Last river and a surprise find

Wednesday soon comes around, and this is likely to be my last opportunity to paddle.  The plan today is to travel to the Isar.  For this river the shuttle must be done by taxi.  The road along the river has been closed to all public traffic and the taxis have a restriction on the number of times that can make the trip.  This has been put in place we believe to reduce pollution and destruction of the area.  All records we can find indicate it is a stunning area and worth paddling for the scenery if nothing else.  It’s rated as a grade 2/3 run so although some rapids may test me it should be within my capability.  Keith found a video of some of the section being paddled though and although my confidence isn’t at its lowest, I can’t say the video eased my nerves. 

We’ve gone prepared anyway, my intention is to paddle.  On arrival we get boats off the cars and go to look for get out eddies.  From walking up and down the bank I can’t see an eddy I’m happy with, and I must get off by the car park as there’s a big rapid just below that I wouldn’t want to wash in to.  Knowing this would stress me out the whole way and my nerves easily rattled at the moment I have to make the decision that I won’t go.  I’m gutted and feel a bit guilty, as I’d pushed a little to have this river included in plans (although it may have been included anyway) and now I’m bowing out.  There are a couple of eddy options but my confidence in being able to get them on big fast water simply isn’t there, add to that the options of getting off the river early are none (because I can’t get off and just wait for the shuttle as it’s the taxi!) and this makes my decision.

I break the news to Keith first, and as he’s been tired the last few days and doesn’t want to spoil yesterday’s confidence boost, he decides not to paddle as well.  (I did check that his decision wasn’t him feeling guilty about leaving me at the get out, but he said he was only going to paddle because I was anyway).  We let the rest of the group know, and I hope they aren’t too disappointed. 

Keith has search for local climbing crags (we’ve had climbing kit in the cars for a few days just in case) and he finds one in Sharnitz, just 1km away.  We enquire at the tourist info booth that’s on the car park at the get out, but unfortunately the crag has been closed for the last two years due to the construction of a new tunnel.  Although some locals still climb there, officially it is closed and fenced off with signage, so should anything happen of course insurance would be void.  Luckily enough though there is another crag not far away near Weidach, called Flamenwandl.  The lady at the tourist info gives us a map, and it’s about 10km away so it won’t be far at all.  We find the car park easily and the walk into the crag is a pretty woodland walk, alongside a stream, and only takes a few minutes. 
What a lovely little crag it is too!  North facing so it’s still in the shade when we get there, the stream just behind you and what seems like a popular little trail too.  There’re already two girls there climbing and not much later two guys come to climb too.  There’s probably about 12 routes, ranging from 4c to 6a, on a lovely limestones face.  Keith and I take turns to lead and then second the 4c routes to the one side, then we both have a go at a more difficult route further along.  We’re both pleased with how we’ve done, as the more difficult routes are ones we didn’t necessarily think we might finish, but we both did them well.  We decide it’s time for a break now and consider popping to town to get a bite to eat.  As our original plan was to paddle with the others, we haven’t bought a separate lunch!
Just as we are debating whether to do one more climb or to go to town, we get a call from Rob.  They’ve already finished the river!  They are going to head back towards the house but stop by the Rosanna for Chucky, Matt and Brian to run that again as they now have time!  Keith and I decide to head back to the house and stop by a café for a drink on the way home.  When the others get back they tell us how spectacular the river was, and that although some fun bits, it wasn’t a difficult run and in the end they used a good eddy under the bridge.  I’m even more gutted now, but hind sight is a wonderful thing and it was nice to spend a day alone with Keith too.  As I often stay away from home with my job and work weekends too, we don’t get masses of time alone together, so it was nice to have that time in our holiday. 

Thursdays plan is then to paddle to RiBbach, which is definitely not one for me, it’s a grade 3/4 run.  Keith is fairy sure he doesn’t want to paddle it either, again he’s happy with the paddling he’s done and was so pleased with the Loisach that he wants to leave his paddling for the holiday on that high.  However, all the others want to paddle so we go with them to scout the river and do the shuttle.  As we scout the river, they find the two bigger grade 4 pieces.  The one is difficult to see all the way through, it goes round a corner through a small gorge like section (only about 100m of gorge), although we do manage to view through the trees at the top of the small gorge, we can see there’s some trees at the entry to the rapid, and the run out at the bottom looks good.  All blockages are easily avoidable, but the one does block off the best eddy for getting out to portage.  The other rapid has a line of sight all the way through when we stand on the bank, and they all work out their lines.  We check where the get out is, and in the guide book there’s a description of some ‘parking bays’ for the kayaks in the rock.  These look good too so it’s up to find the get on and get ready. 
Parking Bays

Inspecting a grade 4 rapid

Perspective is difficult - top of the 'gorge' looking down on the rapid

While inspecting Rob has said he will definitely portage the one rapid and may portage the other depending on how he feels.  It’s been a long three weeks, so everyone is feeling tired by now, and he’ll only paddle if he feels on form with the rest of the river. While he and Keith shuttle the cars, the rest of us wait at the get on.  The river here is grade 1 at most, with a lovely little beach area and some rocks in the shade.  I sit in the shade with Chucky and dangle my feet in the water.  It’s lovely and cooling.  Once the shuttle is done and the three Kayaking are ready, Keith Matt and I head down to the first bigger rapid to set up some bank support (we’re there so why not).

Being on the river bank gives the paddlers a clear indication of where the rapid is, as no-one has paddled this river before it will be hard to tell which corner they will turn to come up on the rapid.  It also gives Rob time to eddy out to portage and the other two paddle on through.  There’s some whooping going on at the bottom so we know all is well, and we leave Rob to head down and get back on the river. 

We have to be quick to the next rapid as there isn’t far between them.  On fast flowing water it would be easy to end up behind the paddlers.  Once again I’m the marker on the bank for the paddlers to be clear when the rapid starts, and Keith and Matt set up for some bank support/video.  Rob is feeling good so has chosen to have a go.  He’d picked a line on inspection, and went for it.  All 3 paddlers did great, some more whooping and hollering and then they are on their way.  We meet them at the get off and there are some very happy faces.  An excellent last paddle for them all.

