Jess’s recollections of a first year in the Alps
As I put my out of office on, and waved goodbye to my colleagues, the excitement of the Alps trip sunk in. Having heard so many positive things from other RCC members, I couldn’t wait to see the rivers for myself!
The first day paddling was a warm-up session at Espace Eau Vive, a man-made course but with a river feel, this was a great opportunity to practise using our throw-lines in a group safety session to ready us for the week ahead. We then jumped into our boats and got on the water to practice our skills (and rolling!!). We decided to finish the session with an epic race down the course which amazingly didn’t result in too much carnage. After a quick ice cream in the sun we were on the road again heading to Briançon.
The first river we got on was the Lower Guil which ends at the St Clements Slalom course. It was a stunning river and was great at getting us used to the quick paced freezing water. In the afternoon, we paddled the Durance from the Briancon du prelle and this fast, bouncy river resulted in the most frantic paddling I had ever done in order to stay upright. This was probably due to other member describing this river as grade 2/Poo and advising us to keep our mouths closed. The day finished with a well-deserved drink in the sports bar, followed by a delicious group dinner and games in the chalet.
The next day Regents started on the Claree. I geared myself up for another great day of paddling, I did my stretches, readied my gear, I was pumped! I was ready for this! We grabbed the kayaks and set off down the river. There I was, bouncing along the wave trains, and out of nowhere I found myself on a collision course with a rock and after a big bump I was swimming, losing my paddle in the process. I ditched the boat at the side of the river, and made my way back along the road to the get-on. A second group went down the river again, and thankfully my paddle was found.
In the afternoon I needed a confidence boost, so we headed to the Durance and got on after Bassin De Slalom, for an easier paddle. With only one word of warning, that we needed to be careful of the big hole in the middle and ‘just stay left!’… a couple of the group got carried away with bouncing on wave trains and they ended up going straight into the gigantic hole. One swam, one rolled and after some quick boat rescuing we were back on the water with minimal faff.
Tuesdays River was the Gyronde but sadly I didn’t get to see much of this river before I had another unfortunate meeting with a rock that seemed to sneak up on me. Despite all my efforts to stay upright, I capsized and swam, but after what happened yesterday, I was determined that I was not going to walk out on another river due to a lost paddle, and managed to get it to the side. My boat, however, had other ideas and decided to run the river by itself. After losing sight of my boat I had found myself stuck on the river bank with nowhere to go, but up. With a steep climb out and stroll through a lovely French farm I made my way back along the road to the get-on so I could catch up with my fellow kayakers. After chatting with some locals we discovered that my boat had been sighted and so we pulled a group together, I borrowed a boat and we set off in search of my wayward boat along the same section of river as the day before. After an hours paddling we honestly didn’t think we’d find it but just as we’d given up hope, there in the distance, the sight of bright yellow and orange plastic could be seen. There it was beached; dead centre of the river waiting to be picked up after it’s little adventure without me. The rescue was a success, and my little boat was found and I once again had a full set of kit!
The next day I decided that I needed a little break from kayaking and so whilst the rest paddled the Upper Guisane, three of us went to the spa Les Grands Bains du Monetier for some much needed and well deserved pampering. In the evening everyone gathered for a BBQ and the night was spent enjoying great food, great company and a lot of great G&Ts.
The next day I felt refreshed and ready to get back on the water at the Upper Guil Gorge which subsequently became my favourite river of the entire trip. After getting out at the first rapid to inspect it, the leaders had discussed the line with me and I was ready, not to mention eager, to go. Both of the leaders went ahead with ease and were waiting for me in the eddy below, so I broke out into the flow with confidence, knowing my plan and the line. It was at this point however that my boat, (which at this point seemed to have a mind of its own) had other ideas and did a full 180° turn. Going backwards down a rapid wasn’t really the plan but despite this, I back paddled as hard as I could and headed down the rapid hitting rocks and scraping the wall of the gorge and finally, to the amazement of the leaders and myself, I made it to the eddy upright! After that experience, I felt I could run anything and thoroughly enjoyed myself having a fantastic time running the rest of the gorge.
On our last day, we were given a choice of rivers and so I went back to my old nemesis the Lower Claree and triumphantly managed to make it down without losing my paddle this time. In the afternoon we went back to the Durance from the Briancon du prelle, from the first day of rivers and the second time round was far more enjoyable as I was prepared, and knew I wasn’t going to capsize in the waves. That evening we all gathered and ate together at a local restaurant to celebrate a great week of kayaking and all the fun we had each experienced.
At just under a year of kayaking experience, I was one of the newbies on this trip and I even doubted if I was ready for the Alps with the faster water and the risks being greater. This was a challenging experience and different to anything I had paddled before but it’s the amazing leaders that I have to thank for getting me though the week with a smile on my face. Because of their fantastic leadership, wealth of knowledge, patience and their support, they ensured we all had an unforgettable time, all the while keeping us safe.
I would love to say a huge thank you to the organisers and all the leaders for helping me on all the rivers of the week.
I’m already counting down the days till next year!