Chocolate, Cows and a million ways to screw you for your money.
I’m back in the UK once again! Only for about two weeks this time. My latest trip was a week kayaking in the Swiss Alps courtesy of Arthog Outdoor Education Center. Firstly, bloody hell what a lot of cows! I suppose they’ve got nothing else to do in the summer over there but farm cows though, so it’s fair enough i guess.
After around 24 hours of twelve of us being cooped up in a cramped minibus, we finally arrived at the shores of lake Geneva for our first camp site. A strange little municipal campsite populated by pensioners who seemed to play board games for the best part of 23 hours, pikeys trying to scam people into giving them money in exchange for a ring they found in a cracker because “they’ve run out of fuel”, and for one night only, 12 kayakers.
The first river we ran was the river Dranse, a beautiful grade 2/3 run between Lake Geneva and a small town called Chatel. Filled with delights such as river wide wave trains to holes that look like they eat kayakers for breakfast. The run was only some 5-6km long and only too an hour to do and as it was only the first run of the week at a fairly low grade, there isn’t much more I can say about it in all honesty.
Our second run down the Dranse suddenly got a bit more interesting due to a wilderness poo by me, and being approached by pikeys trying to convince us to give them money after running out of fuel. A few odd bits about that though, they were offering an 18 carat gold ring worth £15,000 apparently as a bond… looked more like something you’d find in the fair to me though. They also had the bonnet up, a sure fire way to check your fuel levels! Lastly, for a £15,000 ring, it’s impressive that they could afford two of them. I saw a different guy pulling one out of his pocket and slipping it on his finger as a car pulled over in the lay-by we were sharing with the supposedly out of fuel pikey. It didn’t please them too much as we shook our heads with a look of warning at each person that pulled over so they soon moved on. On with our second run down the Dranse!
On the morning of day two, we packed our temporary lives away into the back of the bus and once again set off for the down of Chateau d’Oex, a small swiss alpine ski resort at an altitude of around a kilometer. The river we would be paddling was the River Sense in the shadow of the Eiger. To be honest, it wasn’t the most exciting run i’ve ever done and there was supposedly a grade 4 on there but we never found it. However, it was 10km of stunning gorge paddling. The unfortunate thing was the levels were fairly low, so it’s not really a river i’m in a particular hurry to do again.
That night the heavens truly opened and sleeping next to a river suddenly became quite a bum twitching experience as it began to rapidly rise. As I sat under the tarp we’d erected with a night cap of whiskey, I didn’t expect what we thought would be a light shower to become 15 hours of torrential downpour. The next morning we got up to see that the little river next to our tents had in fact risen around 6ft to become a pretty hideous looking torrent. Never mind though, the river we would be paddling on our third day, the Simme, had a catchment area at a much lower elevation.
As we got onto the river, a local came up and told us most groups got on around 4km downstream from us as the first section was too boring… Great way to boost morale on a white water trip! Even so, we got on in a canalised section of the river Simme. Although it wasn’t that flat, the first few kilometers were hardly exciting. However, after those first few kilometers things started to heat up a bit. After a pretty big standing green wave we entered the first grade 3 rapid in what turned out to be around 5km of pretty much continuous grade 3 paddling with plenty of wave trains and a river littered with holes and stoppers to dodge and weave our way between. After a slight mishap which resulted in one of our group swimming, we hopped back on the water to finish off the final leg of the river.
After finishing the river we headed to the closest bar to get a drink in and wait for the other group on the river, unfortunately we weren’t able to pay as we had no money, but somehow we convinced the barman to let us have the drinks in return for leaving a phone as a bond until we got our money from the bus. The reason we went for a drink was because at this stage we couldn’t find the bus. It turned out there was a very good reason we couldn’t find the bus, we weren’t actually at the get out. We found this out as the other group turned out and asked us why we had got out here rather than carrying on. Bugger. That meant telling the barman we wouldn’t actually be able to pay him for quite a while yet. Somehow we actually got away with that too, bonus! It turns out, paddling with a bit of beer sloshing around inside of you is actually quite a nice experience. After the pub we stopped in, the river slowed down and leveled out for another 3km until the get out where we were greeted with the beautiful smell of cut timber as we egressed the river into a timber yard….and promptly got lost trying to find our way out.
For the third time that week, we ended up with pasta for dinner that night. A meal is a meal i suppose though. I know so far i’ve not written much about what we did other than paddling, but firstly, it was a paddling trip. And secondly, we slept. We’d get back, have dinner, possibly have a couple of beers then hit the sack pretty early.
Our fourth river was one of the two rivers that merged together to form the river Rhine, the Voderrhine. After a supposedly 3 hours drive that turned into a 5 hour drive, we got to the get on for the river. Our fourth river and this was the heighest volume so far. At the get on it didn’t seem any more than a high volume grade 2 run, but within minutes it turned into big and bouncy grade 3+ rapid comparable to a roller coaster, us and our kayaks getting bucked back and forth, thrown side to side. With some of the best waves and holes i’ve paddled in a long time, it really was an absolutely stunning run, luckily with only one swimmer as well. After a while we entered a gorge, not any old gorge though. Not a british gorge with steep 30ft sides. Instead this was a gorge with steep 1000ft sides, and rather than normal sides, some were actually mountains. All along the length of it it was possible to see where landslides had brought debris down into the river from the steep slopes either side. Towards the end of the gorge we saw a sign that instilled quite a sense of amazement, but almost a feeling of fear too. It was a high water mark from 1928, however this sign was some 30ft above us.
Soon after the high water mark the gorge opened up into a stunning valley surrounded by the steep slopes and pointy peaks of the swiss alps. As we rounded a corner we realised we’d reached the get out. This was quite a surprise as in the guide book it said the run was 21km and could potentially take 5 hours. We managed it in 2 hours with lots of messing around and playing on the way, good going i’d say!
That evening we reached our final campsite, another strange municipal campsite in the town of Chur. A bizarre place set into the local woods that had a bit of a “deliverance” feel about the place. Luckily we were just there for one night. After yet another night of rain, making the total 4 out of 5 nights, we packed all of our kit for the last time. The fifth and final river we would be kayaking was the Hinterrhein. This along with the Voderrhein merge together to form the Rhine, one of the largest rivers in europe.
The section we ran of the Hinterrhein was around 13km long and took us just under two hours. Throughout the week everything we’d been paddling had been fairly high volume, so comparatively, this river was minute. It was also a lot steeper than the rest of the rivers, dropping on average a meter every 100 meters. Littered with boulder chokes, holes, possible pins and tricky lines, it was a fantastic tight and technical alpine river. For an experienced paddler, it was possible to run the river with very few problems, but it was also possible to create your own challenges along the way, making the river as difficult as you’d like. With a glacier feeding the river and patches of neve all along the river bank, it made for a freezing yet stunning paddle at fairly high altitudes, the mountains all around still with a covering of snow yet the grass on the banks in full flower.
With the Hinterrhein done and dusted, that was this years foreign paddling trip over with. One last thing to do, 20 hours of being cooped up in a minibus wired on cheap European sweets, 3 hours on a ferry at 4am aided by several pints of beer, then a severe sugar crash with the alcohol there as a sedative to put me to sleep on the other side of the pond they call the English channel. Time to start planning Corsica 2011.