Friday is our last day before the long travel home.  Rob wants some rest before the journey so has already said he won’t paddle.  Chucky wants to paddle and is itching to get to the Sana, but the levels are higher again and although Brian might be convinced to paddle, he doesn’t want to do that one.  Keith and I are happy with what we’ve done so want a rest day too.  Matt has found a waterfall walk he’d like to do, and the group also has a free pass to use the Gondola nearby on a weekday so would like to include this too.  Keith and I drop chucky off to investigate the Sana and pop in to Landeck while we wait for him.  When we pick him up, we go to St Anton for a bite to eat and a look around the town there before heading back to the house.  Rob Brian and Matt went to the gondola and then the waterfall walk.  It’s been a lovely relaxing day.

Saturday starts at 8am and we drive all day, only stopping for a few rest stops and about 40 minutes for lunch.  We reach our overnight stop in Dunkirk at 7.30pm, and we’re all ready for something to eat!  We see a pizza restaurant nearby on google and it’s in walking distance, so we decide to give it a go.  When we get to the street it’s an odd back street with some industrial units, job centre and so on down there but we don’t see the pizza place where google says it is.  Up ahead though there’s a grubby canopy saying “Restaurant” over a little doorway, and a sign to the side saying “Zapi’ng – Drinking, Eating, Listening”.  We head over and it looks open, Chucky checks trip advisor and it’s on there with good reviews so, in we go!  Turns out to be this awesome little Jazz and Blues, pizza joint.  Such amazing character in the place with records and photos of musicians covering the walls and ceilings, a little stage area opposite the bar and a handful of tables in the remaining available space.  Service is good, the pizza is amazing, made fresh in clear sight in the kitchen area behind the bar, and the guy who seems to be the owner/manager is this a cliché, a jolly large bellied guy who brings us a shot of home spiced rum with the bill!  Out the back is a lovely little patio area where we sit to finish off our drinks.  From the moment you step through the front door you’re completely transported to this whole different place, and you’d never guess it’s a hidden gem in a back street of Dunkirk!  This is probably the find of the holiday I most enjoy, purely for being such a surprise find.

Sunday’s travel is shorter, we’ve a half hour drive to the ferry which leaves at 8.40am so we leave the hotel at 7am to ensure we get there in plenty of time for booking in, then Dover back to home in Kidderminster.  The drive drags a little, with some traffic along the way, but by 2pm we’re home!  It still hasn’t sunk in that the holiday and the adventure is over when we go to bed that night, but it is nice to be back in our own home. 

Plenty of smiles!

 Monday comes around, I’ve had an early night but I’m still stiff and tired.  We’ve made a plan today to go over and paddle the Lech in Germany.  It’s a longer drive but we’ve known all along we may not have a huge amount of choice in the Landeck area with the levels being quite high, so a couple of long drives were on the cards.  Two hours isn’t too bad though, and the journey goes fairly easily.  I know I probably need a day off, but this river is definitely one for me. It’s a 1-2 and from talking to some locals it’s a good one to warm up on, or for me one to get back my confidence.  We go to the get out first, this was one of my demons yesterday, knowing the get out was difficult, and I’m pleased to say there were several choices of get out here, all of them were fairly easy too.  On the drive up we can see various parts of the river that look almost flat (this can be deceptive so although it helps it’s not a certainty that all will be tame), and the get on looks simple too.  It’s a really hot day and I’m pretty drained, we decide to have an early lunch at the get on, then run the shuttle while lunch goes down. 

While waiting for the shuttle I get bitten by an insect, and I’m getting bombarded by big flying things if I try to stay still.  My confidence is still quite low so even these small things are rattling me.  Walking up and down to avoid the insects is sapping my energy further and I wonder whether to cry out, but the grade is definitely in my ability and I need a good paddle.  I really do need at least some glimmer of hope that I’m not crap at it, and it can be enjoyable.  When the others get back, we jump on the river.  I’ve already spotted a few eddies on the other side to go for, and when we get on that’s where I go.  I’m happy that it worked and felt reasonably easy, and once a running order is decided, we’re off. 

As it’s a 22km run we aren’t going to hang about too much, there’s the odd rock to go around and a couple of drops that are avoidable on the left, but other than that it’s bouncy wave trains.  I have two moments of ‘oh, sh*t!’, one where I go past a stopper quite close and have visions of my swim yesterday and one where there’s a bigger rapid, with a stopper I punch through.  I knew something was coming on the bigger rapid as Chucky broke out into an eddy while Rob paddled on.  I had one person to follow and one ready to help me!  It went just fine though, and soon after this the rocks to dodge disappeared and it was just wave train after wave train all the way down!  I really got to enjoying myself.  Smiling a lot once I was over the initial ‘warm up’ and jitters from yesterday’s paddle.  I had some moments where I was playing with my edge over the waves and whooping as I went.  *whee, woosh, splosh, spish, swish*. 

I know for some of the others this was dull as dish water, but I had such a great time so I’m grateful we went.  We did the run in under two hours, which is pretty quick.  As we hadn’t stopped much, or for long we just flew through it.  After we finished, Brian and I waited with the kit, while Rob and Keith went to do the shuttle, dropping Chucky and Matt off to do the shopping in the town on the way. 

Tuesday’s paddle is one that’s not for me.  I’ve got my paddle gear in the car just in case plan A doesn’t work out and Plan B becomes something I can do, but I’m happy for a day of rest.  It’s a fair drive over to the Loisach which is a grade 3/4 run in Germany.  We stop along the way to do some inspection and there’s a few parts that look like they would be runnable for me, but they would be type two fun, I can see further down there’s parts that are just no fun, and there’s plenty I haven’t been able to see of which we know there’s some good grade 4 from reading the guide book.  It all looks good for the boys though and after finding the get out, we go up to the get in for them to get ready.  While kitting up a German guy comes over and asks if he can paddle with the group.  He is there to paddle it solo but it’s safer to paddle in a group if possible.  He’s paddled this run before too so it could be beneficial for the group. 
Once they are all ready to go, I head down to the get out.  I was considering stopping to get some pictures on the way, but I feel I should just let them concentrate.  Keith has had some head games to get around lately, so I just want him to enjoy the paddle.  I’m sure they will tell me all about it at the end.  While I wait, I sit at the get out eddy and read my book, dipping my feet in the water from time to time to keep cool.  It seems to be a popular spot for people to come to, even without kayaks as there’s people playing on the small beaches and walking dogs up the paths alongside the river.  It is a beautiful spot and it’s perfect for some ‘me time’.  It’s not too long before they arrive at the beach, all smiles.  AND, they’re ready to go again! 

