Another trip to the alps, but earlier in the summer than before – more water, more rivers and more fun!
The mandatory drive endured, we wasted no time in getting on the water. A run of the upper Guil, and Chateaux Queyras gorge to kick things off. Using a Jackson Zen 55 and an NRS Zen river running buoyancy aid gave the paddling a meditative feel, until I paddled into an undercut eddy (not recommended). A T- rescue later, I was aware that river running requires a different set of skills to playboating, and many of these I was deficient in. However there are few places better than the alps to learn them!
The following days were packed full of amazing rivers, such as the Briancon gorge, Guardian Angel Gorge, La Fresquiere, Ubaye racecourse, rescue practise on the L’Argentiere slalom course and several runs of the middle Guil. Although I was slightly too heavy for a ’55’ size Zen (Tail squirting on eddy lines is fun!) It still performed excellently, maintaining speed through features (or more commonly accelerating quickly away from the feature after I missed the boof) and turning fast enough to be in the right place for the next drop.
After a week in France, we moved to Austria and Switzerland for a larger volume experience.
Tösens, Landeck Gorge, Imst Gorge, Lower and Upper Oetz were fantastic sections with huge waves and in some cases – huge holes. Unable to supress the playboating urge, many kickflips were attempted, and by the end of the trip, success rate had improved significantly for everyone. In Switzerland, a gorge marathon – Schuls, Ardez and Giarsun – excellent fun!
A couple of rest days (attempting to climb a mountain), a third week commenced. As some members had left and others had arrived, we repeated several sections from Austria and Switzerland. Towards the end of the third week, the river level on the Lower Oetz rose as rain that had previously been absent arrived – and the river shot up to a higher (and much better) level – almost continuous big wave and big hole rapids, the only chance to catch your breath was the portage of ‘Death Weir’. Unsure of whether river running would be for me at the start of the trip, I now can’t wait to do some more!
Thanks to Alex Ross and Jen McGaley for the photos, and Cambridge University Canoe Club for letting me come along!
By Hugh Mandelstam