Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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Packrafting Oude Kale

Historically, Poekebeek and Oude Kale were part of the same water course, but nowadays they are separated by the Schipdonk canal. Whereas Poekebeek has remained relatively fast-flowing, Oude Kale has no noticeable current.

After having paddled Poekebeek from Poeke to Nevele in the morning, Evert and I in the afternoon put in at the Landegem railway station for a 8 km descent of Oude Kale until the Bierstal bridge in Vinderhoute.

The first part of the trip passes the backyards of a couple of houses and the Merendree castle grounds, and is not particularly interesting. We pass under a small bridge in Merendree and as of this point the scenery becomes much more attractive as we now enter the Oude Kale nature reserve. We meet several obstructions caused by fallen trees and have to portage (me) or swim (Evert) in order to get passed.

Around 5 pm we reach the Bierstal bridge and take out after a very enjoyable day with succesful explorations of both Poekebeek and Oude Kale. Both creeks have proven to be quite well suited for packrafts – of course given sufficiently high water levels. We both cannot get over the fact that so close to home, and so close to the hustle and bustle of the city of Ghent, little adventures such as these can apparently be had!

[Video to follow in due time]

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Packrafting Poekebeek

Poekebeek is a small creek in the Flemish lowlands that is surprisingly fast-flowing and winding. Its source is in the town of Tielt at an elevation of 35 m a.s.l. and its mouth is at the Schipdonk canal in Nevele.

On yet another cloudy and windy Saturday morning, Evert and I put in downstream of the Poeke castle grounds and start paddling to Nevele, which is a good 10 km further. The trip can be classified as an explorative close-to-home micro-adventure, since the put-in is merely a 20′ drive from home. When we set off, we do not really know what to expect, and wonder whether the descent will be possible at all. It soon becomes clear however that there is no cause for concern: the creek has a good flow, there is only 1 simple obstruction, and the scenery is surprisingly attractive.

Whereas the put-in in Poeke was rather trivial, the take-out in Nevele is somewhat more cumbersome. In the end, we do get out of the water without too many problems, drive back to Poeke to fetch our second car, and have a quick pic-nic on the Poeke castle grounds.

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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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Packrafting Aisne

A cloudy but calm day in the Belgian Ardennes with a temperature of approximately 5°C. Evert, Jelle and I meet up for another packrafting trip, and this time we are also joined by Berten, an avid mountain biker who has developed an interest in packrafting.

At 10:15 am we put in at the village of Fanzel, intending to float down the river Aisne to Bomal-sur-Ourthe. Today’s flow isn’t particularly high, but it is still sufficient to have a comfortable ride (although a bit less so than during our previous trip of February 2019). We have to take out twice due to fallen trees, and Evert’s good deed of the day is to clean up one of these obstructions. We also take out at a concrete dam, although strictly speaking this is probably not necessary. All other dams are jumped, some of them even multiple times.

We arrive in Bomal around 12:45 pm, after 12.5 km of paddling. We fool around a bit with our cameras, pack up, and head home after another pleasant day on the water.

(Erezée: 1.68 m3/s)

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Packrafting Vierre

Temperature is just above freezing when Jelle and I put in at the quiet village of Martilly for a descent of the river Vierre, which seems to have a good flow today, although not excessively. We get going at 10 am while the initial sunny spells of the early morning hours start giving way to low clouds and fog.

Vierre is rated 3 stars in terms of technical difficulty and “engagement”, however we experience it as rather easy. The river is constantly meandering, but with a manoeuvrable floating device such as a packraft, this is not a problem.

We have to portage 3 times (2 fallen trees and 1 low bridge) and after having passed the village of Straimont, and a lot of beautiful natural scenery and signs of an active beaver population, we already arrive at the take out in Suxy around noon.

(Straimont: 7.26 m3/s)

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Packrafting 2019: Videos

Here’s an overview of all the packrafting videos that I produced in 2019.

It turns out that I did at least one trip every single month of the year, except for the month of May, for some unclear reason.

In addition to the trips below, I also paddled the river Leie in August and the river IJzer in December, but of these trips I do not have video footage.

January

February

March

April

May

No trips!

June

July

August

September

October

November

December


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Packrafting Houille

Another murky but luckily mostly dry December day when Evert, Jelle and I put in at Vencimont for a descent of the river Houille. Back in January we did the same descent, but took out somewhere below Felenne, before entering into France. This time we intend to continue across the border, to a location downstream of the village of Landrichamps, where we have our second car parked.

Temperature is around 6°C and after several recent rainy episodes the flow of the river is just below the allowed maximum. The descent is therefore fast and exciting, and several portages are required due to fallen trees and beaver dams. Generally, concentration needs to remain high due to tree branches, rapids, low bridges (I even take a swim at one of these), and small dams.

One location at a meadow just before entering Landrichamps is particularly dangerous, as there is barb wire across the entire river bed. Luckily red & white tape has been stuck it, so it is not entirely invisible. The situation nonetheless is rather unacceptable.

After slightly more than 4 hours and 18.5 km of paddling, we arrive at the take-out. Tired, but content.

(Felenne: 7.87 m3/s)

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