Matt decides he’s happy with one run, but Keith, Brian and Chucky go for a second, so we sort the shuttle quickly, get them a snack bar each and get them back on the river!  After take two it’s all smiles again.  It’s taking about 45 mins per run and the drive over hadn’t taken as long as we thought so it’s only just lunch time.  At this point I’ll just mention what a life saver it is to have Rob’s camping fridge out with us, so we have a hope of keeping some meat and cheese cool for lunches.  We take the fridge down to the bigger beach area, just up from where the boys got off at the local kayak club and enjoy some shade by the river.  It’s been high 30’s here (Celsius) for a few days and the temperatures are set to continue.  I’ve got some awful tan lines with all the different kit I’ve been wearing, and my feet remain lily white! 

After lunch Chucky Brian and Keith go for a third run.  I’m really happy that Keith seems to have got some mojo back for kayaking having enjoyed this river so much to paddle it again and again.  After the third run though he can tell he’s feeling tired and it’s time to call it a day.  In the time we’ve had lunch a tree has fallen across the river too, although just passable so it’s caused them no problems.  Chucky and Brian decide not to waste the opportunity of having such amazing white water available and go for a fourth run!  It must be a really enjoyable river, living up to all we’ve read about it being a popular spot and favourite river for many!  Rob sorts the shuttle for them and Matt chooses to wait with them, so Keith and I go to get the shopping for the evening meal.  Brian was supposed to cook tonight but as he’s having so much fun I opt to take tonight’s cooking.
The sun goes behind the mountains as the evening chatter goes on.

It’s great how a good days paddling gets everyone talking in the evening, as recounting the days events leads to other memories surfacing and being told.  Being a shuttle bunny, and watching the videos back is almost as much fun as paddling myself. 

First piece of kit claimed by the river

Well I’m behind again.  It’s getting to that time of the holiday where I’m having loads of fun but then energy levels don’t hold into the evening so I’m crashing out. On Saturday we drove from Zaga, Slovenia to Tobadil, Austria.  It was a full day driving so although not an ‘active’ day it was still somewhat tiring.  It took a little longer than planned so Keith, chucky and I stopped to get shopping on the way while Rob, Matt and Brian drove on to make sure they got to the house at the time agreed.  We were conscious that the shops are only open for a short time, if at all on Sunday so we needed to shop for two nights dinner.  It all worked out well, and the house at Tobadil is amazing.  Rob has once again worked his magic on the bookings, and for a very reasonable price we have the most amazing accommodation.  The view of the valley and the mountains is amazing, the rooms are ample, and we have a garden to use too!  It’s not long before we all crash out, after we make paddle plans of course!

As a lot of the rivers in Austria seem to be high already, with more hot weather due to be adding some snow melt to that, we aren’t sure there will be much paddling to be done at all.  There’s been a glimmer of hope as a few rivers seem to have dropped just as we’ve arrived, so Sunday is a scout with a view to paddle day.  We head up to look at the Trisanna, but from what we can see there is virtually no eddies, and no clear get in or off.  We find some reports that after serve flooding the riverbanks had works done on them, which has basically removed the eddies, and in some reports had left some debris, including metal in the river.  Although these are old reports, we can’t find anything recent or clear about the river, and we can’t find any get in/offs any way so it’s a no go.  The next option is the Rosanna.  So, we trundle over to the next valley and have a look there.  We spy a possible get out where there’s a group doing some safety rescue training and consider two get in options further up.  The first get in at St Anton doesn’t seem particularly clear, the get in a St Jacob is more obvious and it misses out the need to portage an impassable weir and cuts out the stouter section.  For me this is ideal, the bit I can see from St Jacob looks testing enough; thank you very much!  The group decides to go from St Jacob down today, it’s not a long drive from the house so there’s a good chance we’ll be here again anyway. 
Trisana where we should have a get out...

Rosana get on
I’m an absolute ball of nerves.  After my mini meltdown in Slovenia I’ve not paddled anything that’s been difficult for me.  I’ve tested myself on some water that’s felt easy but haven’t pushed anything.  I take full responsibility for that, I made the point that I felt pushed when I had a meltdown, and for once people actually listened.  It’s also been a couple of days since I paddled anything, and we had that long drive yesterday, so my energy levels aren’t exactly at their best.  In the first section of river I can see there’s almost no eddies at all, and what there is are very small.  We haven’t been able to see much of the river on the way up and haven’t stopped at the get out.  No one has paddled this river before either so no one can tell me I’ll be fine convincingly.  I feel VERY slow as I begin to get ready.  No one seems particularly up-beat, except Brian who is pretty much always up beat as long as he’s going paddling somewhere.  I feel like I’m moving through thick mud, there’s nothing specifically wrong just this building feeling of not quite right.  I’m partly ready and I mention to Keith I’m not sure if I want to do this.  What I do know doesn’t look great and there’s a lot I don’t know.  He suggests I go with the shuttle to the get off, then at least I can have more clarity about the end of the paddle, it’s another piece of the puzzle that’s easy to sort out. 

We make the shuttle trying to see what we can of the river from the road.  There looks to be some flat sections at least so I can keep in mind it does get easier.  At the get out we look for eddy options.  There’s one.  It’s a good one but only big enough for three boats.  We know then that we need to be split in to two groups before the end.  We also see some other kayakers come down and get off the river.  They are from Kayak schul Arlberg.  The guide/instructor has a little chat with us when we ask him about the river, and he says it’s a nice run from St Jacob.  If we are to run the bit above that we should make sure we portage the weir because from the bank it looks runnable but there’s metal work in there so just don’t do it.  We aren’t there today so I don’t need to run it, or remember where the weir is. 

