Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


Packrafting Salm & Amblève

Winter is slowly coming to an end and Evert and I decide to close the whitewater season in style by making one last run on the river Salm, combined with a partial descent of the river Amblève, and a return hike on foot. Indeed, now is the time, since the official closing date of the season is March 15th, which is tomorrow.

It may be true that winter is coming to an end, but during the drive to the put-in location on the river Salm, it doesn’t really look it, as we are surprised by fresh snow on the road above 400 m. At the put-in in Rochelinval, snow turns to rain, while we gear up for a frigid descent.

The river Salm is probably the most sportive in the Belgian Ardennes that can be run without special permission. After a fairly dry period, the river has a good flow today, thanks to yesterday’s precipitation.

Due to an issue with Evert’s raft, it takes until 10:30 am before we are finally on the water. Soon, we reach a first drop, which is so much fun that we run it twice. Afterwards follows a quick succession of rapids and lower drops, which remains fun until the end. Salm may be quite sportive, it however is not particularly scenic. Especially the part around the town of Trois-Ponts is below standard in this respect, however even this section remains fun to paddle.

We reach the confluence with the river Amblève and paddle to Coo where we portage around a well-known 13 m high waterfall. At the other side of the falls, we continue paddling the Amblève river. This stretch of the river is rather laid-back, but as the flow today is good, we make decent progess. We find a lost paddle, which probably belongs to a kayak rental shop, and we decide to take it along until the take-out.

After having paddled 17 km, we take out at the Cheneux bridge, pack up, have lunch, leave the found paddle behind, and start hiking in the direction of Rochelinval. The trail starts climbing almost immediately and passes the village of Monceau. As we climb higher, the sky breaks and sunny spells arrive, returning color to the landscape.

On the crest of the hills, at around 500 m, we encouter some remains of this morning’s snow, and then start our descent towards the village of Mont-de-Fosse. The weather is very changy now, with a quick succession of sunny spells and intense rain and hail showers.

From Mont-de-Fosse we hike to Bergeval through silent woods, and then take on our final descent back to Rochelinval. We arrive around 5:30 pm, after a trip of a bit over 30 km.

Today has been a great day, with very enjoyable paddling, beautiful views during our hike, and basically all types of weather including snow, rain, hail and sun.

(Trois-Ponts: 5.32 m3/s; Stavelot: 9.78 m3/s)

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Packrafting Ourthe Moyenne

Back in October, I made a beautiful combined packrafting / hiking daytrip of no less than 43 km from Hotton to Barvaux and back. On a crisp Sunday in early March, I decide to continue where I left off, and paddle from Barvaux to Hamoir, before returning on foot via the GR57 trail.

After a frosty night with temperatures around -5°C, I put in at 9:50 am in Barvaux. The sky is all clear and is expected to stay that way for the remainder of the day. Temperature will rise to +5°C, but thanks to a lack of wind, it will feel quite a bit warmer.

The stretch between Barvaux and Hamoir passes Bomal-sur-Ourthe and Sy and has no technical difficulties to speak of. Nature is not as pristine as for instance on the Houille or Sûre rivers, but there are several picturesque rock formations along the riverbed.

At Roche aux Corneilles, I make a prolongued stop and meet a French-speaking couple with packrafts. Although I have never met Alexandre and his girlfriend before, they appear to know me through my blog and videos. How is that for a coincidence!

Half an hour or so later I am back on the water, pass other rock formations (and rock climbers) and eventually arrive in Hamoir around noon. While packing up, I have a conversation with 2 Flemish mountain bikers who are interested in the ins and outs of packrafting.

At 12:30, I start the return hike which first leads across the bridge to the other side of the river, and then into the woods. At the foot of one of the rock formations that I passed by packraft, I take a break for lunch. Afterwards, I resume my hike, which goes up and down a couple of rocky ridges offering beautiful views of the river valley. Interestingly, trees have been cleared at select locations to offer breathing space to typical limestone flora, which is not visible right now, but will be in a couple of weeks.

