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