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26/07/14 Alps 2014 based at the Slalom course at L'Argentière-la-Bessée
With the minibus and trailer booked,
the campsite arranged we were nearly ready for the two week
It was unusually quiet in the minibus as most of us were veterans and we all tried to get as much sleep as possible as we were driving overnight. We caught the Channel Tunnel train on time (12:50 check in) and made L'Argentière-la-Bessée (campsite) for around 5:00pm. The journey was uneventful except for a torrential downpour and hailstones on the motorway which slowed our speed to about 40 mph but was soon cleared.
We had reserved sites 1, 2, and 3 again and were soon setting up our tents and tarp. A quick look at the International Slalom Site indicated good levels for July. More information on trip with maps etc click here……
Day 00 26/07/14 Saturday – Slalom Course
Slalom Course at Camp site – on the evening of our arrival
after setting up camp and having our evening, Joe managed to convince Roy and I
to do an early evening run of the slalom course. We finished off our beverage
and then proceeded to head up to the start. This journey seemed harder that
last year and I for one was very tired on arriving at the start.
At the start, the water looked a grey like blue with the small ripples of white highlighted by the failing light. The water was cold and glacial and running at a good level.
We ran the course twice, throw lines were used and my boat completed the course ahead of me on both occasions. (note to diary – do not paddle when very tired, in failing light and in a boat you are yet to be familiar with!)
Special thanks to Joe and Roy for ensuring my new boat did not escape!!
Day one kicked off in traditional style from the camp site down to St
Clement slalom site. We had a leisurely start, sleeping in late-ish and then
the shuttle faff began.
After his epic on the slalom course the night before, Sven was keen to consolidate his skills and get back on it. I set up a few challenges, progressively trying to make more difficult eddies. One particular eddie was a step too far for Sven. He set himself up to get the perfect line but caught his edge and flipped over. Unlike the night before, he successfully rolled in anger, to the cheers of me and Gibbo. Feeling confident we tried to make this mundane river as challenging as possible. I stupidly went looking to see if there were any eddies amongst some fallen trees but ended up hitting the branches and looking for the fishes. I tucked up and took a few bumps to the helmet before rolling up. On getting myself upright I immediately hit another branch and went over again; more of the same, a few bashes to the helmet and thumb, then rolled up, much to the relief of the rest of the group. My own stupid fault for going too close to the trees - school boy error. Feeling sorry for myself I put my thumb in my mouth. Sven cheered me up; he was whinging about his nipple chaff and then put duck tape over them to ease the pain.
Time for something a bit more chilled out, let’s teach Kathy some skills. Do you get it Kathy, ye, ye, ye, ye. Good stuff Kathy, you're smashing it. Gibbo was later “owning” the waves but Sven was being a massive PUSSAAAAY Cat and whimped out, making a half attempt to get on it. Me and Gibbo hogged the wave but the group were getting bored watching so we had to press on. We eventually caught up with the group in front as Tony had taken a swim and the group were mopping him up.
When we finally arrived at the slalom site, we found David Brockway by himself still working the waves to the max. The boy looked good. The second, larger wave, was too much in the big boy league for even Gibbo, which left me and David to play ‘til our hearts were content. At the get out Keith was cracking the whip, forcing everyone to swim and catch throw lines. I got out to find a nicer person, Beth. What a cracker, because she doesn't paddle, she spent the day sunbathing and sorting the troops out, making up the butties for everyone in the kitty. Time to finish the shuttle, strap the boats on to the roof, and head off to do a proper river. I'm jealous of the person who got to do the next write up for the Gyronde, as it was AWESOME.
Darren Bohanna More Photos……..
Day 01 27/07/14 Sunday – The Gyronde
We arrived at the river and parked in a secluded campsite. The river was pretty high and full on. We got on and were greeted with continuous paddling. By far the best and most continuous river I have ever paddled with big holes. The group split into two teams of five with Andy and Keith in the lead, with nearly no swims the river was great fun and a good challenge. With one portage to a large weir to break up the river it was unremitting with waves and holes all the way, by far the best river I have ever done.
When the Gyronde meets the Durance we paddled back though the town, down the international slalom course to finish and on to the campsite.
Joe Sheppard More
Day 02 Monday 28/07/14 – Briancon Gorge
dividing into groups, we began to get on the river. I soon realised that there
was a vile stench of sewage flowing into this Alpine river as it reacedh
Not long after the put in we reached a barrage, next to it lies a wooden chute. As you begin to slide down the chute a short 2m drop awaits you at the bottom, giving people a taste of what it's like to boof. Below the barrage the water level was so low most people portaged this short section.
Shortly after we entered the gorge slowly navigating our way around the endless rocks and boulders. The unfortunate ones getting pinned occasionally meaning frequent rescues.
Making our way through the town the river filled up, making the remaining section less technical. We soon reached the weir, a very simple drop with reasonable stopper at the bottom. We soon got to the take out after a couple of easy wave trains to finish the paddle off.
Sam Preston More Photos……..
Day 02 Monday 28/07/14 – Upper Durance
Before arriving at
Bethan Smith More Photos……..
Day 02 Monday 28/07/14 –
We headed up to the small town of
This run had been paddle the previous year and proved to be an ideal training river with low to medium flows. However, this year they were working on the first barrage and hydroelectric station so all the water that is normally abstracted from the river was just being let through the barrage. This meant that the river was pretty high for the time of the year. We decided to spit into small groups of three having persuaded some not to paddle this third river of the day.
The first groups away had a pretty adventurous non-stop run down some big and bouncy rapids. As expected, there were very few breakouts and places to stop (hence groups of three). Unfortunately a couple of groups had one or more paddlers capsize and being some of the last to leave had no body behind to help recover the swimmers or boats. Luckily the two groups managed to sort themselves out with a little help from the shuttling minibus. This was a taste of Alpine paddling earlier in the year when the levels are all a little higher.
