Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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Packrafting Basse Lesse

The river Lesse is one of the most scenic in Belgium and the lower section between Houyet and Anseremme easily sees hundreds of paddlers on a nice summer’s day (water levels allowing, that is). In winter however, there is often not a soul…

On a frosty January morning, I put in at 10 am in Houyet for a solo descent. There are no technical difficulties on this part of the river, however since there is a good flow today, the current is not to be underestimated.

I pass the village of Gendron and subsequently paddle below the Furfooz rock formations. The fog of the morning hours starts to clear, and it becomes fairly sunny. Next on the trajectory are the rock needles of Chaleux, which are surprisingly spectacular when viewed from this angle, and are actually not something one would expect to find in Belgium.

The most impressive sight of the day is probably the castle of Walzin, which sits high above the river, on top of a vertical rock face. The castle stems from the 11th century, but has been rebuilt several times. Some parts are however still original.

I take out at the Villatoile camping, a bit before Anseremme. Since my plan is to hike all the way back to Houyet, there is absolutely no time to lose. I therefore cannot afford to take a break for lunch.

The return hike first takes me through the woods above the Walzin castle, while weather turns cloudy. I pass a lookout that offers a view towards the castle, and then one that looks over the river bend at Chaleux. As of Furfooz, the trail leads along the river and becomes very muddy.

Eventually, I arrive back in Houyet at 5:15 pm, after having travelled no less than 37 km by packraft and on foot (average travelling speed: 5.1 km/h). In order to make it back before dark, I was not able to take any breaks at all today, except for photo stops. So, a pretty intense day!

PS: I deliberately chose to hike back, whereas in this case, I just as well could have taken the train.

(Gendron: 24.74 m3/s)

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Promenade des Echelles

After having descended a section of the river Vierre by packraft in the morning, I drive to the village of Rochehaut, which sits high above a scenic bend in the river Semois. Although it is already 2 pm and days are short early January, there should still be enough time to do the so-called “promenade des échelles” or ladder hike. This hike is quite short (less than 6 km), but is still surprisingly strenuous as it steeply goes down and up the flanks of the Semois valley. At 4 places permanent ladders have been installed to conquer near-vertical rock faces.

It takes me 2 hours to complete the hike, including several photo stops (GoPro). Weather remains dark and gloomy, but the hike is still pleasant.

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Flemish Ardennes: Everbeek

The weather forecast calls for a sunny day, but that’s unfortunately not how New Year’s Day 2020 turns out in much of the Flemish lowlands. We don’t let ourselves be deterred by the conditions and make a misty and muddy 10 km family hike around the village of Everbeek-Boven in the Flemish Ardennes.

Pictures > Belgium 2020-01-01: Everbeek

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High Fens: Statte, Polleur and Hoëgne

A 32.1 km solo day hike up and down the slightly frosty, but entirely snow-free, High Fens. I start in Solwaster at 9 am and return at 5 pm, yielding a fine 4 km/h average hiking speed, taking into account a break for lunch and many photo stops.

Solwaster – Rocher de Bilisse – Rau de Statte – Wihonfagne – Baraque Michel – Bouquet Bastin – Botrange – Fagne de Polleur – Rau de Polleur – Hoëgne – Parfondsbois – Solwaster

Pictures > Belgium 2019-12-29: High Fens

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Packrafting IJzer

A 20 km solo trip on a pretty murky but nevertheless dry December Saturday.

I put in at 9:30 am in Roesbrugge and paddle the river IJzer upstream towards the French border. The river soon narrows, and I spot several bird species such as common cormorant, kingfisher and coot. I meet an obstruction consisting of tree logs, plant residues and – unfortunately – plastic junk, but manage to get through.

I enter into France, meet another manageable obstruction and notice that the counter current substantially increases. I arrive at the bridge under the D947 departmental road, and – contrary to what is mentioned in online reports – do manage to continue. Eventually I however meet another obstruction just before the confluence with Ruisseau d’Houtkerque, decide not to conquer it, and head back.

The downstream paddle back to Roesbrugge is quite a bit less strenuous and quite a bit faster than the upstream paddle. I get back at 12:30 pm, decide not to take a rest, and just continue to Stavele. The river is wider now, but still scenic.

I arrive at the drawbridge in Stavele, and although in principle I still would have time to continue to Elzendamme or even Fintele, I take out since a nasty wind starts blowing. I have lunch, and hike back to Roesbrugge where I arrive at 3:15 pm.

Unfortunately: forgot to take my head strap, so no PoV GoPro footage, only low quality cell phone shots…

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