An 11am meeting at the main shed saw Glasgow University Canoe Club set out for our annual trip to the French Alps ahead of time. A horribly long drive, with as few rest breaks as possible, saw us arrive in l’Argentier la Bessée late in the evening. Quickly pitching our tents, we headed for our reward: our first proper meal in France.
In the morning, we faffed around a bit, moving tents and generally recovering from the journey down, before heading to the Lower Durance and paddling the Sunshine Run as our first river. As ever, the first run of the holidays claimed a paddler: Emma. After some lunch we returned to the campsite, and a few brave souls descended on the slalom course…soon to be chasing Fraser’s vacant kayak down it. Just as we were having dinner, the lucky sods that’d gotten to fly across arrived.
Day two saw us return to the Sunshine run, this time it was Michael who ended up swimming, as he and TomTom collided while surfing. This one was unpleasant as he ended up having to jump back in the river to reach where his boat had drifted to. The Upper Guisane was next on our hit-list of rivers, and it proved great fun! Running significantly higher than normal, it presented a manageable challenge for the Alpine virgins in the group. Arriving at S-bends (the one named rapid on the river), there was an increased sense of trepidation than normal, and our group (Alpha Squad) had bank support set up as a precaution. Seeing the steps being taken, Emma opted for the better part of valour, and walked round the rapid. Everyone in Alpha Squad got down successfully, with Bravo Squad close on our tail. They all got down the rapid alright, but some instructional confusion caused Harry to capsize and swim, while Sean’s over-zealousness to rescue him saw him drift into a tree, jam his paddles in said tree, capsize and swim clear, followed by some of his outfitting. Seeing the carnage unfolding here, TomTom and Mike stayed behind to assist in the clean-up. Everything was tidied up in short order, and we continued down the river, arriving rather abruptly at the weir, which sucked Emma back in and capsized her…only for her to manage her first ever river roll! Tom’s cheering, along with Emma’s beaming smile at this turn of events, lasted the remaining stretch of river.
Following the success of the previous day, Ben decided that we should try and get three rivers done in one day. To this end, we headed to the Gyronde (in the hopes of paddling the Gyr and the Onde afterwards). This did not happen. Within a few hundred metres of the get-on Amy capsized and swam. While attempting to get across to the eddy I had slid into, Emma capsized, and despite another successful roll, she capsized again and swam. Just after being sent up to get the bus keys and stop the other group from getting on the river, I saw something else bobbing past: Fraser’s airbag…closely followed by Gregor’s kayak. Eventually everyone was located and collected, and most of the kayaks pinned in places where they could be retrieved on a second run of the river – but Amy’s kayak had drifted past me half-an-hour earlier. Upon returning to the camp-site, and confirming Edinburgh Uni had seen it go past, Mike, Harry and I jumped in the minibus to retrieve it before it went into the lake at the bottom of the valley. Mike’s freakishly good eyesight spotted it pinned on some rocks only a few kilometres below the slalom course, and after some near-off-road driving and some ninja-rope tricks, we were driving back, victorious, with Amy’s kayak. A major welding session took place that evening, with Fraser and Amy both repairing their kayaks, and Gregor popping a dent out of the nose of his. In fact, despite the sheer level of carnage, the only casualty was Fraser’s airbag and left shoe!
After this day of carnage, another three-river day was planned: this time the Middle Clarée, Lower Clarée and the Onde. This was scuppered pretty quickly, as the Middle Clarée put off all but two of those allowed to get on. The Lower Clarée proved to be a nice warm-up river for Cat who had arrived the previous evening. Cat and I had been on this river once before, and remembered it being a twelve kilometre long drift, and though this time it was easy, it wasn’t quite that easy. At the end, discussions were had about where to go, and it was decided to return to the slalom course and do training. When we arrived, it started to rain, so rather than getting on the river, we decided to play volleyball. This was great fun, until a block by Sean caused Fraser to fall hard, leading to a hospital trip and some bad news: he’d broken his foot.
With the water levels dropping slightly, we realised that the Brianҫon Gorge. Arriving there, and seeing the cacophony of water ploughing through the barrage, only a few brave souls decided to take on the challenge. A successful, no-swim run, and we decided to head back to the Upper Guisane, where Emma’s weir stuck again; this time causing her to swim. Still having time left for a short river, the convoy made its way to the Onde, onto which only seven of the group got on, two rolls and a swim halfway down encouraged two of them to get off. This tightly packed day left everyone shattered, so we had our meal out. We went to Guillestre, to a small restaurant called Chez Antoine, and the meal was amazing!
The following day was our rest day, which normally means only one thing: go karting! Unfortunately, as this was not a weekend, this was not an option. In the morning, Tom Jenkins decided that he didn’t want a rest day, he wanted more kayaking, so set off with Leeds to do the Lower Clarée and the Gyronde. In exchange, we got Mike, who had battered his head on some inconspicuous section of the Upper Guisane the previous day. Since go-karting proved to be an impossibility, we headed to Brianҫon to explore the castle…though this proved to be on too much of an incline to be practical for Fraser. Ben and Sean organised a barbeque for the evening, with one part of it being used more as projectiles and stink bombs than as food. Anthony arrived late at night, completing the group.
For our seventh day, and as a post-night-out paddle, we headed on what could only be classed as a mini expedition, paddling the Lower Guil and Lower Durance (23 kilometres worth of river) in one go. We headed back to the camp-site to watch the slope jam, only to discover that it had been postponed due to high water. Instead we played Leeds University at volleyball, and despite our previous efforts in hospitalising our good players, schooled them.
No two days of kayaking can be productive, so we spent forever messing about the next morning, before finally making our way to the Upper Guisane. Only the section to S-bends was paddled before Anthony swum, going down most of the daunting rapid out with the protective cocoon of his kayak, catching the whole thing on head-cam. So that was hospital trip #2 – though at least it only led to some pain killers. This was also the evening of the Boat-o-cross, for which we had three entries: TomTom and Mike in the Intermediate Mens, and Amy in the Intermediate Womens. TomTom could have won his race, if not for an unfortunate eddy-line capsize, followed by an even more unfortunate encounter with a rock (which led to hospital trip #3 and another set of crutches!), while Mike and Amy each finished about half-way up the field. Undeterred, Mike then went on to win the Inflate-o-cross, celebrating by revealing nearly all in a mankini. A poorly thought out party spoiled the atmosphere generated by the event, but pizza from the usual hut made up for it.
The following morning, a number of people were suffering from hangovers, but we managed to set off at a reasonable time for the Guil. The ‘Cripple Car’ went to hospital for TomTom, while the other car and minibus went to run some rivers new to (nearly) everyone present. This proved to be an absolutely excellent day, as the first river (Upper Upper Guil) was a pleasant bimble, while the Upper Guil contained a somewhat more manly gorge. After the kayaking, we headed back to watch the Slope-Jam on the Fournel, but arrived just after it finished due to lack of confidence driving along a seemingly endless road up a mountains face!
Our final day of boating was definitely the grand finale that the group had longed: starting with a successful return to the Gyronde, and concluding with a hardcore run of an impressively high Gyr (with a fourth ‘red herring’ hospital trip thrown in for good measure).
Number of rivers paddled: 18
Number of swims: 14
Miles travelled: 3096