Day 03 Tuesday 29/07/14 – Lower Guil
Having already warmed up over the last couple of days I was looking forward to another days paddling. As soon as we were put into groups I was on the water practising my ferry gliding skills waiting for our turn to head off down the lower Guil.
This river is wide and has a couple of easy rapids before a section with a slightly trickier rapid but with lots of great eddies.
We regrouped before entering this section and went down singularly finding our own eddies to stop and rest along the way. A couple of paddlers in our group practised surfing the play waves whilst I looked on in envy ‘this time next year', I thought.
Once we had navigated through this section, the river widened again and our group went along in a relaxed manner, sometimes two or three paddlers side by side. However, we soon came to a cliff face where the river was drawn towards the cliff. As we had let our guard down we became unexpectedly caught out. I tried to paddle away from the face of the cliff but my exit was blocked by another paddler from our group who had also got into difficulty. Therefore, I was unable to paddle clear and I had to pull my deck and use my feet against the cliff face to steer to safety. Feeling a little nervous from this experience I requested to change groups to join other less experienced paddlers and soon began feeling confident again.
As we paddled along, the river often divided into a couple of channels and our group leader was making ongoing decisions as to what was the most suitable route to take. After another stretch of a wide river course I could see the slalom course in the distance. Having paddled this river before I knew we had nearly reached our destination. However, this time we had come from the right hand tributary and needed to ferry glide to the eddy at the top of the slalom course. Unfortunately, I had the wrong angle on my boat and missed the eddy. This meant that I was the first one from our group down the course and arrive at the get out point. The rest of the group soon followed and we stopped for lunch in the sun.
Thanks to fellow paddlers for another great day on the river. Kathy Wilson More Photos……..
Day 03 Tuesday 29/07/14 – St Clement to Rabioux Wave to Embrun
After an easy morning that finished with lunch in the sun at St Clements, about thirty paddlers got back on the Durance and drifted down some wide sections of river, bouncing happily on the wave trains. As a sea paddler I felt at home on this kind of water and was able to enjoy the stunning scenery.
The first stop was to allow enthusiastic paddlers to try their luck on a seal launch: a steep slide of about 3m down to a drop of another 3m. I decided to sit this one out and watch. The highlights were, of course, the ones that seemed doomed to fail. Roy and Joe smashing it in the duo was only outdone by Sophie's off-piste one-handed sideways slide, very impressive indeed!
Further down the river, nervous excitement about the upcoming “Rab”(or Rabioux?) Wave spread through the group and the less experienced paddlers had to decide whether to run it or not. Having had a nasty swim the previous day I felt there wasn't much to lose in a one-off feature and ignored, as far as possible, all the stories of being stuck in the enormous stopper and spun like a washing machine! When my turn came the wave was kind enough to spit me out after flipping me over and I rolled up to surprised cheers from the LCC crowd. The whole thing had a demolition derby feel to it and it turned out to be a really good laugh.
After the wave it was a nice relaxing paddle down more wide river and wave trains to Embrun where it got a bit more bouncy under the bridge just before the get out. A long but brilliant day.
Chris Preston More Photos……..
Day 04 30/7/14 Wednesday Château-Queyras - Via ferrata
So we set off, the intrepid explorers of Liverpool Canoe Club, taking on the challenge of the Via Ferrata in Chateau- Queyras.
With the afternoon sun sweltering above us and the water in the gorge thundering below us, we started the climb at a gentle pace, picking up speed as we became more confident.
Eventually slowed again at the prospect of negotiating a rope bridge, we gave everybody in front of us space and time to make their crossing, in a variety of styles - some speedy, some slow, and some downright fearless! This allowed us a moment or two to take in the spectacle of the gorge beneath us. As Sam and Callum, with an enviable, bullet proof confidence, leant frighteningly far from the rock face, I couldn’t help but think I was happier to be safely secured a good few metres above the gorge than floating down it (upside down probably), especially given Andys’ running commentary about paddling down it!
Once the party started moving again, some members of our expedition gained more and more confidence, and I might as well say it, started showing off a little (ahem, Chris and Anthony), using the rock features alone to navigate parts of the route, whilst I was still nervously holding on to each and every available hand and foot hold for dear life.
We all started to disperse a little way through the Climb, and as a few of us clambered off at the half way point to see where to go next, Fiona, John and Kirk took the lead over unchartered ground, across another rope bridge and up towards the summit. Our group fell in line behind, and from our vantage point we could see a little way behind Sven, Gibbo, and Beth, who were by this stage bravely tackling the first rope bridge.
By the time the sun had thrown its late afternoon rays over the gorge, and we started to see the water beneath us flatten out, we were well on our way to the top of the climb. The sheer wall of rock gradually became more like a footpath, and we took in the breathtakingly stunning views at the end of the climb. We regrouped, and all feeling very chuffed with ourselves, trundled smugly down towards the minibus, although not before stopping to meet Kathy and Tony in the town for a well earned drink in the early evening sunshine.
More territory conquered and
claimed by LCCs fearless explorers!
Sophie Steventon More Photos……..
Day 04 30/7/14 Wednesday
We started the day with the whole
group running the
The second section of the river involved fast technical
rivers with continuous class 3 paddling. There was a high chance of being
pinned on boulders so choosing a good line and devoting to it was crucial. The
river contained waves and play holes to add to the boulders keeping you
switched on and making for a challenging run. The valley then widens out again
The final 2km has a variety of fast, big and bouncy water with surf waves and eddies to catch. Just ahead of the get off point there is a rocky weir with a surprise few boulders as you head over the drop. The get off point is 200m before the infamous Chateau Queyras Gorge.
Roy, Paul and Gibbo decided to do the run into the Chateau Queyras Gorge, later followed by Sara and Ade. The flow was very fast and involved dodging boulders that would allow you to paddle over in higher water levels. As the gorge walls get thinner the flow directs paddlers into the wall where the flow curls over. This flipped Paul over and when he rolled he found Gibbo upside down. Gibbo managed to roll up using the front of Paul’s boat and they both went down into the final surprise drop with a stopper sideways. Luckily Gibbo’s and Paul’s boat were able to punch through the stopper and Gibbo eddied out to pick up remaining pieces and gather his paddle.
