Sunday, 21 August 2016

Val Sesia and the South French Alps Part 2

Day 8: Saturday 28th May
In the morning we packed and left our orchard campsite as soon as possible - the bathrooms were pretty sketchy and smelled awful every time you turned on a tap. Also, the orchard was full of wildflowers and Paul and I were suffering major hayfever and associated grumpiness (especially at Jon and his sensible immune system).
We drove to Aime to look at the rapids there which looked like nice bouncy grade 4 and nothing like they did in the guide book. It appeared the river was quite high!

Walking up to look at the Aime rapids

All the rapids have names, but they were essentially one long rapid at the level we were paddling them at.

We went and got shopping in Bourg St Maurice then headed to the slalom site. While Paul was cycling the shuttle on the handy river-side cycle track, Jon and I met another small group of British paddlers who were on a one car trip and had a chat. Paul arrived back before their shuttle driver did since they were doing the longer stretch.
The slalom site in Bourg St Maurice was really big water and Paul was absolutely loving the eddies all the way down. The river down to Aime was bouncy grade 2/3 wave trains - nice and relaxing. The fun really started at Aime though, one really long big water grade 4, a bit like a smaller version of the Lower Oetz. We ate and packed up in 33°C heat!
We decided to avoid the expensive tunnel to Briancon by heading round by Grenoble. Unfortunately, it turned out the pass from Grenoble to Briancon which had been closed due to landslides last year was still closed and we ended up having to drive all the way round by Gap. It was a really long way.
We were so happy to make it to La Roche de Rame and Camping du Lac - nice bathrooms! Jon made a tasty one pot rice and beef dish for dinner.

Day 9: Sunday 29th May
Since it was Sunday, I had to hurry the boys a lot to get to a supermarket, but we made it to the one in Briancon with 25 minutes to spare! The Guisane was looking very very high, so we thought we could do the Briancon gorge.


It was also very very high. As in the next eddy is the get out and it’ll hold about half a boat. Turns out a couple of very hot days then a day of rain makes everything enormous… Later on we learned that the gorge had a few trees stuck in it, so walking away was a very good decision!
An impromptu rest day seemed to be on the cards, so we walked up and had a look at Malefoss, the section of the Durance above the gorge - it was huge and awesome to look at.

More random waterfalls beckoned, so we headed to the top of the Claree. We couldn't really see what was obviously an impressive set of falls, however the alpine flower meadows were very pretty.

Top of the Claree

Alpine flower meadows

Then, on a half conceived idea, we decided to go and find the Biasse teacups that are vaguely mentioned in the guidebook. As it turned out, they are a very long way up a spectacular valley where you continually think you can’t get any further until finally what was definitely a road when you started becomes a tiny path going up a mountain. Then you park and walk a bit and there’s the teacup falls! Next to them are some much much more impressive falls.

The end of the drive-able road

The Biasse tea cups, way too high to paddle

First descent anyone?

It should be noted that off roading in a very low slung estate car is a nerve wracking experience and 4x4s are for sissies.

Saying "It's fine" a lot totally makes it ok.

Back at the campsite Jon made us lemon (soy) creamy sauce for dinner which was very tasty.

Day 10: Monday 30th May
With everything very high, we decided to try the Ubaye racecourse as we reckoned it would still be ok with lots of water. It was reading about 50 cumecs on the gauge, so very high! The waves were massive and bouncy and scary and I was exhausted, but we managed to get down all fine! Grade 4/4+ with some easier sections to get my strength back enough for the next bit. I had an encounter with one hole but yelled my way through it! Paul was commenting at the end that the sections in the guidebook that were described as flat were distinctly not flat.

The put in for the Ubaye

We went and ate lunch at Fresquiere, looking at the gnar filled section downstream. I had some very weird gluten free biscotti style things that were a bit like eating rock hard dry toast. So instead I ate a whole pack of salami.

Food time

Scary Fresquierre section

We also went and looked at a tributary of the Ubaye that is in the guide book, but given how much water there was around, it looked a little on the low side and a bit meh.
We drove back to Guilestre over the col de Vars, looking at all the ski villlages that look really sad without a covering of snow.
I made sweet and sour sauce for dinner.

