Day 19 – An Uplifting Day

It’s been arranged that today the majority of the group are going mountain biking at Montgenevre at the uplift centre.  This is where you take the ski lifts to the top of the tracks (with bikes hung on the back) and cycle down.  There are various routes and these ones have good options suitable for everyone as well as some more challenging routes for the experienced bikers in the group.  Rob, Bill Ali and Matt went to meet Tom and Tom who are arriving to join the group today, and they did a run of the upper Guisane. 

The uplift doesn’t make for a lazy start as everyone is quite keen to make the most of a full days lift pass.  We head up to the car park, get kitted up and get our passes, and head on up on the lifts.  We gather at the top and the whole group do a run of the green route at first.  It’s barely a warm up for the experienced guys, but we go together as group all the same.  It’s a shaky first run on my new (second hand) full Sus bike, but I enjoy it all the same.  The next run is easier and I’m a little less hard on the brakes.  Gregg and Chucky break off this time and check out some of the blue run, to see if it’s suitable for others.  The third time down I go with Keith and test out a bit of the blue that’s next to the green, we end up on a red run and I end up going off quite a big drop off!  Eyes on stalks, slow mo moment in my head, and I won’t be doing that again, however, the berms after this are nice and smooth and I quite enjoy it.  I’m starting to roll a bit more on the green sections and feeling some ’lift’ over the jumps, even if I’m not really jumping them yet!  We go for another run down before dinner and I do the same again, minus the nasty drop!

Alex and Dylan have joined us around the third run so they join us for lunch too, and then we all go up to the top again.  This time we all go down a blue on the other side of the lift.  It’s quite a loose rocky track and I don’t find it too enjoyable the first time down, but I made it in one piece and we go and find that blue/red piece again on the way through.  At this point most of the group decide they are done for the day but Keith and I hang back to do another run with Alex and Dylan.  We go for the same Blue route again from the top, but branch off to red part way down.  Then we join what is now my favourite section of blue/red in the middle, and finish off on the green.  I’ve even had a few goes at the ‘skills’ section at the bottom which has some board walks set up as jumps and berms.  I only roll the jumps, but gradually feel better on the berms each time.  As the others have taken the cars back Keith and I ride back to the house.  It’s all down hill on the col so it’s not difficult at all and being able to go a bit faster on tarmac is quite nice as you get a good cooling breeze as you go along.  

Back at the house Jamie is preparing for dinner, and everyone is chilling before the evening.  Keith and I go shopping as we are cooking tomorrow.  By the time we get back the paddlers have arrived and they have had a great run of the upper Guisane, including S bend which Ali says she felt much more comfortable about this time.  She had faced her demons on it the other day and after some further confidence boosting and testing rivers in between, S bend was fun this time!  We all have a good chat before dinner is served, it’s a vegan curry tonight and it tastes delicious!  We use up some of the left over puddings from the last two nights (with ice cream of course) and everyone is full to bursting.  I’ll be aiming for a fairly early night tonight as we are heading to the Gyronde again tomorrow, which although was fun the other day was a reasonably testing bit of water for me. 

Day 16-18 - Guil, Via & Prelles then rest

Firstly, my apologies to those who have been enjoying daily updates, I’ve got behind a little as the strenuous nature of the trip has gotten on top of me. 
Secondly, my apologies for this post, I’m already feeling the effects of the rum and I can’t say how coherent it will be!!!

