Day 4 (1st July)
|Early morning campsite|
A bit more organised today, we head to the Clarée, a tributary of the Durance north east of Briançon. Unfortunately someone managed to read the guide book on the way and much kerfuffle is made about the fact there is a GRADE 6 OH MY GOD below the take out. It takes a while to calm everyone down and explain that the grade 6 is waaaaay below the take out. We meet in a layby on the way up, apparently the put in for the lower.
|Put in for the lower Claree|
Discussions ensue, a naked photo is taken, and finally we all head upstream to the put in for the middle. We run a quick shuttle and actually decide not to go to the standard take out, as it seems like a really, really long way, instead parking in a large riverside picnic area which seems like it’s arbitrarily far enough down.
We keep the same groups as yesterday, but Sarah is feeling better today. We set off down some deceptively flat water, bounce down a bit of grade 2, only to be stopped by chaos in front. The front two groups are out of their boats and wandering around. Rory drops down to ask them what’s going on just as they all disappear downstream for an inspection. One at a time, Andre, Carolyn, Sarah and me all bounce down the rather rocky rapid with varying levels off gracelessness.
|Sitting waiting for Rory to report back.|
After we sit, bored in an eddy for a while, Rory comes back and tells us to head to the next eddy, then get out and have a look at the next bit. I set off with Sarah, but she misses the “eddy” and Chris just about leaps in to get her. Undaunted, Sarah has happily beached herself on some rocks, so I do the same. Emily comes down and gives me a hand out. We walk down the bank a bit and see what all the fuss is about.
This is the grade 4 rapid mentioned in the guide book. The cliff on river right has collapsed and most of the river goes under various bits of cliff and tree. Not ideal. Chris gets keen to clear a channel and starts ripping bits of trees out. Realising that we could be here for a while, Andre and I join Sarah and Carolyn in grabbing our boats and walking around. Rory is already getting in lower down. We congregate in a nice eddy just below a footbridge.
|Looking down to the next "eddy" before the grade 4.|
|Rory contemplates the scrapey mess.|
|Andre, just below the mess of the grade 4.|
Once everyone is ready we set off in a line. The river from here is continuous grade 3 boulder dodging, really fast and intense! I can just about keep Carolyn in my sights in front and occasionally check that Sarah is still behind. In probably the only deep bit of river for a few miles, Carolyn capsizes and I have to franticly scrabble to eddy out into what I’m pretty sure is an imaginary bit of slower water so I don’t crash into her as she rolls up. The pace doesn’t relent for another kilometre or so, and I have occasional frights as I look back and see Sarah pinned on rocks, but somehow we’re all still upright and ok by the time the river starts to slacken off and we find an eddy big enough for us all to sort of fit. We reach the village of Plampinet, signalling the end of the middle section. There’s one last obstacle in the form of a pine tree blocking the whole river which Rory gets us to bump up and over no bother, having pre-scouted that bit on the way up.
|Up and over!|
The lower section begins, an easy floaty grade 2 with the occasional small tree hazard on bends. Andre discovers his boat is leaking again and stops on a sand bank to empty it. We haven’t seen any sign of the others behind us, but they’re probably ok. Soon we’re getting hungry. And some of us (including me) didn’t put enough thermals on and wince at every splash of ice cold water.
There’s another problem. While Rory and I were on the shuttle and parked our cars by the river, neither of us can remember whether you can see the cars from the river. Or if there are any landmarks nearby. Or anything to tell us we’ve gone too far… We spend about half the river nervously peering at the right bank as we power down because cars equals food.
After about the fiftieth “Do you think we might have passed them?” we see a glint of car. Our cars. In full view of the river. No way you could miss it. We leap out joyfully, drag our boats the whole two metres to the cars and pull off wet kit. The sun is beating down, especially on Rory’s lunch. It’s in the back of his car and the keys are with Jon. Who’s not here.
Fortunately, I have my keys, which means Andre, Carolyn and I can get to our food and dry clothes, so we share with Sarah and Rory. Dave’s hat is co-opted as well. About half an hour later the next group arrives, and Rory and Sarah have an out-of-proportion celebration about being able to get to their clothes and food. Soon enough we head back to the campsite.
Some of the others decide to go and do the Gyronde as a small team, even though it’s getting a bit late. There’s carnage. When they finally return to camp dinner is ready and we are regaled with tales of derring-do. I have some gluten free pasta with sauce stuff since the group meal involves sausages.
