July 29, 2011

Return to Italy - May 2011

For two weeks at the end of May I found myself in the Italian Alps searching for some steep creeks to blow away the cobwebs. Arriving in Milano we squeezed all the gear into the three door hatchback and bounced our way along the motorway, the boats on top squashing the poor Micra horribly. Oh how I love rental cars!

I had been to Italy two years ago when water levels were quite high and hoped for more of the same this time around. First up was the Ayasse River in the Aosta region. I knew little about the rivers in this area but soon discovered it is full of hidden gems and the Ayasse itself has to be one of the most spectacular runs in the country. It's a continuous IV+ with many, many drops and all in a lush green valley with a road running alongside. The river is divided up into 3 sections, the top and middle sections we ran. The final section, aptly named "California" had a bit too much water this time but deserves a return trip.

Neil takes flight on the Ayasse.

Brian on the Ayasse.

Pont Boset overlooks the Ayasse.

After a few days the rains came and we left Aosta for Piedmont and the Sesia valley. It was great to be back here again and I was excited at the prospect of checking out some new runs. Alberto's campsite in Campertogno was busy as usual with the Val Sesia River festival just about to kick off. We had a few nice runs down the Sesia then it was onto the Egua and a chance to play on the kicker slide. Levels were dropping though and many of the runs were too low. What to do?! The dry spell didn't last too long though as we had an apocalyptic thunder storm that night. Levels went off the scale and so thoughts turned to coffee and ice cream, the classic Italian rest day.

Freewheel on Egua.

More Egua sliding around.

Shadowing on the Egua.

After another run or two on the Egua, it was back over to the Ayasse for a run on the middle section. This bit is about 1.5km but there is no end of fun to be had with continuous drops, all a bit bigger and more technical than the top section. We caught this in high water which made it all the more fun but beware there are a few nasty siphons on this, one one of which we all portaged at the largest drop. The section ends in the "mega slide", a twisting slide about 50m long ending in a big pool and a super way to finish the day. Unless that is you fancy continuing to California...it's well worth checking this bit out but I think it needs low water to be feasible and it certainly was not low when we scouted it. It's a breathtaking 500m long gorge with several big drops and waterfalls which get progressively harder, and once your in your in. One for next time I hope. A great trip despite the up and down river levels. Alberto even broke out the Grappa and goats cheese on the final night.

I hope to post a short guide to the Ayasse in the near future. Ciao!

The Gronda valley.

Freeride day on the Egua.

March 4, 2011

Snow is Gone

Is it safe to say the snow is gone? Who knows. There was much fun had during the snow but it's not this paddlers favourite thing to see falling from the sky. We went paddling in the snow, sliding down hills in the snow, had scary near misses on the roads, and my gear froze in my garage. I don't like when things freeze inside my house! Well it's gone now, we are well into a new year and it's time to get back to the river.  Here's a few photos from the season that was from around Ireland.

Taking dog for a walk.

Peter enjoying a snowy Dargle morning.

Same morning, different river.

Christmas day at home. Spot the fox?

Sparky admiring the view on a sunny Sunday morning.

The Shranalong, Connemara. A boat walking party.

Shizzle in the drizzle. Photo by Barry Loughnane.

Fingers crossed for bucket loads more snow...in Italy! Kayaking and ice cream. Hooha!

December 4, 2010

Autumn Epilogue

So I've had a pretty busy last two months of boating around the country. We're snowed in today so at last I have a few minutes to pop up a post as this page is starting to gather some dust. This autumn was a good season for paddling in Ireland with lots of super events on, even if there was not a whole lot of rain.

The Glenarm. A wee gem.

Back in mid October the biggest freestyle event of the year took place at the Sluice in Dublin. I had not paddled in a playboat, never mind a competition, for at least two years so was excited to jump into an old riot disco and have a go, old school style! I was really impressed with the standard of paddling in the tricky feature. The juniors in particular were amazing and could have easily competed with the experts. It was great to see such a big crowd at the event and credit must go to the Irish Freestyle team who are doing stellar work. The winners in each category were:

Mens Expert - Tom Dunphy
Womens Expert - Three way tie between Aisling Griffin, Muireann Lynch and Erica Hennigar
Mens Sport - Andrew Regan
Womens Sport - Aishling Goff
Junior Mens - Robbie O' Shea
Junior Womens - Caoimhe Farrell

Looping in the Sluice

Give us a wave Moogie!

Take off.

At the end of October we had the Crana Canoe Weekend which was held in the most northerly point in Ireland on the amazing Inishowen Peninsula. This was only the second year of the event but it is already one of the biggest in the country attracting paddlers from all over. A number of releases were organised for the short class III section of the Crana River which flows through Buncrana town. A slalom race, freestyle event and sea kayak race were all held on the Saturday.

