Day 25 - guardian of the Guill

It's the last day for activities and as a slight break from tradition we have booked to do the rafting on the Châteaux Queryas gorge.  It's a fairly long drive and we've booked for 9am so we have to be up and out early. I'm a little tired but mostly in denial that it's our last day.  I don't want to get up because that means the holiday is nearly over. I don't want to miss rafting though. Last year was a blast on low water, and this year the levels are so high they weren't paddling the gorge last week, but we have confirmed we will be paddling it today!

A quick breakfast for everyone and kit sorted we make our way over to meet Vincent who owns the raft company.  The guy at the kayak shop in Guillestre says Vincent has been around so long they call him the guardian of the Guill, he knows every rock and the nicknames of all the trout in the river.  I heard about Vincent last year but he wasn't there the day we paddled last time. He is there this morning though and we find out they took a raft through the gorge to check it yesterday and we are the first customers they are taking through. Exciting!  It's certainly going to be different to last year.

We get kitted up and we are split into groups.  I am with Rob, Matt, Tim and Jen. Vincent is our leader for today and I'm quite happy to be getting a guide from the most experienced raft guide about.  He takes us to our raft and we go through the commands he will use. Everyone has to pull their weight in a raft, we all have a paddle each and Vincent will instruct us and steer from the back.  After running through this, and some laughs, Vincent is happy so we carry the raft to the get on and we're off.

With Vincent at the steering wheel we often only need to do one or two strokes each time Vincent calls out.  'FORWARD’ 'STOP’ 'TIM PULL, JEN BACK’ 'STOP’.... Etc…

The gorge is beautiful, I can't imagine how amazing it would feel to paddle it in a kayak, perhaps Keith could let you in on that, I'm a long way off from that and I'm not sure if I'll ever get there.  It's grade 5 water. Strangely though, in a raft I have no nerves about it at all, and I can enjoy the scenery whenever we aren't paddling or getting covered by waves.

We come to a section where we have to get out and walk, there is a large drop and stopper which could tip us out if the raft went through full, and just after that is a nasty syphon so it's better that most of the group walk from here.  Vincent asks Tim to stay in the raft and help him paddle through the drop, and then they get out and the raft is put on a line and sent past the syphon on its own!

All the groups have caught up with each other here and I assume this is planned so everyone gets through and round safely.  Last year we jumped into the water off the top of the boulder causing the syphon, and swam through the next small wave to a beach before we got back in the raft.  There is no beach this year and we don't do the jump. We all get in the rafts and with some space between the groups we head on further and we have now exited the gorge section.  We say goodbye to guardian angel (the bigger bit of gorge where Châteaux Q gorge ends, there is a historical story to why it's called guardian angel, but I can't remember it well enough to try to explain here).

A little further on we come to another point where the majority must walk as we have reached Millennium, a grade 5 / 6 rapid and a full raft cannot go through.  This time Vincent asks me to stay in the raft with him. I'm super excited, and it doesn't take much paddling (that's down to Vincent's skills not mine lol) but as we come towards one drop Vincent tells me he will shout when I need to lean left, and I must lean all the way left.  'FORWARD’ 'STOP’ 'BACK, BACK, PULL’ 'STOP’ 'wait, FORWARD, GO GO GO, NOW LEFT’.... Waahoo! That was amazing! The raft almost went right up on its edge as we went round and down the drop. I can see why all the way left, had I not I would have been swimming! What a rush! We pull up in an eddy and wait for our group walking round.  The groups all catch up with each other again, I see Gregg and Chucky come through with their raft guides (they also have a trainee in their raft). I'm still reeling a bit from the excitement and don't get my goPro ready quick enough but I do then have it ready to catch a picture of Ali coming through with her raft guide.

After this is triple step, which is another grade 5 rapid but this can be done with a full raft.  The first step is the only time Vincent shouts 'BONZAI’, which is when everyone sits in the bottom of the raft with paddles up in the air so we don't fall out!  There's plenty of water in the raft and it's just such a hoot. I think about whether to be a raft guide, and maybe I will look in to it when I get back.

We carry on through the last bits of rapid.  They seem small after triple step but it's still fun and waves still crash into the raft.  Then we stop and gather up again, everyone lifts the rafts up to the road where a minibus and trailer is waiting to drive us back to the start.  My feet are so cold and numb I slip going into the minibus and bang my shins, oops! I think I will order some neoprene socks, the rest of me is fine in my paddling kit but I haven't got proper paddling shoes and socks yet.

Once at the top we thank Vincent for a great run, as always, and we have lunch on the benches before we drive back to the house. Bill, Chucky and Tom Snr are going to squeeze in a last run of the Durance gorge on the way back.  It's the last day so it's tidy up day, and there is plenty to be done, but when we get back Keith and Trevor (who didn't come rafting) have done a lot of the jobs already while the house was empty.

Cars get packed and loaded up, we're leaving early in the morning and we have a tight time frame to make the ferry so everything is ready, house cleaned and just our nice clothes and and over night bags left in the house.  The nice clothes are to go out for a meal together this evening so there is no cleaning or washing up to do in the morning. We go to a restaurant in the town, and have a good laugh over dinner, then after a few of us stay up chatting until later.  Not too late though, it's a full day driving tomorrow so we don't want to be too tired for the journey.

So no photos of rafting, I haven't had chance to go through the GoPro footage and get stills yet. Apologies for any terrible grammer or spelling mistakes, I'm typing this one on my phone in the car!

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