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Alpine holiday to the Ecrin / Durance region of France 2016
was all booked and running to time with Dominic and Paula already in France and
Mark and Marianne making their way down.
The motorways were clear and gave a good run down to
Once on the Ferry we began to relax and enjoy the holiday. The trip down went quickly with loads of space in the Mercedes Minibus but we were due on the campsite at 4:00am so we decided to stop off in a picnic spot on the road over to Gap and get some sleep stretched out under the stars. (a real shame not everyone left out their sleeping bags!!). In the morning we drove to the first little French town and enjoyed pain au chocolate and coffee. It was a novelty arriving on the campsite late morning but we pitched our tents and set up camp and showered, just 16 hours late.
year’s group included: Keith Steer, Sara Bergqvist, Pete Thomas, Carole
Thomas, Fiona Barry, Sarah Gille, Leanne Murray, Helen Siertsema, Graham
Devaney, Stuart Conway, Chris Wood, Lucy Stuart, Chris Murphy, Charlie Murphy, Oliver Murphy, Claire Murphy, Mark
Benson, Aaron Benson and
24/07/16 Day 1 - The Middle Durance (Campsite to the Airfield)
Well it had been a long drive down and now that we had put up all the tents and sorted out the camp there was time for a quick run down the middle Durance. The minibus was put at the get out (airfield) and Keith and Sara cycled back but took a little longer than needed with an extra hill climb added in for good measure. Some of us had carried up to the top of the slalom course and made several runs, while the rest waited at the bottom ready for the off.
We paddled as two groups, turning and eddying out as required. The water was very fast and cold but the mountains and sunny conditions gave a great atmosphere. The size of the waves and width of the water were all new to me but there were numerous small rapids and wave trains to keep everyone on their toes.
Dominic Fahey More Photos…..
25/07/16 Day 2 – (The
This is a wonderful
pretty valley below the historic town of
A couple of play waves enroute distracted us from our journey and then we were beneath the towering structures of the Eygliers cliffs. We drifted further down the 7km stretch practising our break ins / outs and on past the usual get out near the N94 bridge. A km further on brought us to the confluence of the river Durance where the size of the river now quadrupled. Long sweeping bends and gravel beaches gave rise to some boiling water (funny water) and soon we were at the top of the St Clements Slalom course. This feature near the raft get on at St Clements has three main features or waves. The first is an excellent play wave with easy surfing. The second is often bigger with a steeper section in the middle of the river. The third is a large hole in middle of the river some 50m above the road bridge. Most usually paddle this on either shoulder but if you are brave enough can be surfed.
At the get out we all practised our defensive swimming and throw line rescues. It was clear that most if not all needed this practise as our first throws were often comical to say the least. We spent an hour in the sun having a picnic or browsing in the canoe and kayak shop on site.
Sara Bergqvist More Photos…..
26/07/16 Day 3 - The Briancon Gorge
We arrived at the car park to find a difficult minibus manoeuvre to get around a car parked considerately in the centre, so the trailer was quickly unhitched and everyone gave a hand to move the trailer into a better position.
After a short briefing of the river to come, those who where keen where swiftly ready to head down the first section. A rocky garden which was a relatively a straight run, with some rocks to manoeuvre and follow the waters flow down to the bottom. Everyone got down safely and where all well warmed up for the next section. This began with a wooden shoot. Unfortunately the water level was low and it was quite difficult to get onto the wooden ramp which ended in a bit of a ski jump. Once on the slide a bit of speed was needed to run down the slide otherwise it was a bit of a rocky landing. As I found out!!
We should have taken the hint at the level at the slide because the next section was a horrid rocky scramble, many moons away from kayaking. However we mustered through.
There was on section in which there was a small drop with an angled wave at the bottom. I had performed a slow motion brace to right myself (zoom in to worried face on picture below) unfortunately Leanne was not so lucky- despite banging for a rescue in the pool below spectators where busy taking photos to react to the imminent swim!
Later we moved into the last section where more water had gathered from the three hydro-scheme pipes which flushed jets of water back into the river. We passed over the Briancon weir with ease and soon met up with the rest of the gang, ready for the next section.
Sarah Gille More Photos…..
26/07/16 Day 3 – The Upper Durance
After a quick blast of the Briancon gorge for some, the group reformed to descend the Prelles section of the Upper Durance. We set off in two groups being led by myself or Graham. The water was slightly higher than we’re used to in this section, but this was no challenge for the group who powered over the top of the fantastic wave trains.
