Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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LLT: Tervuren

A 16 km hike with the “Lustige Lochtingterters” (LLT) through the woods between Jezus-Eik and Tervuren, part of the green belt around the city of Brussels.

Pictures > Belgium 2019-01-26: Tervuren

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Parkbos Gent: Section Grand Noble

Another hike through wintry Parkbos Gent during one of my lunch breaks. This time I pay a visit to the section known as “Grand Noble”, which is situated around the castle by the same name in the community of De Pinte. The castle in its current form was completed in 1860, but the site itself appears in records dating as early as the 2nd half of the 13th century.

Pictures > Belgium 2019-01-24: Parkbos Gent – Section Grand Noble

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Parkbos Gent: Section Rosdambeek

It doesn’t often snow here in the Flemish lowlands, so when it does, we have to enjoy it while it lasts. During a recent wintry episode I therefore have no problem sacrificing my lunch break to a 1 hour hike through nearby Parkbos Gent, more specifically the section that is known as “Vallei van de Rosdambeek” (valley of the Rosdam brook), in the community of Sint-Martens-Latem.

Pictures > Belgium 2019-01-23: Parkbos Gent – Section Rosdambeek

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Packrafting Ourthe & Houille: Videos

The videos of recent packrafting adventures in the wintry hills and woods of the Belgian Ardennes are ready. I must say: quite a bit of work to sift through all the footage, keep the best parts, throw away unsteady sequences, etc. Especially the Houille videos were a challenge in this respect, given that the descent was often a true obstacle run, and shooting decent footage was hence not always my primary concern…

Ourthe Orientale

Descent of the eastern Ourthe from Houffalize to the Nisramont lake (~14 km).

Lac de Nisramont

Paddling (and swimming!) the partly ice-covered Nisramont lake to the main dam (~4 km).

Ourthe Occidentale

Descent of the western Ourthe from Berguèmes to the Nisramont lake (~20 km).

Houille 1

Houille from Vencimont to the dam before the fish farm.

Houille 2

Houille from the dam before the fish farm to Moulin de Bourseigne.

Houille 3

Houille from Moulin de Bourseigne to the take-out below Felenne.

Houille dam

Slow-motion footage of me jumping a dam on the Houille (video courtesy of Glen Dickinson).


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Packrafting Houille

After a couple of weeks of rather depressing gloomy weather the sun is finally back, but so are the sub-zero temperatures… We however don’t let ourselves be deterred by the latter, and while the thermometer indicates -7°C, our gang of four (Evert, Jelle, Glen and I) prepares to put in at the picturesque village of Vencimont, on the Houille river.

Houille is merely a small river in a forgotten corner of the Belgian Ardennes, but it is rated 3 stars in terms of technical difficulty and “engagement”, and we soon discover why. Indeed, the river twists and turns and we meet one obstacle after the other: rocks, fallen trees, debris and beaver dams. We often manage to get through one way or another, but on a great many occasions portaging is still required.

The scenery is wild and beautiful with practically no habitation and very little infrastructure (to Belgian standards that is). We also meet one artificial dam that is fun to jump, although with care, since made-made structures are known to be more dangerous than others.

After having paddled 12 km we take out somewhere below the village of Felenne. In principle it should be possible to paddle further into France, but since we couldn’t determine a take-out spot in that area, we decide not to take any chances this time.

(Felenne: 2.30 m3/s)

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Packrafting Ourthe Orientale & Occidentale

A gorgeous sunny and windless day at the very end of December. The thermometer indicates -5.5°C and Evert, Jelle and I put our packrafts into the frigid water of the eastern fork of the Ourthe river (Ourthe Orientale), just outside the village of Houffalize. The idea is to descend the river until the Nisramont lake, and then paddle the length of the lake until the main dam. It’s quite a bit colder than expected, so there’s at least a tad of doubt in the minds of some of us about the general feasibility of our undertaking…

A while later we are floating down the river, from one small rapid to the next. Icicles are hanging from tree branches above the water line and frost on grass and pine trees is glistering in the sun. The water that splashes onto the bow of my boat and onto my jacket and paddle instantly freezes. The cold however is soon forgotten since the river offers a very fine doze of packrafting fun!

We reach the Nisramont lake, port around a dam, and paddle the east branch until the confluence of the 2 river forks, where we have lunch while Evert as usual demonstrates the efficiency of his dry suit by taking a swim into the icy water.

After lunch we continue until the main dam, and have to cross several sections where water is covered with a flimsy layer of ice. The closer to the dam, the thicker the ice, and towards the end it is a bit of an ordeal to get through.

We take out, load our gear into Evert’s van, pick up my car at the put in location, and drive to Houffalize where we park. We strap on our backpacks and hike into the hills and woods until a so-called “pole camping” location. We put up our tents, have dinner, and enjoy the warmth of a wood fire until later in the evening, while in the distance the cries of owl and fox can be heard.

After a generally quiet but frosty night we wake up to a completely different type of weather: it’s foggy, and drizzle onto a still firmly frozen soil has created very slippery conditions. Jelle and I therefore have to take care while descending back to the parking lot, where Evert has spent the night in the relative comfort of his van.

The plan for today is to packraft the western fork of the Ourthe river (Ourthe Occidentale). We park my car at the confluence of the 2 river forks, and then drive with Evert’s van to the put in location in the hamlet of Berguème.

The descent of this fork of the river is at least as enjoyable as yesterday’s, and we again float from one small rapid to the next. Albeit less cold than yesterday, much of the landscape is still covered with frost. Signs of beaver activity are omnipresent, and we spot birds such as great egret and buzzard.

We have lunch at the dam that marks the start of the Nisramont lake (porting required), and afterwards paddle the western branch of the lake until the location where my car is parked.

In conclusion: a very memorable overnight packrafting trip with a good mix of fun fast-flowing rivers, still lakes, beautiful scenery and adventure!

Descent Ourthe Orientale: 18.2 km. Descent Ourthe Occidentale: 20 km. Discharge at the Nisramont dam:  ~16m3/s on both days.

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