By the time we get back I’m not moving through mud, but I’m not exactly sprinting to get on.  I’m self-coaching, talking myself through this bit at a time in my head, keeping myself breathing and trying to remember everything I learnt from those days working the Soca.  As there aren’t any big eddies, we are all getting on in slightly different spots.  As I’m getting ready chucky and Rob drop past Me and Keith to some tight eddies by us and when we’re ready we set off.  Chucky and Rob leading, then me, and Keith, Matt and Brian behind.  It’s a fast flow and no stopping, all stations go, choo choo!!!!!  I’m making it work, left here, right there, straight on, oops, back on track, watching Chucky and rob to see where they go, then choosing if I want to follow, or take a different line, I’m using the slow water behind rocks to slow myself down (not quite eddies, but slow water after small stoppers), giving myself space to see what the leaders do and then react.  I’m doing it… It’s bloody hard but I’m doing it.  And then…. I’m making a move across river to dodge the next rock, and I end up going on the edge of the stopper side on... SH*T… *should I roll…. Hmmm… can’t remember where that next rock is….* Deck pulled I’m out.

It feels quite slow now I’m in the water, I’ve popped up and looked around.  As there’s no big eddies I don’t know where to go, I look to Keith who is just behind me and shout ‘which way do I go?’ He doesn’t know either, just pick a side and swim.  Snap decision, I’m closer to the left I think, so that’s where I go.  I push past a couple of rocks, drop through one stopper, swimming, swimming…. I’m almost at the side and by then Matt has caught up and is in front of me, he’s there to grab the boat if I need it but at this point, swim hard and keep going is what I need to do.  Brian then comes past me too, quite close, but I’m not complaining, it’s always good to know someone is there with you.  Then I drop into a spot of slower water below a tree branch, it’s not quite big enough to make an eddy but it slows the water enough I can get to the riverbank and grab some rocks.  I stand up and catch my breath and then climb up the bank.  I let Brian know I’m safe on a path and he carries on to the others….  

It’s only now I can start to think more clearly.  My fingertips are sore, probably from grabbing at the rocks, but they don’t look scratched or damaged (My fingernails are all intact and as they are fairly long at the moment that’s a good sign) so hopefully it’s just the cold.  I have to hug my paddle to carry it for a minute or two though, until the sensation comes back properly.  As I’m walking I start to notice that my one leg is a little sore, a bruise from the rocks as I scrambled my feet under me in the river, or maybe as I came out of my boat?  No other problems show themselves, until I notice some sharp stones under my feet.  Maybe these flimsy beach shoes aren’t enough.  I’ll have to put my more substantial ones on tomorrow.  Or has one got a hole in because it’s only one foot that feels…. Ah, I’ve lost a shoe… hey ho, it’s only a shoe and not my foot…. It’s not too far before I get to the others, they’ve managed to pin my boat, and are currently mid rescue.  But it’s on the other side of the river. 

I signal to everyone I’m ok, using the signal from the canyoning which turns out is very useful.  Then I just stand there for a minute, watching as Keith and Chucky rescue my boat…. It’s taking me while to work through all the training and things I know, to figure out what I should do…. There was a road bridge we passed under!  Ok, so I get Chucky’s attention before he starts to help Keith get his boat up the bank, he’d tied it to a tree while he rescued mine, and I try to get across that I’m going up river and over the bridge.  He gives me a thumbs up and off I go.  I can only really think about the task in hand but I do know already I’m done for today.  I’m tired and I wasn’t in a good frame of mind before we started, I’ll be worse now I’ve had a swim as they’ll be head games, and the river doesn’t appear to be letting up just yet, also I can’t see anywhere for me to get back on, the eddies the others are in, aren’t big enough to hold a boat so they are holding on to rocks or trees to stay put!

I eventually make it over, honestly I could make this a blog post in itself but I’ll try to condense it… Walks up path to road bridge, damn, got to cross rail line…. Are rail lines electrified??? Don’t touch the lines, don’t drip on the lines, over the barrier, look both ways, twice.  Go, go, go!  Phew!... up a bank and… a main road…. Cross the road… *what on earth must people be thinking* head down, clamber up steep bank to the road…. Cross the bridge on side of big main road.  Very, very steep bank down… walk along road, try to find less steep bit…. There isn’t one…. Sitting on my deck, using paddle for support and holding on to trees/rocks on the way, slide down the bank, *thank trees for their help*…. Now a fence…. A wire fence…. Find way along to fence post and climb fence… All the while thinking, *my dry suit socks are wrecked now*…. Down the path, and I’m back with my boat… 

Chucky asks if I’ve seen Keith on my way.  He’s walked up the path to meet me but must’ve gone under the road bridge as I went over it.  I quickly let chucky know I’m done paddling now, he thinks Keith will be the same and he sends a message to Rob for the rest of the group to carry on.  I walk up the path to see if I can find Keith.  Ask I’m walking some cyclist past I shout to them *Excuse me!*  Can you help?  If you see a man ahead with kayak gear on can you tell him I’m here and I’m ok?  They’re Dutch of course so it isn’t quite so straight forward. They check nothing serious has happened but once I’ve got the message across, they carry on.  Not long after this Keith comes driving down the path.  I hope those cyclists realised that bloke driving down the footpath/cycle path was the one I was on about!  The three of us get the wettest kit off (I have an extra set of dry clothes in Keith’s car so apart from shoes I can get changed), load up boats and try to find a way off the path, it’s too narrow to turn round here.  A little “exploring” ensues before we eventually turn round and go back to the get on, then via the road drive to meet the others at the get off.  We arrive just as they are getting into the eddy to get out! 

They say it was a fun river.  It did let up a bit eventually, but then there was a rapid at the end I might not have liked anyway.  We have lunch and the guys having the rescue training ask us to take a picture of them, Chucky does this for them but I get a picture too.  We head in to Landeck for a walk around and there’s only a few café’s and an ice cream shop open.  We see the river gauge station, I’ve never seen one before so that’s interesting, and we see where the Sanna meets the Inns River.  It’s quite nice to wander through town when it’s mostly closed, it’s nice and quiet.  We grab an ice cream before heading back to the house.  Now I’m really tired.    
Art in town - Landeck
Pretty fountain by the ice cream shop

Boys will be boys

Where the Sana meets the Inns

Info on the river guage hut
The river guage station/hut

Inside the river guage hut

You know what annoys me most?  My flimsy beach shoes were starting to look a bit beat up, they still had plenty of use in them but it's the bit of kit that actually looks like I might've been paddling for a while... And now I need to get new ones, and looking like a narly paddler who maybe knows what they are doing is going to take a bit longer.... I know it's daft, but I did feel very sad throwing one, perfectly good shoe, if a little rough round the edges, in to the bin....