Just before the bridge we eddied out to discuss the following section and agreed to an eddy-hopping competition. Here the group pushed themselves to pick their own eddies along either side of the bank, as well as behind boulders in the middle of the river. They worked hard to practice their breaking in and out, showing great skill and commitment. There was a bit of excitement in one eddy as a few members of the group spotted a frog on the bank. As usual there were stinky sections of the river as we passed through the refuge site and the sewage works, but this didn’t take anything away from a fantastic section of river.
Lucy Stuart More Photos…..
26/07/16 Day 3 The
It was getting a bit
late in the day to do anything other than a short section of the Upper Guisane
and our put-in was just below the feature known as ‘S Bend’. There
are many grand rivers in the
A few rocks scattered here and there and a small weir added interest to the trip and everyone managed to avoid being tipped out of their boat despite the very loud bangs I heard behind me occasionally as plastic made violent contact with boulder.
we came to the
a bridge decorated richly with garlands of flowers was reached and this was our
get-out just short of the
Another great day with a great team of mates.
Pete Thomas More Photos…..
27/07/16 Day 4 The Lower Durance (Sunshine Run)
Given the weather forecast of tres chaud et il fait soleil, the Sunshine Run was a pretty obvious choice for the day. We started just above the slalom course at St Clément, where we all had a chance to run the rapids as a warm up for the day. As we left St Clément, the river widened and we all appreciated the scenery of the surrounding valley as we got carried along by the current before the river became a little bit bouncy. As the river meandered through the valley floor, the wave trains through the corners became bigger and bouncier, leading to a couple of swims (and some pretty good rescuing skills!). There were plenty of waves where all the playboaters had the chance to show off their play boat skills.
It wasn’t long before we eddied out and realised we were at the last eddy before the (in-)famous Rabioux Rapid (affectionately referred to as the Rab Wave). We all got out to go and have a look at the wave and the best line to take that would lead to the least chance of swimming. Everybody decided they wanted a go at getting through it (although some people needed a bit more encouragement than others… ), and so one-by-one we eddied out and tried to remember the line we’d been told to take, some more successfully than others, although there were only 2 swims. After a leisurely lunch break watching rafts and hydro-speeders tackle the wave we set off again.
During the afternoon the river got wider and noticeably more bouncy, particularly for those of us in fairly low volume boats! There were plenty of opportunities to practice surfing the wave trains around the wide bends of the river, while having the chance to rest when the river quietened down a little. There was even the chance to enjoy some more of the scenery, and spot the vultures soaring on the thermals. For those of us who’d never been to the Lower Durance before, we’d been warned that this section had a slight sting in the tail before the get out. Sure enough, we soon came across a particularly large rapid, which everybody had fun getting through (apart from Helen Seirtsema, who swam down the entire rapid). We then quickly came across the Embrun Wave, which again, everybody had fun getting through (apart from Helen Seirtsema, who swam again). The rest of the river was uneventful, and we were soon out of the river, changed, and having a well-deserved Haagen-Daaz ice cream.
Chris Wood More Photos…..
28/07/16 Day 5 Glacier Blanc mountain walk
campsite at L’Argentiere la
Bessee is located in the
The Glacier of
choice, visited numerous times on previous
We set of at 7.00 am on a fine clear day to drive to the start of the walk at Pre de Madame Carle. The early start was so we could walk in the cool of the morning, when it was also quieter. The first part of the walk was a steeply twisting path of zigzags leading to a boulder field below the glacier. A marmot was spotted on the way up and Graham hand feed it a small piece of croissant,(not sure if that’s a healthy diet for a marmot but it seems they are often feed by passing humans). At the bridge mentioned above, we had a group photo with the glacier in the background; these photos over the years may show how much the glacier has receded in recent times.
We left one of the group at the bridge as the upper section was steeper and involved a little scrabbling with some iron work hand holds as protection. The refuge was reached after about 2 hours with 668 metres of ascent and, although we had reached the hut, we had not stood on the glacier so, those that wished to do so set off to walk for a further half hour upwards along the glacier moraine until we reached a spot where we could drop on to the glacier itself.
From this point the walk up the glacier to the next higher altitude refuge required a little better equipment than trainers.
After photos and some hopping and dancing with glee on the ice we set of back down to the refuge to join Pete and Keith who had stayed at the hut reserving a picnic table for lunch, as it was now getting busy. We set off back down at different paces and all joined up at the bottom of the walk for a drink at the cafe at Pre de Madame Carle, after a most enjoyable day.
Keith and Sara retrieved their cycles from the bus and set off for a twisty downhill ALL the way to Argentiere, arriving not long after the bus with the rest of us on board. Myself Carole, Pete, Leanne, Graham, Lucy, Chris W, and Stuart.
Caz Thomas More Photos…..
