There are, perhaps, more sensible things to do on a wet morning in early April with a fresh sprinkling of snow on the summits than to head to a waterfall rushing with meltwater and fresh rain and plunge in.
However this is the Easter holidays and I had two teenagers and an 11 year old to entertain. A morning of canyoning should keep them occupied, I thought, and even perhaps tire them out.
We all felt pretty cold when we arrived to the Vertical Descents barn in the woods at Inchree falls, just by Onich. Although, with hindsight, that was nothing. I refer to what the 13 year-old said as we returned from the adventure “If anyone complains of being cold ever again I will say ‘you don’t know cold. You haven’t been canyoning at Inchree. I really KNOW cold'”.
Vertical Decents have two bases in the area: Inchree where they do canyoning and Kinlochleven where they deliver canyoning and a couple of other activities. We were presented with wetsuits (wet being the operative word) and invited to take part in the undignified struggle to get them on. After a good fifteen minutes of straining and groaning and wailing and a bit of lying exhausted on the ground, we’d made some progress but, as the only adult in the party, it seemed to be down to me to get everyone’s neoprene socks on, which was the worst bit.
When we emerged, somewhat warmer from our exertions, and feeling like seals ready for a fishing trip under the sea-ice, I found out we had the wetsuits on inside out. “Sod it!” I said. “We’re not taking them off.”
The neoprene jackets that zip right up into the hood came next and, with help, I managed to get the zip done up, which pretty much prevented me breathing and rendered my sports bra utterly pointless.
Danny, our guide, took us to get kitted out with helmets, harnesses and buoyancy aids “What’s the shiny black plastic over the bum?” asked the 11 year-old.
“It’s to stop the wetsuit being damaged as you slide over the rocks” said Danny. “And to keep the poo in and the rocks clean if you get really really scared”, leaving the kids wondering whether he was being serious.
I borrowed a pair of wet trainers from ‘dead man’s wall’, around 40 sets of trainers hanging on a board.
“Someone took a brand new pair of Nikes out of a box and then left them here after canyoning” said Danny. “People come up from London or Glasgow with more money than sense”.
“We’re from Glasgow”, piped up the 11 year-old. And at that moment I was certain I had more money than sense, as it dawned on me that I had just paid a lot of money for the privilege of struggling into a wet wetsuit and have someone shove me down a freezing cold waterfall.
We walked up past the falls to the point at which we got into the raging torrent. Dog walkers looked at us pityingly as we passed. The series of waterfalls was simply spectacular and in full flood.
The kids took to the water like a row of ducklings. I followed squeaking involuntarily (and embarrassingly) as I hyperventilated in the freezing water.
The first couple of obstacles were to get us into the groove: being swept across a plunge pool in the current and then sliding down a water chute on a rock face and into a pool. The kids went for it with gusto. I somehow got stuck and ended up dangling on my back between Danny’s legs, rather helplessly trying to get a purchase on the slippery rocks.
Next there was a little scramble down wet rocks (tied on via Ferrara style you’ll be pleased to know) then edging along a rock blade above another waterfall (not tied on you’ll be horrified to hear). As I wondered whether the children were safe, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone fall, hit the water and disappear. I screamed, frantically checking to see which of the precious children were lost forever. They were all three looking back at me, wide eyed, wondering why I was screaming blue murder. It turns out Danny had jumped in and he bobbed back to the surface at the base of the rocks looking cheery.
After a couple of obstacles my 11 year-old, (who happens to be rather lacking in body fat) started to feel chilled and after half an hour or so was so cold I needed to take her back to base camp. We clambered up a semi vertical bracken slope and headed back to the barn. The two thirteen year-olds continued valiantly onward, full of glee and shrieking joyfully as only teenagers can.
Once the 11 year-old was safe in the barn colouring in and eating chocolate with Ellie, who (wo)mans the base camp, I hurried back up to the falls to rejoin the main party. I’d missed much of it but got an amazing view of the kids doing the zip line down the main waterfall in the series.
We then swam across the plunge pool and sat behind the waterfall. I should have been grinning and feeling pleased with myself, like my daughter, but I was actually just rather worried about the children.
Once back at base we were back to grunting, straining and wailing as we wrestled once again with the wet suits.
“In all my time working here,” said Ellie, “I’ve never come across people who make so much noise and drama out of getting into and out of wet suits”.
Damn right, I thought, and resolved that next time canyoning should be segregated into adults in one session and children in another. Because it is hard to enjoy yourself when you are constantly worrying about your kids (and other people’s kids). And it’s easier to help children with their wetsuits when you are warm and your hands aren’t curled into solid frozen claws.
And to add to all that I’d also put a minimum body fat index on those taking part.