Day 11: Tuesday 31st May
I had the day off from paddling since I’d been so exhausted the day before. The boys paddled the Gyronde in the morning. Paul capsized and punched a rock and complained that the guide book had misled him into thinking it was grade 3+ (Jon had got them on at the 4+ bit). Jon also got some grit in his eye at the put in and couln’t see very well for most of the river! We met Edinburgh Uni at the put in, but they were faffing.


Down at the slalom site in L’Argentierre I found some postcards and tiny kayaks on keyrings for the boys.

L'Argentierre slalom site

Sunshine at the slalom site

We bought some lunch in the supermarket then drove up to the top of the Gyr to walk up to the Glacier Blanc. It was raining when we arrived, but it cleared up and was actually fairly nice for the rest of the walk. We found some marmots on the way up that liked the gluten free biscotti a lot more than me! There was quite a lot of snow, but we got to the glacier view point and sat on the bridge for a quick rest, before running all the way back to the car.

Making friends with marmots, Glacier Noir is in the background

Glacier Blanc

It was surprisingly warm despite the snow

On the way back to the campsite we managed to get 126mpg, hee hee. I made curry for dinner then called Davey while the boys washed up.

Day 12: Wednesday 1st June
We woke up a bit late today - what the hell, we’re on holiday. We went and paddled the Lower Guisane, one of our must-do runs. It. Was. Awesome. A fantastic, fast, bouncy level where you feel just on the edge of control the whole time, yet everything is friendlier and smoother than you expect it to be. Still, super continuous grade 4 for a very long way in very cold water! Wheeee! I had a small encounter with a pourover, but nailed the paddle-frantically-and-hope-for-the-best recovery.

The put in for the Guisane

We acquired lunch in the big supermarket in Briancon then walked into the (napoleonic star) fort and found a bench to sit and eat at while we discussed the (im)possibility of attacking the pass at Briancon. Then we had a nice wander round the fort and down to the bridge over the Briancon gorge. Jon and Paul attempted to play poo-sticks, but since Jon was the only one to ever hit the water with a stick we had to declare him the winner.
We picked up the bike then headed back to camp where we cooked (soy) creamy paprika chicken with pasta, huddled in the mouth of the tent because it was raining so much.

Day 13: Thursday 2nd June
My lovely health problems finally hit today, so no paddling for me. The boys paddled the Middle Guil and I took a lot of photos! I also got to watch a raft paddle down staircase making it look pretty difficult. This was a very good test of the zoom lens on my camera, which it turns out works very well! The boys bravely portaged, but I got a great video of them running “Le Tunnel” further down and Paul having a little roll after missing his boof on the second drop. Jon rolled further down apparently, but I sadly missed it.

At the dam on the drive up, the gates were open and the Guil was pouring through into the gorge

Millenium rapid (grade 5+) above the put in has seen some very recent rock falls

The boys getting in below triple step

Jon in a grade 4 just below the put in

Bravely portaging Staircase

We had lunch at Chateax Queryas looking down into the box canyon, then the boys blasted down the upper Guil while I fell asleep in the car.

Chateaux Q box canyon

Paddle ninja?

Upper Guil put in

Back at the campsite, Jon and Paul made leek and bacon (soy) creamy pasta while I slept more.

Day 14: Friday 3rd June
Deciding that, to hell with illness, I was not going to miss the Guil, we headed back to Triple Step in the sunshine. Paul managed to hitch the shuttle from Staircase by flagging down the Edinburgh Uni guys who were having a photo shoot at triple then going to the upper to pile all their freshers down en masse.
The river to the top of Staircase is sort of pool drop grade 3-4 rapids which were amazing and a lot of the time mostly I could only see white, but I got down and had a great time. At the top of Staircase I was shaking with exhaustion, so walked out to the car with Jon carrying my boat. I got changed and drove down to catch Jon and Paul coming down Le Tunnel and styling it.

Jon in Le Tunnel

Paul in Le Tunnel

Looking happy at the take out
We had lunch at the take out in the sunshine, then the boys had another blast down the upper, managing to over take a group we saw on the drive up only a few hundred meters downstream from where we’d seen them!