I have to confess at this point that I missed all of these events as we went on a wee drive very early Saturday morning to the Glenarm River in Co. Antrim. This was a river I had heard a little bit about but nothing prepared me for what was in store. Paddling with a good group of local lads we put on at a spot where it looked decidedly low. They said it would be scrapey for a while but that it would be worth it. It certainly was. The river was tight, technical and steep all the way down and with the bright sun shafting through the trees every so often it really was a magical run. The drops just kept on coming as the river cut deeper into the valley. At one point the guys shouted about a 25ft clean waterfall coming up but I just laughed, not really believing them. This may well be my new favourite run!

Andrew tucking up on the big one.

A magical place.

Big slide on the Glenarm.

On Sunday morning the boater X kicked off on the top section of the Crana, taking in the main rapid aptly named "The Claw". Heats of four paddlers went head to head until we were down to a select few. My first heat was going well until I capsized on my way down The Claw, splitting my boat in the process. Very annoying but at least I got to enjoy the final few races. This was a very close competition in the final stages with the guys in Pyranha G3's having a distinct advantage. The guys in Buncrana put on a great weekend that will surely be bigger and better again in 2011. The final results in the mens expert were as follows;

Men's Expert Results
1. Paddy McGovern
2. Barry Loughnane
3. Yanni The Greek

Racing on the Crana.
Barry atop The Claw

Paddy well ahead in his G3.

The rain started to fall a bit heavier during November and we had fingers crossed that there would be water for the Colligan Gorge Games. This annual boater-x has become the most popular of the year and 150 paddlers of all abilities were registered to start. We didn't get the heavy rain but the level was still good and made for some super racing down the narrow gorge. The start in a pool above the first rapid proved crucial in all races as many well known paddlers found out! The men's finals saw a well deserved win for Mr. Consistency, Paddy McGovern. There was skin and hair flying in the women's final with Jenny Kilbride eventually coming out of the maelstrom in first place. Thanks to the CGG crew for another great day out and the after party didn't disappoint either!

Now I'm heading off to find a big hill and go snowboating. Let's hope things start to thaw out soon. I'm missing the river.

August 13, 2010

Tea break

Act I

Scene I      Eoin is hiding in the canteen making coffee. Workmate enters for a cup of tea.

Workmate: "Hi Eoin. How are you? Were you on holidays last week? Where did you go?"

Eoin: "Yes I went to the French alps on a kayaking trip. We were around Briancon, it's in the south east of France near the Italian border. "

Workmate: "Oh lovely! I heard that's a nice place. I think Sean went there last year. Where were you staying?"

Eoin: "We slept in the van on the edge of town for the first few nights. There was a lot of driving around. We put up the tent for a bit at the end of the week. They have free wifi at the campsite. It's not like camping here."

Workmate: "That sounds like it was fun. Did you have nice weather?"

Eoin: "We could have done with less sun. It caused the snow to melt quickly and the river levels were quite high. There were some very heavy thunderstorms in the evenings and dodgy mountain roads with lots of rockfall. Nice and warm though."

Workmate: "Oh well you got a lovely colour anyway."

Eoin: "It's only my hands and face really. I was wearing a drysuit most of the time because the water is very cold. I had a nasty neck rash by the end of the week."

Workmate: "Did you take a van on the ferry?"

Eoin: "No my friend picked me up but his car broke down in a small town south of Grenoble. It was beyond repair so we had to rent a van. The garage was very helpful though they even crushed the car into a cube for free."

Workmate: "Oh I see! That was unfortunate. So did you get to the beach at all?"

Eoin: "No, but I did walk across a glacier. We were high up in the mountains, quite a way from the beach." 

Workmate becomes confused and focuses on her tea. A quiet minute passes. 

Eoin: "Would you like to see some photos I took during the trip?"

Workmate: "Sure if you have them there why not?"

Eoin: "Yes they are on my phone, here you go."

Le Tunnel. Middle Guil.

Triple step lead in. Middle Guil.

Jule solo run. Middle Guil.

A word from our sponsors. Merci! 

The Gyr valley.

Col d'Izoard.

 The Bonne. Super fun in the sun.

July 29, 2010

Tribute to the Rizzanese

It's been a few months now since my trip to Corsica. Images of those clear blue waters still pop into my head as I sit at my desk daydreaming. Those two weeks spent exploring the Island and its rivers has left me with a lot of memories. It has also left me worried. Worried about the future of these watersheds and the people who depend on them. The reasons for my concern were all too evident in the Rizzanese valley.