I try to breathe in as I'm falling

As promised, here’s the low down on canyoning! 

Friday is our last day in Slovenia and we’ve organised to do this canyoning lark in the morning.  When we spoke with Primoz, the owner of Sport Mix, he suggested an early start, meeting at the shop in Bovec for 8am.  This would mean doing the half hour hike to the top of the canyon before the heat of the day really gets going.  Swimming cosies and paddle shoes at the ready, we arrive in good time and meet Barna and Barny our guides for the trip.  We sign the paperwork, get our equipment and get organised then we all pile in the minibus for the half hour drive. 

Once at the car park where we will finish the canyoning run, we have a half hour hike to the get in.  We carry the neoprene (thank god) and put everything on once we’ve reached the top.  It’s a decent hike and it’s already very warm.  There’s a small slippery path at the end to into the woods towards the river, and then we get a bit of a safety talk once we’ve all kitted up.  Barna (I think, the names are so similar I had to check the website to know the spellings and I thought they had the same name at first) takes us through some signals they use when communicating.  Messages can be passed from the front of the line back, for example to let everyone know an extra slippery section is coming up, and then there’s the signal to let them know you are ok after each jump or a signal to let them know there’s a problem if you have one.  At times the waterfalls are loud and the canyon echoes, so shouting isn’t that useful. 

Everyone is ready, and safety brief complete, we head down the last slope to start the canyoning.  The slope is steep and slippery so there are ropes tied between the trees at some points for you to hold on to, and it takes us straight down to the first jump.  It’s huge.  I’m sure most of us have the same thought… If this is the little jump, how big do they get!!!  Anyway, I’m not backing out now.  The equipment is good, the guides seem to have everything very well in hand, so I’m putting my trust in them, just like I ask people to do when I’m at work (That’s both my work at Go Ape in the Wyre Forest, and as a Riding instructor which I do self-employed).  Keith goes first and I video him taking the leap.  From where I am standing you can see him jump off and begin to fall but you can’t see him land.  I go next, if I think about it too long, I might back out. 

I get to the edge and Barna points out which direction to jump and where to jump from.  They know exactly which bit of rock is slippy and which is good to jump from.  Just then, Barny shouts up to him and I have to wait while they signal to each other.  Barny has gone down a little further with Claire to do a lower jump, but even there she’s a bit too nervous and she’s decided that she shouldn’t continue.  That done, I get ready again, check where I’m aiming for and…. “okie dokie” …. JUMP…. I try to breathe in as I’m falling but I can’t, my mammalian response has kicked in early and I can’t, the jump has literally taken my breath away, it feels like so far down… and then, splash, the water rushes past my ears, I don’t quite reach the bottom of the pool and then I’m floating up, the water rushing past me the other way.  I surface, relieved, but I still can’t quite get my breath.  I remember to give the signal I’m ok, and swim to the side, where Keith is sitting.  I don’t start breathing until I touch the rock at the side of the pool.  Well, this is going to test me!

We watch the others come down, one by one, and it’s not long before Barna follows us and lets us know that’s one of the biggest jumps.  I must admit I’m quite relieved by that, and now I can just enjoy from here.  Barny is going to catch us up as he is taking Claire back to the main track to make her way back to the minibus.  I may not get all of this in the right order, it’s been a few days, and adrenaline rushes don’t tend to do much to help you keep those sorts of detail.  However, we make our way through the canyon, climbing over rocks and trees that have washed through and got stuck, into small pools created by these and swim along some little narrow gorge type bits.  All above us is the huge walls of the canyon, and at times the most magical little places where the sun shines through, and you could be in a fairy tale.
Fairy land

There’s a jump that we come across which is a narrow part of the canyon, fairly high and we have to jump out quite a way so that we miss the rocks.  I’ve had a good look and watch the guide show us how it’s done and I’m going to get lowered down.  I don’t have enough faith in my ability to jump far enough out, and not slip at the top.  Rob gives it a go but then the guide at the bottom (Barna I think) tells Barny to lower the rest of us down.  Even with a good jump out, you slide down a little rock in the pool.  It’s after you enter the water and it’s a smooth slide out, but they aren’t taking the risk.  The rest of the group are lowered down the waterfall.  This is quite an experience in itself. 

The remains of someone who got it wrong?
Being a climber, I’m used to abseiling, so being lowered by someone else, especially when communication is difficult, is a strange feeling.  Sometimes you want to move faster or slower than they are lowering you.  It’s not too unpleasant though, and I take my go at being lowered down, Barny sets me up, attaching one of my safety lines to the rope, and he lowers me down the waterfall.  The water rushes over you as you get lowered into the flow making it difficult to see anything.  You feel around with your feet as you’re lowered so you can step backwards down the wall and eventually you end up in the big pool at the bottom.  You release your safety line and swim away to the others.  There were a couple of water falls where we were lowered like this, the pools at the bottom being to shallow or small, or the jump too risky or high. 
Deep in the canyon

