June 23, 2008

Post Exam Getaway - The Alps

Walking out of my last exam on June 2nd I was excited and relieved it was finally over. I didn't have much time to take it all in, however, as I had to get packing for heading out to the Alps that evening; I was joining Leeds University Canoe Club on their annual trip to L'Argentiere.

I was aware that there been flooding in the region and that the majority of the rivers had been closed, with that in mind I wasn't really sure what to expect. Whilst waiting to board the ferry, Luke Farrington who was kindly doing the driving, got a call to say that his 5 star course had changed locations; we were now heading to Val Sesia.

Italy was somewhere I'd been hoping to paddle for a while. Traditionally Val Sesia is visited by kayakers in the first week of May for ideal conditions, but with all the rain this year the season had been considerable extended. I was stoked to be able to take advantage of this and glad I'd chosen to take along the Punk Rocker to paddle rather than my Star.

We were camped at Campertogno, alongside the banks of the Sesia. Everything about this region is stunning; beautiful buildings, clear water and lush vegetation. Unfortunately for the five days we were there it barely ever stopped raining. It didn't give me many opportunities to play with my new camera, most of the shots I did attempt to take were pretty cloudy, but still, I got a bit of chance to try and learn what to do with it.

The last photo here shows the top of the Semenzini. This was a definite highlight of the trip for me; a really fun run of little drops, smooth moves to be made and boofs to be done. It was great to finally get out on a river with my friends, Tim Trew and Nick Horwood, having only ever seen me playboating, I think they didn't really know what to expect! I'm really grateful to them for inviting me to join them on this trip. I think that maybe in the end, I surprised them a little and showed that I'm possibly not just all about freestyle!

Luke checking out the Egua

The above shot shows Tim on the Egua, another great river in the Val Sesia region. Although it was awesome, the camp turned in a mud pit and the general mood of the group of getting a bit bitter, with the 'official' club trip about to begin, we decided to head back over to France. On the way over, having met up with Simon Westgarth, Nick was keen to check out a favourite run of his; the Soana River in the Gran Paradiso. Arriving at the get in, it was quickly established that there was a pretty significant amount of water flowing in front of us; more than what had been paddled by Nick previously. We set off at a fair pace and I soon realised it wasn't going to be the mellow and easygoing run I had been promised. It was intense. After a little while I found myself easing into the groove of things and was really enjoying challenge; I was definitely pushing myself. With it's continuous nature, the river on the whole, at that level, I'd say is pretty much the hardest thing I've done. As much I was having fun in a perverse adrenaline-fueled way, I did ended up in a particularly tricky situation and scared myself, alot. I think my nerves had been getting the better of me and I wasn't paddling proactively enough. About half way through the section, I somehow found myself about to be pinned in some weird siphon type of thing between a wall, a boulder and a large rusty metal pipe. Thankfully I was able to push against a boulder on the river edge and hold myself back long enough for Luke to run and grab the back of boat so I could get out. This really freaked me out, I was determined that I wanted to carry on however and just tried not to think about what had happened. Shortly before reaching the take out, when the river had widen out towards the town, I guess I was getting complacent and tired. There were a series of weir type drops to navigate, I clearly knew where I wanted to be but didn't carry enough speed through one and got sucked back in to a hole. After a while of getting beaten on my head, I'd had enough, my nerves were shot and I was feeling pretty exhausted so I tagged. My legs got fairly bashed but thankfully, the guys were there straight away getting me to the side and chasing after my boat. Thanks to all of them for the help! My boat wasn't so lucky as me and took quite a long trip downstream. Nick walked with me along the bank until a friendly and mildly confused Italian chap let walk through his garden up to the road where I caused a few strange looks on my way back to the cars.

Me boofing on the Soana - thanks to Simon for the photograph

So after the Soana epic, we drove over to L'Argentiere for some generic student-based adventures. After a couple of days of resting and paddling the 'Sunshine Run' on the Durance, the rest of the rivers in the region were reopened for action. Having never actually paddled in the Alps before nor with a university canoe club, it was quite an experience! There were various epics, with kit being lost and trips off to the hospital. The whole trip was a real learning experience. One notable misadventure occurred on the Upper Guisane. Whilst hanging out on the bank waiting for us to regroup after some carnage, the lovely Niamh, stepped on a rusty pitch fork! She'd put one of the spikes straight thru her little toe. Nick and Mat were there to help her and pulled it out of her foot and being awesome, Niamh happily carried on the rest of the river. A visit to the hospital and a tetanus jab later, all was good again.

Niamh and her fork

There was a whole lot of playing done down on the Rabioux wave; the legend that is Tim Trew, managed to donkey flip a Necky Jive!
The girls of Leeds University were awesome. Not only were they super welcoming to me but they were impressive and great fun to paddle with. It was cool to see so many female boater pushing themselves and just getting out there. The girls in the above photo, Amy, Sabina, Niamh and Lucy are heading out to Uganda this summer, I'm really excited that hopefully I'll get out there in time to go boating with them.

The culmination of the club trip was the Slope Jam and Student Boater X contests. Tom Laws did a great job getting such an entertaining event together, hopefully it'll become a firm fixture on the competitions calender. Some sketchy but funny moves were going down on the Fournel and there was a serious amount of nasty carnage. Jonathan Davies stole the show by throwing crazy kick flips off the drops and hucking the last one without a deck.

Nick Horwood hammering in the Slope Jam

Matt Tidy wowing the crowds

In the boater x, I entered the 'advanced student' category, I ended up somewhere near the back after taking to long to get my deck on. It was still a really good laugh and fun to paddle against the guys.
Nick racing off to 1st, Luke just behind for 2nd place and Tim sinking into last

After the club trip ended, a some of us stayed on for an extra few days, checking out a couple more runs, hitting up Decathlon and eating way too many pain au chocolat. On mine and Luke's last day, and as the only one of the original group left, we headed up to the Fournel for one last time.

Thanks to Luke for driving and putting up with me and my singing. And thanks to everyone I paddled and hung out with for making my trip awesome.




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