French Alps - 1-8 June 2012

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A week in the Alps THCC Style

When the next turn off is in 178 miles you know you’re in for a long journey – 16 hours after Matt, Glenn & I (Paul C) left East London in Ice White (Glenn’s van) we finally arrived in Embrun in the French Alps. After a couple of wind down beers we headed to bed eager to get boating early the next day.

Day 1

We started with the French staple breakfast of croissants & pain au chocolate and then headed to the L’Argentiere Slalom course just to get warmed up.

After one run down, we’d all missed eddies, had a few hairy moments and were absolutely knackered! It seems we should have done a few more laps of the basin in the build up to the holiday rather than drinking the Prospect dry of Doombar every Tuesday!

We had a rest, re-adjusted to the speed of alpine water and spent the rest of the day trying to catch increasingly smaller and smaller eddies until it just got silly... Great fun though.

Day 2

We headed (post boulangerie) to the Lower Guisane. The guide book and experience from last year suggested this would be 4 km of beautiful Grade 3/4 eddy hopping. As is the nature of THCC trips abroad the levels were high but we thought nothing of it as we paddled the first couple of km of Grade 3 - then all hell broke loose! There weren’t any of the Grade 3 bits we’d hoped for - we were on a Grade 4 motorway of a river charging through the French Mountains. In the next 20mins I tested the quality of my helmet (good) my white water roll (average) and the thickness of the skin on my knuckles (thin) before we finally managed to find somewhere to stop. So much for eddy hopping! The river continued in this vein until the get out. At this point we only had one car so I put my newly acquired fishing skills (cheers Andy Nutter) to the test whilst Glenn hitched back to Ice White.

Day 3

It had been raining solidly for the last 24 hours (so much for sunshine in the south of France) and we’d spotted a tributary called the Torrent du Rabioux the day before. After a bit of umming and arring, we decided to give it a go. The next 2 hours was a lot of fun and went as follows:

  • Argh, it’s fast...
  • Sh*t I’m pinned...
  • Phew...
  • Oh God I’m pinned again...
  • Phew...
  • Oh no, not again....
  • Phew...
  • Argh, it’s fast...
  • Oooh there’s an eddy...
  • Damn I missed it...
  • This is getting a bit sporting...
  • Good job I’ve got a good quality helmet...
  • Wish my roll was better than average...
  • Wish the skin on my knuckles was thicker...
  • Good job I wore a dry suit...
  • Good job I had splits...
  • ARGH TREE....
  • Phew...
  • And relax.

Day 4

This was a first for me - 3 rivers in one day! Finally we’d found rivers and levels where we could relax and enjoy ourselves! Briancon Gorge, Onde & Gyronde all passed in a flurry of woops, boofs, splashes and other onomatopoeia. This was why we had come to the Alps – beautiful grade 3 & 4 rivers flowing through beautiful mountains at breakneck speed! Ace!

Day 5

We headed via a tarte au citron to the Guil valley to tick off a few more classics. The Upper Guil felt like Scotland with freezing water & driving rain but as soon as we got into the gorge our mind was definitely not focusing on the weather! This is quite an intimidating gorge, in stunning surroundings and definitely not somewhere you would want to swim. After we inspected (and ran away from) Chateaux Q gorge we got on the Middle Guil – this is a long and continuous river and one of the Alpine classics of the region. It really is an amazing Grade 4 ride!

Day 6

Another 3 river day – this time in a different catchment - the Ubaye. We did the upper which was entirely uneventful apart from one thing. We lost the car... for about 2 hours. Note to people doing the shuttle – don’t convince yourself that the group has paddled past the car, walk up stream for 45 minutes, turn round and walk back the way you came, past where the group are waiting, continue in the other direction for 20 mins before driving past the group again to do the shuttle – you’ll only look silly.

2nd river was the Bachalard, the prettiest place I’ve ever paddled. Scrambling down a deep gorge to the get in sets the tone - blind bend then follows blind bend as you eddy hop your way safely to the get out when the gorge ends. Imagine the Upper Tryweryn on steroids in 30 degree sunshine in a 100 foot gorge and you get the idea – breathtakingly stunning!

3rd river of the day was a high water blast down the Ubaye Racecourse. This was several km of hole dodging, one or two must make ferry glides and a intimidating and very boily gorge to finish. Yet more aceness!

Day 7

This was mine and Matt’s last day in the Alps, I’d planned to have a nice easy day to finish, but that was soon put a stop to as we drove to the Grrrrr (otherwise known as the Gyr). When the river bank reverberates with the sound of boulders rolling down the river bed, you know that it’s going to be sporting.

With very few eddies the river basically consisted of trying not to be the probe at the front. As soon as anyone was at the front, they immediately started hunting for a 1 boat eddy so someone else would be forced to take the lead. After a 20 min white knuckle ride it was done and so was my holiday in the Alps.

All that was left was an overnight train, metro, train, taxi, ferry, car journey home!