29/07/16 Day 6 The
After a two
hour drive in a cheesy smelling minibus, we arrived at the fort at Condamine in
29/07/16 Day 6 The Ubaye Race Course
Some of us had not been paddling enough white water over the last 12 months and set off down the renowned Racecourse section of the Ubaye with that wobbly bladder and stomach feeling. The first grade 4 rapid gives you a rude awakening, some more than most. On to the next tricky rapid which is a technical manoeuvre around a massive boulder in the middle of the river. Some dozy chump decided to stop paddling at the bottom of this and got their head wet.
All back in our boats, we blasted down the rest of this fantastic section bouncing over grade 4 rapids and avoiding rocks. This river offers continuous bouncy rapids with the odd calmer stretches to collect swimmers and kit, if required. The infamous Shark’s Tooth rapid came into view which is another grade 4 feature with large boulders to weave through; the instantly recognisable, pointed rock at the end gives this rapid its name. However, the chump was not on form and stared at stoppers instead of looking at where they were going, and lo and behold, ended up doing a slow motion capsize. Boat and chump back in action and onto the final section of this river which is a nice bouncy drop/rapid, which, takes you under the famous roman bridge which straddles the gorge.
Helen Seirtsema More Photos…..
30/07/16 Day 7 Château-Queyras - Via ferrata
Report to follow….
Claire Murphy More Photos…..
30/07/16 Day 7 Château-Queyras Gorge
Report to follow….
Chris Murphy More Photos…..
30/07/16 Day 7 The Middle Guil
Report to follow….
Ollie and Charlie Murphy More Photos…..
30/07/16 Day 7 l’Argentière la Bessée Bouldering Competition
the Saturday night we all went along to watch the final of the International
Bouldering Competition. Some of
us even took chairs!!
What is an International Open ? It’s a bouldering competition that is open to all comers. It will take place on Thursday July 28th at l’Argentière la Bessée. All competitors will have 2 sessions of 2 hours to try and hopefully climb 30 qualifying boulders (from 5+ to 8a).
The six best female and male climbers will take part in a final on the evening of Saturday July 30th. Whatever your level, come and have a go, there will be something for everyone! The International Open is about mixing up amateurs and professionals of our sport, so we can all share the experience, meeting new people and have some laughs together.
To take part you just need to have an FFME competition licence, or an international licence. For non-French youth A and juniors, a senior IFSC licence is needed. Prizes will be awarded to the top 5 climbers in the Grand Finale : 1st: 1500€; 2nd: 800€; 3rd: 450€; 4th: 200€; 5th: 100€ More Photos…..
31/07/16 Day 8
set off to cross the international border between
Fiona Barry More Photos…..
01/08/16 Day 9 La Biaysse – Fressinieres to Pallon (Grade 2-3)
Report to follow….
Graham Devaney More Photos…..
01/08/16 Day 9 Lower Guil to St Clements
This was our first river of the day. We arrived at the get to find lots of different groups; mainly Germans practicing breaking in and out and ferry gliding. The put-in is river left just below the bridge on a very narrow road from Guillestre to La Font d' Eyeliners. This is a Grade 3 run of about 7km.
On the way down there was plenty of little rapids for the group to practice skills, with clearly defied Eddies.
The Guil joins the Durance and triples in volume. We continued down passed the slalom course to get out at St-Clement. Here is an opportunity to use the rolling pool / kayak canal and re-run the Slalom course.
Great morning paddling.
Stuart Conway More Photos…..
02/08/16 Day 10
Ubaye is one of the highlights of the LCC Alps holiday, so there were no
complaints when a second day trip was announced. John (Allerton) kindly offered
a lift, which Aaron and I were pleased to take advantage of. Travelling by car
allows a route directly over the Col de Vars; scenic even by Alpine standards.
We had time for a brief stop at the summit and arrived at the get on, below the
Once again we split into two groups. Graham, leading one of the groups, took time for group coaching as they progressed down the river. At moderate to low water levels, a little higher than the previous week, all were able to enjoy the varied grade 3/2 paddling down to the RV campsite at Jausiers.
Mark Benson More Photos…..
02/08/16 Day 10 Ubaye Race Course
I have seen on previous pictures from the
Whilst away on this occasion – I asked what this feature is and found it’s called the Ubaye Racecourse and also found out the trip was also planned later in the week.
Wednesday came and we set off at 8am, in the morning we did the upper Ubaye section and then moved to the get in on the Lower Racecourse section after Lunch. The river was wide with clear water and I had a little anticipation as I was told its continuous grade 3 – 4 all the way – however I wanted to see the magnificent arches at the end of the river.