Last run of the holiday on the Upper Guil

Chateaux Queryas in the sun

I met Edinburgh at the take out, chatting about their carnage in Chateax Q. We faffed about packing the boats then went back to Guilestre to stock up on raspberry juice and Haribo for the drive.
A final meal of fried rice with bacon and we were nearly packed for our long drive.

Day 15: Saturday 4th June
Off at 7.50am over the exciting Col du Galibier which had just opened a couple of days before. We saw some amazing views, some glaciers and lots of marmots running around.

At the top of the col du Galiber, photo by Paul

Once out of the Alps, France is extremely boring.
Got to the ferry in time to be told that the early ferry was full and we’d need to wait another 4 hours, only to be told by the greatest person in the whole world that they’d managed to squeeze us on! We were entertained on the deck of the ferry by a group of school kids bouncing egg-shaped bouncy balls around with the predictable consequences of the ferry leaving a trail of them in its wake.

Coming into Dover

Into Cambridge only a short time after Claire and Simon, who got stuck in the same massive traffic jam at the dart crossing. Collapsed into bed and fell asleep immediately.

The Dartford crossing...

Day 16: Sunday 5th June

Leisurely drive back to Scotland then dinner at Jon’s, cooked by Andre and company.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Val Sesia and the South French Alps Part 1

Day 1: Saturday 21st May

Ready to go!
Drove from Kennoway to Cambridge - somewhat unexciting. I finally got to meet Jon’s twin sister Claire, though, and she and Simon cooked very tasty steak for dinner. Packed the car and set a scary alarm for 4am.

Day 2: Sunday 22nd May
Up and away in the dark, picking up Paul from his house on the way. So. Very. Early.

Waving goodbye to Dover

Caught the Dover ferry at 7.40am to Calais, then drove through the boring flatlands of Europe - France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France again, then finally Switzerland. I got a year’s motorway pass for just €40, sadly they don’t sell them in any smaller denominations.
We arrived in Lauterbrunnen just as the sun was going down and the valley looked spectacular. Think Rivendell, but in real life! It was 23°C as we put up the tents, so we had high hopes for paddling the next day as we went to bed.

Day 3: Monday 23rd May
At about 3am, Jon and I both woke up and hastily shoved more clothes on as it was suddenly very cold. Later that morning at the more civilised time of 11am, we finally emerged from the tent to discover an inch of snow sitting on top of it. Turns out my tent is not that great at dealing with snow!

Jon in the winter wonderland

The car was showing 0°C when we hid in it to escape the snow. Paul managed to get internet on his phone and uploaded some pictures of us in the snow for people to laugh at on Facebook. We also had a look at the forecast for Val Sesia, which showed sunshine and 25°C, so we decided to leave immediately. Unfortunately, the campsite owner would not be back for about an hour, so we found a bank and got some Swiss Francs to actually pay with, then had a nice wander around in the snow looking at the waterfalls and the pretty snow covered Swiss village. Unfortunately we couldn’t see any of the Alps through all the snow clouds.

Snow on the Alps

The famous waterfall in Lauterbrunnen
We set off for Italy on an exciting 6 hour drive where we had to go a rather long way round due to most of the passes being closed with the snow. Thankfully, there was a Swiss tunnel we could go through which, since we had already paid our €40, was (kind of) free.
It was 30°C in the lowlands of Italy, the heat was amazing.

Look, sunshine!

We arrived in Campertogno with enough light to pitch the tents then hang around in the communal area and hear the Aberdeen and Strathclyde uni guys tell stories about the rivers they’d done.

Day 4: Tuesday 24th May

Campsite in Italy

Looking at Little Canada on the Lower Sesia

Getting ready to paddle in the sunshine

We finally went kayaking! Straight into the action on the Lower Sesia which starts with two small grade 3 rapids then Little Canada, a grade 4+ that looked big from the bank and much bigger in the middle of it! Lots of white, some frantic paddling and everything went well - good to know we all still remember how to do this kayaking thing. The rest of the run was relaxing grade 3 in the sunshine.
We went to the town of Varallo to try and find a supermarket, however the whole town was closed because they were having a market. Or rather, they were packing up a market and we had to walk across the whole town to get to a supermarket that was closed for siesta. Thankfully there was another one across the road that didn’t believe in siestas. Lunch!
In the afternoon Jon and Paul paddled the Alpin sprint section of the Sesia above the campsite while I took pictures.

