Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions

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Packrafting Damme-Sluis

One of the good things about packrafting in Flanders, is that natural scenery, physical exercise, a little bit of adventure and especially also culture often go hand in hand. This again becomes apparent during a 28 km packrafting / hiking trip with Tom between Damme (Belgium) and Sluis (Netherlands), on a gloriously sunny mid-July Sunday.

We put in around 10 am in Damme and follow a canal named Zuidervaartje along the ramparts of the historic town. This section has fairly low water levels, but we don’t encounter problems. The canal subsequently heads north and a while later we have to take out at the intersection with the Leopold and Schipdonk canals. A portage of 2.5 km follows, which takes us via De Siphon, the Oostkerke castle and the village of Oostkerke to the Zwinnevaart canal. Tom prefers to deflate his raft to carry it more easily during the portage, while I just carry the inflated raft on my back, which obviously generates some interest from passers-by.

Zwinnevaart is a quiet canal that probably only very seldom sees paddlers. After a couple of kilometers, we veer east onto the Hoekevaart canal. Also this canal is extremely quiet. We pass the windmill of Hoeke and then go ashore for lunch at a scenic location.

After lunch, we continue on Hoekevaart until it meets the larger Damse Vaart canal. Taking out is not so easy here as the water’s edge is steep and full of nettles. Anyway, we manage and then put in to Damse Vaart for the final stretch to Sluis, at the other side of the border. After having enjoyed Sluis from the water, we take out, deflate our boats and take on the return hike.

The return hike partly follows Damse Vaart and also partly goes through fields and meadows. Around 5:30 pm we arrive back in Damme, after a pleasant trip with quite a bit of variation.

One little side note: as this trip goes through flat and open country, wind can be an important factor. Luckily, winds were in our favor, as most of the time we could benefit from a gentle tail wind.

Belgium 2021-07-18: Packrafting Damme-Sluis

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Packrafting IJzer

Another pleasant packrafting / hiking trip on the river IJzer, this time with my eldest daughter.

In the morning we paddle back and forth from Roesbrugge to approximately 1 km beyond the French border. In the afternoon, we hike to Stavele with both of our packrafts (+ accessories) stowed in one single backpack. From Stavele we then paddle back to Roesbrugge. The reason for hiking first and paddling afterwards is the fact that pretty strong winds are blowing from the north today.

Belgium 2021-07-17: Packrafting IJzer

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Packrafting Zuidlede and Moervaart

Since I have some business to attend to in the morning, I only put in around 11 am at Stenenbrug (Wachtebeke) for what is originally intended as a short trip on Zuidlede. Conditions are however rather ideal: a temperature of 20°C, little wind and lots of water for the time of year.

I make good progress as I paddle east towards Eksaarde through a very scenic section of Zuidlede. After 2 short portages, I eventually end up on Moervaart, which I first follow north and then west towards Moerbeke. In the process, I pass several draw bridges: Sinaaibrug, Coudenbormbrug, Dambrug, Vapeurbrug and Terwestbrug.

At Terwestbrug, I take out and hike through Turfmeersen back to Zuidlede. Here, I have a choice between paddling back to Stenenbrug or following the footpath along the water’s edge. I opt for the latter, which is not a good idea in retrospect, as abundant recent rains have turned the path into a muddy mess.

After a trip of 22.5 km, I arrive back at Stenenbrug around 5:20 pm, in time to take care of some other business I have to attend to later in the day.

Belgium 2021-07-11: Packrafting Zuidlede & Moervaart

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Packrafting Basse Lesse

A trip by packraft in the Belgian Ardennes in the month of July? Rather unheard of in recent years due to drought and warm weather conditions. This year seems to be quite different however, as there is a flow of no less than 20 m3/s on the day I wish to make the classic descent of the river Lesse from Houyet to Anseremme. In fact, earlier in the week there was even a peak flow of 48 m3/s. In comparison: 7 m3/s is considered an acceptable minimum on this river for packrafting.

I put in at 9:30 am on the dot and since I am the first to do so, I have the river to myself. Today’s weather is rather dull with cloudy skies and a high of 22°C. Later in the day, intense downpours are expected, I will therefore try to set a good pace, which is not difficult with today’s current.

As of Gendron, I am joined by the first rental kayaks. Not too many right now, but this may change later in the day.

