Sunday, 21 August 2016

Val Sesia and the South French Alps Part 2

Day 8: Saturday 28th May
In the morning we packed and left our orchard campsite as soon as possible - the bathrooms were pretty sketchy and smelled awful every time you turned on a tap. Also, the orchard was full of wildflowers and Paul and I were suffering major hayfever and associated grumpiness (especially at Jon and his sensible immune system).
We drove to Aime to look at the rapids there which looked like nice bouncy grade 4 and nothing like they did in the guide book. It appeared the river was quite high!

Walking up to look at the Aime rapids

All the rapids have names, but they were essentially one long rapid at the level we were paddling them at.

We went and got shopping in Bourg St Maurice then headed to the slalom site. While Paul was cycling the shuttle on the handy river-side cycle track, Jon and I met another small group of British paddlers who were on a one car trip and had a chat. Paul arrived back before their shuttle driver did since they were doing the longer stretch.
The slalom site in Bourg St Maurice was really big water and Paul was absolutely loving the eddies all the way down. The river down to Aime was bouncy grade 2/3 wave trains - nice and relaxing. The fun really started at Aime though, one really long big water grade 4, a bit like a smaller version of the Lower Oetz. We ate and packed up in 33°C heat!
We decided to avoid the expensive tunnel to Briancon by heading round by Grenoble. Unfortunately, it turned out the pass from Grenoble to Briancon which had been closed due to landslides last year was still closed and we ended up having to drive all the way round by Gap. It was a really long way.
We were so happy to make it to La Roche de Rame and Camping du Lac - nice bathrooms! Jon made a tasty one pot rice and beef dish for dinner.

Day 9: Sunday 29th May
Since it was Sunday, I had to hurry the boys a lot to get to a supermarket, but we made it to the one in Briancon with 25 minutes to spare! The Guisane was looking very very high, so we thought we could do the Briancon gorge.


It was also very very high. As in the next eddy is the get out and it’ll hold about half a boat. Turns out a couple of very hot days then a day of rain makes everything enormous… Later on we learned that the gorge had a few trees stuck in it, so walking away was a very good decision!
An impromptu rest day seemed to be on the cards, so we walked up and had a look at Malefoss, the section of the Durance above the gorge - it was huge and awesome to look at.

More random waterfalls beckoned, so we headed to the top of the Claree. We couldn't really see what was obviously an impressive set of falls, however the alpine flower meadows were very pretty.

Top of the Claree

Alpine flower meadows

Then, on a half conceived idea, we decided to go and find the Biasse teacups that are vaguely mentioned in the guidebook. As it turned out, they are a very long way up a spectacular valley where you continually think you can’t get any further until finally what was definitely a road when you started becomes a tiny path going up a mountain. Then you park and walk a bit and there’s the teacup falls! Next to them are some much much more impressive falls.

The end of the drive-able road

The Biasse tea cups, way too high to paddle

First descent anyone?

It should be noted that off roading in a very low slung estate car is a nerve wracking experience and 4x4s are for sissies.

Saying "It's fine" a lot totally makes it ok.

Back at the campsite Jon made us lemon (soy) creamy sauce for dinner which was very tasty.

Day 10: Monday 30th May
With everything very high, we decided to try the Ubaye racecourse as we reckoned it would still be ok with lots of water. It was reading about 50 cumecs on the gauge, so very high! The waves were massive and bouncy and scary and I was exhausted, but we managed to get down all fine! Grade 4/4+ with some easier sections to get my strength back enough for the next bit. I had an encounter with one hole but yelled my way through it! Paul was commenting at the end that the sections in the guidebook that were described as flat were distinctly not flat.

The put in for the Ubaye

We went and ate lunch at Fresquiere, looking at the gnar filled section downstream. I had some very weird gluten free biscotti style things that were a bit like eating rock hard dry toast. So instead I ate a whole pack of salami.

Food time

Scary Fresquierre section

We also went and looked at a tributary of the Ubaye that is in the guide book, but given how much water there was around, it looked a little on the low side and a bit meh.
We drove back to Guilestre over the col de Vars, looking at all the ski villlages that look really sad without a covering of snow.
I made sweet and sour sauce for dinner.

Day 11: Tuesday 31st May
I had the day off from paddling since I’d been so exhausted the day before. The boys paddled the Gyronde in the morning. Paul capsized and punched a rock and complained that the guide book had misled him into thinking it was grade 3+ (Jon had got them on at the 4+ bit). Jon also got some grit in his eye at the put in and couln’t see very well for most of the river! We met Edinburgh Uni at the put in, but they were faffing.


Down at the slalom site in L’Argentierre I found some postcards and tiny kayaks on keyrings for the boys.