There was a jump on the way which was quite narrow but into a nice deep pool.  Barna emphasised the need to aim well for this one and gave us some key pointers on where to look and where to jump from.  I decided to give this one a go.  It didn’t take my breath away like the big one at the beginning, but the adrenaline was definitely surging through me.  The gap seemed to be only a few feet wide, I looked out to Barna who had jumped first to show us how it was done and give us something to aim for, Barny counted, “one, two, three…” and I jumped.  I landed well and swam along the gorge at the bottom.  It was so beautiful, and there was no other way to see the amazing structures deep down in the canyon. 
The final jump was incredible.  We jumped from Slap Kojak into the deep pool below.  Slap Kojak is approximately 19m (62ft) high.  This is too high to jump from the top, so we were lowered down to a ledge part way.  Barny went first, so he could help us at the ledge, un-attaching us from the rope, and pointing out where to jump.  Attached at the top I climb around Barna who will lower me down, and using the holds he points out I climb over the edge.  He lowers me down to where Barny is standing on the ledge, and I have to reach out to Barny for him to pull me over to the right spot.  We’re just off to the side of the waterfall itself, on a huge ledge in the rock.  Steady on the ledge now, Barny checks I’m ok and takes off the rope!  He shows me where to jump (pretty much anywhere as it’s a huge pool) and tells me which technique to use, (there’s two techniques depending on the height of the jump and depth of the pool, and then some other pointers along the way for each individual jump).  I’ve been lowered about 8-9m so it’s a 10-11m jump in front of me.  Barny has to count down for me again, “one, two, three…”, this time my breathe in works, I plunge in to the deep pool at the bottom, the cold water has been inviting at each jump as the neoprene does an excellent job of keeping you warm, especially when you’re moving around.  I signal I’m ok.  I’m more than ok, that’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. 

Barny has asked me to get his bag that he throws down into the pool and to take it with me to the side.  Once I’m over I sit and watch all the others take the leap.  Matt and Chucky get lowered all the way on this one.  Matt had twisted his ankle a bit further up the canyon, and Chucky, not being the best with heights, felt this was just a bit too far out of his comfort zone.  Once everyone is down, Barna follows us, and then we head out.  The strangest thing about this final jump was the audience.  For a small fee you can walk into Slap Kojak, and there’s a wooden walk way to save you scrambling over rocks.  Check out my blog from last year when access was not restricted or charged for and swimming had not been prohibited.  We scramble across the rocks and through the water under the bridges of the walkway (avoiding the traffic of those coming to see Slap Kojak while staying dry) and it’s just a short walk and over the bridge back to the minibus.  When the water levels are high enough, they finish the canyoning by jumping off the bridge.  Unfortunately, the levels are not high enough now, so we just look and imagine.  

Back at the minibus we track Claire down, she’s gone for a wander while she waited, get changed and drive back to the shop.  We’ve had some photos while we’ve been on the way, which will be sent to us on email for free, and we fill out the forms for these.  There’s also a short questionnaire about the experience.  Every answer was 5*, top marks, absolutely brilliant!  I was impressed not just by the experience itself, but the attitude and proficiency of the guides was excellent too! 

It’s a relaxed afternoon for us now.  Keith, Chucky and I walk into the town for ice cream and the others pop to do a little shopping before we all meet back at the house.  We’re eating out tonight so we can do the ‘clean up’ and packing today, and not have to worry about washing up after dinner.  We leave first thing tomorrow for a long day’s drive.  Destination Tobadill, near Landeck, Austria!

more pieces of the puzzle

I’ve once again got caught up in the holiday a little and got behind on this blog.  I’m not sorry.  I’ll try to catch up as best I can.

As Claire arrived late in the evening, we discussed paddle plans over dinner on Tuesday night.  It’s decided that this time the boys will get their stout paddle done in the morning on Wednesday, giving Claire and I a slower start to the day.  They go off to paddle the Koritnica again, with a view that if the level is good it may be one to take me on in the afternoon if there is time.  They aim to be on the water as soon as it’s allowed.  You are only allowed to navigate the waters here between 9am and 6pm, and you have to pay for a ‘river ticket’, the fines for being outside of these times or without a pass can be severe, but the facilities and the get on and offs are very good.  They’ve no need to shuttle as Claire and I will bring Keith’s car to meet them at the Prijion shop.  Claire needs to get her river ticket and is looking into a hiring a kayak, as borrowing Matt’s is probably not so suitable. 

We arrive at the Prijion shop, sort river tickets and boat hire, and also enquire about canyoning from the centre for later in the week.  Then we go to the river side to wait for the boys.  It’s lovely again to sit in some shade and wait with a book.  It’s very soothing to be near the water, especially when it’s as crystal clear and cool as this with the sun shining brightly!!  We’ve been waiting some time before we pop over to get a drink, and then of course the boys arrive!  Everyone back together again, we head up to Zmuklica and paddle back down to the Prijion shop again.  We once again split in to two smaller groups, Claire goes with Brian, Rob and Matt, and I go with Chucky and Keith again.  A short way down we group together for a little bit, there’s a rock jump by the first bridge.  Matt, Keith and Brian all have a jump (I don’t feel I'm quite warm enough yet and I have an idea in mind for further along which I’m keen to get to).  

Moving on we work the sections, catching various eddies along the way and I’m testing out things I learnt or figured out yesterday.  A few things click and a few aren’t quick working, so I ask Keith and Chucky about what I’m noticing, then I have a few more pieces of the puzzle to put in and try.  At the big eddy where we jumped the other day I break out for a stop.  I’m going to practice my roll.  It feels like a lucky spot because this is where I practiced last year.  I’m just psyching myself up, thinking through how the roll will go, while Keith and Chucky are floating in circles (It’s got a gentle re-circulation to the eddy).  I haven’t told them what I’m planning as I don’t want to jinx it, so they ask if I’m ready to move on, and I have to say what I’m up to now.  I go for it, I set up, tip over, arms reaching down (up?) the side of the boat, I feel the paddles come above the surface, *reach, sweep, hips, pull*, and I’m up.  The roll worked well but for the first time ever, water has gone up my nose so much it hurt.  Bleurgh!  Maybe I need to invest in a nose clip after all?!?!?!  I need to practice rolls more often, but I usually have so long in between paddles, I get it built up in my head as this major thing and haven’t practiced outside of the pool since… last year!  Plus, the dark opaque green of UK rivers isn’t so inviting!

Pleased I’ve done it, we move on down.  It’s not long before we catch up with the others again and we float through the last flat bit to the get out.  As the Koritnica was low this morning it made it quite technical and so, probably not one for me to do.  We don’t have much time left in the day either so Claire takes her boat over to the shop to leave there, Keith and I pop in to town as I need some glue for the foam in my boat, and we want to ask for prices at other places for the canyoning.  We find a company in town – Sport Mix – who give us a good price and seem like a well organised company, with some good equipment, so we take their info back to the group.  Matt and Claire are cooking this evening and I’ve started another book so I read this.  Surprisingly I’m not very sleepy, so after we go to bed I get back up to read some more until I feel my eyes go tired.