Callum Reid More Photos……..
Day 04 30/7/14 Wednesday Château-Queyras
The day had started well, I had ran the upper guil without any difficulty, I had been in a group with Roy and Paul through the upper section and as soon as we had finished
We dropped down to the first eddy under the bridge at this point and I had my first glimpse of the gorge. Slowly realising it was too late to turn back, we carried on through. The first section was good and I found my path easily but after that it seemed someone had pressed fast forward and everything was a blur. The next thing I remember was watching paul capsize in front of me and realising I was falling in myself, I managed to roll up half way and as I fell back in I saw Paul’s boat, which I managed to pull myself up on.
We carried on and soon after I
found the gorge falling away… that was it! I had done it and will not be
doing it again - it was one of the scariest but most amazing experiences of my
Scott Gibson More Photos……..
Day 04 30/7/14 Wednesday Middle Guil
After the whole group paddled the
The rest of the 15 paddlers from the club got on just below
Triple Step so we all met and split in to 2 smaller groups to move through a
bit slicker. Just 100m into the run
we hit the first rapids, which were bouncy and fun. Class 4 water with repeated challenges
of making eddies and bouncing down several rapids down to
The challenging water continued and you really had to stay alert. A nasty exit from one particular rapid claimed 2 swimmers and at least 2 more rolled back up. This river really was a continuous challenge without much let up between rapids. But a lovely run too, inbetween the massive mountains.
Next followed Staircase Rapid 4+ which I only saw Roy and Paul paddling. At this point time was getting short and we were well into our final hour with the potential of a 1000 Euros fine for overstaying our welcome on this beautiful river. Cut off time was 1800hrs with a potential fine.
With this in mind and the knowledge that the water was to get bigger with more stoppers some of the group decided to get off the water by the road tunnel exit. At this point Chris’s paddle went missing so some time was spent looking for this but it was not found.
A small party continued and blasted through stoppers and big water to finish the run finally getting off the water at 1755hrs! The bonus was Chris’s paddle was found over 1km down the river stuck in a stopper. Great fun on a fantastic river was had by all.
Will McCormack More Photos……..
Day 05 31/7/14 Thursday Verdon Gorge
We embarked upon our usual trip to the Verdon Gorge. Keith says this is our down day, our day off but as we all know it’s twice as hard as the usual river day. We left really early and after a long drive we arrived at possibly the most spectacular landscape in
We all walked to the start of the gorge and followed Keith’s line! He led us with expertise through and over the various rapids. Along the way there were several jumps which the lads fought to scramble up with macho pride. It was particularly funny when Gibbo went right to the top of a jump (trying to follow Sam and Paul) and wimped out and descended to a much, much lower jump!
We followed the twists and turns of the gorge until we came to a very rocky rapid with very little water in it. My instinct was saying walk round, but Keith insisted that we swam down it. Everyone banged their backsides on the way down including me, which led to a massive bruise (not happy Mr Steer!!!!) Sven found a frog trying to climb up the walls of the gorge. He rescued the frog and bought it to the bottom of the rapid. I then kissed the frog but unfortunately … no prince!!!! After several more twists and jumps we eventually made it to the exit caves.
After lunch we went to the lake.
Here we swam and sunbathed while some of the more annoying members of the group
tried to hitch rides from the various pedalos. After this we went for dinner in
a very French restaurant. Dinner was lovely and well deserved!!
Fiona Barry More Photos……..
Day 05 31/7/14 Thursday Via ferrata du Rocher du Bez and the
On the first day off of the first week, four of us decided to do some climbing and so we consulted the guide book to find some suitable via ferratas. Now here is the problem; the grading system of these climbs isn’t based on exposure, but how spaced out the iron rungs, hand and footholds are. Subsequently one can find oneself shaking like a sh***ing dog half way up an overhanging cliff with nothing between you and the valley floor exccept… well.. nothing!
I was keen to make sure that we chose our climb wisely as the last thing I wanted to do was put my fellow climbers off from attempting another route later on. We settled on the La Bez which the guidebook says is suitable for children! What could be easier? Plenty it turned out.
I took the lead followed by John Cooke who was giving us a running commentary (“how am I supposed to get this leg over there…..? Who built this anyway…? Is this really for kids…?). Next up was Kirk who’s preparation for the climb the previous evening had involved demolishing most of a bottle of Jagermeister. As a result he wasn’t really on top form. Finally bringing up the rear was Stu, veteran of the Clock and the Chateau Q climbs from previous years.
After clipping on to the line we made good progress until we reached the most imposing section of the climb, a 50ft climb straight up the face of the rock. Actually, with iron work readily available this turned out much easier than expected. By this time though, John had realised that my gloves were giving me a distinct advantage and it was this fact alone that was stopping him from powering passed me. Well that and the fact that he was bricking it! Kirk wasn’t saying much at this time, other than the fact that he was sweating pure alcohol. In the rear Stu was coping well.
We topped out and then took shelter from the raging sun by descending into a small cave system. All too soon we were back out on top of the mountain and looking to start the descent. As anyone who has ever climbed will know that descending can be the trickiest bit of any climb and so it proved today. I would make a comment like “mmm.. interesting..” as I worked out the best way down. As soon as John & Kirk got to the same section their reaction was somewhat more colourful. Eventually we reached the bottom of the climb and retraced our steps back through an activity park back to the car. We celebrated our survival with quick drink to refresh ourselves we headed back to the camp and on to the next climb, the Clock at L'Argentière.