Time for some proper alpine action – let’s go to the Onde. After a bit of confusion about where to go and whether anyone knew where we were going, we actually arrive without incident. The put in is either below the car park for grade 3 or above the car park for a grade 4 start. We’re split into new groups and I find myself heading up to the grade 4 with Rory. We sit in an eddy waiting for a signal. Eventually, after a lot of sitting and Rory dropping down a couple of eddies to see if he could see anything, Chris comes running up the bank to tell us that they’d had a bit of a nasty incident with Carolyn getting pinned, then Jonny also getting pinned. This sounds like a nice rapid then.
|Eddy of nerves at the top of the Onde.|
Rory heads down and I follow him. The first couple of waves are cold but I learned my lesson from yesterday and put on my fleece thermal. The first problem presents as two offset boulders with a diagonal boof move between them. I nail the boof and clip the eddy behind the right boulder, carving out to the right and perfectly away from the left side. Then it’s keep right through some waves before the crux move right right right! Under the tree branch marker, around the fence of rocks and down the last bouncy bit, scramble into a micro eddy beside Gina. I’m buzzing. Now I get it. Alps paddling is awesome.
|John paddles out the bottom of the grade 4.|
|Raffa, Onding it up.|
Our group is all down apart from Jonty, who bounces down the line with James no bother soon after us. Chris gets us all vaguely organised and heading downstream. We set off into the maelstrom. The water is non-stop, constant grade 3 rock dodging and line picking and spinning, boofing, flying awesomeness.
“Stop, stop, stop!”
Chris gathers us in an eddy and lectures us like children. “You don’t need speed, stop paddling so fast! Manoeuvrability is what it’s about.” Or words to that effect. So we peel out again, this time more accustomed, less focussed on the desperation, more focussed on “Is this right? Chris?” The river keeps going, bouncing down through the trees, constantly exciting, never desperate. Back paddling and draw strokes with the occasional boof over the edge of a boulder get us down with much more grace than the initial frantic windmilling along.
And suddenly there’s the bridge. We eddy out early, because there’s a queue for the small get out. Eventually my turn comes and I beach on the shingle, hop out and do a happy dance. This is kayaking!
|Gina, nearly missing the take out, gets mobbed by "helpful" boys.|
We change and run a quick shuttle. I have a which-side-of-the-road-am-I-driving-on-again moment on the single track bit and pull over into a passing place the left, garnering a despairing look from the French driver going the other way. Fair dos.
Man-wiches for lunch. Salami, mozzarella and tomato on a hunk of gluten free bread. Yum. Discussion ensues, and eventually an afternoon plan appears. Some people are heading to the Gyronde, others to the Gyr, while me, Sarah and Izzy and keen to go do a Via Ferratta. Chris, who has a Via Ferratta guide in his car, offers to take us along one above the Gyr. So Chris, Raffa, Rory and James’s cars all head to the Gyr put in. The river is apparently really quick to run, so one group sets off while the others run the shuttle. We take pictures as they set off and wave from the bridge as they paddle out of sight. The other group gets back and the same happens, though we do shout abuse at James while he has a nervous pee by the bank.
|Group 1 sets off down the Gyr.|
|Bye bye Raffa...|
Amazingly quickly Chris arrives back with John, both buzzing. Apparently Cami had an epic swim, but all kit was retrieved. We squeeze in and head up to a climbing shop to hire Via Ferratta clippy thingees, then up to the car park for the route. Sarah and I are a bit nervy, having never done a Via Ferratta before, but Chris explains it all in about thirty seconds. It’s not hard to grasp. We get onto the route just behind a large school party who’re alternately terrified and annoyingly unconcerned, and seem to take forever to do anything. Thankfully, the views down into the Gyr gorge are pretty amazing and we amuse ourselves trying to figure out lines down the rapids which are basically just syphons filled with strainers. The route is a easy one, mostly traversing. Sarah, who’s afraid of heights, has some chattery moments as that seems to be her coping mechanism, but the rest of us do ok. Eventually we make it to the big climb out and find out why we’re all wearing helmets as the lovely school children in front kick mud loose and it rains down! Don’t look up. We saunter back down the return path and drive back to the shop to return the clips. Good fun!
|Me on one of the bridges. Photo by Izzy Tween.|
|Photo by Izzy Tween.|
|Climbing down! Photo by Izzy Tween.|
We have a quick stop on the way back to admire the grade 6 on the Gyronde.
|Looking down on the top of the grade 6.|
|"I can see a line down each bit, but they don't match up at all..."|
Back at camp Jon Wyles and James have taken the €1 per person limit a little too much to heart and we are served vegetable curry for dinner. I rebel and put some ham in mine. It’s tasty, but I object to the vegetarianism. I need meat in my meals! We admire the epic bruises the Gyr inflicted upon Cami's legs and hip and make plans for the Ubaye tomorrow.