Head games on the Fairy Glen
The head games. We’re all human….
The alarm goes off, it’s 5.15 and it’s raining, I can hear it on the sky light. Quick check of the levels on the online gage and it’s on! Paddling before work…. I’m still tired, I press snooze and try and sleep for 10 more minutes, all I can see when I close my eyes is the two crux rapids on the fairy glen. I don’t visualise it going well, I visualise everything going wrong and I contemplate making excuses and not going. The alarm goes off again and momentarily breaks the cycle of poor visualisation.
I’m now driving to the river, it’s windy, dark and cold and my minds racing. What are the levels? Will I be driving over there to not get on the water again? How’s it going to go, will it go well or will it be eyes on stalks? All of this goes round and round to the point where I feel a little sick. This spiral of doubt momentarily goes as I realise I’ve left my breakfast on the kitchen counter. I get changed into my dry suit in the cold, wet and dark and still considering making my excuses. The first of the other paddlers arrives and I’m invited into his camper van where his diesel heater is on and a break in the downside of paddling appears in the form of warmth, light, and a burning plastic smell from the ‘hardly used diesel heater’ (no damage done but his boat was too close to it). Everyone’s here, changed and ready to go, my apprehension grows as we walk down the hill to the river, I contemplate asking for the car keys to drive back to the other cars.
First rapids done, my shoulders are starting to lower, I overtake everyone and allow them to pass me again before the first crux rapid ‘new best rapid’ or ‘Henry Moore’ depending on your Fairy Glen vintage. This rapid always seems like the flip of a coin to me either goes well and feels like nothing or you get slammed into the wall on river right. Fortunately this time it goes well, so well that I can’t stop with the rest of the team, I’m carrying on, I’m upfront again and I manage to stop in one of the most interesting and iconic places on the river. Cave eddy on cave drop where you can collect your lucky stone. I’m comfortable again and I can take it the beauty of the surroundings, an untouched slate walled grey gorge with brick brown water flowing its way through. It’s untouched, there’s very little signs that civilisation is near, no bridges, no roads, no rubbish (often) and it’s peaceful.
The nerves begin to come back as gorge one finishes and the water flattens off, this is a sign that the river drops once again into gorge two, the entry rapid being fairy falls. A ramp and small drop then leads into arguably the hardest rapid on the stretch and it’s changed in the recent floods. Make the slalom move on the river left or take on the dreaded ‘toilet’ on river right. Both work as a line but the slalom move has become harder thanks to the floods and the toilet has seen people stuck before. It’s all smooth, all through in good style and we’re deep into gorge two. I feel happy in the second gorge as it feels to me as though the cruxes are over. Still has its slate walls and brick brown water but has the added attraction of deep greens, greys and browns of all the mosses and lichens that grow on the walls. Get the sun coming up and it pierces it way through the green, grey and brown. It’s peaceful again. A series of rapids later culminating with ‘end of the world’, a river wide horizon line. Clunk through and look back up the river at the gradient that we’ve been through and the breathtaking surroundings.
I don’t need to concentrate any more (well, less at least) my hands are now screaming at me with a stinging pain from the body heat to river temperature contrast. I curse at leaving my pogies (gloves) in my locker at work but I’m on a high, I want to head up to the put in for another lap, tall tales happen of nice lines or beat downs and it dawns on us all, we have to work… Work! Now the sprint to the take out happens as we race the clock to get to work. 8.15 and I’m sat in the staff room, trying to find breakfast. Big smiles, and high on adrenaline I start my working day. Kits in the drying room, rinse and repeat ready for the same tomorrow…
Is the fairy glen my favourite river? I don’t think so but it’s certainly one of my favourite runs in North Wales. There’s something special about a space that’s untouched, no bridges, metal work, houses, rubbish or any other signs of civilisation appear here. The technicality is quite high as are the risks, slate being sedimentary erodes into all sorts of interesting shapes and patterns that aren’t always the friendliest of features to kayakers, however in my opinion this is a stretch to aspire to and its reputation is often greater than the river itself. Thanks to Peak UK, Lettmann kayaks and paddles and white water the canoe centre for supplying the boats, paddles and kit that make this possible.
Chris Evans is a paddlesports instructor at Plas Y Brenin and a member of the Peak UK Team. You can see his profile here.