Day 05 31/7/14
David and I walked to the Bakery
for a leisurely breakfast then into town to hire mountain bikes, the shop
assistant was extremely helpful, adjusted the bikes and led us to the
Tourist Office to obtain maps of the local mountain bike routes. Off we set;
our aim to cycle to
Next we climbed up to Vallouise, a market was in full swing so we took a rest and walked around the stalls scattered throughout the village. We continued up the valley for another kilometre to gain a view of St Vincent, the heat was now intense, here we turned around and sped through Vallouise to the turning for
Anthony Brockway More Photos……..
31/7/14 Thursday Upper Lower Guisane
The last day of July 14 and the majority of LCC crew headed off to the Verdon Gorge for lots of swimming whilst another group opted for via ferrata (climbing). This just left 4 keen paddlers heading off towards the
On arrival I was feeling apprehensive, I tried to reassure
myself with a reminder that I had paddled this section before but this was two
years ago in significantly lower water; also
the memory was vague. However, with
reassurance from my river leader for the day aka 'rescue
A combination of the fast flow and the small group had us all down to the penultimate eddy before 'S bends' in a relatively quick pace. After initially eddying out on the other side of the river I hoped my ferry gliding skills would allow me safely across to the correct eddy for the portage… luckily they did.
I had already decided not to attempt the 'S bends' feature so began my long portage. Sophie on the other hand, was keeping an open mind and on taking a look decided she was game. After a successful run by all three paddlers and with myself back in my boat, we set off again.
We soon came to a shingle beach where on previous years this had been my get in point so acted as a good measure of my steady progress over the last couple of years. After a short rest we headed off again paddling through a pretty little village, whilst tourists looked on bemused by our sudden appearance during their tranquil lunch break on the banks of the river.
Another short paddle and we soon reached the get out. This was a thoroughly enjoyable paddle and a big thank you to Roy, Andy and Sophie for their guidance and company.
The Guisane and I have history…a lot of history. Back in 2011 I first fell victim to the famous S -Bends section, a boulder strewn grade 4 rapid that I have only ever seen from the bank or under water. After repeating the trick the following year and not getting a chance to redeem myself last time round because I was having a day off with my family, it transpired that I was still looking for my first clean run in 2014. When a section of river has loomed over you for so long it is not surprising that you are a bit apprehensive even if you are generally paddling well. Some stretches of certain rivers, if you have had problems in the past, can have you beaten before you even get in the boat. (Just ask John Cooke how he likes the Rab wave!)
S-Bends was turning into my nemesis. And so it was not without a few nerves that I found myself ambling down the Guisane this year, with the look of someone who is not as relaxed as he should be, on such as easy river. My thought process was going something like “is this S bends coming up….or is this it now..? Didn’t think it was this far down……definitely going right channel this time…where is it for **** sake…..?
Eventually we did approach S-bends and I got out of the boat to watch a couple of people go down first. In 2011 I went left and immediately got pinned against a rock and slowly capsized after fighting it for a few seconds. I had a long, long swim as I couldn’t reach my deck. Eventually my knees pushed the deck off as I was dragged from the boat by the force of the water. I hurt my shoulder and had to roll out of bed rather than push myself up for the remainder of the holiday. The next year, inevitably the same rock got me. In two attempts I had managed about 10 yards of an hundred yard rapid. This time my paddle was wedged under the rock and I had quite a job first finding it and then retrieving it from where it was pinned. Editing the video later I realised that people who had chosen the right channel had faired pretty well and decided I would go for that channel next time round.
So here was next time round and
right channel it is. I edged out and ferried across to a perfect starting
point. Before I knew it I had negotiated the first left and right and was now
in unchartered waters. This was the furthest I had got down so far and I was
concentrating hard to make sure I didn’t stuff it up now. The rest of the
rapid proved to be less problematic than I had feared and I actually started to
enjoy it. I eddied out on the right above the last major drop with throw line
in hand in case anyone came a cropper. It seemed that S-Bends was being kind
today as not one of the people who ran it ended up in trouble and despite a few
of the party hitting a rock that was slightly hidden in the last wave, it was
clean runs all round. I climbed back in the boat and joined up with my group to
enjoy the rest of the paddle down through the pretty town of
PS I ran it again, channel left, a few days later with another happy ending! S-Bends 2-2 Chris!
Day 05 31/7/14 Thursday Lower Guisane
Not many got back on for the
The second group consisted of Keith and clans Toulson and Brockway. The levels were lower than last year but with strong teams we decided to blast it. We negotiated the tunnel on the right hand side and portaged the big horrible weir.
After this it was ran in mother duck and the ducklings style. It was refreshing as usually the leadership style on club trips is to break it down into achievable eddies and manage the group down. I had faith in this group and each individual negotiated the continuous grade 4 with shear class, except for the occasional roll and self rescued pin.
When we got to the end we found that our lift back, Sven, had jibbed us off for a bit of relaxation at the camp site. This meant me and Will had to exchange slave labour for a lift back in the bus with the “General”. We picked up another stray, Ade`s lad Jack had bust his bike and jumped a lift back to L’Argentiere-la-Bessee.
Darren Bohanna More Photos……..
Day 06 01/8/14 Friday
The one with the S bends! We set off on Friday to conquer the S bends. This feature over the years has shown it's dominance over many a paddler. Last year I had been shown that the river is boss with a painful swim down the infamous rapid!
Anyway we set off in our groups to a relatively easy stretch prior to the bends. However many of the group were tired after a late night due to our activities the day before. So at one point I allowed myself to daydream thinking about what to cook on the BBQ that night and soon fell in. I resorted to the use of my trusty “Pawlata Roll”.
Later we arrived at S bends, had a look then hopped back into our boats to take on the long feature. With a few dodgy moments and a not so elegant line, I made it down safely as did the rest of the gang.
We continued on through the pretty
Sarah Gille More Photos……..
Day 06 01/8/14 Friday Lower Guisane
We (Keith, Sara, Ian, Gibbo,
Anthony and I, 'Dave') were what we deemed the maximum sized team for what was
set to be a challenging paddle down the
Further on down river and for the first time all holiday I was caught out by a strong side wave which flipped me over. I straight away tried to roll back up but due to the river being so “boney” my head was being treated like it was in a pinball machines. At one point I managed to raise my head from the water and Gibbo was there to carry out a pin point accurate T rescue. I think without his instinctive actions I would have been taking a very bumpy swim.
