Walking about the Western Isles

July 2nd - 12th 2017

Took the van over to Harris & Lewis to re-do some lovely clifftop walks.  Even got up the highest hill they have "an Clisham" but it was touch and go with the clouds as to whether there would be a view.

The western isles just have the most amazing sands to stroll across at low tide as well.  Spotted 2 pairs of Golden Eagles and also a Sea Eagle plus lots of little brown jobs that I can't name.  And aquatically, we saw a dozen dolphins chasing fish and further out some Minke wales.  Missed having my sea boat though!

If you get across to Uig then there's also the malt whisky distillery at Red River with its interesting young spirit - you need try it.

(try and add a photo or two later).

Back on the bike

June 12th 2017

Back home so time to get some fresh air & exercise. A quick 28 km blast round the Fungle gully section (sweet single track) and across to Baudy Meg.  Isn't Deeside just a great place to be in the outdoors. Magical.  We even have whisky coloured rivers.

Splashing about in Austria to avoid election-itis

June 1st - 11th

Following on from time in Italy, I took a couple of days driving back round the Italian Lakes and over the Passo dello Stelvio.  The scenery was stunning but the roads are not great (certainly at the Lakes there’s just too many other cars in the way!).  It got so late and I was going round hairpin after hairpin above Bormio that I simply pulled over in a layby at about 2300m ASL and got some kip.  

The following morning, I was off down the other side through Santa Maria and on to the Austrian village of Prutz for breakfast.

I knew this area reasonably well so cruised around Landeck, Otz, and Haiming looking for other paddling buddies.  The river levels were all high and it wasn’t really a time to do things solo.  The Otz itself was really full and flowing fast, it was the usual slate grey colour of Austrian flood water - a little disappointing as I am always keen to do the Otz for old time's sake (I first paddled here around 1980).

I based myself at the campsite on the riverbank opposite Prutz, so the Inn flowed past my tent all night with a fair noise.  Luckily 3 Brit paddlers also turned up and we did the introductions (in the Austrian rain).  Great to have Cam, Suzy and Klim as minders on the river.

Wandering about Prutz, I even found a distillery (but it wasn't a single malt !)

Tosens-Prutz is a reasonable section of the Inn to start with, so that was the first 9 kms of grade 4 to do (Sunday 4th June by this stage).  Monday saw us get up to St Anton em Arlberg to do the grade 3+ Rosanna, and then get stuck in to one of the best rivers in the region, “the Sanna”.  We had been informed of the recent re-engineering of the Sanna below Pians so were circumspect and looked at a few things on the shuttle.  As it turned out there were some features that were washed out by the high water levels and it became a great blast down a large roller-coaster.  Grade 4+ I guess with exploding haystack waves, some holes and some wicked eddyline curlers from the new groins.   We repeated the Sanna run a couple of days later and it was a little lower volume – the lines were a little easier to see and the fun vs fright factor was more positively balanced.  I don’t recall having such fun on the Sanna in all my previous trips to Austria.  However the levels did restrict my ability to take photos on the way down!

Thunderstorms became a feature of each late afternoon so the Inn river level was certainly staying up.  The Otz wasn’t going to play ball so we set off on the Landeck Gorge section of the Inn from that little stoneworks at Nesselgarten.  The get-on here is basically jumping into a river doing 20mph I guess, no timid starts this time.  The run is pretty straight forward although very fast, very bouncy, and did cause us to eyeball one short section before just blowing straight through.  By the time we floated under the glass-sided tourist bridge in Landeck town we were all grinning from ear-to-ear.

And that was the paddling done….  I went photo-hunting the following morning back at the confluence of the Rosanna /Trisanna and then simply pointed the car north and uphill over the Fernpass. 

The drive back had better weather on the autobahn so good time was made to Belgium for the night, to Oxenholme Station Inn for a pint, and to sunny Royal Deeside once more.

All-in-all;  paddled in 4 countries, 9 different rivers, and 20 river sections.


Steep creeking and brilliant sun in Italy

May 18th for a few weeks...  

This was a trip that should have happened last year but got postponed.  It was good to actually set off south with a whitewater kayak, a pushbike and a tent  -  simply to start a new adventure is a great feeling.  Usual logistics of the endless boring motorway down across the Borders and through England to Dover, great brasserie lunch on a fairly empty ferry, and then a rest overnight in Belgium.

Day 2 was driving down through Lux, Germany into Austria, back in to Germany.  Camped near the border in the alpine foothills and had “warm-up” paddles on the river Loisach and the Scuol’s gorge section of the mighty Inn. 