Day 16
We are missing Keith, Chucky, Alex and Dylan over the next couple of days as they are making the most of Andy Grimes being available out here, to get their advanced white water course done.  It’s been in the planning for the last two years, and has been cancelled every time for several reasons.  The rest of us plan to go over Col D’Izoard and paddle on the Guil.  It’s a long drive and a bit of a faff day but the river is worth it. 
Everyone paddles the upper section from the school to the town get out.  It’s a nice run that wasn’t available last year as the water levels were too low.  We split up in to groups again; The first group is Sam, Tim, Jen, Rob and Ali, and I’m in the second group with Gregg, Bill, Matt, Jamie and Trevor.  It’s got some good wave trains and a few slightly technical pieces, I believe it’s a grade 2 run but it’s a good continuous grade two.  As we paddle through Bill gets me to make some eddies on the way, even in the middle of some of the rapids, which is good practice for me at this level.  I feel like it’s testing me but it’s all quite achievable.  As we paddle through we see that the first group has stopped at one of the stony Islands, Sam has had an unfortunate trip over a rock, and taken a swim.  All is in hand and everyone is OK so we continue to paddle on, our group now taking the lead.  The get out only has one small eddy (enough for one boat to stop) so we all beach ourselves on an island further up, and go one at a time through the final rapid and in to the eddy to get out.  Once we are all out Sam’s group catches up, and does the same to get in the final eddy.  We were only on the water for 25 minutes, it’s a quick little run!  On catching up with Sam it seems another river has claimed some of her kit.  This time it’s the left shoe.  She’s bumped over a few rocks in her swim as she came out in a shallow section, but she’s OK. 
The town is then portaged by car, as there is a weir in that section of river that cannot be paddled due to exposed ironworks, and we all go to the get on for the gorge.  It’s here we find a table in the shade to gather round and have lunch.  Sam, Trevor and I have got changed, as we aren’t going to paddle any more today.  The rest then run the gorge and the wood yard down, in two groups Bill, Ali, Rob and Matt go first, then Jen, Tim, Jamie and Gregg follow a few minutes later.  Trevor went to the bottom when the cars were shuttled and Sam and I then follow the group down river.  I managed to get some pictures at the start of their run before we made a mad dash to catch them all going in to the top of the gorge, from the small lay by at the side of the road above.  We then carry on down to sit with Trevor, grab a drink and wait for the paddling groups to arrive.  They’ve all had a good run with a roll from Ali and Gregg.  We all have a catch up over ice cream before we head back.  Tim and Jen are staying in this valley tonight so won’t be joining us tomorrow.

Day 17

It’s a lazy start for most, we are all feeling tired at this point in the holiday and with Keith, Chucky, Alex and Dylan out on the second day of the course this reduces the group again.  Rob and I decided to do the Via behind Briancon town this morning, it’s not a long one so there is still time to paddle in the afternoon.  I’ve been told the walk in to the Via is quite long and steep, so I’m prepared for a long walk, we walk from the house as it’s so close it’s not worth driving to the top of the hill.  It only takes us 30 minutes from the house, so we think it’s not so bad.  The Via itself is not too difficult, it’s graded as red as each section of the via has a small piece (4 or 5 moves) with no metal pegs.  Rob and I managed to get through the Via easily in 1 hr 45, 15 minutes under the advertised time.  We still have a couple of water breaks but it’s surprising how quickly you can go with just two confident climbers going together, rather than a big group.  The views over the town and the valley open up more and more as we climb, and every time I turn around it’s breath taking.  Knowing that the group want to paddle in the afternoon, we don’t spend too long at the viewpoint and we make our way down the descent track.  This is the part where I start to struggle. It’s 45 minutes of a continuous down hill scree slope and this starts to take it’s toll on my knees and back.  We stop a few times to rest, and keep a fairly slow and steady pace down. 

Back at the house we get our kit together for an afternoon paddle.  Rob, Ali, Bill, Gregg and Jamie are going through Briancon Gorge and Matt and I are joining them at the ‘Briancon’ get in to paddle down to Prelles.  Rob, Matt and I missed out on this paddle on the first day as we didn’t make it across Italy in time.  Sam and Trevor are heading to Puy St Vincent to do the Via in the gorge there.  While the shuttle is going on I have quite some time to wait at the Briancon Lay by, and Matt joins me for the second part of this wait, after he has shuttled drivers back to the top of the gorge.  We’ve both got comfortable on our boats, and I’m pretty sure I’ve nodded off to sleep when we hear the others arrive.  Getting up from this relaxed state and jumping on to the river isn’t such a great idea, it makes me feel irritated and nervous from the beginning.  Bill gets me to do some more eddies, but I’m not feeling so comfortable with it today.  Nothing feels smooth and easy, and after a while I stop doing them.  There are a couple of larger rapids on this run and I’m finding the Mamba difficult to work through them.  I recognise the ‘boulder garden section’ where Zaf had advised me to find a tune to work the eddies.  Water is flowing over the rocks today so there are only stoppers and no real eddies there.  We paddle straight through and at the final rapid, which is the biggest one of the run I say to Rob that I want to go straight through, rather than catching the half way eddy that some of the group have gone in.  I know from last year there is an excellent eddy at the bottom, the one I got when I lead the section at the end of the trip, and I just paddle hard until I get there.  It’s the smelly eddy so we don’t hang around long (I’ve no idea why it smells but it makes it memorable!) and then we bimble down to the get off.  It’s not been the most enjoyable run for me, but I think it’s mostly being tired and achy that’s the problem. 
Everyone has a catch up over dinner, Sam and Trevor have enjoyed the via this afternoon which has a lot of rope bridges and rope ladders in it, and cool being out of the sun.  Keith and Chucky are both extremely tired (and a bit grumpy) after a hard couple of days working some difficult water.  I can now really feel the effects of doing two activities in one day, and I go to bed early.

