French Alps 2018 paddling trip
9am sharp off to the Middle Guil, an Alpine classic 3-4 run, the merry band of 13 were excited but also maybe a little nervous that this was going to be a more challenging day. The easier “warm up” initial section proved interesting, with the combination of fast flowing water (a little higher than usual) and a more technical rocky run than previous days sharpening everyone’s concentration. All of the group made it down to the first get out before it started to get a bit more big and bouncy, thankfully no real mishaps and then rounded off with a tantalising re-gathering of the teams in the eddy above (for those new to the river) “surprise drop”. After a bit talking up the size of the drop/tow back, the need to keep the boat straight, and of course, the need to “paddle, paddle, paddle”, everyone disappeared over the horizon happily to be seen again.
The section after this became a bit more challenging and some of the group had already taken the decision to call it a day and the remainder split into more manageable teams of 4 and 5, with Keith leading one group and the rest in the safe hands of John C. Everything was working wonderfully until we decided to portage a rapid with a boulder choke and some confused water. After some careful positioning of boats by our most experienced river leader, the blue Mamba decided to get back on the water with no one on board and, crucially, no one ready to execute the easy catch before it got going in earnest. With Helen’s deck showing appalling timing in refusing to fit her boat, the intrepid Silver Fox set of chasing it like it was covered in feathers. To make things more interesting it stayed up right, with a better line than any of us, making its way a good 8oo metres before breaking out nicely into an eddy all on its own. Much to John’s relief. The challenge now was to reunite boat & paddler, with the bankside forest of trees and a steep loose rock climb up to the road above (and down again…). While I was fighting to scale the boulder Strewn slope I was pleased to see Kirk appear with a handy sling to assist the final section and drop down to where Keith had battled up river with the independently minded Mamba. Paddler and boat happily reunited, the team waiting patiently upstream then navigated carefully down to meet the rest of the group (a big hand to Ciaran, Hannah & Mike for sensibly staying put as requested).
Once we thought everything was sorted we were then faced with the prospect of either the Staircase (a 5-, really a bit much for the team spread) or a meaty portage around to reach the more accessible but still exciting river below. The team reduced to 5 at this point with some happy faces wanting to stay that way, plus a pretty “boat-chased-out” John (good effort mate!) We huffed and puffed our way through the portage to a tight get in above some familiar rocky fast flowing lines. The section from here down to the get out was really enjoyable and navigated quickly with a smaller team until we gathered above the finale “Letterbox” drop, perhaps a grade down from its guidebook marker but exhilarating nonetheless. Everyone nailed it after Keith had demonstrated an interesting “paused-boof” (an advanced move) to confirm that was not the best line, but I did it anyway! Bit of a walk up past the tunnel with boat/kit to wait for the minibus, welcome thanks to Trevor for speeding things up with an unplanned motorised shuttle.