had a great run down with no capsizes and it felt like I nailed everything. The race started above Rock Garden and finished below President's Corner. From there I took a gentle solo paddle to the end because I was very comfortable doing that and walking Fishladder. We then waited a while for the prize giving, with more hot-tubbing and getting ice-cream, before heading back.
I have had a great weekend and I am very happy with my performance. Over the course of the weekend I had five capsizes each on a different rapid and I rolled up every time which is very pleasing and so much fun. I only had a few whitewater rolls before this but now I am a lot more confident in that. Although my race time was not great, I nailed my lines and had no capsizes which I am very happy with. Well done to Poppy for winning the Intermediate category and condolences to Jonathan for having a bad swim in his run. I look forward to coming back next year and improving on my race time.