The rest of the river was navigated with ease to the get out on the upper Durance and the town of
David Brockway More Photos……..
Day 07 02/8/14 Saturday Upper Ubaye
Despite an early start to the day and having just arrived the night before I was eager to see what the Alps had to offer and get on the water... plus a pit stop at the 'House of Pain' for a pan au chocolate helped rise the energy levels.
I was impressed how quickly the group sorted the shuttles out, got geared up, split into groups and on the water. To begin with my concentration was consumed with trying not to swim in the first 10 minutes but soon after I had a chance to take in the amazing scenery. The views of the high mountains on both sides were stunning. The majority of the group were Alp pros by this stage and could have ran this grade 2/3 in their sleep but the Upper Ubaye was a nice introduction to the week ahead for myself and Jose.
As I battled with a few inconveniently placed boulders and wobbly eddy lines it wasn't long before I experienced the pleasure of the chilly water... I'm still not sure which got me! With the speed the group acquired my gear and got me back on the water I guessed I wasn't the first swimmer of the trip! Having quickly dried off I was able to enjoy the rest of what the river had in store which thankfully didn't include huge drops or rapids. Grateful that I had survived my first river I was happy to get off at lunch time while the more courageous planned their attack on the race course which was running high.
As we waved the others off, Chris,
Tony, Cathy, Jose and myself took the opportunity to walk in the surrounding
hills and explore what the French countryside had to offer including
spectacular views and local artisan beer. Returning from our adventure to meet
the others I was shocked to discover that my trainers that had been left to dry
had gone missing! My first day in the
As my first experience on an
Alpine River the
Leanne Murray More Photos……..
Day 07 02/8/14 Saturday Ubaye Race Course
This is the second time for me at the course but the first time paddling. The groups were split and one group consisted of the old boys plus Sam Preston to lower the average age, apparently there was more water than last year and from the bank it looked quite intimidating. As we set off everything was okay for a while until I went through a stopper with a curling wave which put me in, after hitting a rock it was time to bail and upon surfacing I could see Stuart out of his boat following me down the river.
After a quick empty out we were back on our way. The course is a section of rapids with bits in between to regain composure but quite full on all the way down. As we neared the end off the run Sam commented that this was his favourite river of the trip to date. It was a good paddle despite swimming and I am looking forward to returning before the end of the trip to hopefully conquer this section of a great alpine river.
John Cooke More Photos……..
Day 08 03/8/14
Sunday Briancon Gorge 11.89 km Grade II/III
First day of proper white water paddling. We off loaded the boats and jumped into the water. Luckily, we ended up on a small group with only Chris and I supervised by Andy. He had far more experience than us and had good knowledge of river.
The river from the get in looked fast flowing, encroached in a narrow straight course, with small boulders scattered in the middle and some small eddies on the sides. Mmm, committing.
The first challenge was a wooden slide by the barrage. We were the last group, so the description of what I would encounter reached me in some sort of diminished form. I just knew I had to steer the kayak to the left when I reached the end, which I did, but just before I got there, I saw that the slide did not actually end up in the water, but in a 2 metres drop. Apparently, my face screaming was funny. Landing was fine, a bit of adrenaline release to start with. Puff!
We paddled down smoothly. The river was actually easy, surrounded by lush vegetation that allowed a view of large holiday houses in the margins and the tops of the mountains that surround the valleys. At some point I thought I felt the smell of a bakery, although I was just probably hungry.
We then reached the gorge. It is what it is, narrow, with remains of old footbridges and a very high arch crossing over. Water levels at this point were not that high and Chris managed to avoid the difficult bit by getting himself stuck between the rocks and walking it down through the side. I had gone first, paddled through the main stream until I over-edged, just at the end, in preparation for the contraflow that was bouncing on the concrete side wall. I managed to paddle roll, which is not very stylish, but kept me dry.
And soon we reached the weir. This time, I could see Keith on the edge, pointing with his paddle the place through which we had to pass to avoid some obstacle at the bottom. So there I went, with a bit of speed, and crossed through the marked point, but with the kayak pointed towards the right side. I thought it was pointed only a bit, but pictures have proved me wrong, and it was a lot. I headed towards a large stopper and capsized. The loud impact of the kayak against the boulder and of the helmet on another rock dissuaded me from any attempt to roll. First swim of the holiday, it wasn't that cold and my legs only received minor grazes.
And after regaining composure and getting back on the boat, we just let ourselves go peacefully with the flow towards the best spot in the river, lunch spot, of course.
Jose Santos More Photos……..
Day 08 03/8/14 Sunday Upper Durance
On Sunday we went to the river in Briancon. This was my first time on a river in the French Alps. I was excited about getting on the river. I followed Keith and Ollie and Kieron came behind with the other kayakers. We went down doing eddies and I made all the eddies.
Half way down the river I hit a rock and bounced off it and then swam. I got on Keith's boat and went to the side and got back in my boat. Gibbo asked me if it was cold or hot. I told him it was hot and he put his hand in and said it was cold. I told him it was hot in the middle where I swam. We went down the rest of the river and got out with everyone at the get out.
Charlie Murphy More Photos……..
Day 08 03/8/14 Sunday Château-Queyras
Report to follow…………….
Day 08 03/8/14 Sunday “the football match”
Report to follow…………….
Scott Gibson More Photos……..
Day 09 04/8/14 Monday
Report to follow…………….
Scott Gibson More Photos……..
Day 09 04/8/14 Monday Middle Guisane
On Monday we joined the river Guisane at a swimming pool. Me, Charlie, Kieron, Chris, Ian, Keith and everyone else got ready to go. We started with a small rapid and lots of rocks. You could see all the nice chalets along the river. On one I saw a globe on a bookshelf that my Dad told me hadn't moved in five years! Ian lead, then Charlie was behind him and I was behind Charlie then my dad and everyone else. Ian had good lines and none of us kids went in the water.