Day 18
I wake up and I can a hardly move, everything has seized up.  I waddle down for a little breakfast, let the others know I’m not going anywhere, and go back to bed.  Keith and Chucky also have a lazy morning but then head out to have a bike ride, Bill and Ali have stayed in to prepare dinner for later, and the others go to the Lower Guil to do the run down to St Clements slalom course.  I didn’t get up until 11.30, spent some time doing pilates and reading in the sun, I’ve finished ‘The Little Prince’ and I’m now reading some more of Tom Dorrance’s book.  I then take Gregg to fetch Sam’s car from the top of the Col Du Lautaret where Keith and Chucky started their ride and then have a long soak to soothe my aches.  There is plenty of fun before and after dinner as a few of us have bought hammocks and we get a couple set up in the garden.  Spirits are higher this evening now that everyone has had a somewhat more relaxed day, and a break from kayaking where needed.

Day 15 - Gyronde, Onde and Le Lac

Keith and I have to get up early this morning.  As we did dinner last night, it’s our turn to get breakfast and pack the fridge for lunch.  Getting up isn’t easy, as it was 1am before I finished my blog last night.  The plan for today is for the group to run the Gyronde, and then the ‘big boys’ will paddle the Onde in the afternoon.  Last year this river was NFM (Not For Me) as it was beyond my capabilities, this year the group seems to think I’m capable, and after having such a blast on the Upper Guisane yesterday I’m game to give it a try. 

We go to the top get in and drop of those with the big boy pants on.  The very first bit is straight on to a Grade 3+/4 section so you have to be good and on your game from the start.  Keith, Chucky, Bill, Dylan, Tim and Jen get on here.  The rest of us head downstream a little way and get on at ‘the pipe bridge’.  It’s a little less feisty here, but still a tough get on to start a paddle first thing in the morning, as it’s still Grade 3.  You basically begin at the hardest part of the river, and it gets increasingly more gentle as you go on.  I prepare myself to be on top form by doing some pilates stretches with Ali while we wait for shuttles to be sorted, and that first group to come down.  Sam has chosen not to paddle here, but will get on where the river meets L’Argentiere slalom course, Trevor has decided not to paddle today, and have a rest. 

Once that first group is with us it’s a quick decision about groups and the strong paddlers that have done the top section split up, and take a few of the rest of us each.  Group 1 – Bill, Ali, Alex and Dylan, Group 2 - Chucky, Rob, Matt, Me and Keith, Group 3 – Tim, Gregg, Jamie and Jen.  The groups paddle separately as big groups on this kind of river is asking for disaster.  If one of the guys at the front has a problem, it could quickly turn in to a pile up with a big group.  Splitting people up also means that more nervous, or less experience paddlers have specific support as they go.
It’s soon time for group 2 to go, we are all ready in boats and we signal back and forth with thumbs up, before breaking in to the flow in our agreed order, ensuring we all leave each other plenty of space.  This gives each paddler time to see what the one in front does, where the line is and react, and also means if anyone has an issue, roll, swim or pin, we have time to manoeuvre around them, and find an eddy if needed.  The first 10 – 15 minutes is really full on for me.  It most certainly was NFM last year.  I concentrate as much as I can and try to use all the techniques and pointers I have in my tool kit to make it through.  It’s a continuous river so there is little let up in the technical difficulty, and the size of the wave trains.  It then starts to ease off a little, but there is still plenty to think about and I remind myself not to become complaisant.  It’s not long before we reach the section where we eddy out and the leaders inspect a broken weir.  It’s known from previous years that this weir needs to be run on the left side where the weir is still in tact, but that you also can’t go too far left as the water is shallower, and it can be a rocky landing there.  After a lengthy discussion and analysis by Bill I’m left wondering if something has changed, and maybe it’s more difficult, but then they are signalling for the group to move down river one at a time to go over the weir.  It must be fine it’s just Bill faff.  I think part of the reason Bill is so cool and calm on the water, is that he has a very analytical mind and likes to plan ahead.  Some of the others in the group find this frustrating at times, but this is why I love paddling with this bunch of miss fits, all the strong paddlers have different strengths, and it means the group as whole works really well together.

