Last Update: 16/7/99
© Chris Walters 1999.
French Alps 1998 Trip

A small group of Marlow Canoe Club paddlers made the pilgrimage to the French Alps in July 1998, what follows is the story as written by Wilko van den Bergh in the newsgroup, together with some photos. On with the story...

A couple of weeks ago I had told Jez that we would again be paddling in the Durance region of France from the 27th of june 'till the 4th of july. He mentioned that he had plans to be there as well, but that it would depend on the plans of the trip leader, Chris (also visible on RBP sometimes), what they would paddle. Because the Verdon trip on the 4th of july was cancelled, we could stay longer in the Durance region. On UK.RBP we decided to meet up late in the eveing of the 28th with Charlie Wood and his group "that defies any description" as well. I proposed to meet in a little cafe opposite to the church in Briancon (the only one of which I knew how to find it again... and how to describe the route to it to others as well). As the 28th drew closer, I proposed to Jez to pull a prank on our groups and meet on the water before the evening meeting. We would try to meet on the lower Guil.

Day one, to Guillestre.

Since most of our group had planned to paddle the Verdon without going to the Durance region, it would be only Steven and me who would drive to France after all. We left early saturday the 27th for our 1050 Km (600 miles) trip. There was a nasty buzz, a bit like a strong mosquito every time we would drive faster than 120 Km/h. We stopped very often to change the setup of the straps that held the boats to the roofrack, but to no avail... three days later we found out that it was a small strip of plastic left around the edge of the new windscreen that created the buzz. (the old one got damaged in our crash a couple of months ago). We had a great evening meal on the bank of the Romanche river (class IV and V) overlooking some difficult rapid (with a lot of trees in it). A little over twelve hours after we had left Eindhoven we arrived in the town of Guillestre.

Day two, the lower Guil and the Durance (Guil to the Rabioux hole).

We woke up a little too late, and had to rush to the lower Guil. As we drove the last part of the road to the put-in I could see a white Peugeot so I asked Steven if he liked surprises. Steven, who thought I meant driving up the small road in reverse, made it very clear that he didn't like them. As we got closer, I could see the British registration plates, and I started looking around for a small guy with blond hair. We got out, I quickly approached the British, only to find out they were from a different part of the UK :-(

As we had stopped, we decided to change here anyway, waiting for a while untill Jez might turn up. As Steven and I were writing our e-mail addresses on our boats, some one suddenly inquired: "Who of you is Wilko?". I looked around, saw a very wide smile that looked like the jaw was almost suspended in mid-air, and we both shook hands. For probably the first time since Steven and I paddled (four years or so) I was ready before he was.

The Lower Guil is an easy class I/II at these levels, with a little over thirty cm's (one foot) of water in most places, and a couple of rocks every once in a while. The river is about twenty to thirty metres (a little more in yards) wide, with only a small gradient. We walked to the bridge, saw another white Peugeot (this time the right one) and we put in. Jez introduced the groups to one another, and we took off. We played a little on the small waves and in some tiny holes, talking every now and then about RBP and paddling. Jez showed that he could roll (in an eddy :-) ), and we slowly drew closer to the Durance. It was still a bit of getting used to the speed of Alpine WW, and both Steven and I missed our share of eddies.

I got a chance to try Chris his lightweight paddle, and I was surprised about the difference it made in handling and accelleration. We got out at St.Clement for lunch. It was remarkable to see all these people without their helmets on, they looked a lot different! Steven and I ordered drinks while our British companions ordered an entire meal. We were talking about RBP (yep, a lot was said behind your backs :-) ) and other interesting things when Jez suddenly shouted: "Hey, that's my boat!".

A red boat with horrible blue spots all over it showed up. Jez darted down the stairs and after a while he came back up and confirmed that indeed it was his boat, although not with the new buyer inside... The girl that paddled the boat had made a remark about the tight dimensions of Jez his lower parts, which resulted in us giving Jez all kinds of possible replies about her lower quarters. We got back on again, playing a little as we got further downstream. This part of the Durance has about 5 metres per Km gradient ( 7 fpm), which makes it nice to float, but not too quick. There are some small waves in some of the bends, and strange boils and froths every now and then. It looked a lot different from the levels last month, I would estimate that there was about one and a half to two feet more water then.

Sue surfing on the Durance
Sue surfing on the Durance

After a while we came to the himalaya-start (seal-launch) on river left. This is an undercut wall of about six metres above the water, with the overhanging rock having two small slides down towards the water. Jez, Darren and I gave it a go. Darren had a great descent, shooting into the water with a lot of speed. Jez did also very well, but his boat didn't: he had popped his deck when he had landed in the water. Fortunately he could get the partially swamped boat ashore. I had a great flight as well. Chris gave a little description of the Rabioux, and we all went down the left channel. We all got down into the eddy alongside the hole pretty well, although I faintly remember someone flipping in the hole. We played for over an hour, with Darren, Steven, Jez and I doing all kinds of unintendo's, as well as a fair share of rolls (in Jez his case, about one roll per try into the hole :-)). I noticed that I could flip the boat lengthwise easily, but I couldn't keep it vertical, which was a bit frustrating.

Wilko surfing the Rabious wave, with Steven looking on
Wilko surfing the Rabious wave, with Steven looking on

After we all had had enough, (i.e. surfing and eating ice!) the cars were picked up from the put-in. In the meanwhile a boy pulled a girl into the eddy, and later on into the hole itself, the problem being that she wore no helmet. When she struggled in the froth between the eddy and the current, I threw my rope... and missed miserably. I hadn't expected the wind being so strong and across my throwing path :-( Good lesson though! We planned on meeting in the evening, but, it being already very late in the afternoon, didn't believe we would be in Briancon on time... As it turned out, we got there to meet Jez his group, but no Charlie Wood. It was a nice eveing, with a lot of stories being told and some nice conversations as well. I found out that my "mushrooms" are called "boils" and that the "tilting you boat" is called "edging up" in English. As we all had enjoyed paddling with one another, we decided to paddle together tomorrow as well. The Guisane would be the next river on the program.

Continued in the next part...