Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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Packrafting Ourthe Moyenne

A 29.4 km packrafting trip on the middle section of the Ourthe river on a sunny April Sunday, together with Mathias and Dominic.

We paddle from Maboge to Hampteau, passing the lovely town of La-Roche-en-Ardenne with its medieval castle, and then continue on foot to Hotton, as the stretch between Hampteau and Hotton is – surprisingly – not open for paddling.

The river has a good flow and temperature is well above 15°C. We start around 10 am after a small hiccup, and arrive at 3 pm on the dot, while thunder clouds start moving in.

(Durbuy: 13 m3/s)

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Packrafting Viroin

Another fun outdoor weekend across the language border. After a hike around the lake of Virelles on Saturday and a night spent bivouacking in the forests around Chimay, I meet Glen and Jelle in Dourbes on Sunday morning. The plan is to paddle the Viroin river down to Treignes. Turns out we are lucky to be here today rather than yesterday, since the 3rd Saturday of March the river is apparently not open for paddling due to the start of the trout fishing season!

The Viroin region offers scenic landscapes and well-preserved quaint old villages. The Viroin river today has a good flow and paddling is pleasant. What is disturbing though are the large quantities of organic (tree logs) and inorganic (plastic) debris along the river. Apparently, plastic and other types of waste are a problem quite typical of this river. It’s a shame, really.

We have to port twice due to obstructions. At the old bridge of Vierves there is a huge pile of tree logs, but luckily there seems to be a non-obstructed passage to the left.

After 3.5 hours including a long break we reach the picturesque village of Treignes. Much sooner than expected, since according to all references Dourbes-Treignes is a 20 km stretch, but according to my GPS it is in reality only 13 km. A bit of a mystery…

Weather during the weekend is mostly cloudy but dry. Around 13°C on Saturday and 11°C on Sunday.

(Treignes: 10.3 m3/s)

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Packrafting Haute Lesse

No freezing temperatures this time when Evert, Jelle, Glen and I meet up in the village of Chanly for another packraft adventure. The weather is cloudy, with a number of short clear spells, and temperature is expected to rise to a good 8°C during the course of the day. On the agenda for the day is a descent of the stretch of the Haute Lesse between Pont des Barbouillons (Daverdisse) and Chanly.

Most of the smaller and more adventurous river stretches in the Ardennes offer similar elements: relatively fast flowing water, small rapids, fallen trees, rocks below the waterline, weirs and dams. What keeps it interesting though is that the exact mix of these elements is different for each river, and as in addition water levels tend to differ, one does get a variety of experiences.

Since we have just witnessed an unusual stretch of 18 days without precipitation, water level is quite low when we put in at the Barbouillons bridge. The ride is therefore a bit bumpy in places. At some locations the river temporarily splits in two branches, and choosing the most appropriate is not always straightforward. At one particular location we get stuck due to a beaver dam, and have to portage to the other branch. At another location a fallen tree blocks passage, and also here portaging is required.

We encounter two weirs on our trajectory. The first can easily be bypassed via a river branch that runs to the right of it. We however do make a stop to give Glen and Evert the opportunity to yet again showcase the effectiveness of their dry suits by making a couple of jumps into a small artificial waterfall. At the second weir (at a sawmill just before our take-out location), we have to portage since there are reports of pieces of iron sticking out of the concrete bedding, which could evidently damage our packrafts.

After 3 hours of paddling (including two fairly long breaks) we reach our take-out point in Chanly. The descent has been quite enjoyable, with a good mix of forests at first, and open pastures further down.

(Daverdisse: 5.8 m3/s)

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Packrafting Aisne

9 am on a perfectly sunny Saturday morning in the village of Bomal-sur-Ourthe (Belgian Ardennes). Glen, Evert, Jelle and I meet up for what promises to be another fun packrafting experience. During the early morning drive, my car’s thermometer indicated -4.5°C in places, but during the course of the day temperatures are expected to soar to unseasonable heights, in fact we may even see another all-time high for February 16!

We leave Glen’s car behind, load all gear into mine and drive to our put-in location in the tiny village of Fanzel. The plan for today is to descend Aisne (a short but interesting tributary of the river Ourthe) until our take-out spot in Bomal.

The 12.5 km descent of Aisne is classified 3 stars in terms of technical difficulty, but only 1 in terms of engagement. The latter is due to the fact that the river nearly constantly follows (small) roads and passes through several (equally small) villages. Less of a wild atmosphere therefore than e.g. Houille or Ourthe Occidentale, but this is made up for by a multitude of challenging passages and 3 jump-able dams. In fact, the 2nd and 3rd dams are so much fun that we jump them several times…

By 1 am we are already back in Bomal, enjoy the sun for a while (10+°C at this point), and then head back. During the ride home we joke about today’s experiences, e.g. Glen jumping a dam backward with Jelle following bow to tail, or me almost tipping over when hitting a rock sideways unexpectedly…

The smaller and more interesting rivers of the Ardennes are only open for paddling until March 15, so hopefully we will be able to squeeze in at least one more trip similar to today’s before the season ends!

(Erezée: 1.88 m3/s)

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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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