The formal paddling/coached element of trip was scheduled to start on Monday July 3rd but the six paddlers (Adrian, Esther, Ian, Jen, Nick and Steve) had collaborated on travel plans to share costs, driving etc. which meant Nick & Steve would arrive at the campsite (Camping des Allouviers) on Saturday, Adrian & Jen on Sunday and Esther & Ian on Monday. The campsite was quiet, shady – important given the 30+ temperatures we had all week – clean and friendly. We all agreed we would be happy to stay there again. It was also very good value; typically we paid about €50 each for our various permutations of nights, cars, leccy etc.
Grahame Moss from Escape Outdoors was our coaching provider for the trip; logistical problems meant Grahame wasn’t able to come himself but the ‘substitute’ he provided was Jon Smith a hugely experienced alpine paddler and as we were to find out superb coach and all round good egg. Jon took us to the St Clements slalom site on the Durance in the morning so we could all do some calibration of where our paddling was at. St C. doesn’t have any big features but the water is fast flowing, in fact *very* fast flowing. We spent several hours in the sunshine playing in the flow and on the waves and getting used to the speed and temperature (coooooooold) of the water.
For the afternoon Jon took us on more of a bimble down the Lower Guil. The section we were on might be class 3 in its prime but with the generally low water levels in the region it was more like 2. We got on up near the hydro station and paddled back down to the get out near the dechetterie.
Esther and Ian arrived in time for dinner and we ate and drank communally as we had done the night before and did all week. This wasn’t a given as the trip remit was that we would spend our time on the water together but after that people could do as they pleased. As it happened we were all very happy to cook/eat (very well) and drink (copiously) together each evening.
We were back at St C for Esther and Ian to get their eye in for alpine water whilst the rest of us tried to refine and build on our efforts from the day before. After lunch we did the ‘sunshine’ run on the Durance from near St C down to Embrun via the legendary Rabioux wave. Along the way we had some heroic/crazy seal launches from Adrian and Esther! The Rabioux was negotiated safely by all – probably grade 3 or 3+ given the level it was at – and the Embrun wave was pippsy in comparison. Once at Embrun we made our way across to the lake and enjoyed a swim in the lagoon
We travelled a bit further afield to the Ubaye valley which was about a 90 minute drive through some lovely Alpine scenery. We got on at the bridge by le Martinet ready to run the ‘racecourse’ – 7km of solid grade 3 and some 3+ thrown in for good measure. At the end of it we were mentally/physically exhausted to varying degrees but universally exhilarated at how much fun it had been! There had been big wave trains, tricky rapids, stunning gorges and much much smiles and giggles. Jon’s coaching came into its own here with his emphasis on using positivity and mood to help us all to paddle at our best. The only way to ‘warm down’ from this was obviously a trip to the inflatable zone at Embrun Lake. And to finish the day we had an awesome BBQ – and a few drinks.
In his quest to give us new experiences each day Jon took us to the Briancon gorge and we will always be able to say that “we paddled the gorge in conditions that everyone else walked away from”. And no one need ever know that this was because the level was so low! It didn’t look too bad at the get on but there after it was complete bump and scrape albeit on a new river, in spectacular scenery and in beautiful sunshine so very bearable. And there was a really fun wooden chute bit that had a fairly sizeable drop at the end of it – well probably a meter or so!
For the afternoon we decided to head for where we knew there was water i.e. the Durrance and the Rabioux wave to Embrun section. People took more time to play on the wave this time and the developments in skills and confidence were obvious to see. As he had done elsewhere during the week Adrian led the group down this section as part of his Leader training – and needless to say he did it superbly. At the end of the day there was an even more superber BBQ – and poss some bevvies too.
Our last day! The plan had been to paddle the mighty Argentier slalom course but when we got there it was closed for a competition and wouldn’t be open again till 7pm on Sunday – it was 10 am Friday at this stage. Jon called on all his apps, knowledge and sneaky scouting of rivers that he had been doing and said we should head for the Gyronde instead. And yay when we got there, there was enough water to make it well worth running. We got on at the campsite and given that we were all now hardened Alpine paddlers it was well within our limits although it was quite technical and had some tricky rapids to be negotiated. It was such a nice run – and because we didn’t want our trip to end – that most of the group ran it twice! And then it was to the bar at Armentieres for our trip/paddling review and debrief. The review can be summarised as ‘It was all Fab, we were all Fab’. We finished the trip by treating ourselves (€13 treat level) to ‘Moules frite’ in a fab bar in Argentieres – first one on the left as you drive in from the South! And then is was back to campsite, start to pack up, get ready for journey back, prep for bandit run in St C course (no names mentioned) etc.
In conclusion it is safe to say that we all came back (safely!) with improved paddling skills and confidence. As a bonus we also had a really, really nice time in terms of comradery and fun – on an ACC trip; who knew? We all agreed we would be up for doing it again next year alto there were some murmurings about the Soca or maybe Austria etc. etc.
As ever, so many rivers, so little time!!
KM driven c 2,200
Tolls and fuel £150
Ferry Newhaven Dieppe (with cabin) £100
Food (and drink!) £75
Approx. cost per person =< £600
Fun factor 11/10