Slovenia

After paddling a few rivers en-route we arrived at Camping Kovač near Bovec where Sue, Di & Higgo, who had flown out & hired a car, had already settled.  As usual, team “Phil’s Girls” (Phil, Cath, Penny, Sara) arrived before team “Suave Silver Van” (Moik, Clur, Helen, Alison, Dinny).  It was the middle of the night so Higgo came to find us & we put our tents up on a nice secluded plateau they’d found which, as we discovered the next morning, had a great view of the turquoise Soča!  It was also well positioned, in Vodenca, at the confluence of the Soča with the Koritnica, a tributary.  All the campsites in the area are supposed to be very good & ours was no exception with each plot having its own fire pit, BBQ & sheltered drying rail with plenty of hangers & space for all our wet kit.  There was even a nice al fresco shower!

Photo by Sue

Eager to paddle, we headed to the tourist information in Bovec to buy river permits – only 7.50 for a week & the money goes towards maintaining the car parks, information boards & footpaths at the river access points.  There are fines for paddling without permits or for paddling in restricted areas.  The police seemed fairly vigilant on such things, perhaps as there is so little crime for them to tackle, & as well as having permits checked Sue, Di & Higgo got stopped for a seatbelt check. (It’s illegal to drive without lights on too.)

We were given river maps at the tourist office but we relied more on the useful info we’d found on ukrgb, which included gradings & descriptions.

We paddled the Soča in four sections, one each day, & had a day without paddling too.  Our week went something like this…

Monday

Vodenca to Srpenica – starting at the campsite this section was a relaxing warm up being mostly grade 2.  With nothing too intimidating, we could enjoy the wave trains, surf some waves & try some rock splats/spins.

Tuesday

Uppermost get-on to Vodenca – with more grade 3, & some 4, this section was quite varied & had plenty to keep us entertained.  There was a technical section near the top with big boulders creating pool drops with plenty of obvious eddies.  It then flattened out for a while before the river flushed through a narrow chateau-Q-style gorge for about 200 metres.   

After paddling Cath, Penny & I decided to walk up to the Boka waterfall, a 100m fall from a massive spring in the mountainside.  However, after walking up a steep gravelly path until it was nearly dark & still not even seeing the waterfall (which is clearly visible from the road!), we decided we’d better head back for tea.  Next time we’ll take the path from the left of the bridge where you get a good view of the waterfall the whole way instead of the one that leads to above the source (“Izvir” in Slovenian), arghh! 

Wednesday

Koritnica – a major tributary, mostly grade 3(?), that joins the Soča at our campsite, this river starts with a very narrow (but flat water) gorge before the rapids really begin. The river was narrower than the Soča, with less boulders & less eddies. 

Srpenica to Trnovo – the volume of water in this section (grade 3/4) seemed quite a lot more than the earlier sections but while it was more powerful, & there were rafts to watch out for, the size of the river meant lines were fairly wide with plenty of room to dodge stoppers & boulders.  The section ended with a slalom course – lots of pool drops & stoppers amongst big boulders in quite pushy water (grade 4), which would lead into the notorious siphon canyon if you missed the get-out.

In Trnovo, near the get-out, is a very good paddling shop called Alpin Action, which is definitely worth a look.  We saw two other paddling shops in the area, La Ola in Bovec & Prijon in Cezsoca, but Alpin Action had a much bigger range.

Thursday

We started by scouting siphon canyon – sure enough, there were plenty of scary siphons so after lunch near the memorial reef at the end, everyone decided against paddling.

Team Suave Silver Van set off for the war museum so we headed into Bovec to consider our options over ice cream (with red bull flavour coming out top) & coffee.  We decided to enquire about canyoning: 

Phil: “where do they go canyoning?”

Tourist info: shows Phil on map telling him “it’s really good”

Phil: “Oh good because we’re going now on our own, we don’t want to pay & go with a guide”

Tourist info: “No no, it is very dangerous”

So off we went to the Susec Gorge, where we bought canyoning permits & set off up a little track.  The first few waterfalls were very tall & possibly for abseiling down if you had the right kit, but a bit further up was about fifteen falls perfect for sliding down or jumping off.  The first slide forced each of us straight under an undercut but some of the others were ideal for trying headfirst or in twos & threes.  Fantastic!!!