I cross the river Aisne, which I packrafted already twice with good water levels. At this moment, paddling is sheer impossible here though as water is simply too low.

After one last climb up to Mont des Pins offering fine views towards the east, I make my final descent towards Bomal-sur-Ourthe. I cross the bridge to the other side of the river, and then simply follow the bicycle / walking track back to Barvaux, where I arrive at 5:30 pm after a trip of 33 km.

(Durbuy: 10.81 m3/s)

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Packrafting Sûre

A couple of days after having paddled the river Our, I travel back to the east of Belgium for another river descent. This time, I have my eyes set on Sûre, a small river that marks the border between Belgium and Luxembourg, before it definitively flows into Luxembourg itself.

Weather-wise, the day is as good as one can possibly expect at the end of February, with brilliant sunshine and an expected high of no less than 16°C in this part of the country. I put in at the Im Wohr outdoor recreation area in Martelange at 10 am, and after a short stretch through a forested zone (where I already have to do my first carry around a fallen tree), I pass through the center of the town of Martelange. The latter section is not particularly nice, but fortunately it is only short. Soon after, I enter the wild, wooded valley of the river Sûre.

The descent is absolutely gorgeous, not only because of the weather, but also thanks to the varied nature of the river. There’s a quick succession of meanders, small rapids, dams, fallen trees and flat water zones. So, basically everything one can expect on a river in the Ardennes. In total, I paddle 5 dams and 3 times carry around a tree.

At the place where the river fully and definitively enters Luxembourg (after having received the waters of the Syrbach creek), I take out, even though it is possible to continue until Moulin de Bigonville or even the Sûre water reservoir. Reasons for taking out are partly that due to the corona situation we are officially not allowed to leave the country for non-essential travel, but more importantly because I still have to hike back all the way to Martelange.

I start the return hike at 1 pm, climb up to the plateau and have lunch in the rather remote village of Tintange. At 2 pm, I then take on the remainder of the hike, which takes me along the river and past the village of Grumelange. At 4 pm, I reach Martelange and spend some time exploring the nicely designed outdoor recreation area / portal zone of the Anlier forest reserve, before hitting the road back home.

Today, I paddled 14 km and hiked 12 km, amounting to a total of 26 km, which is by coincidence the same as on the Our trip.

(Flow: 3.81 m3/s)

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Packrafting Our

Last week has seen a crazy shift in the weather, going from temperatures far below freezing and snow on the ground, to +15°C and brilliant sunshine. This calls for some packrafting and hiking fun in the east of the country!

Our is a little river in the very east of Belgium (in fact, it marks the border to Germany) that is open for paddling between the villages of Auel and Ouren. So, I put in at Auel on a sunny Saturday morning at 10 am and start paddling downstream, which in this case is due south. The river flows through some attractive natural scenery and is technically quite straightforward. Under normal circumstances, the only obstacles are a fish ladder and a crumbled old barrage.

At the fish ladder, I decide to carry, as there is simply not enough water to venture into the fish ladder itself, nor the original river bed to the right of it (one has to take into account that part of the water is diverted to a fish pond at this location). The remnants of the old barrage I do paddle however. There are lots of rocks, so the ride is a bit bumpy, but also good fun.

I arrive in Ouren at noon, take out, and start hiking back via the hills and woods to the west of the river. I’m surprised to encounter some ice remaining from the past cold snap at a couple of locations. I have lunch on top of the plateau, with a view into Luxembourg.

After lunch, I descend into the valley, and hike back in the direction of Auel via the Vennbahn bicycle / walking track (which used to be a railroad in the past). I have another rest at the former railway station of Burg-Reuland, before taking on the last stretch.

After a generally scenic and – to be honest – quite relaxed hike, I return to my car around 4:30 pm. Total distance covered today is 26 km (12 km paddling + 14 km hiking).

(Flow: 6.3 m3/s)