Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions

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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).



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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Norway 2018: Videos

Finally got around to completing all 5 PoV videos of the packrafting part of September’s solo trek through the colorful forests and fjells of eastern Norway’s villmarken. The videos may seem a bit lengthy but do give a good idea of the serene atmosphere and general conditions of the trip: no people, hardly any infrastructure, just unspoiled nature.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy…

Rendalen: Sølensjøen / Arasjøen lakes and Sølna river

Rondane: Atna river

For more information, the full reports (with pictures, story and maps) are here:

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Packrafting Semois

Unless a miracle happens, 2018 will set a record for the lowest number of rain days in Belgium. December has therefore already started when Evert, Jelle, Glen and I can finally make an attempt at packrafting one of the most scenic sections of the Semois river, i.e. the stretch from Chassepierre to Pont de Linglé.

We meet up at the Linglé bridge, leave one car behind and drive on to Chassepierre. After the usual preparations we set to the water a bit after 10 am. The weather is gloomy and after some heavier rains earlier in the morning, precipitation seems to have changed to drizzle. We make good progress and when we stop for lunch at noon, we have already done a good 9 km. The river is generally easy, although rocks loom just below the water surface and are often difficult to spot until it is too late… At a certain location there is a ramp that apparently is not so easy to conquer with a canoe, but doesn’t pose problems for our packrafts. We also meet a number of small dams, all of which are easy to jump.

After lunch the weather temporarily breaks (it stops raining and some tiny bits of blue sky appear) and we continue floating down the river until Herbeumont. At the water mill is a somewhat higher dam that is not easy to jump. Evert and Glen make an attempt anyway, but the rocks below the dam are not very becoming for their packrafts. Jelle and I take an easier approach and just port around the obstacle.

A couple of kilometers before reaching our destination we encounter a dam that has a fish ladder on the left hand side. The ladder is possible to descend by packraft but only with care since pieces of metal are sticking out here and there. In fact, some people have already ruptured their packrafts at this location. Luckily the 4 of us get through without incidents.

During the entire trip we are accompanied by bird species such as blue heron, great egret, common cormorant, and kingfisher. Signs of beaver activity are ubiquitous. After a good 23 km of paddling, we reach Pont de Linglé at 3 pm, and Glen and I drive to Chassepierre to pick up my car. Weather again closes in and rain starts to fall, fairly abundantly. Back in Linglé we load our gear into our cars and drive back home after a fun day on the water.

Later in the evening and during the following night, rain keeps pouring down and by the end of the next day, the flow of the river stretch we packrafted is no less than 25 times the one of the day before. In fact, in the upper Semois basin, a flooding pre-alert is issued, which again shows that nature always finds a way to cause surprises…









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Packrafting Le Marais Audomarois

A 17.5 km packrafting trip with Evert & Jelle through the marshes around Saint-Omer in the north of France, on yet another gorgeous (but rather chilly) November day.

Interestingly, at the time of my first trip in this area, canals had old, weathered and hence illegible signposts. In the meantime all of them apparently have been replaced by new and much clearer signs.











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Packrafting the Dommel on All Souls’ Day

On All Souls’ Day I make another packrafting trip on the scenic Dommel river from Neerpelt (B) to Valkenswaard (NL). In fact, I did the same trip almost exactly one year ago, i.e. on All Saints’ Day 2017.

Similarly to last year, the weather is unseasonably sunny. I start a bit after 9 am in Neerpelt with a rather chilly temperature of 4°C. Thanks to a rainy episode earlier in the week, water level seems to be higher than last year, and one particular bridge in the Hageven nature reserve is difficult to pass under. I make 4 stops along the way and at 12:30 pm arrive at the Venbergen watermill south of Valkenswaard.

At 1:30 pm I start the return hike while temperature has risen to 11°C. The hike respectively takes me through the Malpie, Plateaux and Hageven nature reserves, as well as through the village of Borken en Schaft. I get back to my car around 4 pm after having traveled a total of 33 km (including 16 km of paddling).