Thursday then we have to go back to the Prijion shop to collect Claire’s boat.  Prijion (Cezsoca) down to Srpenica 1 is a nice paddle for Claire, and I can once again practice some skills.  We see Primoz at the get on, he was the guy we spoke to at Sport mix and we arrange with him the canyoning for tomorrow, this saves us having to rush around at lunch time to sort it.  

I want to make the most of today as this is probably my last paddle in Slovenia, and maybe, the last paddle of the holiday. We split up again, but without much space between the groups, so I can zig and zag across the river, catching (or not) various eddies on the river.  I also manage my first moving water (on purpose) roll.  It's the only just moving, very flat bit at the end, but I had to make myself do it now or I may never do it.  I've known this is the next step for me with my roll for a while, and if I don't do it here, in the beautiful Soca river, I may never do it.  And what a place for a first!  

It’s been a lovely paddle, but I must admit I wish I could carry on and try what has been referred to as ‘the classic’.  It’s the bit from Srpenica 2 to Trnovo 1, where I had my swim at the start of the week, and I wish I had the chance to lay the demon to rest before we go.  However, the boys all want to get Otona section paddled and I’m not about to ask them to repeat a section and look after me, when there’s an exciting bit of river they want to get done.  I remind myself just how much I’ve done over the last two weeks, and that although I had a swim, I paddled most of ‘the classic’, and I did a new river in Austria too, so I can’t complain. 

We all get off the river at Srpenica 1, those not paddling this afternoon get changed, and the cars are shuttled, then we head over to Otona.  We sort the shuttle and take the ‘Grade 5 walk in’ to the start.  It’s probably the longest and steepest walk in, with lots of steps, walking back out took nearly half an hour, without a boat.  Lunch is spread out over the rocks, and we watch a few paddlers go through the first drop as well as some people swimming and jumping off yet another rock jump.  I wish I’d left my paddle kit on so I could jump too!  After lunch then, Rob, Matt, Brian and Chucky get on the water, we watch the three going through the first drop, and Matt gets on just below it, and they head off down river.  The walk up is exhausting but we have some cold water in the fridge in the car!  Keith and I need to pop in to town to shop as it’s our night to cook, we had hoped to go for a BBQ by the river but the storms are threatening and by the time we get back to the house the heavens have opened!  The view from the balcony has almost disappeared, we have thunder and lightning and hail.  It’s ferocious but it’s short lived, and the view soon returns. 

I’m glad I didn’t paddle this afternoon now, I’m exhausted.  I can hardly wait until dinner is served, I’m almost falling asleep at the table and I had a headache creep up on me at some point too.  As soon as dinner is done, I’m off to bed.  It’s 9.30pm and I wonder if maybe it’s too early and I’ll be awake at silly o’clock, but I sleep straight through till morning, hardly even stirring when Keith comes to bed.  We’ve a big day ahead tomorrow.  I’m vaguely aware of what canyoning entails and I believe I’m capable.  Although, it will probably take me out of my comfort zone as we are going on a more extreme version, they say on the website it’s grade 2 - 4 canyoning and it takes about 4 – 5 hours.

I’m going to wrap this up for now.  I’ll get the canyoning on a separate blog, as that one could be a long one, and I want to get all the detail in that I can.  Still buzzing, and sooooooo glad we did it!

See you soon!! 😊

Working the eddies

After getting my confidence back a little on a piece of water I’m happy with, we discussed our plans for Tuesday.  We decided that going back to the section between Sprenica 1 and 2 would be good for me if I spent some time working on it, rather than floating through, and then Sprenica 1 to Trnovo 1 would be good for the others to work on, with the option of running to Trnovo 2 if anyone fancied it.  The usual breakfast, kit arranging, and shuttles were sorted and we all got on at Sprenica 1.  This cut out the Grade 1-2 bit above which was a scenic float trip but not useful for what we needed today.

After floating through the first tiny wave train, the group split up in to 2 smaller groups.  I asked to have Chucky and Keith in my group.  Chucky had really helped break down the rapids for me after my swim the other day, and I feel I can learn a lot from him.  I don’t think he has any burning desires to be a leader and is usually paddling on stuff that’s not for me, so I want to take the opportunity when I can.  I wanted to try breaking away from my safety blanket a little too, which is why I hadn’t asked to have Rob in the group.  Although me and Keith sometimes don’t pair well together, this section shouldn’t be difficult for me so I’m not likely to panic, and I know he likes to paddle with Chucky; knowing they work well together makes the pair stronger, and it should be a good chance for me to learn by watching a bit too!

After the others break off, Chucky and Keith both start to give me little challenges and goals to work on in different sections of rapid, from ferry gliding as far over as possible and coming back, to catching as many eddies as possible.  They also get me to lead some sections and discuss various strategies.  I know if anything goes wrong they’ll be there in a second and everything they challenge me with, they get me to go through how I’ll achieve it, a plan B if it’s doesn’t work out, and give me some help where I’m a bit stumped.  As we get to the slightly more difficult rapid at the end I get them to lead through, although I partly wish I’d have gone for it myself, and I comment at the bottom it’d be great if I could do that section again! 

Having a small group helped my nerves and meant I felt I had space to try different things without bumping into anyone or getting in anyone’s way.  This is mostly an issue in my head rather than an actual problem.  Breaking everything down by giving me challenges kept me focused on what I could do now, rather than what was below.  If I know I can get this eddy here, and plan b is that eddy there or plan c the one behind, I don’t have to worry about the rapid below, because I’m not going there!!! Then once we’re up close to the rapid I can see the moves I need to make so the rapid is easy, and the adrenaline is kept to a minimum.

I get off at Sprenica 2, I hope at some point later in the week, if levels don’t change too much, we’ll go back again, and I can tackle the section to Trnovo 1 again.  It’ll still be a tough section for me, but with more challenges, eddy hopping and so on, I think I could get into a better state of mind to give it a go without the panic.  I take Keith’s car that’s been left at this get out (after Keith helps me by carrying my boat up the long get out!) and go to Tronovo 1.  I set myself up in a shaded spot on the beach and read my book while I wait.  The others are planning to work this section so it’s not a quick float through, I get to read a few chapters and enjoy the scenery.  I think anyone would agree it’s a very pleasant spot to while away some time! 

