Gorge Scrambling

Well, it seems I got my wish about water. In fact, I got my wish back tenfold, wetsuit required.

Outdoor Pursuits week 3: Gorge scrambling!

Zip into a wetsuit, add warm layers and waterproofs, throw on a buoyancy aid, harness, and helmet, and you’re ready to scramble. Now add the gorge: We passed through the walled town (and, of course, castle!) of Conwy and into the Conwy Valley, until we reached our destination: Afon Ddu. (That’s Welsh for Black River; pronounced ‘aavon thoo’.)

Afon Ddu is a river gorge that cuts down a mountain, making the river steep enough to become a series of waterfalls, all the way down. Parts of it are ecologically vulnerable, due to the presence of rare mosses, which we avoided.

998150_10202627289178386_1098422156_nYou step into a rushing stream. As you pick your way along slippery boulders, your shoes flood with icy water. Reaching the river bank further down, you pull yourself up and begin to shuffle sideways along the rock face overhanging the water. You wedge your foot in a narrow ledge, find a sturdy handhold above you, and reach across a short gap to the next bit. At first, you don’t trust your weight on one or two rock holds, but as you go on, staying low to the water, you realize it’s working.

Now cross the river along that low waterfall. It’s time for a challenge: Clamber up that boulder, slide down on your side towards the next boulder, ignoring the 3-ft gap to the water below. Push yourself up and jump to the rock face at the water’s side. You land without falling, stunned that it worked.

A few times, you pull yourself along by rope. You slip countless times and fall in the water. But getting wet is part of the fun and you just pick yourself back up.

As you climb up waterfalls, crawl over boulders, shuffle hand over hand along rock faces, and wobble over mossy river rocks, you listen for the advice of the people ahead of you, or give advice to the people behind you: Step here, not there. Take my hand on this part. Grab that rock to pull yourself up.

That, in a nutshell, is gorge scrambling.

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The group crossing between two falls. Photo borrowed from a friend’s Facebook.

One waterfall spouted out between two boulders, prompting the name “Elephant’s Bum”. I used a rope to climb up, then got down on all fours in the water at the top of the falls to crawl under and up through the boulders. That climb was one of my favorite moments of the day.

After lunch, the climbs got steeper and higher… and my heart rate sped right up too! But I did all the climbs, even the steep, narrow, freaky ones edging the higher waterfalls. I love the water, and everything at Afon Ddu reminded me of the streams and waterfalls of the Willamette Valley and my childhood… but I guarantee you gorge scrambling was more intense, and left me a lot more sore! (I could lift my arms over my head the next day, which is a win:)

At the end of the day, we clipped our harnesses into a rope stretching between two sets of falls and made our way across in the water’s spray. At the last minute, I overbalanced and went swinging into the rock face behind me, before bouncing back to where I belonged. One last steep climb and I was at the top of the gorge.

I clipped my harness to another rope and jumped off a small cliff into a plunge pool between waterfalls. Submerging for a cold, wet, silent moment, then bobbing to the surface in a spray of white water: the best part of the day.

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*Sadly, I took no pictures of my own of this incredible river gorge or the amazing activities I did with the group. I wasn’t going to risk my camera! Luckily someone had a waterproof camera.

**As always, this Outdoor Pursuits activity was done through the Conway Centre.

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