Friday 28th April – (written by Nigel)
The 800 mile journey to the Pyrenees got off to a slow but scenic start. A lorry fire on the M40 closed the M40 at Gaydon and we diverted through some pleasant villages. Tea and biscuits were arranged later by Simon at his brother’s house in the Kent countryside. Rob was no doubt envious as we left him in charge of his two kids. Simon, Roy, Mike and myself settled in for coffee at Dover and waited for Ryan, Bob, Kyle and half of Asda’s tinned food aisle to arrive. We decided to go for the earlier ferry. Great guns you might say? Not so as the Customs officer directed us to his search facility! Have you got any guns or knives? No was the muted answer. The real answer would probably mean we could still be at Dover today as paddlers always carry one river knife for cutting ropes, most of us had a penknife and or leatherman for doing vital ‘penknife type tasks’ and then there were the cooking knives….etc. Thankfully Roy hadn’t brought his axe, (which he usually takes to the Dart), as we didn’t foresee the need to cut firewood! As is usual the two car convoy split up immediately upon exiting the ferry. This was nothing new to those who have seen us all driving off in different directions on leaving the Basin before. Ryan saved the day and got back on to our rear bumper, where Bob was to stay, quite literally for the next 600 miles. Nothing but nothing was going to get between Bob and our car. The difference being, we had three drivers whereas Bob was sole driver. The lads Ryan and Kyle couldn’t be put on the insurance due to their age. One a.m. was not the typical time to consider visiting a Parisian car wash but that was exactly what happened. Bob needed fuel, we misread the signs and before we knew it we were off the planned route round Paris. Eventually Roy saw some neon and yes, you have guessed it, it wasn’t a fuel station. There will be more on refuelling later. We sorted out that situation, after much ribbing and proceeded through a very cold night to arrive the other side of Toulouse.
Saturday 29th April
It was a pleasant relief to put the tents up in Mane on the Salat valley around lunchtime. Bob looked knackered. It was decided that a paddle that day wouldn’t happen so we went to check the river. There wasn’t much water about until higher up the narrow valley, where the river narrowed and steepened considerably. It looked floatable, so we retired for food and what wine Roy didn’t drink. Anyone for Pasta?
Sunday 30th April
American football confiscated, time to go paddling. Around 7km of the Salat below Couflens were the target in a very quiet, steep, scenic valley. The guidebook described a grade III / IV section then a grade II / III section, which was about right although the water levels were probably on the low side for this river. A couple of interesting drops added to the enjoyment. It was a fun paddle and as Ryan said, “much better than it looked from the road.” At lunch we met some French paddlers who pointed us towards the Spanish side of the Pyrenees for a chance of better paddling. On the afternoon stretch Kyle was run down by a Frenchman in a classic 1970’s Feuillette slalom C1. On leaving, the clouds had lifted and snow covered Mont Valier 2838m was visible. Back to the campsite for Pasta then? Roy and Mike went for a bike ride and by the noise may even have won the local cycle race? Kyle was chased by a dog when he went for a jog with Bob.
Monday 1st May – (written by Roy)
Up at the crack of dawn, the sun slowly taking the chill off. Packed and ready to go in no time at all. Off to Spain. Two back seat drivers, Mike and Nigel managed to take us around the same roundabout several times and past some bemused locals more than once. Kyle and Ryan asked if they were in Spain yet, only to be told they had been for an hour, apparently missing the body search at the border? Our own Spanish river guide, Nigel W was on hand, albeit he had last paddled in Sort in 1982. Even the same campsite was still there and had not been developed into a supermarket car park! Simon booked in and the campsite owner even has to ask where he was from. How fluent was that? The river flowed past the campsite so we got on the Noguera Pallaresa at that point and paddled down through the slalom course in the town. Lots of people were out for the Bank Holiday. Beautiful scenery, good water level, waves and stoppers to play on, this was part of a 35 Km stretch of dam controlled grade II – IV. We rescued a boat from the river (not one of ours) and proceeded down to the hole used for rodeo. Finish at Gerri de la Sal in front of a roman bridge (subject to some maintenance). Back to the campsite for pasta. Not Bob, Ryan and Kyle who got out the disposable bar b que and even managed to actually put one out? The rest had washed up before they had even started eating. I blame the parents, Bob.
Tuesday 2nd May – (written by Ryan)
When we woke the first thing to do was shop for food that day (there is a limit to the quantity of tins we could bring after all). This was interesting for Bob, Ryan and Kyle as this was Spain and it had been hard enough in France. Shop and breakfast over and it was time to paddle the classic section of the river from Llavorsi down to Rialp, popular with the rafters and paddlers. After ten minutes Mike and Roy decided to make Kyle and Ryan lead. This was an adventure for all as we had never tried this skill out. After a few pointers it started to work out well for a while. A few rapids later and an increase in difficulty it all went to pot and became the style, “every man for themselves”. During this Bob decided to go over a few pour over type drops sideways, which is generally not a good idea. We later came to a supposed portage at a large weir. After inspection and watching a few rafts and paddlers through it was decided to run it (some faster than others – Kyle). Kyle was going to portage but not if Ryan and Bob ran it. Back at the campsite and Ryan, Bob and Kyle carried on through to the slalom site. They then walked back through the town with their gear, getting some strange looks. Time for evening meal. The pros had pasta, whilst Bob and co cooked meat of unknown origin which turned out just dandy. To sum it up, excellent weather and a pleasure to paddle compared to the cold conditions in the UK.
Wednesday 3rd May
The gorge section, Congost de Collegats was the target and whilst the rapids were tame the atmosphere and scenery was dramatic and spectacular. The vultures were circling above, (well very large birds of prey at least). We explored a tributary with limestone erosion and deposits clearly evident. Just like a geography field trip. Tea, oh we had pasta.
Thursday 4th May
Trip to the Rio Esera, however that requires fuel and as we hadn’t seen a pump in days, (in fact we had blindly been driving past one for a while) we set off up a couple of mountain passes to get to next valley. Mistake. No pumps. The next town seemed to have a magnetic effect on us but after several dead end roads we escaped. Coasting along we finally found fuel!! Followed a cow herd and her cattle but that was another story. The river was nearly dry and speaking to the raft guides in French, Spanish and English established that water was being diverted for up to ten days. The gorge would have been some paddle. Back to the campsite for reading, paddling, cycling and then pasta.
Friday 5th May
Final paddle on the classic section and that we still as powerful and entertaining. Simon rode back up the Pass de la Bonaigua 2207m which was pretty keen. We joked, that he should have kept going towards Toulouse, as we were packing up that day anyway and heading in that direction. We eat some pasta and cleared up. Drove back into France and spent the night under a bivvy on a French aire, the other side of Toulouse, much to the amusement of Bob and co.
Saturday 6th May – (written by Ryan and Kyle)
Bob drove, we slept. Got on ferry with ten minutes to spare. Finally after 2000 miles, Bob was freed from following Simon’s car. Excellent trip, everyone had a good time. Where to go next year??