The team set off weaving in and out of rocks boofing and dropping in to stoppers – the good thing was it started at a good level – the features were not too difficult so we eased in to the process. The features on the river are excellent with short flowing easy rapids then grade 3 sections periodically spaced in between – then all of a sudden large drops and grade 4 features.
From the guide
A consistent stretch of class 3+ to 4 whitewater with fun big and bouncy rapids and surprisingly warm water. 15 rapids in quick succession, including named rapids like Dent de Requin (Shark’s Tooth) and Rouleau de Printemps (Spring Roll) make this section a must for your kayaking bucket list. The scenery is outstanding with views over the wooded valley, and at the end of the descent the river narrows through a sheer sided gorge
Picking our way down the river you needed constant concentration to weave in and out of the rocks – sometimes back paddling mixed with constant correction strokes.
We all rounded the bend and eddied Keith gave us a new hand signal not in the guide book – place hand flat and at a right angle to head thumb touching scalp – then directly after point to your tooth at side of mouth. This indicates shark tooth – and the feature is aptly named a huge rock pointing skywards shaped just like a sharks tooth.
At the end of the run we rounded and long flowing corner
rapid and then I saw the arches a sight to behold the river slowed and was
channeled between two high walls passing under the 2 huge arches. We stopped to look skywards – the
place is truly spectacular the arches magnificent and the sides like the hanging
The group that paddled with on this day nailed all the features with style and precision.
John Allerton More Photos…..
03/08/16 Day 11 The Upper Durance
Report to follow….
Keiron Allerton More Photos…..
03/08/16 Day 11 The
to start a relaxing lunch we packed up swiftly following the morning river run
and then off to the get-on for the
Once on the river, with Mark Benson taking up his traditional position at the back, we bounced and weaved our way through the waves with the occasional break out as we made our way towards the dreaded S-bends *du du duhhhh*. Some of the group decided at this point to endure the extreme portage, while the more experienced members powered down.
Back on the water a few decided to give a synchronised rolling display (successfully) at a tricky weir. After this entertainment we passed though the much admired bridges of Serre Chevalier, under the globe balcony to a relaxing finish at the rafting centre.
Aaron Benson More Photos…..
04/08/16 Day 12 The Verdon
A hot dry day was forecast so what better than to dunk our bodies in ffffffreezing cold gorge water? When compared to the Alps, the canton of Provence has a mostly tame landscape famous for its perfume industry and acres upon acres of lavender fields but slicing right through a good chunk of it is the mega impressive Verdon Gorge which cuts clean and deep through ancient limestone.
We left our campsite dead on 0700 and Keith drove the 3 hours to the top of the gorge while the rest of us snored in the back of the bus. Obviously the place is very popular and despite our early start, we had difficulty finding a parking space on the narrow road above the river. The sun was high in the sky by the time we got to the edge of the water and most of us had begun to bake. That was easily solved by our first swim across the fast flowing river to our first “jump”. A slippery rock was scaled and everyone launched high off the rock into the deep green water and quickly headed across the river again into the sun. All too quickly we were each following Keith downstream, laying on our backs with our feet as high as possible to avoid entanglement with the rocky bottom. More importantly, we all tried to get our backsides as high as possible to avoid bashes and bruises on the many rocks.
The river swept us away through some fantastic steep and high rock scenery and eventually we arrived once more at a sunny beach where we had time to catch our breath and warm up a bit. Above us we saw a number of climbers who were on impossibly smooth walls and, judging by the amount of rock above them, I dare say they’re still there now trying to get to the top of their chosen route.
A local guide took it on himself to tell us about some of the challenges they face trying to earn a living leading groups down the gorge. Apparently the activity is under threat of closure from the authorities who are concerned about potential damage to the environment. We proceeded with renewed caution and tried to avoid further contact with the guide.
Another large boulder came into view and this time it was much higher than our earlier practice jump. Most of us didn’t hesitate a second to jump into the deep water but I stupidly held my arms out horizontally as I hit the water, the result was stinging hands as if I had been whacked by the cane from the headmaster.
A syphon came into view and, although some of us swam through it, Im certainly happy to give them a wide berth and never want to go near any of them while paddling.
Our get out came into view and a short ascent up a scree slope took us to a number of dark tunnels requiring us to use head torches. These tunnels eventually led us back to our starting point and we quickly changed out of our wet gear and drove higher up to an amazing view point where we had lunch and marvelled at the vultures that were taking a ride on the thermals coming up from the gorge. What it must feel like to be able to fly and join them in their easy acrobatics.