The Rizzanese

A major hydro energy scheme is now well underway in this tranquil valley. Despite large and vociferous protests for the last 10 years the project has continued and is now well into the construction phase. A large dam is being constructed at the confluence of the Codi and the Rizzanese which is scheduled for completion in 2012. This dam will divert water via huge extraction pipes from here to a point further down the valley. These pipes carve an ugly path right through the ancient maquis forests for which this part of the Island is famous. The 150 million euro project will also create a large lake upstream of the dam, drowning one of the most spectacular valleys in Europe. The French energy giant EDF is behind the project but ironically they are also one of the biggest sponsors of canoe sport in France.

Rizzanese whitewater and sunshine.

Kayakers are but one very small group who will be affected by this project. The famous classic middle section of the Rizzanese will become a dry lifeless rock jumble. The lower section may still have some grade II/III water as it slows on it's journey to the sea. The Rizzanese's main tributary, the Codi, will still flow but only as far as the new lake and will possibly lose over half of it's length. The Codi and Rizzanese are true creeking gems with kayakers from all over the world travelling to Corsica just to have a chance to experience them. Many of those who come to Corsica to kayak return year after year. It's amazing just how many visit the Island when you consider that the kayaking season is very short and unpredictable, only 2 - 3 weeks in all. It's a reflection of the superb quality of the whitewater but also the stunning landscapes and the warm welcome extended by the locals have a part to play.

One of the many drops on the Codi.

Jim taking off on one of the dazzling Rizzanese drops.

It is a crime that many of the locals living in the remote villages of the Rizzanese valley will be forced to move their homes when the dam is constructed to make way for an artificial lake. There are also several very rare plants such as the Anchusa Crispa and animals like the European pond terrapin living in the Rizzanese's micro climate which risk extinction. Dam construction is far from a truly green source of power. For instance the vegetation which rots under the artificial lake releases huge volumes of methane over a long period, a gas far more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. It is also forecast that the sandy beach of Propriano will slowly disappear as a direct result of the dam, since deposits reaching the coast will be greatly reduced. What other effects this project will have on the Island only time will reveal. 

The dam site from high up the valley. These forests will vanish under the lake.

If you are interested in learning more about the fight for the Rizzanese go to www.rizzanese.fr

May 27, 2010

Corsica and the Ice Cream Lady

In early April I found myself en route to Corsica with a crack team of Irish mercenaries and one technical writer. We went in search of the mystical ice cream hidden deep within the Corsican heartland. We had also heard there was amazing whitewater so we brought our kayaks along for the ride. If we failed to find the ice cream surely we would find a river or two to justify the horrendous carbon footprint we would leave in our wake. Kayak Session had even planned a week of festivities but more on that later.

Corsica is an Island.

As you approach on the ferry Corsica looms on the horizon, rising skyward from golden beaches to white capped peaks. The French call it The Island of Beauty. It is really very pretty. It's rivers are steep and committing but we were also met with some of the most incredibly scenic and unique valleys in Europe, if not the world. The winding mountain roads teeter above the abyss and the rivers peek out momentarily from the forests far, far below. Wild goats and pigs are common sights and we saw several large birds of prey soaring high above the cliffs. Time seems to stand still in the Corsican mountain villages where the friendly locals still make a living in much the same way as their great grandparents did. Olive and fruit trees are scattered across the hillsides and they take great pride in their local specialties. Their chestnut beer quickly became our apr├ęs paddle drink of choice. That and wine in a box.

The Fium Orbo valley

We decided to go kayaking for the first week as it was still a bit too chilly for ice cream. It was a good alternative. The rivers were at sane levels and I was happy that most of the siphons were still visible. The first river we jumped on was the Lower Golo, complete with some friendly Germans who turned our river signals upside down. It is a lovely grade III run with more volume than your typical Corsican creek and a great warm up after the initial traveling tiredness. 
Day two and it was back to the Golo, this time the Upper. It's a long way from the Lower. It was also more like what we expected from Corsica. Steep grade IV with plenty of boulders in a forested valley. A bit low on the day but a super run all the same with some cool moves and plenty of boofing practice which would come in handy later on. A good river for getting in the groove and most of the rapids could be scouted from the boat. Although that was mainly due to our crazy Austrian probes! 

Drivers don't navigate. They drive.

Someone found the 80's German river guide that night and decided on the Middle Vecchio for no. 3. The guide gave it grade VII. Hmmm. (Note ~ If your thinking of writing a guidebook please don't make up your own grading system.) It was actually grade IV-V choked with boulders, siphons and under cuts to keep you on your toes. A fantastic run though it's quite committing and you certainly earn your lunch in there. The local boys don't stop to look at much. We stopped more often. Usually to look at rapids like the one below. We even got to use a hand signal for siphons. Unfortunately we lost a camera at the end but a splendid Corsican dinner in Corte soon had everything right.

Typical rapid on the Middle Vecchio.

