Monday, 29 December 2014

Les Alpes Part 5 - Day 11, 12 and 13

Day 11 (Tuesday 8th July)
Sometimes you have days on the river when everything goes fine. This was not one of those days.
So at 6am team gnar hunters drive off to the Verdon gorge, we all hope they don’t die in a syphon then we roll over and go back to sleep.
The Onde seems like a good plan. It was fun last time and nobody had too horrible a time. Except maybe Carolyn and Jonny, but hey, let’s give it another shot. When we get there it’s raining so much some of us wonder if we’ve accidently gone back to Scotland. The river is higher than the last run, but it’ll probably be just like it was before with a few less rocks. Probably.

Looking down the first rocky section below the grade 4.

Some of the group is unconvinced by my probablys (fair enough) and decides to take photos and meet us at the bottom.

Group photo takers.

Raffa and I are leading the last group and we’re the only ones who’re keen for the top rapid. We head up and paddle down the same line as before, that is until I don’t quite make it to the right on the last move and do some silly fail of a grind over some boulders and capsize. It’s probably the fastest roll I’ve ever done, but I still bounce off a couple of rocks. The Onde is a bad place to be upside down.

Photo by Jon Wyles

Photo by Emily Stratton.

Photo by Jon Wyles.

Photo by Emily Stratton

Photo by Emily Stratton.

We join the rest of the group who are spectating from rocky perches along the bank. Raffa leads off down the river with Dave, Carolyn and Patsy following and me bringing up the rear. We’re unaware of it at the time, but Gina has swum in the front group and they’re having issues getting her boat out. A couple of corners in Patsy capsizes and is having difficulty rolling so I go in for a t rescue, just as we both crash into a tree. Patsy capsizes again and loses her paddle while I have a disagreement with some branches and end up with a scratched face. I manage to get the nose of my boat to Patsy and she tries to t rescue. Meanwhile I see an upside down red boat and assume that Dave is swimming. Then I see Dave paddling past me. Raffa is swimming. This is not good. Finally Patsy gets herself upright and spots her paddles. They’re really close, so she lets go of my boat and makes a grab for them, just as we both drop into a hole. I pop out the other side, but Patsy is swimming. She gets out really quick so I make for her boat and almost get it in an eddy. Dave and Carolyn get themselves in an eddy so I yell at them to stay there. Raffa, for reasons best known to himself is still trying to get himself, his boat and his paddle out on his own which is never going to work, so I start yelling at him which he probably doesn’t hear, but hey, he’s somehow seen sense and swims just himself to the side. We’re passing the other group now and Izzy manages to get Raffa’s paddle. Someone else manages to grab Patsy’s boat, so now it’s just me and Raffa’s boat. I try hard to shove it into eddy after eddy and onto several rocks, but it’s not willing and eventually I’m exhausted and kind of just floating beside it not really knowing what to do. I see some other paddlers and have a go at pushing the boat towards them, but I’m too tired and it doesn’t work. Thankfully, they couldn’t leave me all by myself and race to catch up. One of them jams it against a rock and we all leap out in various precarious positions. A bit of live baiting onto a rock and some hard pulling on a throwline and we’ve got the boat which… seems to be draining awfully fast…

The crack is about two feet long along the bottom of the hull. Not ideal. I thank the Cardiff paddlers profusely and find out where they’re staying to bring them some beer. Then I sit for a good long while and get my breath back. Raffa appears, limping down the track at the side of the river looking a bit sad, but he looks a lot sadder when he sees his boat. I leave him to grieve while I go upstream to look for anyone else. I’m pretty sure I’ve walked most of the way upstream when I find Gina and Carolyn standing by the riverbank. Patsy arrives too, then Izzy appears with Gina’s boat on the opposite bank while we’re having a catch up about where everyone’s been walking today. I throw a line across to Izzy and we pull the boat back over. Gina, Patsy and Carolyn are going to walk out, so I run a few metres then walk most of the way back to my boat because, meh, tiredness.
I wait on the bank in my boat ready to launch, talking to Raffa. He swam because he was trying to show Dave a line, hit a rock, capsized and tried to demolish a bolder with his head. He shows me a large dent and scrape in his helmet – lucky he has a Sweet Rocker! Eventually James, Jonty, Cami and Izzy appear and I paddle off with them. Turns out the take out is literally just round the corner. No jokes.
Time for lunch and a lie down. I’m so knackered.
Some of the group head off to the Gyronde. The rest of us drive down to the slalom course via a stop at the supermarket and have a laze about it the sun which we had not expected to see today. Emily decides to paddle to the campsite with the others when they arrive.

For dinner Carolyn and I make awesome Sweet and Sour Turkey (Rory’s not here). It was supposed to be chicken, but chicken is expensive. After dinner we drive back to the slalom site and leave the Cardiff paddlers a crate of beer for rescuing Raffa’s boat!