It’s soon my turn and I head over to Keith who is on the first Island before the weir.  He explains the line and I set off.  Bill is stood at the weir pointing to the line we need to take to have the best run through, and he says as I approach ‘PADDLE!’.  I’m floating up to a big drop off, the river disappears in front of me, and I can just see helmets below!  I do as I’m told and remember from previous weirs I’ve run, to not lean back as I go over.  There is a few rocks to miss (clatter over) at the bottom, but I’m through, and I go to eddy with the rest of the group.  Phew! I made it!

I’m feeling quite pleased with myself and now there is just a couple of little pieces to think about before a ‘bimble’ down to the Slalom course.  It’s still grade 2 ish and I catch up with Keith and we have grade 2 kisses.  Last year I would’ve been shouting at him not to get to close or to lean on my boat in this kind of water, so it’s a noticeable improvement in my paddling and confidence!  We eddy out on the beach here and take a wander down to have a look at the course, and to find Sam.  I decide I’m calling it day here.  I’ve had such a good run I don’t need to tackle the big features of the course today.  I get changed and head back to the course armed with my camera to take pictures of the others.  Chucky leads Sam through and she has a good run so everyone has had a good paddle.






We have lunch on the benches by the training lake next to the course and then the group rearranges again.  Sam, Trevor and I, are going to Le Lac for some sunbathing and swimming, then back to the house to relax, and Sam will start dinner.  The others are going to paddle the Onde.  We start to worry a little when they don’t arrive back around the same time as us, but it turns out that Alex had a short swim, and was paying back her kit chasers with a beer in the pub.  Once we are all back we have dinner, and it’s an early night for us all tonight.  I’m even getting this blog done at a reasonable hour, so I can have a good sleep too!!!

.... Or not, got chatting while photos where uploading and I'm late to bed again!!!!

Day 14 - Guisane and Valouise Via

Ok, It’s pretty late already so this is going to be a fairly brief summary of such a funtastic day!

After breakfast it was a 9am start this morning, we are going to the Upper Guisane.  I’m a bit nervous and Ali asks me if I’m up for this.... I’m not... Austria had shaken me up, Slovenia settled me a little, but even the section I did that had grade 3 in it was only short sections of just about grade 3.  The Sun Run had felt messy yesterday, and the large group hadn’t helped.  I’ve been wondering how much I’m going to enjoy the alps trip this year, and whether or not I’d actually have anything to paddle with such high levels of water everywhere.  The Guisane seems to be a nemesis for a few, Sam in particular has had a few incidents, and S Bend has been a troublesome section for some too.  I’m certain I won’t be running S Bend and I’m prepared for the long portage.  The get on doesn’t look massively different to last year, there is one little eddy to get on at and mainly that’s used for those of us not feeling so confident, held still until we are ready by another member of the group.  The others seal launch off the bank. 

Sam is grouped with Alex, Dylan, Tim and Jen so that she feels confident having 4 strong paddlers with her (even if she doesn’t know two of them very well).  I’m with Bill, Matt, Gregg and Rob, which is good for me as I have Mr Cool (Bill) to follow, and my safety blanket (Rob) is tail end Charlie, with Matt and Gregg in between.  Keith, Trevor, Chucky, Jamie and Ali go in the third group.  I’m nervous but after giving the first group a little lead we set off.  I get out of my eddy at the same time as Bill launches in from the bank and the others file in behind.  This isn’t a river with many eddies so it’s basically just choo choo all the way.  As I paddle on down behind Bill I can tell just how much bigger the river is.  In some ways it makes it more difficult as it’s fast flowing and pushy but it does mean it’s generally less technical and less rocky.  Once I’m past ‘Sam’s Island’ where Sam lost her paddles last year I start to relax a bit.  The further I go the more I enjoy it.  I still get a dry mouth but I’m loving this river at this level.  There are a couple of little sections where you want to get a good line to avoid rocks or get the friendly side of a feature for example but generally it’s a blast from start to finish and I don’t have a single scary moment.  It’s a good adrenaline rush and I’m smiling about 80% of the time.   I really enjoyed that!

