Where new adventure lies just around the bend
That evening Dave, Martyn and I did a little exploratory work, scouting out some other rivers for the next day. Unfortunately all the rivers we looked at were a little on the low side. Once again resorting to internet rumours and a little bit of blind faith we returned to the campsite and informed everyone else that we’d be leaving in the morning and heading to Italy…
The Aosta Valley; where the Mont Blanc tunnel opens into Italy and the Dora Baltea flows, or so we hoped. Dave and Fred mentioned they’d been there before, 18 years previously, but for the rest of us it would be a new experience.
The weather in Aosta was sunny and hot. Ideal for what was a river allegedly fuelled by snowmelt. We hopped on the Dora Baltea at Montbarden and bashed down to La Salle. Disappointingly it was a little scrappy, but the Italian version of Lyn Brianne at the end and the sight of Doug paddling down a drainage pipe made up for this.
Not to be deterred Martyn convinced Dave, Nick and I to try the section above, from Pre-St Didier back to Montbardon. Fantastic! We actually got on the Dora di Verney and paddled a short section of grade 4 low volume boulder garden before it joined with the Dora di Veny to form the Dora Baltea. Here the volume picked up to form a fast flowing big volume alpine run. A river of two halves indeed! Grinning, we met up with the others at the camp site they’d located in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
Next day we decided that there wasn’t going to be enough water for the lower sections of the Dora Baltea. So after introducing the rest of the team to the section we’d paddled the previous evening we drove to look at the gorge section lower down the valley where, we reasoned, the narrow part of the river should be more navigable in these conditions.
Low though it was, the Dora Baltea Gorge was extremely scenic which made up for the lack of whitewater thrills. Up until the point where we encountered an inflatable barrage where all the water was extracted for a hydro scheme. A painful scrape followed.
So if you want to drive me for a while
At this point we decided it was time to move on again. This time to Val Sesia which one of my favourite destinations. Although levels were supposed to be low the weather forecast was predicting rain. So three hours later we were at campsite number four!
Arriving at a damp Campertogno we received the traditional warm welcome from Alberto and quickly settled into the bar. Eventually though we resigned ourselves to the inevitable and went out into the rain to pitch our tents.
One pizza, several beers and a night’s sleep in a thankfully watertight tent later it was the Dave’s, Martyn and my pleasure to introduce everyone else to paddling in Val Sesia. And where better to start than a quick bash down the Egua.
Of course this was the Egua: 2km of steep and rocky low volume river with multiple drops, slots, slides and blind spots. Therefore a quick blast took 4 ½ hours! Even though everyone was exhausted from scrambling around rocks for all the inspections, it was unanimously agreed that it was fun.
Next day the night’s rain had brought up the main Sesia river so we decided to paddle from Piode down. Accompanied by an Italian paddler we met at the get-in a we had a great cruisy grade three paddle. This was only marred by the fact that I misread the map and we paddled twice as far as thought we were going to, oops!
Despite this Martyn, Doug, Andreas (or Italian friend) and I headed in to the Sesia Gorge for a further few km paddling. A more difficult and committing paddle than the section we had just paddled, we cautiously set off and were immediately terrified by Doug stylishly missing an eddy and careering over the first drop backwards and upside down! Fortunately a quick roll meant he caught an eddy before disappearing over the second drop. One portage involving a little climbing and rope work later, we emerged from the gorge quite satisfied with ourselves. Even Andreas was impressed, it turns out he’d never paddled this section before.
That night we dined on five courses of fine Italian food.
Our final morning was spent on the Lower Surmenza where we were joined by Lee Royle and some of his college pals. An excellent run was had culminating in a fantastic gorge section full of drops and boofing ledges. Despite a few swimmers I think we all agreed that this was one of the best rivers we’d run on our trip.
Just grab your hat, come travel light, that’s hobo style.
And then it was over. All that was left was a dash through Switzerland, a drunken overnight stop in Germany and a final push across France before catching the ferry home.
So eleven days away, nearly 3000 miles driving, our initial plans dashed and yet we managed to find water. And good water too. Sure there were a couple of disappointing rivers but for the most part they were excellent. This from what appeared to be a period of low river levels all across Europe.
By not booking any accommodation before we left, travelling light and not being afraid to move around we turned what could have been a disappointing trip in to a success.
Who says I never learnt anything from children’s television?