L'Argentierre slalom site

Sunshine at the slalom site

We bought some lunch in the supermarket then drove up to the top of the Gyr to walk up to the Glacier Blanc. It was raining when we arrived, but it cleared up and was actually fairly nice for the rest of the walk. We found some marmots on the way up that liked the gluten free biscotti a lot more than me! There was quite a lot of snow, but we got to the glacier view point and sat on the bridge for a quick rest, before running all the way back to the car.

Making friends with marmots, Glacier Noir is in the background

Glacier Blanc

It was surprisingly warm despite the snow

On the way back to the campsite we managed to get 126mpg, hee hee. I made curry for dinner then called Davey while the boys washed up.

Day 12: Wednesday 1st June
We woke up a bit late today - what the hell, we’re on holiday. We went and paddled the Lower Guisane, one of our must-do runs. It. Was. Awesome. A fantastic, fast, bouncy level where you feel just on the edge of control the whole time, yet everything is friendlier and smoother than you expect it to be. Still, super continuous grade 4 for a very long way in very cold water! Wheeee! I had a small encounter with a pourover, but nailed the paddle-frantically-and-hope-for-the-best recovery.

The put in for the Guisane

We acquired lunch in the big supermarket in Briancon then walked into the (napoleonic star) fort and found a bench to sit and eat at while we discussed the (im)possibility of attacking the pass at Briancon. Then we had a nice wander round the fort and down to the bridge over the Briancon gorge. Jon and Paul attempted to play poo-sticks, but since Jon was the only one to ever hit the water with a stick we had to declare him the winner.
We picked up the bike then headed back to camp where we cooked (soy) creamy paprika chicken with pasta, huddled in the mouth of the tent because it was raining so much.

Day 13: Thursday 2nd June
My lovely health problems finally hit today, so no paddling for me. The boys paddled the Middle Guil and I took a lot of photos! I also got to watch a raft paddle down staircase making it look pretty difficult. This was a very good test of the zoom lens on my camera, which it turns out works very well! The boys bravely portaged, but I got a great video of them running “Le Tunnel” further down and Paul having a little roll after missing his boof on the second drop. Jon rolled further down apparently, but I sadly missed it.

At the dam on the drive up, the gates were open and the Guil was pouring through into the gorge

Millenium rapid (grade 5+) above the put in has seen some very recent rock falls

The boys getting in below triple step

Jon in a grade 4 just below the put in

Bravely portaging Staircase

We had lunch at Chateax Queryas looking down into the box canyon, then the boys blasted down the upper Guil while I fell asleep in the car.

Chateaux Q box canyon

Paddle ninja?

Upper Guil put in

Back at the campsite, Jon and Paul made leek and bacon (soy) creamy pasta while I slept more.

Day 14: Friday 3rd June
Deciding that, to hell with illness, I was not going to miss the Guil, we headed back to Triple Step in the sunshine. Paul managed to hitch the shuttle from Staircase by flagging down the Edinburgh Uni guys who were having a photo shoot at triple then going to the upper to pile all their freshers down en masse.
The river to the top of Staircase is sort of pool drop grade 3-4 rapids which were amazing and a lot of the time mostly I could only see white, but I got down and had a great time. At the top of Staircase I was shaking with exhaustion, so walked out to the car with Jon carrying my boat. I got changed and drove down to catch Jon and Paul coming down Le Tunnel and styling it.

Jon in Le Tunnel

Paul in Le Tunnel

Looking happy at the take out
We had lunch at the take out in the sunshine, then the boys had another blast down the upper, managing to over take a group we saw on the drive up only a few hundred meters downstream from where we’d seen them!

Last run of the holiday on the Upper Guil

Chateaux Queryas in the sun

I met Edinburgh at the take out, chatting about their carnage in Chateax Q. We faffed about packing the boats then went back to Guilestre to stock up on raspberry juice and Haribo for the drive.
A final meal of fried rice with bacon and we were nearly packed for our long drive.

Day 15: Saturday 4th June
Off at 7.50am over the exciting Col du Galibier which had just opened a couple of days before. We saw some amazing views, some glaciers and lots of marmots running around.

At the top of the col du Galiber, photo by Paul

Once out of the Alps, France is extremely boring.
Got to the ferry in time to be told that the early ferry was full and we’d need to wait another 4 hours, only to be told by the greatest person in the whole world that they’d managed to squeeze us on! We were entertained on the deck of the ferry by a group of school kids bouncing egg-shaped bouncy balls around with the predictable consequences of the ferry leaving a trail of them in its wake.

Coming into Dover

Into Cambridge only a short time after Claire and Simon, who got stuck in the same massive traffic jam at the dart crossing. Collapsed into bed and fell asleep immediately.

The Dartford crossing...

Day 16: Sunday 5th June

Leisurely drive back to Scotland then dinner at Jon’s, cooked by Andre and company.

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