Photo by Penny

After the excitement of canyoning we took our last opportunity to visit the source of the Soča, a karst spring gushing from a bright turquoise subterranean lake through a crack in the mountainside & falling to the riverbed – well worth a visit!  The “Soča Trail” follows the river for 20km to the source, with many sights along it.  It was getting late so we drove as high up as possible & only had to walk the last 15 minutes up to the source along a picturesque trail including little wooden bridges crossing the river full of giant boulders, rapids & waterfalls ending with a via ferrata-like approach to the source at the top (could be tricky on a busy day).

Friday

Lower, after siphon canyon to Kobarid – there was a long walk in for this section down a steep forest footpath for about 500 metres.  It started off much the same as the ”..to Trnovo” section & stayed fun & interesting for several km before flattening out to grade 1/2 for a few km before the get out.

The Soča is the perfect place to improve your paddling because of the clarity of the water & all it’s features & the ease of inspecting from footpaths running alongside many of the rapids.  There are also harder sections that we didn’t paddle including “Siphon Canyon” & the Ucja.  There was lots of walking, cycling & sightseeing to be enjoyed too all in a very unspoilt area.  We did most/all of the shuttles on bikes, either along the road or on the mountain bike trail running alongside the Soča.  But if you only had one vehicle & no bikes, I think the rafting companies will help with shuttles for a small cost.

Thanks for a great week everyone!

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The Mary Celeste

This is the moment when Mike and Phil recovered a raft, upturned and floating down the Soça river, just about to enter the Slalom section, where it was probably about to have quite an exciting time, all alone without a driver. Top river booty!

As you can see, despite starting our trip quite definitely in Europe, we had been inexplicably transported to the misty Mekong. We could only presume that the crew of this ship had been looking for a despotic American-military-man-turned-local-warlord, and had been shot with poison arrows and abandoned, left gurgling in the swirling water, their last mission in vain.

Luckily for us, the poison arrows had miraculously all missed the rubber inflatable craft entirely. So we resolved to run the slalom course in our new toy – a good road test, which we were looking forward to immensely. First, nevertheless, we felt we should really head upstream a little, in case any of the drowned crew hadn’t actually drowned yet, or were still busy gurgling through their punctured lungs, and would like a biscuit, or a throw-line, or some helpful pointing and shouting. Our only clue to the former inhabitants of the raft was a pair of old converse trainers, tied into the seat well by their laces, a poignant reminder of the doomed former occupants. Ah me.

Well, you will be pleased that the story did not turn out quite as tragically as we had feared. After some interval, the pilot, a local raft guide, turned up completely unscathed, undrowned, not surrounded by the murmuring pale ghosts of dead adventure day-trip clients,  and clearly hoping to be teased mercilessly for a long time by English kayakers repeating the same jokes again and again and again, and holding his raft hostage. By hard bargaining and nifty negotiating skills, Phil and Mike cleverly persuaded the raft guide into promising us a free raft trip: (“Yes, yes! I understand! You want a raft trip for free. Yes, that’s fine. I speak English. No need to ask again, I understood the first time. I already agreed. Stop repeating your hilarious ‘jokes’ about the autopilot not working. Mercy.” ) And then equally cleverly noticed that we didn’t actually want a raft trip with a company which flips its rafts and leaves them to float unmanned downstream, with us swimming in the river – After all, who wants to go down a river totally without a boat, huh?

So Phil and co left the grateful raft guide to his own devices and went canyoning instead. We’re not stupid.

Photos by Sara and Penny

On the way to Slovenia – Ammer, Loisach, Rissbach

This report is about the “getting to Slovenia” bit, the rivers Ammer and Loisach (Bavaria, Germany) and the Rissbach (edge of Austria) are all very, very nice.

Team “suave silver van” and team “Phil’s girls” started out on a sunny or rainy Friday afternoon – lets go to Slovenia. Chips at dover, where the only other customer was a kayaker waiting for his lift to the Alps. Its the place to go.

Using different modes of transport (tunnel, ferry) ensured a 3 hour time difference between the teams, which we were careful to preserve throughout the whole week. Luckily Phil’s team love to spend 3 hours sitting at river get-ins dressed in neoprene.