From the bridge at Trnovo 1
Looking up from Trnovo 2
Once they arrive we take Rob’s boat up to the car.  He knows he doesn’t want to paddle this bit, and we sort out fetching the van from the top while the other four inspect Trnovo 1 to 2.  It’s marked as a grade 4-5 section; at these levels a good grade 4 I’ve been told.  When we get back, Keith and Matt have decided they will give it a miss today, Brian and Chucky are going to paddle it.  They have some water and a snack, and give us a little head start.  We go down with the cars to Trnovo 2 and get ready with cameras and a throw line.  The throw line probably wasn’t necessary but as we had spare hands and there’s only two paddling together it didn’t hurt to be ready just incase.  Chucky said the move that had looked the hardest from the bank turned out to be fairly easy on the river, and they both had a great time running the section.  Keith and I headed back to the house to get lunch ready while the others finished loading the van up.
Chucky gets a face full through one of the final drops to Trnovo 2

After lunch we’ve planned a chilled afternoon.  Claire arrives this evening so Matt and Brian will be having a long drive to collect her, and Chucky needs to go shopping as he’s cooking dinner tonight.  Keith ends up having to do some work online as there’s a problem back at the office, so I sit on the balcony and read some more as the storm that’s been brewing rolls in over the mountains and down the valley.  It’s strange that I’m sat in glorious sunshine, as I watch the rain, thunder and lightning roll in from a distance!  The storm hasn’t lasted long but it has cooled the air a little, so it feels a lot less stuffy in the house!  We will probably wait until Claire arrives to discuss paddle plans for tomorrow.  I’ll be very happy if I get to do more of what I’ve done today!!!!

Confidence rebuild

A new day begins.  The temperature has dropped a little, so it was a much more comfortable nights sleep and it’s warm but still fresh this morning, there’s a little cloud cover so it’s not such a sticky start.  Just like any other day we’ve decided a rough time to be out the door, we get kit sorted after breakfast and head out for the day’s paddling.  After yesterday’s nerve-wracking paddle for me it’s suggested I paddle the first section from Velika Korita to Bunkerji, the others will continue through Bunkerji down to Zmuklica, and I will meet them there with the car for lunch.  After lunch we will all paddle Zmuklica to Cezsoca again but this time working more eddies and things to give me some more skills practice on water I feel comfortable on.

Knowing the plan is not to have anything that’ll have my adrenaline spiking, or send me in to panic, I’m keen to get on the water and practice my skills.  On the paddle through the first section I’m trying out different things, eddies in the middle of the river behind rocks which I usually don’t do, a surf on a tiny wave, and breaking down some of the rapids that are there, knowing if I don’t make an eddy I’m aiming for there is just a small flow to break in to and carry on through with very little to trip me up.  It’s good fun and before I know we it we’re at the spot where I stop for now.  I almost miss the eddy, but Rob is on the bank to pull me in.  Once my boat is on the car and I’ve changed to drive, I head on to Zmuklica in Keith’s car and the others paddle through.  I have time to take the lunch down to the river side (it’s that long walk in from the other day) and I have my book with me to read in the shade while I wait.

It’s very relaxing sitting there and it’s not too long before I see the others come through from the little gorge.  Keith is a bit annoyed at himself as he’d ended up with a swim in the top part of the gorge, but up to that point had a good paddle.  For more on that check out his FB post 'we're all between swims' here.  We have lunch and then get my boat and kit to the river, lunch away and the shuttle sorted for this afternoon.  While we wait for the shuttle, I look at the first little rapid.  Last year this rapid had my heart leaping, two days ago it looked easy.  Today I’m still a little shaken from yesterdays swim and I know I’m going to start testing myself a little so there’s a little rattle of nerves, but I’ve picked 3 eddies I want to go for at least. 

Once everyone is re-grouped the others have a play in the big wave on the exit from the gorge and then I let them know my plan for this first bit.  I make the eddies I’ve chosen plus one more, and then we carry on with some eddy practice as we go.  Sometimes I’m picking them and going for them myself and sometimes the others are pointing some out for me to try.  It makes it a harder run today, and part of this is that the river level has dropped over the last two days so there’s more exposed rocks and it’s a bit ‘scrappier’ in the shallow sections, but mostly because I’m pushing my boundaries.  I’m in stretch zone though so it’s harder but I can deal with the little bits of adrenaline and I just about have time to think.  There’re only a few places where I get flustered but it’s short lived, and I even test out being in front for a little while, still catching eddies so still testing myself. 

By the time we’ve finished I’m feeling good about the paddling today but in part feeling a bit silly about getting so wound up yesterday.  It’s very difficult to control your ‘primate brain’ and I’m struggling to find a level of paddling that stretches me but doesn’t get me panicked.  I’ve even looked back at go pro footage the others have of me paddling, and I can see what they see.  It doesn’t look like bad paddling, it’s not over tentative or wobbly and I don’t always look like I’m flapping.  I really am a duck.  I know that in time sections like the one we did yesterday could be fun.  There’s little consequence to not getting it right, it takes a little skill and concentration, but I can see how the moves can flow and it could feel exciting rather than terrifying, I’m just not there yet.

Today I’m looking back to where I started and trying to build my self esteem a little by reminding myself just how far I’ve come.  A little positive self-talk to remind me that I am a good paddler and I can do more physically than my mental state often has me believe, and I have done more.  I know the other tell me this often but it’s very hard to take in when it so strongly contradicts how you feel.  I will also look a little more at whatever footage others have of me that will hopefully help prove to myself I can do this.  Check this post from my 2017 Alps trip, less than 6 months in to paddling!!!
Photo from my first alps trip in the hero - Summer 2017
Here's a blog from 2017 - 2017 post one

Anyway, Brian is cooking this evening and it smells delicious, I'm sure it won't be long so I'm signing off again for now.  Watch this space for more of the holiday as it happens!

Last river and a surprise find

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