A necky drive down steep switchback bends eventually led us to the large lake at the bottom of the gorge where we had a chance to cool of and snooze in the shade for an hour before heading out again through lavender and sunflower fields in search of a restaurant that the team had visited during a previous trip. A well-earned meal was enjoyed by all as darkness descended. With a long drive ahead of him and the treat of a thunderstorm, I was impressed by Keith’s patience as we tucked into helpings of pavlova for desert.
I think most of us slept though the heavy rain and lightning on the way back and I was glad that it had abated for a while as we piled into our tents, tired and happy at half past midnight.
Yet another great action-packed day with LCC.
Pete Thomas More Photos…..
05/08/16 Day 13 The Lower Durance “My water taxi J”
The day started at St Clements. Keith had decided to break all the safety rules and paddle the section from the camp site on his own to meet us there, tut tut!! We then waited patiently for Pete and others to do the shuttle, which took an hour and a half. Apparently the traffic was bad but I think Helen just needed more cheese!
We then set off as one big group down the sunshine run in the glorious sun shine! Sarah, Leanne and I decided to raft up for several rapids, which was great fun and Caz soon got in on the action. We then came to the Rab wave. After inspection I stood on the rock to guide people through the Keith line. Those who listened got through no problems; those that didn’t were fished out in the pool below!!
After lunch we carried on down to Embrun. Everyone managed to successfully navigate the huge wave trains and there was some more rafting! The last feature of the river is a weir which Keith likes to play in. Last time he didn’t get a chance to play because someone decided to take a swim to cool down so this time he instructed that no one was allowed to swim so he could play. I replied “don’t worry … if someone does swim we will collect the stuff, you stay and play”
Over the weir we went and yes, I did go over and swim! I did try to roll but it was an epic fail! Keith did however stay and play on his wave! Helen picked me up on the back of her boat and started to paddle me away. After a while I asked if there was any chance we could go to the side soon. She responded with, “I was just going to paddle you to the get out” I said OK, and hung onto my water taxi to the steps at the get out!!!
Another great day with some comedy moments!!!
Fiona Barry More Photos…..
05/08/16 Day 13 Friday Evening: The ClockTower
Following our paddle down the Sunshine run on our last day, Chris M had mentioned that he traditionally climbed the historic Clock Tower Via ferrata above Argentiere on his last evening and was taking Ollie. I jumped on board with Pete and Graham.
Clare kindly picked up lanyards for us before the hire shop shut, and we set off along the backstreets of Argentiere to the start of the climb. The climb is fairly steep and vertical with some exposure but has lots of protection with plenty of foot and hand holds and so is graded as facile or easy. The wind, which had picked up, made it a bit more interesting with some gusts making me hold on tightly. We reached the top after 30mins, photos were taken as the clock struck a quarter.
We headed down a small protected section leading past a wall with climbers clipping into bolts or top-roping, we watched for a bit and thought next year we should bring a rope and a have a climbing session!
We arrived back at the campsite in time for the last night BBQ.
L’Argentière – L’Horloge
Access is from the car park at Le Collets climbing site. This is 5 minutes away from the Argentière Gite on the crag on the top of which is the Argentière clock tower which dominates the skyline. The area is even floodlit at night.
The via ferrata is short, taking less than an hour and climbing some 50 metres. It is specifically designed for beginners and children of 8 and over. The first part is particularly easy, enabling one to get use to using the equipment in a methodical and safe manner. There is a “get out” path, half-way up, for those who decide that via ferratas are not for them, but also a good place to take pictures! The second half is more committing and has quite a good overhanging section. Once you reach the top, just by the Clock Tower, you have a lovely view over L’Argentière and a nice walk down back to the climbing site.
06/08/16 Day 14 The Lower Gyronde to Camping Les Ecrins
To get this now traditional last day paddle demands an early start in the midst of packing. This year, it was just Keith and I who were up for getting wet so close to leaving. Thanks to a shuttle from Pete, we were soon on a low but runnable Gyronde, starting at the campsite bridge where it slackens off to Grade 3 before joining the Durance.
Weaving between the rocks and bouncing over a few, we soon came to the broken weir. Unfortunately, I got too close to an over-hanging rock above the weir and tipped in. Rescuing myself and my kayak, I was unable to stop my paddles from floating away and over the weir. There they remained hidden despite Keith's best efforts (appreciated). Then, just as I was about to build-up my splits, Excalibur-like, they gently floated out, directly to me in the eddy.
Back on the easing river, I counted myself lucky, as we made our way to the Argentiere slalom course and a last burst of kayaking energy before the final eddy-out of the holiday.
Thanks to Keith and everyone else in LCC who make this annual trip such a good holiday and paddling opportunity!
Mark Benson More Photos…..