Day 12
Everyone is a bit fed up of paddling today, except Jon Harwell, but he’s never fed up of paddling. Like, ever. We decide to have an additional rest day today and most of us head up to the source of the Gyr to go see a glacier.
The drive up is long and slow, but since the car park is at 1874m above sea level this should be expected. There are large snow banks in the car park and we have to convince Jonny that he does not in fact want to go and have a snow ball fight. Some of the others are clearly lost, so we wait for them at the alpine hut and I drink coffee while the others have crepes (good luck getting the owners to understand what Coeliac disease is).

At the cafe drinking coffee!

Finally they arrive and we head off up the path. Soon we have a good view of the Glacier Noir, covered in moraine and not particularly impressive.

The path up with the Glacier Noir in the background.

Some marmots appear and Sarah is very amused by them eating bread.


Up and up we go, way way up until we finally crest a slope into a hanging valley and we can see the Glacier Blanc.

Glacier Blanc.

It’s slightly surreal. It is huge of course, but a foreshortening effect and the fact that it doesn’t look quite real anyway means that it’s difficult to get the scale of the thing in your head. We stop for lunch on a large rocky outcrop that has a great view up to the glacier. Some Alpine Choughs come and scavenge around us. They seem to like gluten free bread!

Most of the students climb up on a large rock overlooking the glacier and strip off. All for charity, I volunteer to take the photo.
Onwards and upwards as it starts snowing a little, but the climbing is hard work so we’re still in t shirts. We have a stop and regroup and Dave tells us that it doesn’t get any harder from here and we’re nearly there. When it gets considerably steeper and we need to scramble up some bits and we’re still going an hour later I feel a flashback to Rory on the Guisane.

Nevertheless, we finally make it to the Refuge du Glacier Blanc at 2542m above sea level. Woo! We all pile in for a look and get coffee/hot chocolate/beer depending on preference.

It’s very luxurious inside and very busy, so we soon pile back out and take another naked photo outside the Refuge, giving everyone inside a nice bit of entertainment.

Refuge du Glacier Blanc.

The view point and scene of much nakedness shortly.

The Glacier Blanc from the Refuge. Taken by Carolyn Nisbet.

John and I are not very good at walking downhill and much prefer running, so we whiz off ahead. We stop at the Torrent du Glacier Blanc so that lots of the others can give me vertigo by standing on the rock balanced over the huge waterfall.

Heading back down the path.

Torrent du Glacier Blanc.

Just as the path drops over the edge and heads down the steep valley sides is a small gully with snow in it, so John decides to hide and wait for Dave to come round so he can throw snowballs at him. Dave, however, manages to catch the snowball and throw it back.

On the way down the zig zags we spot some marmots and John fails to tempt any to taking bread out of his hand, no matter how determined he is.

There actually is a marmot there taunting John.

Finally we reach the Torrent du Glacier Noir on the level of the car park and John and I sit down to wait for the others to catch up, until John decides that we need to take another naked photo of him in the meltwater stream. A few girlish screams later and I’ve taken the photo and a couple of tourists are in agreement with me that he’s a bit of a nutcase. The rest of the group arrives and we take a few group shots on the bridge.

I think John took this.

Photo by Izzy Tween.

Back in the cars, I manage to make it to the confluence of the Gyr and the Onde before I actually need to use the accelerator, so the day’s fuel efficiency comes in at 105mpg.
Andre is on cooking duty tonight and makes an amazing leek and bacon creamy sauce that I have with gluten free pasta.

After the sun has gone down I star gaze for a bit and manage to spot an iridium flare from a passing satellite!

Day 13
We head back to the Ubaye today so that those who chickened out of the racecourse the first time round can have a go at it. My group is Jon H, Raffa, Sarah and Patsy. Raffa has managed to borrow Mr. De Lac’s boat which is a little too small for him, but he’s glad just to be back on the water. The water level is lower than last time, making for an easier run.
Jon and I lead Sarah and Patsy, respectively, with Raffa floating at the back in case of emergencies. Sarah swims twice and has a less than happy day, while Patsy nails everything, even when I fall sideways into a pourover and have to roll. Nice to be on a deep river this time! Jon, who has swapped boats with Jonny so he can paddle his playboat for a bit, is having issues because Jonny’s deck is fairly awful and lets in floods of water. Every time he stops and empties, half the river pours out of the boat.
We get to the end ok though, as do all the other groups. Jon is annoyed because no one wants to come do the Ubaye gorge with him, but we’re all more excited about the prospect of ice cream.
We stop at a car park on the side of the Lake on the way back and some brave souls go for a swim in the freezing cold water. Others have a sun bathe while the pale brigade hide under the shade of some trees.

Photo by Izzy Tween.

Ice cream is sourced at the “funny rocks” cafĂ© (can’t remember its actual name) in the form of magnums. Rory is extremely disappointed at the lack of Calyppo.

The funny rocks.

At the campsite Chris and Jon cook up a concoction of vegetables and saucisson which I put in a pasta sauce and the rest have with cous cous. Someone starts a drinking game of ring of fire and the evening descends from there…

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