The Tollymore French alpine kayaking trip 2012 has now almost come to an end. We’re on the motorway heading north to the airport at Paris. Flight to Belfast in seven hours. Back to work tomorrow. We don’t want to go home.
This years motley bunch of paddlers were comprised of a large contingent of UUJCC paddlers, Joan, Emma, Jenny, Shug (part uuj, part lcp) and myself, together with Catriona from Donegal, Graeme from Lisburn City Paddlers, Mary and Laurence from Piggin paddlers and Ruaidhri and Brendan, two of the Tollymore trainees for 2012. All expert direction and coaching came from Oisin Hallissey and Ashley Hunter.
We just show up at the airport in France and Tollymore National Outdoor Centre take care of all the logistics. What more could you ask for.
9 days ago we flew out of Belfast to Lyon (via a short stop in Stansted). Stepping of the plane mid afternoon most of us instantly began melting; After flooding and storms in Belfast the week before we left the 35 degree heat was a huge contrast. Jeans off, Shorts, sunglasses and flip flops on. That’s more like it. Quick lunch and some cool drinks and then the minibus arrived.
Drive, ice-cream, drive, pizza, drive, beer, relax, bed.
This year we did things differently than others, we booked a gité on the same campsite as we’ve stayed on before in guillestre so no need to pack all the usual tents and camping gear, a roof over our heads should we need to take shelter from any thunder storms that are common in hot mountainous environments. With 10 rooms and only 2 from the 13 of us choosing to camp it was quite spacious.
Last year we had 9 hot days of sunshine, this year it was a real mixed bag, thunderstorms a couple of evenings, some hot days but most very comfortable, still an improvement on the Irish climate. I wore a long slieve cag the first day, the rest of the week it was shorts and a shortie cag all the way.
I won’t go into big detail on each day but will give a quick summary of each
River day 1 – Durance river from the slalom site at St Clements down to the Rabioux wave. The “sunshine run”, a joy for all. A big seal launch for most and a couple of runs through the wave. Watching the raft coaches navigate their rafts into the stopper to see what the outcome would be, hilarious.
River day 2 – Lower Guil then continuing onto the Durance and finishing with a session at the slalom site at St Clements. The Guil was fast, shallow in places but navigable. Fun and satisfactorily tiring.
River day 3 – L’Argentiere La Besse town centre down to the new slalom site and then on towards La Roche-de-Rame. We did some rescue practice at the slalom course for those not familiar with white water safety & rescue and to get everyone up to speed. During this session we all got to put our practice into use when a couple of other groups (English and French) had multiple swimmers upstream of us. Greatest moment of the day had to be Joan nailing her roll where it mattered most and the subsequent smile on her face that still hasn’t gone away.
River day 4 – Upper Guissane - Le Casset to Chantemerle. The water level had dropped since we inspected it on the drive up from Lyon, this was likely due to the cooler conditions for the last few days and that it was still early morning. We decided to have a coffee break to wait for some midday glacier melt to reach us. Getting on some of us started high in the village and enjoyed the first km or so of tight tree lined river paddling, catching eddies where available. Walk back through the village then repeat to enjoy it all over again.
The Guissane’s a fast river that keeps you entertained with lots of eddy hopping and natural features. Then you come to the s bend, a committing grade 4 boulder garden. Thankfully there was more water on it this year compared to last year and the majority of us chose to run it. I really enjoyed picking my line through and got of quite cleanly. We did have one boater who got caught in a stopper near the top of the run and the boat got pinned further down the section. The unlucky swimmer got picked up by Emma and Joan on throwbags on the bank. A french raft guide then appeared on the run on his “le hot dog” (one/two man narrow rafts) and eddied in at the boat and freed it. Disappointment on Graemes face as he and I were set up for a live bait rescue, excitment on the girls faces as apparently Mr frenchie was “nice to look at”. On down the river, lots more fun right to the end.
River day 5 – I was suffering from a stomach bug caused by some unknown beastie (possibly drinking water, possibly food or possibly a cleg bite) so had to take it easy. I managed to get a book I started reading about 7 months ago finished. Graeme was also of the water with the lurgi but he spent most of the day out for the count. The rest of the group paddled the upper ubaye and had a very good day.
River day 6 – Middle Guil from the tunnel section down to La Maison du Roy. A really great steep run with lots of lovely grade 3+/4 sections. Lots of excitement to be had.
River day 7 – a couple of hours play on the wave at the old slalom site again. Where Melcon 2012 was conviened, and subsequently concluded.
After this we went back to the gité to pack the bus then hit the road north to the old town in Briancon for some gift shopping (sorry everybody I didn’t buy you anything) and lunch. We then said our goodbyes to a couple of the group who are staying in the area for a bit longer. Emma and Jenny to go climbing and Oisin for a family holiday. Oh how I wish I was hanging about. Hitting the road we took part in a bike event from the col du lautaret; 6000 bikes heading downhill alongside the regular traffic. 34.5 degrees was reached on the bus thermometer. Had to be more than that inside, we were melting again, more ice lollies required. We staying in a hotel f1 near Lyon and had our last dinner under French skys in the restaurant next door.
Sunday morning and we dropped Brendan of at the airport for a flight to Belgium. Onwards to Charles de Gaulle for us.
As I said to so many people after last year’s trip, you gotta do it; Whether its self organised or you book on a trip like Tollymore’s, paddling the alpine classics is an adventure to be experienced.
Thanks to all my companions for a great holiday. See you out there next year (and on all the local rivers too).