Went on to be in the Italian ski valley of Valsesia by Sunday evening where the Gene17 river festival was in its second day.  This kayaking mecca is centred on the campsite “Il Gatto e le Volpe” ( “the Fox & the Cat” is from the Adventures of Pinnochio apparently  -  did you not know this!?). 

Just great as a boater to arrive in somewhere with daytime temperatures 25-30 degC, with a grade 4/4+ river running past the entrance, loads of other kindred spirits, and a bar/pizzeria onsite.  Alberto is in charge here but he’s well used to having a good number of paddlers turn up and behave/get excited as paddlers do.  At least half of those present in camp seemed to speak english so getting to know folk wasn’t difficult.

In particular, cheers go to Oli, Tony & Colin, Chris B, the Stalker family, Wavesport Wayne and his crew, Scott & Paolo, Beau, Alex, Tom, etc.

Tony, Colin & Oli planning the next mission...

And so to the paddling itself…..  In the 13 days I was there I paddled on 7 different river sections across the valley, and only the Lower Sesia was below a grade 4.  Lots to go at and try to perfect, some sections were lapped in the same day, some were simply revisited a couple of times in the week.  I certainly haven’t exhausted the area.  What was noticeable was that even 2 km sections (eg the Egua, grade 4+/5 in the guidebook) took us several hours to get completed.  Shuttle, bank inspection time, setting safety time, all adds up.

Here's a selection of the river Egua ( the classic "steep" creek),
View from the roadbridge at the get-in with first drop forming the horizon line

The first drop is a ramp and then a boof off the end

Second time around and in time lapse...

Matt goes one better and tries to throw a hammer

Tom & Scott pondering

Chris B on Flare Rock

Innspecting Gunbarrel

Tom doing Live Bait duty on Cylinder

 And of course, once boating was done for the day there was always the bar/pizzeria, or simple social gatherings in the campsite with sufficient wine/beer to keep everyone happy.  Plans for the following day were nearly always made but were pretty vague in an evening – the next morning after croissant things got hardened up.

Chris B and Mike doing apres-paddle

Travelling down to Italy solo was always a bit of a risk for me but I got along well with a great couple of guys (many thanks to Oli Kershaw and Tony Becker) who had been in the area before.  We had quite a good crowd of their other associates / mates / long-lost cousins that evolved through the fortnight.  Oli and Tony were going one better than me, in that they were on a 6-week paddling tour with their van.
The Guys,... Oli & Tony

So the main river flowing past the campsite was the Sesia, and it comprised 3 main sections for paddling;  the Alpine Sprint, the Middle, and the Lower.  We must have done the middle section 4 or 5 times by the end as it was such a continuous blast of alpine style "read & run" with 2 great features in it - the Quare falls (a portage for me) - and the Piode falls (ran with different levels of style!).

Tony showing his style

Rich Stalker, Quare Falls

Rob Stalker, Piode Falls

Oli plus ice cream below Piode Falls

Around the locality are a number of high mountains (the campsite itself is at 800m ASL) so any walks were generally fairly energetic – historically, there’s a big Catholic influence and so there are shrines and chapels built on various pilgrim trails and generally seem to be on the edge of a cliff.  As it wasn’t ski season the area is pretty quiet in May/June with some of the ski infrastructure shut-down.  The area at the top of the trail is at 1180m and is like mini-switzerland.

I must compliment the boaters present in Campertogno.  Everyone seemed open to help/assist other groups, to rescue as needed, to provide first aid, and that was a perfect environment for folk to step up their boating.  The valley is afterall nearly all grade 4/4+/5-  full-on whitewater.  You definitely got the feeling that no-one would leave you stranded or struggling.

Posh pizza up in Alagne with Oli, Tony & Colin

Entrance to Sermenza gorge
Great boof from Colin on the Sermenza

Exit rapid, Mastellone

By the last day of May, the threatening thunderstorms around the peaks were not producing rain in the rivers and so levels started to drop.  Valsesia’s season is pretty short and as the water disappeared so did the boaters.  Still time to lap the Sorba Slides in the evening though and have a wander up through Rassa village.

I had a day out mountain biking up the valley but by June 2nd I too was ready to move on.   Phase 2 was going to be in Austria on the way north, story in the next blog update..

Alpine Sprint section above Molia

Photo credit for some of the above to Oli Kershaw and to Andy Holt.
Oli Kershaw appears in this production courtesy of NEXT LEVEL COACHING & GUIDING