Whitewater, Spain, April 2009

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In traditional THCC fashion Mark with the assistance of Aunty Glen ran a club trip to the Pyrenees last week and provided some fantastic coaching as well as great times. Participants in the fun were Juan Alex, Juan Hannah, Juan Matt, Juan Lars, Juan Paul, Juan Myles and Juan Gary.

The trip started in July 2007 when Mark posted the dates and within 24 hours 3 of the eventual group had said we were keen. 9 months later it was time to get going.

Day 1 – The Vannies get going

The first day of the holiday for Lars, Matt and Alex (The Vannies) involved an overnight drive from Shadwell to Sort with all the kit, boats and a BBQ. For the rest of us it was a case of waiting to get to the plane the following morning and in the mean time do the important things like wonder if we packed everything etc.

Day 2 – The high flyers play catch up

Hannah, Paul, Gary and I arrived in Stansted. It was faff free getting through to the seats Gary was guarding for us on the other side only to get confused about what time we needed to be at the gate and wondering if we had time to get some more sweets from the shop. By this time the Vannies were less than 100 miles from the camp site. Because we were flying with Ireland’s finest airline, who have no boarding system and we were virtually the last to get on the place we ended up spread across the plane for our 1.5 hour flight to Biarritz. When we got off we quickly found the hire car and unlike the Vannies didn’t need to have our life story photocopied in triplicate to get going!! Along the road we decided to stop at a super market, this was a well intended action but took us an hour and about 10km of driving each way with silly French signs that always kept hinting the supermarket was just after the next roundabout!!!! It invariably wasn’t and was at a set of traffic lights. Back on the road we pressed on until we arrived in the foothills of the Pyrenees, what a view. Topped off with a snow ball fight at the top of the mountain pass Big Smile. An hour after our snowball fight we arrived in the village/hamlet of Baro were the campsite was located and where possibly the worlds best restaurant is located so long as you like ham and cheese in every dish of every course. We met the rest of the group and the holiday was full speed ahead and shortly there after the crashing began and sleep called.

Day 3 – Warm up paddle (Rialp – Campsite)

This was day 1 of paddling for most of the group and the start or a morning ritual. Every morning began with a breakfast from the “nice place”. Here you can get as much sugary goodness or baguettes and croissants filled with ham and cheese.

After this we got down to the business of the day, paddling. The river was completely different to anything we had paddled in the UK but in a good way. We got on and had a fun relaxing paddle down to the slalom course in Sort. This gave us all a chance to get back into the swing of things and get to feel what the bigger volume river had to offer, I don’t think anyone was left wanting. We shot our first rapids of the trip and generally had a good day. The evening allowed for the continuation of the tradition of cheese and ham and as a team I think we had everything on the menu at least once over the week including Horse, Rabbit, Pigs Trotters and whole cuttlefish (prize to Alex who was the most adventurous)!

Day 4 – The grade 4, the rapid with no name and the gorge (Campsite to Lower take out)

This was the longest single distance paddle we did over the week and it was definitely worth it. The day started with an inspection of the grade 4 rapid, followed by descents of the rapid in groups. This was a great rapid to run with lots of things to look out for as well as making sure you didn’t slam into anyone else in the team.

After this we paddled on down running various rapids whilst learning some new skills on river reading and improving our breaking in and out of eddy techniques. We then came to the rapid with no name and began a naming competition. I don’t think a decision was ever made on a winner.

More rapids and nice views where then topped off as we entered the gorge. We had been told of the gorge before we left the UK but seeing it from the river was a unique perspective. Definitely worth doing the trip next year to see some of the views offered lower down the valley.

That evening was another evening of cheese and ham with beers and strange wine bottles that required some skill to drink from and numerous white linen napkins for personal protection. No doubt these needed soaking in bleach at the end of each evening with us!

Day 5 – When improvers lead!! (Rialp to the campsite with skills stuff in the slalom course)

This was the day we got to practise our river reading and leading skills. we paddled the same stretch of river as our warm up paddle but this time without Mark or Glen sat in front of us telling us what to do. We paddled down to the slalom course to begin some skills practice with a short portage around the dam. Once at the slalom site we got to do several runs of the course in small groups practising our eddy hoping (and rescue skills). Juan Hannah was selfless in her demonstration of swimming (some claim she may be a fish but she swears it was momentary confusion) afterwards she swore she’d learnt a useful lesson, no matter what make sure you “lean downstream”!

After this we continued are run towards the campsite with Mark and Glen planning on providing safety for some of the large rapids. The guys were sitting above the island rapid waiting for us and showed us various lines to approach. The first person to try and follow subsequently made a tactical error in their line choice and after a short hug of a rock had a swim. Once the rest of the group ran the rapid with no issues I got back in my boat and we paddled down to the last big rapid of the day. The evening started with fresh paella and ended with a trip down to the rivers edge with a beer or two for the majority of us! This was in no way fuelled by numerous luminous yellow shots and a couple of different baileys replicas!

Day 6 – Speed dating various boats

This was our relaxation day and as such the morning was spent relaxing. Once Mark and Glen came back from the reconnaissance mission on the upper section of the river we got ourselves sorted and starting playing about in all the different shapes and sizes of boats. This was a great opportunity to see how different boats handle and find out what boats we liked and didn’t. For dinner we ate at the campsite were the lovely owner Anna made us rabbit or cod.

Day 7 – Its not harder just more continuous (partial upper section to the campsite)

This was the day we went to the upper section of the river and had a run back to the campsite. The upper section had lots of great rapids and wave trains to enjoy and pushed all of us a bit more. It was similar to the lower sections just with more fun crammed in!! After successful descents of the rapids, with some tiger lines for good measure, we came back to Rialp and proceeded back to the campsite. As the water level had lowered significantly since our first descent a few days before the river was a completely different experience and provided lots of entertainment!! By the time we reached the bottom everyone was exhausted and ready for a BBQ. Unfortunately, the weather disagreed with this fantastic plan and proceeded to try to put a hole in our tents with rain so we retreated to our favourite restaurant across the road.

Day 8 – The end is near!!!

Our last day on the water and we all wanted another crack at the Grade 4 rapid. We decided to make the most of the scenery and ran the entire section from day 4 again. This time the camera was in video mode to capture all the goodness and provide feedback on what to be better next time. Videos can be found here.

This was a great way to paddle the last day, the group took turns at leading stuff and we all had a bit of fun as we descended to the bottom. It was a very surreal feeling getting off the water for the last time but I think everyone enjoyed their trip and the experience of paddling the Noguera Palleresa river. With the sun still shining bright the decision was made to have a BBQ, unfortunately a national holiday in Spain interfered so we finished as we started with ham and cheese!!!

Whats next? More paddling of course!!

If you are new to the club or beginning to get into white water then this trip is a fantastic opportunity to progress your skills in white water. This time last year half the group had never been on moving water and now we are thoroughly addicted. If you do want to get involved in white water then you can grab any of the white water paddlers who will be able to point you in the direction of one of the instructors or speak to our white water reps Emma and Carter who are white water addicts too.

The pictures for the adventure are here.

A map of the area and some of the rapids we ran is here.

This report was brought to you with editorial assistance from Juan Hannah and Juan Matt who remembered some of the best bits, thanks --- Myles