Paddling in France

 This was our boat in all those summers in la belle France. A little 4.5 m = 14¾ inch whitewater canoe with a canvas cover and spray skirts.

The Loire is a beautiful river in northern France that can carry a canoe in a most delightful way all along the chain of famous castles on its banks. But it’s not only a natural artery through the heartland of French civilization and history, it’s also a reserve of natural beauty in itself. On its upper reaches the Loire is still pretty unchanged in its natural flow with many sand banks, washed-up tree trunks obstructing the natural passage sometimes, and very little industry polluting the water.

 I caught my very first fish on the Loire. Poor fellow; we grilled it to coal on our open fire because we didn’t have a clue how to do that.

 The Loire is mostly quiet and peaceful.

But there are many other fabulous much more lively paddling rivers in France:

This is the Tarn in the mountains of southern France, a much faster little river that offers some sections with real white water.

 La Malene on the Tarn.

 St. Chely-du-Tarn, the beginning of a wild, romantic canyon:

Gorges du Tarn

 We mastered our first serious white water there and loved it.

 We had this crazy little motorcycle in our van and used it for all the shuttling along the rivers. With its fat, bouncy tires this bike was a suicide machine; I had several crashes with it and did not keep it for long.

 The Ardèche is a very popular lively river not far from Avignon. In the holiday season (in the month of August the whole nation is on holiday!) thousands of boats float down the Ardéche, nobody knows how to navigate the rapids, they all fall into the water, it’s warm, no one cares, it is a zoo…

 This is on the Ardèche. Once we spent a night up there in that cave after I got in on a white-knuckle climb and dropped a rope for easy access.

The Dordogne is perhaps our favorite. We paddled this pearl of a river several times from Argentat to Bergerac.

 

 Dordogne

 Sometimes we actually carried a bicycle with us in the canoe and returned back to our truck by bike.

La Cave, up there on the cliffs.

La Roque-Gageac on the Dordogne under cliffs riddled with ancient cave dwellings.

The  Vézère is  another very beautiful little river running into the Dordogne, less touristy and equally pretty as the Dordogne. There are many caves with remains of prehistoric dwellings in the Vézère valley. Lascaux is not far, it’s considered to be the number one prehistoric site in all of Europe. The paintings on the site date from 17,000 to 15,000 years ago. 

 

 Pique nique” somewhere, looking for other paddle rivers.

High over the Gorges du Verdon.

We never paddled the Verdon but hiked along its banks and through it.

I remember a tunnel down there from a never completed railroad project,  under gigantic cliffs, cutting straight through a meander of the river. Standing at the entrance and peering in, you could see a tiny little spot of light in the black hole: the exit about half a mile away on the other side of the mountain. We actually went in and made it through without a flashlight, stumbling and falling many, many times. Sorry, we just had to do it.

* * *

Looking into the Gorge de Dalius and down on the wild river Var.

 This was one of our most exciting explorations by boat. I had seen pictures of the canyon as a child: A gruesome chasm in red vertical rock and a white river tumbling through it. Man, what would it be like in there? The image colored my dreams throughout my youth. Later I found out about the name: Gorge de Dalius, it rang in my mind for years. Later again I learned the location: France, oh my, so far away! But that was about all the information I had when I finally stood up there one day and saw it with my own eyes. I had no clue if it was navigable by boat, but I had to go in there. There are only a few places where you can look down and investigate at least parts of it, there didn’t seem to be major drops with really dangerous falls. We took this little inflatable kayak, launched it a bit further up under a bridge, and went in, hoping for the best.

 It was absolutely fantastic! The canyon is only a few meters wide in some places, it’s dark down there in the middle of the day, the walls up to 300 m tall. There is a deafening noise from the turbulent water. We crashed against walls – the rubber boat was just the right thing – bounced over rocks, bruising our butts, flipped a couple of times, but made it through. I’ll never forget the feeling of suddenly spilling out of the exit into the open, still racing along, the boat completely full of water, paddling like crazy to avoid rocks.

Today I would probably see it with different eyes, not such a big deal. But at the time it was marvelous. Parvin is the brave one who trusts me and goes along. One can have all kinds of opinions about things like this. It seems stupid to take unnecessary risks. However, that remains the question. Is life a security problem, a never-ending struggle to avoid danger? Or is it a journey, inevitably a dangerous journey, on which it ultimately doesn’t matter if you arrive but if you were present on the way when it all happened.

P & K roughing it.

 This was on the upper Rhein in Switzerland.

 And for more about our adventures on the Durance: (click here)

                                                                           Klaus  October 6. 2011

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4 Responses to Paddling in France

  1. SaraPey says:

    This is really childish but I have to say…cool boat!😀

  2. Selma says:

    WOW. Spectacular photos. I really love that one of you paddling where the cliff face looks like it’s curving around you. What a visual feast your photos are!

  3. Dave Morgan says:

    Wow! Klaus and Parvin!
    I’m not sure why but I suddenly wondered about you two and, thanks to Google, have had the most amazing reward! I looked for you a couple of years, ago, but I didn’t find any links.
    When did we last meet? In ’95, when Nicolas was learning to walk in El Requson? I remember looking for you in California and I think I found your house – that’s probably about 15 years ago. Well, a lot of time has passed. Nicolas is in his last year of school. Andrea just got back from a year teaching and climbing in Nepal, India, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand… Bev and I are well and in Calgary – I’m a college instructor now.
    I’ll mail your gmail address – Dave

  4. This is the best blog! You guys are legends..we will definately see you again! I have to read more..cant put it down!

    Love from the honeymooners forever
    in Miss Adventure VI
    Patrick and Belinda

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