The river flows through a densely forested, green environment. Most interesting sights along the way are the “Aiguilles de Chaleux” rock formation and the Walzin castle. Below the castle is a barrage that has its normal passage blocked by a tree log. An alternative is therefore to be sought. In fact, there are fallen trees across the river bed in many places today, which is most likely a consequence of severe thunderstorms earlier in the week.

A couple of kilometers before Anseremme is a second barrage with a somewhat spectacular passage (big standing wave). The rental kayaks take an alternative route, but I of course cannot resist.

I arrive in Anseremme at noon after having paddled around 20 km, take out, have something to eat and kill time around the banks of the river Meuse while waiting for the train back to Houyet…

(Gendron: 20 m3/s)

Belgium 2021-07-03: Packrafting Basse Lesse

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Packrafting Leie

One week and a half after packrafting the river Leie from Leiepark Deurle to Leiepark Sint-Denijs-Westrem, I am back at the same river to continue from where I left off. Indeed, the plan for the day is to paddle from Leiepark Sint-Denijs-Westrem to the center of Ghent and back.

The day is forecast to have a comfortable temperature and a mix of sun and clouds. I put in around 10:30 am and respectively pass the crossing with the Ringvaart canal and the Snepkaai marina. A bit later, I take a left, do a short portage and continue to Watersportbaan and eventually the Coupure canal.

I reach the historic center of Ghent and continue via Ketelvaart to the tunnel below square François Laurent. Interestingly, there are some reproductions of Van Eyck paintings on display here. Via the castle of Gerald the Devil and the waterslide, I arrive at the Portus Ganda marina, and after another portage, continue my circumvention of the city center.

After lunch on a lawn below the Count’s Castle, I follow the remains of the medieval Lieve canal to Rabot, and then proceed to Graslei, where the original port of Ghent was located. Around 2:30 pm, I start paddling back to Gordunakaai and eventually follow part of this morning’s route back to Leiepark, where I arrive around 4 pm, after just under 20 km of paddling.

Belgium 2021-06-20: Packrafting Leie

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Packrafting Leie

Instant holiday vibes during another packrafting trip on the scenic and meandering river Leie, on a sunny and warm day in June.

I leave home on foot, pass the small nature reserve of Westerplas, and put in at Leiepark Deurle less than 30′ later. After 17 km and about 4.5 hours of relaxed paddling, I take out at Leiepark Sint-Denijs-Westrem, having followed the river through Sint-Martens-Latem, Drongen and Afsnee.

Paddling the river Leie is of course a very different experience from the more adventurous trips I tend to make, but I typically enjoy it nonetheless. Next to its obvious proximity to home, there are the greenery along its shores, the multitude of posh mansions and historic buildings, and the parade of pleasure yachts of various sizes.

Belgium 2021-06-09: Packrafting Leie

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Packrafting Semois

Last December, I made a combined packrafting / hiking solo day tour from Bouillon to Poupehan and back, and in November, I did a solo day tour on foot from Vresse-sur-Semoins to Bohan and back. Left to be further discovered is therefore the stretch of the river Semois between Poupehan and Vresse-sur-Semois…

One of the advantages of the cold and rainy weather that we have been having for weeks is that rivers in the Ardennes still have a decent flow, at least much more so than in previous years. On a day with a reasonable weather forecast, I therefore travel to Poupehan for a combined packrafting / hiking trip to Vresse-sur-Semois and back.

Weather is changy and temperature is around 8°C when I put in at the Poupehan bridge around 9:45 am. As expected, the river has a good flow and paddling therefore is pleasant. As I have experienced during a couple of other trips in recent weeks, another advantage of the unsettled weather pattern is that photographic conditions are excellent thanks to dynamic skies and intense light. Also during this trip, this becomes quite apparent.

I pass Frahan, Laviot, Alle-sur-Semois, Mouzaive and Lafôret, experience two short but intense downpours of rain, and arrive in Vresse-sur-Semois around 12:30 pm. In contrast to similar trips in the winter period, during which I am always pressed for time, I take the time for a decent lunch break.

Around 1 pm, I embark on the return hike, which is not only somewhat lengthy, but also includes 5 relatively steep ascents. The weather improves and clear spells become more numerous. One of the best things about the trail I am following (mostly GR16) is that it offers quite spectacular views of the Semois valley from several vantage points.

At 6:30 pm, I arrive back in Poupehan, after a trip of 35.4 km with a total height difference of 1095 m. Not bad for a day trip.

(Bouillon: 11.2 m3/s)

Belgium 2021-05-23: Packrafting Semois