Fear and Loathing (of Faff) in Val Sesia

From THCCwiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search




Italy - 1-8 June 2013

I’d made the classic mistake of reading the guide book before setting off on this trip and was thoroughly intimidated by the lack of Grade 2-3 and the overwhelming number of exclamation marks on the map (the equivalent of the road cyclists worst OS nightmare - the double black up arrow). Just in case the reader hadn't got the message there was also a liberal sprinkling of big black cross symbols!

We (Carter & Yatesy) hopped on the 9am Chunnel from Folkestone and, being skint, avoided the French tolls, by going the long way, via Belgium, Luxemburg & Switzerland to the Italian alps. After repeating for the 10th time, “just the drive to Tom & Emma’s left to go”, we finally arrived and pitched our tents in Campertogno in Val Sesia

A skiing destination in winter, Val Sesia is about 70 miles NW of Milan and during the spring snow melt attracts kayakers from all over Europe. The Sesia flows from Monte Rossa and along with its tributaries is a bit of a kayakers paradise. It’s advertised as a kayaking destination for experts and knowing full well we didn’t fit into that category, it was with some trepidation that we made plans for the rivers we’d paddle in the next few days.

Day One

<Flickr>9133030201|medium|right</Flickr> After monumental faff (allowed, as it was day one) we started with a Grade 3/4 section, the Lower Sesia. It was a beautiful section of fun bouncy wave trains, interspersed with a bit of boulder dodging. There was one harder rapid that we all portaged as it was early on in the trip and we were still suffering the ill effects of living on nothing but caffeine and Pringles for 18 hours the day before. On the whole it was a great warm up for the rest of the week.

Searching for a supermarket, buying stuff for dinner, returning to campsite, not being bothered to cook and eating at the campsite pizzeria was all that was left of the day, (the free bottle of grappa that comes with every meal was unwanted but forced down).

Day Two

<Flickr>9135251296|medium|right|</Flickr> After monumental faff (allowed as we still had all week) we headed to the Lower Mastallone. This was an amazing river, winding its way down a steep valley, through a short gorge before joining the Sesia at Varallo. Although a step up from day one, it was a lower volume river so we happily eddy hopped our way down. We needed to scramble out a few times to plan our route through the boulders and drops, but most of the time, BCU Star award skills kicked in and we boat scouting rapids like true pros! Again, there was one rapid that no-one fancied and I promise that I was in no way influenced by seeing someone else swimming out of the hole, only to have to jump back in tied to a rope to get their, now dented, boat back!

Knowing the Pizzeria was closed, we headed back to the campsite for pasta with salami. We had promised the shopkeeper that we would definitely not add the salami to the pasta sauce before she agreed to sell it to us, but I’m not sure the Italians know much about pasta and tomato sauce and are missing a trick as it was pretty tasty!

Day 3

<Flickr>9135251054|medium|right</Flickr> After monumental faff (allowed as we had 4 extra paddles who had arrived in the middle of the night) we headed to the warm up section of the Sesia again. This gave the new arrivals a chance to have a warm up and gave us a chance to run the rapid that we’d portaged on day one. It was a steep entry shoot staying right to dodge a hole, and then attempting not to get shoved into the cliff on the left when you punched through the second stopper. If you managed it so far it was then straight down the middle to the big pool at the bottom. It wasn’t actually as hard as it looked and everyone made it through unscathed.

After the Sesia we headed to the ‘water park’ that is Sorba Slides. Although this looks intimidating it is 3 pretty straight forward slides where you slide down wet rock and brace for the ‘hit’ at the bottom. Basically, it will make a great profile pic and make me look like a proper kayaker but actually you could do it on a Lillo! We did this a couple of times along with the last couple of drops on another tributary, the Gronda, just to make sure that the photos came out nicely.

More pizza and grappa then followed.

Day 4

<Flickr>9135251152|medium|right</Flickr> After monumental faff (allowed as there were multiple shuttle points) we set off to paddle all the white water on the Sesia (apart from the scary bits). It was a great day of paddling, portaging a couple of nastier looking falls and paddling a couple more. We even squeezed through a pipe to avoid carrying over a road across the river. We had a rest for lunch where we fiddled with the shuttles a bit more as we were running out of time. After that we blasted on down to the end where the final rapid of the day awaited. We spent a long time looking at viable lines but at the end of the rapid the whole river pushed through a narrow channel with stopper to welcome anyone who had got that far. We all portaged and most of us got zapped by an electric fence instead.

Chef-ing then ensued and we finally ate the lentils that had been soaking at the campsite for the last 48 hours!

Day 5

<Flickr>9133030325|medium|right</Flickr> After monumental faff (allowed as it was now a habit ) we drove up to the Egua – this river is a true Val Sesia classic. After a 30 min drive up a very steep windy road we got to the 2km section of river that the guidebook describes as ‘the steepest Grd 4+ (5) that you’ll ever paddle’. They’re not wrong! Not only the steepest but also the best river I have ever paddled. It was a series of amazing granite bedrock slides that tumbled down the mountain side as far as we could see. The order of events went a bit like this:

  • Get on
  • Technical rapid into slide/drop
  • Get out to peer over next horizon line
  • Technical rapid into slide/drop
  • Get out to peer over next horizon line
  • Technical rapid into slide/drop
  • Get out to peer over next horizon line
  • Technical rapid into slide/drop
  • Get out to peer over next horizon line
  • Technical rapid into slide/drop
  • ...
  • Get off

I’m skipping over the above ‘...’ as I’m trying to wipe clean the memory of me trying to swim to the surface whilst it all got darker and darker as I went downwards. Fortunately we’d set up some safety (a first for the trip!) and Glenn came to save me! Despite my swim, this will take some beating for me. It would have been the perfect day were it not for the grappa...

Day 6

<Flickr>9133029925|medium|right</Flickr> After monumental faff (allowed as it was the last day) and a bit of rain we looked at the upper Mallastone about an hour from the campsite. Unfortunately it hadn’t rained enough so two plans were formed. Some of the ‘yoof’ decided to head to the nearby Landwasser waterfall and try and increase the gnarl factor of their paddling photos. The rest of us decided that we would do the ‘Alpine Sprint’ section of the Sesia back at the campsite. This is a 2-3k section used for the annual Gene 17 river race. I think the winners take about 12 minutes, however we took at least twice that to just find the get on. After nearly putting on directly above a horrible death-inducing waterfall we eventually found the right spot to get down to the river. This section was a continuous steep Grd 4, all scoutable from the boat and a great way to round off the week.

All that was left was an end of week BBQ and an early night in preparation for the long drive home the next day (not sure what everyone else’s excuse was!)

Day 7

  • Get up,
  • Take down tents & get in car.
  • Point North and set cruise control
  • Drive onto train
  • Drive off train
  • Point North and set cruise control
  • Go to bed

All in all this was a great trip. It would be easy to be scared off by reading all the stories and guidebooks about Val Sesia but we coped very well with all that the Italians could throw at us (except for the Grappa)