At the put in for the Alpine Sprint

"The next bit is steep!"
"It's all steep!!!"

Mollier Falls (the nastiness continues downstream)

Jon just above the first rapid after Mollier falls, a bouncy grade 4

They then portaged the nasty Mollier falls and paddled the short section down to the campsite through Campertogno while I discovered that the campsite has very nice showers.
We made a tasty bolognaise for dinner with gluten free pasta (which the italians do very well).

Day 5: Wednesday 25th May

Campertogno in the morning sunshine

A bit of a lazy start for Jon and I as we paddled the Middle Sesia from the campsite, so we got to wait around in comfort (i.e. mostly asleep) while Paul cycled the shuttle. The Sesia had fairly continuous grade 4 rapids down to the portage at Quare Falls (grade 5+), it was amazing. The portage was straightforward and we had a good look at the rapid which looked horrendous.

Quare falls

More exciting grade 4 down to the next portage at Piode Falls. I capsized on the rapid right above the falls and scared Jon a bit as I pinballed off a few rocks while I was upside down. Thankfully I rolled up, just with a very bruised shoulder!

Piode Falls

A bit more grade 4, then we got to a long grade 4+ with a nasty hole at the end which after some umming and ahing we all decided to portage. We were just getting back in when some German (?) paddlers came along and showed us how it was done.

It looked a lot harder before he paddled it

More grade 4 down to the take out town of Scopello where we had a quick look at the final grade 4+ rapid. Jon and I got less than great lines and I capsized again after getting rammed into a boulder the size of my house. Helpfully I rolled up in an eddy in time to watch as Paul cleaned the line.
We sat in Scopello and ate our lunch in the sunshine, then headed to Varallo to get food - it was much easier when we could drive through town, though a bit stressful, italian drivers are scary. We decided to be tourists and drove all the way to the end of the Sesia valley just to see what was there (pretty much nothing).
I made lemon chicken-like-bird (turkey) for dinner then we played card games in the tent until we fell asleep.

Day 6: Thurday 26th May
We went to the Sorba slides in the morning - big, very picturesque and definitely the easiest paddling we did all holiday. The first drop is big and autoboofs if you hit it right. The second is the trickiest and requires a boof on the left into an eddy in a cave. Then break out wide and drop over the right side of the final long slide to the bottom. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Top drop

Middle drop

Final drop

We had lunch lazing about at the campsite then headed back to the Lower Sesia because it had been so much fun the first time. It was slightly lower, so Little Canada felt marginally more in control!
We headed back to our trusty supermarket - I was getting better at the Italian driving thing (expect anything and trust no-one). I found some gluten free gnocchi, so Paul and Jon made a bacon (soy) cream sauce for dinner.

Day 7: Friday 27th May
We got up early (ish) and tackled the Alpin Sprint in the morning, continuous, extremely technical grade 4/4+ and so, so very steep all the way. I was very scared and having so much fun!
We portaged Mollier Falls then paddled down to the campsite through some more big grade 4 rapids and a tight tunnel.
We packed the car and headed west towards France, with a stop at a viewpoint to look at Mont Blanc.

The picture doesn't quite capture the hundreds of meters of drop under my feet

The road up and over the Alps (missing out the super expensive tunnels) was very long and very steep and there was a lot of snow at the top! We stopped at the Col du Petit St Bernard at 2188m. It was 9°C at the top and we were wandering around in shorts and sandals with 2m walls of snow beside us. It was a little surreal.

Lots of snow!

We didn’t use much fuel on the way down, but we did use some brake pad, and made it to Bourg St Maurice in time for the supermarkets to all be closing. We then drove around the Isere valley looking for a campsite that was open and failing miserably. Finally we were close to giving up when we found the owner of a somewhat dilapidated looking campsite that was clearly closed and had been for years. She was a tiny old French woman who spoke zero english, but I managed to somehow convince her to let us stay in her orchard overnight by saying “C’est OK?” to basically everything.

Hayfever nightmare
At least it was cheap!

We dug out our leftover italian pasta and a jar of free from pesto and decided that was a good enough dinner.