It was really bumpy in the eddies with some swirling around. There were bouncy rapids and we nearly went into stones but luckily we made it round them. The river was thin so it was easy to catch the flow. We cut out into an eddie and got out, I noticed there was a pool at the get out. Everyone ate lunch after the shuttle and we then headed off to Briancon.
Ollie Murphy More Photos……..
Day 09 04/8/14 Monday Lower Guisane
After lunch and car ferrying from the morning run on the upper and middle Guisane most of the group decided that they would have a relaxing afternoon around Chantemerle drinking coffee and looking at the village. In the end six of us set off for a 6 km, 2 hour run down the
After a few hundred metres we came
to the first point of interest, “Shelob's Weir”. This is run hard right, in single file.
As we arrived at the weir, we had to wait in the eddy above the drop for the
rafts to clear. Several had become stuck on the rocks. The left hand side is
best avoided as the river runs into take-off grids for hydroelectricity.
Once the rafts cleared we set off; it was my turn and I stayed right and almost ended up aground on the rocks. As we left the weir the river gave us a taste of things to come with a good quality rapid just below the weir. One of the main attractions of this river is its continuous rapids with no large pools or flat sections in which to rest. So off we went. The volume and speed of the water was such that you had to work and keep working to stay on line.
With few big eddies in which to
rest we quickly moved on down the river and about midway down the water eases a
little and we reached the portage.
We carried around a very steep weir. After an easy get-off onto the track and a
quick walk down the bank, we put back on at the foot of the weir.
A short section of grade 3+ warms you up again ready for the steeper and more continuous grade 4. At some point in this section, Dave rolled and as he went to come up. Gibbo got his bow there so it became more of a rescue. We continued down enjoying the excellent water level and continuous rapids. I was now thinking how much bigger this river is than I remembered form some years ago when I last paddled it. The water must have been lower then.
After more rapids and having passed several rafting groups and other kayakers we came to the last of the difficult rapids. From here the gradient reduces and you realise how close you are to Briancon town, although on the river its steep gradient and gorge like feel make you feel very isolated.
We passed under the road bridge and had a relaxing 2/300 metres left as the river joins the Durance. We paddled to the exit on the lay-by next to the main road. We arrived and just as we got our boats up the bank the rest of the team arrived with the minibus and car to give us a lift home - thanks.
An excellent river but not for the faint-hearted. Great fun if you are at the right level for it.
Ian Bell More Photos……..
Day 10 05/8/14 Tuesday
After a breath-taking drive over the pass from Embrun (Col de Vars) we dropped down into the Ubaye valley, one of the more remote feeling places in the area. The upper Ubaye valley is very open allowing big views all around.
The upper section of the river is a wide and flowing amble suitable for beginners with some wave trains to bounce down along the way. Interesting rock formations along the banks saw many people stopping to get their cameras out with confidence with biggest risk being a surprising scrape on the river-bed in the shallows. Some of the more adventurous paddlers among us may have been finding the river a little tedious but most were just enjoying the views and bouncy water.
A great way to see a stunning place and a great Alpine river!
Chris Preston More Photos……..
Day 10 05/8/14 Tuesday Les Thuiles to Rioclar
After a run of the upper Ubaye with the club a few of us decided to run the harder Fresquiere section below. Keith Steer, Paul Flaherty, Kurt Toulson, James Lakey and I put on at Les Thuiles for a warm up before the river steps up a notch to grade 4+ after La Fresquiere Bridge.
The first part of the run wasn’t too challenging but still could catch you out as I found out when I misjudged the speed of the water (whilst daydreaming) as it swept around a bend and I got pinned on an undercut wall. After a quick technical step out and a bit of boat emptying I was ready to test myself against this infamous La Fresquiere section of the Ubaye that has been on my hit list for some time.
Roy McHale More Photos……..
Day 10 05/8/14 Rioclar and Rioclar to Le Martinet (La Fresquiere section)
In high water the run is classed as a solid grade 5 run this is because of the massive unavoidable stoppers that are created when the water pours over the huge boulders that are strewn throughout the run. When we ran the section the water level was on the low side which made the difficulty a technical grade 4/4+. This section of river is demanding both physically and mentally and you need to keep your wits about you.
We were the only Kayakers there and we had the river to ourselves as we eddy hopped down, all the rapids were read and run class 4/4+ and everyone in the group paddled well and it was only as we neared the end of the run and came to a difficult rapid called “Fer a Cheval” that we got out to inspect along with some Italian paddlers which we had caught up with.
After scoping the best line we all ran the rapid successfully. Straight after there is a rapid called “le dessert” which again we scouted before all running it well. Not far below this rapid the river eased off as we approached the get out for this section which is also the get on for the next section of river below which is the Ubaye Race Course. We were met at the get out by the members of the club who hadn’t run this section of the but were waiting to do the Race Course. We had an ice cream to celebrate. All in all a great run with a great crew of paddlers.
Roy McHale More Photos……..
Day 10 03/8/14 Tuesday Ubaye Race Course
As this was my third day out in the Alps I wasn't too sure if the Ubaye Race Course was for me; particularly after listening to stories of previous carnage. However, as many sources (Sam and Sarah) informed me that I would regret not running it; alongside being told that it was running low; I decided to give it a go. So I set off in a group with Stuart, Ian, David and Chris who all reassured me that I would be fine but to be truthful their estimate of four swims didn't fill me with confidence.
During the first set of rapids I was questioning what I had let myself in for and if it was physically possible to make it down alive. It wasn't long before I had my first swim of many but David was quick to rescue my gear and the group got me setup and paddling again. The big waves, drops and technical features definitely tested my skills and I had plenty of practice 'hugging rocks' while Ian pointed out the beautiful scenery and reminded me to smile.