At S Bend, Myself, Sam and Trevor portage and meet the others at the bottom.  Ali is facing her Demons as the first time she ran this a few years ago she had a nasty swim and broke her thumb,  Gregg also had a swim through this two years ago and Jamie this is his first time out in the Alps.  I understand there were a few nerves at the top for these guys but everyone sailed through and had an excellent run.  Ali styled it in to the eddy at the bottom, sat breathing with relief and disbelief for a few seconds then she did a huge woop and had a massive grin on her face.

We had decided to have lunch back at the house and discussed afternoon plans. We’ve all had a great morning but have different ideas on how to make it a great day.  Keith, Bill, Chucky Alex and Dylan all go to paddle the Briancon Gorge again,  and Jamie and Gregg head out for a bike ride. 

Rob, Ali, Sam, Matt, Trevor and I are going to do a Via at Valouise.  It’s about a half hour drive but it’s well worth it.  This one isn’t gated or manned like the one in the park it’s a proper Via in the mountains and it will probably take a good while longer.  On the first section Trevor leads, followed by me then Matt, Ali, Sam and Rob at the back.  Again Rob is the most experienced so stays at the back to make sure he will see if anyone has any problems and be able to deal with it.  We go up a little way and then mostly traverse the Gorge walls, with a rope bridge and a wire crossing as we go.  The River below is immense, and there are some fairly exposed sections on this route.  

At the end of this first section there are signs for ‘Retour’ which is the walk out and signs for ‘Via Sport’.  No one has done any further than this before so it’s an unknown and Sam decides she will take the walk out path.  The rest of us carry on in to the gorge and the route gets more complex.  I’ve taken the lead this time as Trevor says it seems I know what I’m doing.  I’m quite comfortable with this sort of thing so I’m happy to go ahead.  There are some climbs and decents as we traverse along it, and even some bits of overhang in some hollows in the rock face.  It’s absolutely amazing and I try to get pictures where I can along the way.  We reach the end of this section and again there are two choices.  This time it’s Via sport, or a word in French which we believe says ‘escape route’.  Rob checks with us all what we want to do and we all decide to continue, there are further climbs and decents, getting more exposed and technical now, and some more overhang on the last climb section.  I reach the top and move out of the way so the others have plenty of room, and find a nice rock hanging over the edge of the gorge to sit on and look at the view.  Trevor is very close behind me and a short while later Ali arrives.  There is a little more of a gap before Matt comes up and we hear him before we see him.  We all giggle a bit as he grunts his way over the last overhang, he’s possibly the one who found this route the hardest and hasn’t much experience of climbing or Via stuff.  Rob is shortly behind him.  I'll admit it got fairly tough so I take less photos as I go on. The walk out takes us through a beautiful meadow and we all feel like we are in a scene from the sound of music!

We all have a smile on our faces as we walk over the ridge to the true ‘end’ of the Via, and then we see Sam who had walked up the walk out route to wait for us, rather than wait at the car.  We all then go down the walk out.  We’ve only covered about two miles on the Via, but it’s taken about two hours, which gives you some idea of the difficulty.  We’re all a bit dehydrated, we took water with us and had a few stops on the way but the exposure, the heat of the day, and the physical effort required all adds up.  We have to stop off at the supermarket on the way back, and then we are back home to meet up with all the others, and everyone discusses their various activities.  The paddling group enjoyed the gorge so much they did it twice, and the cyclists have had a good long ride today.  Sam has a look at the Via ap and finds out the 'sport Via' section is a black route, one of the hardest there is!

Keith and I are cooking tonight, Keith is doing a Risotto so I prepare some salads, and a fruit salad to make sure Jamie has a vegan option for pudding.  I also begin doing some washing up and tidying around Keith as he goes.  There are plenty of laughs around the dinner table again and some discussion as to what river to go to tomorrow.  I’m not sure what’s been decided but I think there are a couple of options and it will depend on the river levels in the morning. 

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 thi...