France paddling Roundup

By Bill Anderson

I have been kayaking in the French Alps several times before but even still this year the water levels were a shock to the system. We arrived at the beginning of June on the day the ban on paddling was lifted. Driving round scouting rivers it was clear just how high the water had been.

Luckily for us we had brought out a few members of our university kayak club so we got to warm up on some of the easier runs which were also new to us. These were all flowing at good levels providing nice wave trains and continuous rapids as an introduction to alpine paddling for our novices.

After the university group headed home we hooked up with some local French guys and enjoyed some good high water runs on some of the classic sections. We ran the Lower Guisanne at a nice high level, I think we only broke out once or twice on the whole run. The French also seem to like running things as a very tight group too which meant we were very close on some of the tougher drops. The Durance Gorge was a new run for me and was at what I was told was a high level. It was a fantastic run with plenty of long, pushy rapids to play on. The high water also made rivers I’ve done in the past and found a little rocky a lot more fun. The Middle Claree was a lot of fun as was the Briancon gorge which three of us managed to run in under 8 minutes and beat the car shuttle down!

After spending some time around Briancon we decided to move on in search of rivers we have yet to paddle. With only two of us this proved difficult and walking the shuttles became a long, hot task! We managed a nice run on the beautiful Serveraisse which had some nice technical rapids. We then moved and based ourselves at Bourg St Maurice, the home of French Slalom. We found the course to be releasing at 40m/s, twice the normal summer flow. The course blew me away. The upper section was the International Course. This was very big, very steep and very, very fast. So good in fact it almost had me converted to Slalom. However on our last day there the course was turned up to 55 m/s! This made it even better and I came out the bottom with a huge grin on my face. The rapids for the next 20km below the slalom course was also a very nice paddle which we blasted down with some crazy Czech guys.

France is now out the way and we are heading northwards towards Switzerland after a brief stop in Chamonix to do some touristy things whilst Nic’s sister has joined us for a few days. France has set a high standard now for the rest of the summer I just hope it continues with paddling this good!

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