The Ammer is described in North Alps book as clear and sparkling. Well, it had rained a lot on the way over there, so clear and sparkling it was not. One of the rapids can be seen from a very high road bridge. It looked, well, distant. And brown. And big. Not the clear sparkling water advertised. Hmmm. We were worried it might be too high to do, but actuallythe gauge was at 170. The guide tells us that 140 counts as medium and 180 as V high/spate, so there went any excuse.

The Ammer is one of the Classics in the N Alps book, grade III, full of interest, one of the most paddled rivers in Germany. Immediately we could tell that our spuds felt very happy here gambolling in the eddies of their spiritual home.

Brilliant river, starts by immediately going into a gorgy section, between tall brown walls, with several bedrock drops. The high water meant that there were big, pushy wavetrains, drops, and plenty of stoppers lining the route. Some nasty holes tugged at the back of my boat, and there were some other interesting through-stopper lines as well, but in the end, the rivergods chose Alison as their mermaid-of-the-day, so that the rest of us could escape. The river then eased off slightly for a while in terms of harder drops, but stayed full of interest and very pretty. Tint any photographs to the advertised clear-and-sparkly hue, and you can see that its a paradise river, very pretty and plenty of fun. Strange rock deposits on the incoming streams are presumably there for the goblins to climb up.

Very dingly dell. Just after halfway down, we got to the rapids we’d seen from a road bridge. Not surprisingly, they were somewhat bigger than they’d looked from 80m up, and quite entertaining.

Pretty much the last feature on the section is a large step weir, with a boat shute just left of centre. The towback looked nasty, so we portaged this – its easy to know when you’ve reached the weir, there’s a bridge, a large pool above the weir, and a water management building thing on the left. We did watch a lone boater line up and use the shute.

This river is grade III and a great warm up, lovely.

We then camped near the get out of the Ammer.

Next day:

Loisach III (IV-) – carved through limestone. Fabulous river. Starts at a gravel bed, similar to the get-on for the Upper Guil, but very quickly narrows into a bouldery gorge. Rock dodging, and twisty. Quite hard to see what’s coming up a lot of the time. Very very beautiful. This river is very popular at weekends.

The grade in the guidebook is given as III (IV-). Certainly there was plenty to keep me on my toes, and a couple of times I nearly came a cropper. It was not obviously clear which particular section or drop is a IV-, and there was nothing needing portaging at that level, but it does indeed seem harder than the Ammer. Towards the end of the river, a cheerful rainbow bridge shows that we are nearly home.

Rissbach. For almost the whole length of the section, the edges of this river are gravelly, so that its hard to park in any eddy – all the edges are moving.

There are plenty of interesting bits, and 3 or 4 times the river narrows through bedrock – the named rapids of this kind include an “S bend” and something else, can’t remember.

These are S-bend “spot the difference pictures” – one is cath and one is me.

The very last part of the section is the beginning of a gorge, and the usual get-out is an eddy on river left, quite important to catch, or else you go down the rest of the gorge (V/VI/X), so not worth doing that last bit unless you are 100% sure you’ll be the right way up and set up to get out, so I missed that bit out.

We repaired to an Apple pancake restaurant, where the portions are huge. Yummy.

Paddlers:

Team “Phil’s Girls”: Sara, Cath, Penny, Phil.

Team “Suave Silver Van”: Moik, Clur, Helen, Alison, Dinny.

Logistics:

Driving – this was (apparantly) “not so bad”. France to Belgium to Germany to Austria, having got the evening ferry and arriving at the Ammer get-in at about 2pm the next day.

The campsite at the village nearest the get-out of the Ammer was fine: It has a good trampolene for playing “popcorn,” , “talentshow,” “last-man-standing” and “dislocation-for-the-nation.” But this site certainly wouldn’t suit big groups. Its more family / campervan / posh than we are used to. According to the guidebook, a more kayaky alternative is the campsite nearer the get-in to the Ammer, called nature lovers, or some such.

Rivers – Loisach, Rissbach and Ammer are all popular ones to do on the way/way back from Slovenia. Also the Isar, which we did not do, as this includes a taxi shuttle.

Bavarian food – tick, very nice.

Austrian applythings – tick, very nice.

In 2 days, we did 3 fun rivers, all “new to us”. Hooray!

Report by HelenH

Photos by AlisonH, ClaireL, Cath, Penny, Sara