Andy looking into the sump at Tom's trapped Pyranha Mountain Bat

Tom’s Subterranean Kayak Adventure

Planned to kayak a short section of the Skjálfandafljót at Aldeyjarfoss and expected we would have a pleasant paddle on a good section of river. How wrong we were! This is a the section of river I had paddled in 1989 on the 3rd day of our 5 day descent of the Skjálfandafljót from the Vatnajokull to the sea. The day turned into a full-on epic when Tom made a decision to paddle nose first into a tiny sump and get his kayak wedged underground. Read on to find all the gory details….

First rope around the boat as we try to extract from the hole

Started off sunny, and breakfasted in the sun. Tom went off to run the shuttle, and the sun immediately vanished, leaving Andy and I to read our books in the shade. Tom returned speedily enough with tales of two lifts. As we got ready to get on the river, a coach passed by and all of the occupants waved in unison. We imagined the tour guide saying “Simon says ‘Wave at the English Lunatics’”. We carried our boats down to the river and scraped down the first rapid. I ran it and stopped to take some photos, but my Pentax SFX-n locked up and there was no sign of life. I was mightily annoyed as it did not look like a battery failure, and we continued down stream with me in a bit of a sulk.

The river was at a very similar level to in 1989, but instead of nice pale blue milky water, the river was milky brown, and more like a glacial river. We reached the first foss of the day that has a chicken shoot river right, and lept out to inspect the route. It looked pretty much as I had remembered from 1989, and Tom lept on with enthusiasm to run the shoot with the words, “Oh well, I will go and run it first”. Andy and I stayed on the bank and watched.

Tom and Andy wondering how the hell we are going to get Tom's boat out

Tom’s line as he approached the top drop of the chicken shoot looked, in my opinion, somewhat too close to the near bank, and he hit a small stopper and span further right. It looked as if he may go over the drop backwards, but instead, he corkscrewed even further right towards the bank where Andy and I were standing, and vanished from sight. Andy and I panicked at the sight to Tom disappearing in front of our eyes and shouted “Oh shit, he has gone”. We could do little but peer at the river where he vanished and carry on breathing. The thought of having to call up Tom’s mum and explain what happened flashed though both of our minds. When we looked closely we could see there was a hole in the rock, and a lot of the river was pouring in. Before we had really taken stock of what was going on, we heard a shout from downstream “Throw us a line!”. “We have not brought it” we shouted back, rather glad to hear from Tom.

Tom pulled himself out onto an island in the river, but his paddles and boat did not appear. As we inspected the hole, we could see the back end of Tom’s Pyranha Mountain Bat occasionally coming into view. It was stuck in the sump. I ran the drop, being careful not to go near the hole, and inspected below to see if I could retrieve the boat and paddles. The bottom of the sump was in a cave, and after a few minutes of prodding about, it was clear I was not going to be able to get hold of anything. We left the boat there and sent Tom off to go and fetch the Landrover, whilst Andy and I lounged about and read our books again. We had lunch before returning to the river armed with ropes and poles and slings to rescue the boat. The camera problem looked terminal, so I loaded up the Pentax Super-A with ASA 400 slide film, and we headed back to the river.

First attempt at a pulley system to extract Tom's boat

After much rope throwing and rock hurling, we managed to get a rope around the end of the boat and pull it up a bit out of the hole. We then rigged up a 4:1 pulley system and  lowered Tom head first down the hole with Andy and I on a leg each so that he could clip the rope onto the carabina on the end of his boat. Try as we might, we were not able to pull the boat out of the hole from the angle we had. We moved to a rock island on the other side of the fall, and eventually pulled it out from there.

We examined the boat and there were no real problems. The back deck had been crushed a bit, but popped back into shape, and one of the screws had vanished. The worst thing was the Pyranha badge had been bend a bit. We packed all our kit up and headed back to the Landrover, totally knackered. It had taken 4 hours to extract the boat, and the boat had been in the trap for over 6.

Lovely sunset to cheer us up after such an epic day, but I am still in a bit of a grump about the sodding camera. Perhaps our dry bag/ towel approach is not perfect after all.

The final pull, extracting Tom's boat from the sump