At the midway point, despite having had a few swims, I hadn't abandoned the river yet. However, when I heard whispers about 'The Sharks Fin' and was told that the next bit would test me, I wasn't looking forward to what was coming next. I soon learnt the meaning of 'big and bouncy'. I surprised myself making it through a testing technical section but did get caught in a stopper at the end of it having yet again another swim.
Early on I heard David say that he quite liked people swimming as he enjoyed the excitement of rescuing. I certainly gave him plenty of practice in that. Everyone took their turn to help me out. During Chris's attempt he sadly decided to crash into me to get me off a rock I was pinned to. Unfortunately this was just as I was attempting to roll! Even the rafters helped return my boat.
This grade 4 definitely made me push myself and taught me valuable swimming skills. The river had some spectacular sections including a gorge. Hopefully next year I will paddle through it and not swim. I have been told that Chris got some good footage of the group paddling and even better footage of my numerous bails!
I need to thank my group for helping me survive and for most importantly keeping my tally of swims a secret! All in all I really enjoyed the “Race Course” and I am already looking forward to talking it on again next year!
Leanne Murray More Photos……..
Day 11 06/8/14 Wednesday Lower Guil
Wednesday was to be my morning in the kayak with Keith in the
One of the best bits of the paddle was seeing the boys on the river. I've watched from the bank but was totally amazed by how they were eddying in & out and moving down the river. Charlie had a swim but was straight back in the boat with an excellent rescue from Ian, Gibbo and Chris. We finished off at the slalom course at St Clement and it was great going down the rapids but I'm not so sure I'd be as confident doing them without Keith. I really enjoyed my first experience in a kayak & you'd never know I may even try it again.
Clare Murphy More Photos……..
06/8/14 Wednesday Lower Durance (Sunshine run)
Not quite so sunny if you're underwater but more about that later. After a relaxed lunch and a bit of a sun bathe at St Clements we set out in one big group heading for Embrun. The river starts out as a big wide grade 2 bimble then develops into a big bouncy grade 3 with lots of nice wave trains to splash through. The only obstacle of note is the famous Rabioux Wave.
We all eddied out about 100 metres up river while Keith and
Chris set off down to set up safety cover for the rest of us [or pick up the
bodies] The more experienced paddlers went down first then my group was called
down to the last eddy. I waited to be called down for what seemed to be ages,
Most people managed to get down unscathed but special mention must go to Keith, Gibbo and John Allerton on his second run who all managed a good few seconds of Rodeo Bull Riding. After emptying a few boats we set off down the river to Embrun. The rest of the river is a mix of grade 2 and 3 with a few little play waves and holes. Then before you know it you reach Embrun and it's out into the Intersport car park.
A very enjoyable day's paddling as were all the others over the two weeks. We had a great time and met a nice bunch of people so on behalf of Kay, Wilma and myself I would like to thank you all and especially Keith for organising the whole thing. Roll on 2015!
Nick Coughlin More Photos……..
Day 12 07/8/14 Thursday Glacier Blanc
At 7am, 9 paddlers quietly climbed aboard the minibus for the trip to the Glacier Blanc. A quick stop at the bakery and then we were off; passing through villages as we climbed up the valley, the market at Vallouise was in full swing despite the early hour and in no time we arrived at the Refuge Cezanne (1874 m) the start of the walk. A shy marmot watched our arrival from a large rock before hiding away from the paparazzi. The air was cool and the valley in shadow as we started our ascent. We made quick time passing other groups on the way up; the glacier gradually revealing itself. After two hours walking we reached the Refuge du Glacier Blanc (2542 m), and settled down to a large coffee or chocolate in the sunshine. The cost was 2.5 Euros, very reasonable considering the isolation. Here we separated with the explorers continuing on and upwards to stand on the glacier at around 2900 meters. Chris, Paul, David and Anthony had a look at a small crevasse whilst Sam, Callum and Jose conversed with the international band of mountaineers who where kitting up with crampons or removing them and tidying up their ropes after crossing the glacier. We retraced our steps to join up with Sara, Ian and Keith for the annual photo on the bridge with the glacier behind. It turned out that Sara had had a flying lesson on the way down tumbling head over heels down a steep slope, having opted to skirt around the outer edge of the path so leaving the via ferrata style safety rope to the climbers on their way up. She was so embarrassed by the fall and the 'ohs' and 'arhs' that she jumped up as though nothing had happened. One of the passers by asked what happened and another replied “she fell off a cliff”.
The weather had been warm and sunny but a small amount of cloud cover kept the temperature cooler to make for fantastic views and very pleasant conditions. On the way back we decided to look at the upper reaches of the Fournel, a river that runs through L’Argentiere-la-Bessee, the village where we stay. The river consists of seven or more concrete dams varying in height from one to five meters high, connected by sections of grade 3 water. It is a short run but is good to practice drops but the road is a little too narrow for the minibus and trailer. The river also provides a canyoning spot and exploration of the old mines buildings which would be possible to try in future years.
Anthony Brockway More Photos……..
Day 12 07/8/14 Thursday Gyr
So on Thursday we split from the main group to go and do a different river called the Gyr. A thin and fast river described in the guide book as being 'full of strainers and tree hazards' so obviously it sounded like a good idea to run the river.
We went to go and inspect the river the day before and decided that we wanted to do it but that there were 2 advisable portages. On the day when we got to the river we arrived at the get on and if anything the river looked quite easy. We turned the first corner and were welcomed by a fast, continuous grade 4. This set the theme for the whole river. When we got to the first portage Stuart signalled from the bank and we all got out to have a look. The rapid had a large tree strainer and as we discussed how to portage, John went into Rambo mode. He produced a saw and made short work of the tree. The lesson learned was to always bring a tree surgeon kayaking!
The second portage was also run. From the water we could see that the route was more easily attainable and that we could run it safely. The river was scary at times but probably the best river of the whole holiday. This river has definitely some serious, secondary fun.
Joe Sheppard More Photos……..
