Holiday Paddling Lesson

Sep 30, 2014
So again this summer I managed a little time to paddle during my holidays. Fresh out of a grueling month of work (2 trips to Asia in a month) and 2 weeks of Gelato and wine filled travelling, I met up with my friend Evans; got my ass in a boat and pulled of the shore of the Veneon River in France.  With the wet summer, this river, flowing in the Parc National des Écrins, was a nice shade of gray which contrasted with the evergreen valley surrounding it.
Lets say I was a little nervous, not for the up coming section (a class III fun boulder garden), but the one following it, which was said to be a "fun" class IV-V run! I wasn't in the best paddling shape ever and I was sitting in a rather small boat, well for my weight at that time! And, my balziness was also on holidays! The first hour or so was pretty fun, getting to know my boat and boofing rock after rock. After a smile filled hour, we reach the take out of the class III section and wondered at the next one. The word from our local paddling body was that it was a super fun, rather steep but no too pushy section.
From a Quebec paddler point of view, the next bit of river was a... learning experience... So I didn't have much experience with bouldery ever changing rivers. This one served all of that, and more! The first few moves were OK with rock boofs and multiple channel navigation, trying not to get lost. Then came the words "Integral siphon" and "must make stop". After catching an eddy way too high, I managed to get out of my boat and see what all the fuss was about. A house size boulder had fallen into the river and now, ALL of the water was being pushed under that thing. Yep, it didn't take long to decide and walk that part. Then we got back in our boats, with fairly evasive description of the rapids and continued our way down the river. After another must make stop, I turned around and watch Evans being swept into a different channel facing backwards! Under 5 seconds I was out of my boat running and jumping from one boulder to the other hoping that no other integral siphon existed on that stretch. After a rather nerve raking 2 minutes, we found Evans stopped on a rock laughing at how he ran the section backwards!
We could then resume our holiday paddle and face another rather steep section (that I walked), filled with under cuts and unconvincing rock boofs. We finally lined up for the last bit, where our guide told us he didn't remembered the line, since "it changes all the time"! I finished it gracefully with my boat half sunk under a rock and almost loosing my paddle with the story of a guy who rolled on that stretch and ended up with 22 stitches playing in the back of my mind!
Once you think you're doing pretty good on your home rivers, it never hurts to go see elsewhere! The ever evolving rivers of the Alps just add another layer of challenge to running class V. Instead of just trying to stay on line and nail your boofs and leans, you also have to stay aware of the undercuts and possible new features and siphons.           



Yours truly not so sure about the up coming section!

Rock boofing the entry to the steep section of the Veneon

Hitting a rock and almost loosing my paddle

Carefully navigating the multiple channels in between boulders

Round 2 on the fun section at the end of the day

Feeling a little more relaxed and confident

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