The British Universities Kayaking Expeditions have been running every other year since 2005, and the teams selected have chosen all manner of interesting destinations to explore, from Siberia in the north, to Madagascar in south. Venezuela in the west to Vietnam in the east. Students from around the country are invited to submit paper applications which were scored by previous team members, with the top twenty being invited for a 3 day ‘selection event’ in North Wales.
The selection weekend is organised by previous team members and normally it is fairly simple matter of arranging a long weekend in North Wales, choosing what river to paddle, and herding 20 students, plus the old boys in the right direction. This year however was different. With practically no useful rainfall since the summer, the rivers were beyond low and our usual go-to runs of the Glaslyn and Fairy Glen were not on the cards like they were for our last low water selection weekend.
In an effort to make sure the team wasn’t selected without some boat time, we decided that Swallow Falls on the Llugwy was probably our only hope for something that wasn’t flat. Following an hour or two of slides and boofs, we still had some daylight left, so a Dee lap was on the cards, with a 20 person boater cross down Serpents Tail and an impromptu king of the wave at Mile End Mill to spice things up.
Destination night yielded another fine crop of potential expeditions, with the quality of some of the research definitely stepping it up from previous years. There were that many with good potential that 5 destinations made the initial short list.
Saturday dawned cold but sunny. With all our on river options exhausted, the “blind drop off” was first on the cards. Groups of selectees were blindfolded and driven to various unmarked locations, before being dropped off with a map and told to make their way back to the hut.
The afternoons plan was a new one for everyone. Various river based scenarios were devised and groups rotated between each. A portage of loaded boats, foot entrapment, boat pin and a canyon cross tested the rope work and team work skills of all involved.
With the team selection voting postponed until Sunday, Saturday night consisted of a masterclass in Google earth and some first aid chat, intermingled with drinking games (until the beer ran out).
Sunday morning was ‘orienteering with a difference’. Various clues scattered over a hillside, some requiring simply requiring finding, others needing paddle hooks and throw bagging skills, with one in particular simply requiring balls, determination and a love of very cold water.
Enormous congratulations to the team – a B.U.K.E. first with two girls making the cut – and good luck narrowing down the final shortlist (of Taiwan, the Caucasus mountains, the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan) to a single destination.