The Travo was up next. You don't have a choice when to do the Travo, Monday is Travo day. It's just the way it is. This is another classic run with the picturesque amphitheater drops and one or two chunkier rapids. There is some fun portaging too at the skull and crossbones rapid. The rivers just kept coming and next up was the Middle Fium Orbo. This was just outrageous fun with lots of friendly drops and slides in glorious sunshine. The rocks are sharp though and they chewed up my hands for breakfast. My lasting memory from the run was meeting a solo German boater who was on his honeymoon. His new bride was patiently waiting with a rope at the most difficult rapid. Now that's my kind of lady!

 Good vibes in Ernella.

I have to mention the celebration of Corsican rivers and traditions organised by the Kayak Session boys Phillipe, Raphael et al. This 5 day gathering at the beautiful Camping Ernella site was a memorable occasion for us and a great source of information for those visiting for the first time. Some fantastic old films were played in the evenings on a big screen and there was even an evening of traditional Corsican food and music. 

Dam construction site in the Rizzanese valley.

The gathering was also organised to highlight the plight of the Rizzanese river system which is soon going to be lost to another hydro scheme. We were lucky enough to paddle both it and the other river which will be effected, the Codi. These are two of the most incredible rivers I have run. It is a real tragedy that both are being hit by this project. The dam site is a giant pock mark on the Rizzanese valley and the lake which will be created will change forever the lives of people living in the remote villages like Zoza. Show your support for the protests against this project by visiting SaveTheRizzanese. It is so sad to think we will never be able to experience these magical rivers again.

Jim mid flight on the Rizzanese.
Mickey styling a Rizzanese drop.

Wilmo takes off on the Rizzanese.

March 21, 2010

Snow is Gone - Winter of 2010

Well that's another winter over and I won't be forgetting it for a while. We don't normally get to talk about snow here in Ireland but this winter was the coldest in 50 years. It's all relevant of course but we were regularly breaking ice off our gear and the drive to the river was an extreme sport in itself. The boating has been feast or famine for the past few months. Monstrous floods hit in November which devastated many of the towns in the west and south of Ireland. My home town of Ballinasloe was swallowed by the River Suck for the first time in 120 years. This was followed by a month of temperatures regularly falling below -10C and snow falling in places that had not seen snow in decades. We are so inept at dealing with snow that the country came to a halt for a week, schools and businesses closed, and the minister for transport went on holidays!

The River Suck in Flood, Nov 09. EH Photo.

It wasn't until I got back to help out my neighbours with the sandbags that the scale of the damage hit me. I felt very guilty going paddling the next day while my friends desperately pumped water out their front door. Karma struck though and I took my first swim ever on my home run, the Boluisce River. I decided to attempt the left line on the main falls but landed on my side and ended up in the "Throne Room". Ooopssy daisies! It took half an hour before the boils spat my bruised boat out. While going over the drop I noticed camera flashes going off in front of me. I later discovered they were flashes of lightning!

 Top Drop on the Boluisce. Seanie Byrne Photo.

After Christmas I'd planned to go to Kerry for the new year celebrations if there was any rain. The water arrived in the form of heavy snow showers and the rivers were up briefly for a few days of meltwater paddling. This was the coldest weather I had experienced paddling in Ireland and definitely warranted buying a set of pogies. We managed to run both the Clydagh and the Roughty twice and had a look at the Slaheny but it wasn't up. It's certainly one for next time with some enticing drops cut down through the bedrock. Some snow boating in the sun, speeding down the hills near Kilgarvan, rounded off another great trip to the south west.

The new year brought with it more cold, foreboding, dark weeks at work but bright crisp weekends where I was free to explore. I spent most of these in the Wicklow hills, finding my way to the more remote rivers like the Source of the Liffey, not that there was any water to paddle it. The rains did finally arrive one Friday afternoon and we were on our way at sunrise, eating porridge in the car, lest time be wasted with breakfast! There were a few nice runs on the Annamoe in glorious winter sunshine as the snow melted slowly from the hilltops. What I enjoyed most about those weekends were the smiles and woops from the new guys in the club, stoked on nailing their first runs down Jackson's.

 Sunday morning mass. Eamonn Riggs Photo.

February was so dry the grass turned brown and the crops withered to dust. There was little whitewater to be had. A fun morning run on the Boluisce during the inter-varsities was it. There was still plenty of grade II paddling and instructing to be done, whether it was in the luxury of the swimming pool or on the gentle waters of the Boyne, it was enough to keep me sane. After a bit of tree clearing on the Boyne the Wall Hole was re-opened for business again and is building a solid client base. Fingers and toes crossed that we get some rain soon! In the meantime I think I'll have a look through the Ryanair website again...

 The Wall Hole on the Boyne. John Bewley Photo.