Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions

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Iceland 2019: Report

After 6 prior trips to Iceland between ’98 and ’18 (mainly for trekking), I take the rest of the family on a sightseeing and hiking tour of the island around Easter. The trip has a dramatic start, which forces us to throw plans around entirely and opt for an alternative scenario. This alternative however turns out beautifully, and we are able to enjoy an incredible variety of landscapes under good conditions, while the country slowly awakes from the dark and cold winter months.




Iceland 201904l


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LLT: Achouffe

A surprisingly strenuous 16 km hike with the “Lustige Lochtingterters” (LLT) around the village of Achouffe in the Belgian Ardennes. Nice river valleys with plenty of beaver activity and wonderful vistas over the hilly and forested landscape. We see one beaver swimming towards its burrow and later on I also spot a beaver in the thicket. Only of the first sighting I manage to get a (unfortunately very bad) shot.

Quite a chilly day for the end of April, with a high of 8°C and showers of rain and hail.

Pictures > Belgium 2019-04-27: Achouffe













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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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LLT: Lac de Virelles

This month’s hike with the “Lustige Lochtingterters” (LLT) takes me on a 18 km loop around the lake of Virelles, nearby the historial town of Chimay. The terrain is undulating and partly forested, and especially nice are the ubiquitous beds of early wildflowers. Strangely, the lake itself is hardly visible during the entire walk.

After the hike, I drive to Seloignes and from there hike through meadows and woods to a location where bivouacking is permitted. I pitch my tent and enjoy a cosy campfire until the evening falls. The reason for spending the night in a tent rather than returning home is that tomorrow I am scheduled to go packrafting a section of the nearby Viroin river…

Pictures > Belgium 2019-03-23: Virelles



















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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)