Day 12 07/8/14 Thursday Cycling
Having taken our two bikes out
with us it was great to get out for a ride in an Alpine valley rather than just
into town to the boulangerie. We headed out of the campsite and onto the old
road that runs along the Durance. We headed up in to the high mountain
After exploring the valley we headed back down the very steep 10.5% gradient to the valley floor and took a back road to a small gravel lake that we had spied from Freissinieres. Here we took a swim in the warm water before heading back to the campsite to join up with the others for a meal in Briancon.
Keith Steer More Photos……..
Day 12 07/8/14 Thursday Via ferrata
Report to follow…………….
Scott Gibson More Photos……..
Day 12 07/8/14 Thursday Middle Durance (Campsite to Cement
We arrived at the
camping campsite. I was tired from travelling all the way from
I went kayaking; my brain hadn’t woken up yet, and then there was this big frothy stopper that I thought that was a little wave. I paddled over it and soon realised that it was a stopper and it sucked me back into the wave and I capsized my boat and then I was nervous all the way to the get out point.
The next day I went onto the river at the start. This was better and I was more in control, in the afternoon we paddled across a tributary that was coming from the left to the right diagonally and then it tipped my boat half way from capsizing scary! But dead good fun, it was fantastic. I was having the time of my life. I had that much fun that I would love to do it all again.
It was an experience I will never ever, ever forget!!!!!!!!
Oh by the way my Dad swam past me on the slalom course at St Clement.
Day 12 07/8/14 Horse riding at Serre Chevalier de la Salle les Alps
I went on the
Liverpool Canoe club camp in the
It was an experience I will never forget. We galloped through the woods passed 5 beautiful rivers 1 of which we trotted through after a long trek we stopped at a river so the horses could drink, and we stopped at a natural spring so we could also drink. I think anyone would love it!!!
Day 13 08/8/14 Friday Château-Queyras Via ferrata
We set of with Jose, my dad and Keiron following the rest of the Liverpool Canoe Club group on the climb. We had harnesses and hats from the rafting shop in Château-Queyras town. We had to climb down into the gorge near the bridge. Some of the moves were very scary and we were hanging on to metal hand holds that were there to help us.
We went over two wire bridges that swayed a lot. There was even a group of kayakers that paddled the river below us. We were all looking down on them. Me and my dad stopped after the second bridge but Keiron and Jose climbed on up to the Castle at the top of the town.
Sammy Allerton More Photos……..
Day 13 08/8/14 Friday Château-Queyras Gorge
We (Roy, Gibbo, Joe, Ian and I 'Dave') the small team of intrepid adventurers set off to the first Eddie above the narrowing gorge section which made up Chateau Queyras. This was my first time paddling this section so to say I was “slightly bricking it” would be a fair statement. When we all had reached the Eddie, Royston sorted out a rough order and then he set off himself shouting the words 'good luck and enjoy boys'.
As the group whittled down to just me and Ian, he piped up to say I'll go now leaving me to follow up the back of the group. This now made my earlier statement become a reality. When I did eventually break in to start the short 1.5K run I soon realised I needed to be on the ball with the use of the positive paddle strokes. These were affected by the confused water in the narrower parts of the gorge which were usually only a paddle width apart. At one particular section Ian was having a bit of difficulty as he was facing upstream rather than down. So to compensate for this I had to stall myself a little bit to give him chance to sort himself out. Once he did, I got moving again and paddled my way forward. This particular part of the gorge was the most difficult as there was a lot of confused water. It was important to keep upright and moving forward positively as just around the bend was a fairly good sized stopper, which I powered through. After that we emerged from the gorge and navigated the rest of the river with ease. I was very happy to have conquered the gorge!
David Brockway More Photos……..
Day 13 08/8/14 Friday Middle Guil
If the Guil is our favourite
river, then this is our favourite section. It starts with a bang at an
impressive series of drops known as ‘Triple Step’. You can choose
to get in above or below this depending on your mood. It’s trickier than it
looks as each drop slows you and pushed to the right and more than one paddler
has taken a rinsing in the bottom hole under the infamous
For our mixed group we put in at Montbardon bridge at the raft access point. There is a gauge here and today the river was low. We paddled the easy section down to Bramousse bridge (green railings) with some good rapids at grade 3. Several of the group had planned to get off here to the waiting minibus. Leanne decided to do the rock jump into the cool deep pool below the bridge – several rafting groups were doing the same. We now formed two groups running the river on sight. From here, in reasonable water levels the section down to the tunnel is fairly solid four with only one chunky grade four. A few drops may call for inspection, and possibly safety cover but it is mainly run on sight.
Eventually we came to a large road tunnel on river right. There used to be a nasty slot rapid here (Letterbox), but flooding has changed the rivers features here considerably over the years. The rapid just below the tunnel can be tricky and is always worth a look.
From this point, the river can be
paddled without bank inspection by solid groups at grade four and it’s
all excellent read and run fun and some good punchy holes until you get to the
take out at Maison Du Roy, where the river becomes a lake above the barrage.
Keith Steer More Photos……..
Day 14 098/8/14 Saturay Slalom course at L'Argentière-la-Bessée
Lightning and thunder had kept many awake all night but I had not heard a thing. In the morning, the Durance had changed colour to a sandy brown and was decidedly bigger than it had been all week. With the barrage at Vallouise letting all the water through we decided to give the planned Gyronde a miss and play on the slalom course instead. As we walked up a couple of the younger slalom team members practising on the course had taken a swim and their boats had rapidly drifted past us with several other paddlers in pursuit.
We put on at the top of the course and paddled over each drop trying to make the eddy below. Some waves were surfing well while others were a little too powerful. We got out below the campsite making the most of all the rapids.
Keith Steer More Photos……..
The full team would consist of: Keith Steer, Fiona Wrigg, Sarah
Gille, Anthony Brockway, David Brockway, Scott Gibson, Bethan Smith, Kathy
Wilson, Tony Doyle, Sam Preston, Chris Preston, John Cooke,