Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions

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Packrafting Leie

Instant holiday vibes during another packrafting trip on the scenic and meandering river Leie, on a sunny and warm day in June.

I leave home on foot, pass the small nature reserve of Westerplas, and put in at Leiepark Deurle less than 30′ later. After 17 km and about 4.5 hours of relaxed paddling, I take out at Leiepark Sint-Denijs-Westrem, having followed the river through Sint-Martens-Latem, Drongen and Afsnee.

Paddling the river Leie is of course a very different experience from the more adventurous trips I tend to make, but I typically enjoy it nonetheless. Next to its obvious proximity to home, there are the greenery along its shores, the multitude of posh mansions and historic buildings, and the parade of pleasure yachts of various sizes.

Belgium 2021-06-09: Packrafting Leie

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Packrafting Semois

Last December, I made a combined packrafting / hiking solo day tour from Bouillon to Poupehan and back, and in November, I did a solo day tour on foot from Vresse-sur-Semoins to Bohan and back. Left to be further discovered is therefore the stretch of the river Semois between Poupehan and Vresse-sur-Semois…

One of the advantages of the cold and rainy weather that we have been having for weeks is that rivers in the Ardennes still have a decent flow, at least much more so than in previous years. On a day with a reasonable weather forecast, I therefore travel to Poupehan for a combined packrafting / hiking trip to Vresse-sur-Semois and back.

Weather is changy and temperature is around 8°C when I put in at the Poupehan bridge around 9:45 am. As expected, the river has a good flow and paddling therefore is pleasant. As I have experienced during a couple of other trips in recent weeks, another advantage of the unsettled weather pattern is that photographic conditions are excellent thanks to dynamic skies and intense light. Also during this trip, this becomes quite apparent.

I pass Frahan, Laviot, Alle-sur-Semois, Mouzaive and Lafôret, experience two short but intense downpours of rain, and arrive in Vresse-sur-Semois around 12:30 pm. In contrast to similar trips in the winter period, during which I am always pressed for time, I take the time for a decent lunch break.

Around 1 pm, I embark on the return hike, which is not only somewhat lengthy, but also includes 5 relatively steep ascents. The weather improves and clear spells become more numerous. One of the best things about the trail I am following (mostly GR16) is that it offers quite spectacular views of the Semois valley from several vantage points.

At 6:30 pm, I arrive back in Poupehan, after a trip of 35.4 km with a total height difference of 1095 m. Not bad for a day trip.

(Bouillon: 11.2 m3/s)

Belgium 2021-05-23: Packrafting Semois

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Flemish Ardennes: Panorama route

One positive effect of the cool and showery weather that we have recently experienced, are the highly dynamic and photographically interesting skies. One Sunday afternoon, I therefore again decide to hike the “Panorama route” in the Flemish Ardennes, starting from the tavern on top of the Hotond hill. This route is one of my favorites and is 16 km with a total of 364 m of height difference. It is therefore good physical exercise.

Belgium 2021-05-16: Panorama route

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Dode IJzer route

The “Dode IJzer route” is an easy 9 km hiking loop starting in the village of Roesbrugge, in the west of the country. The route crosses the river IJzer and passes by the quaint village of Haringe.

Weather has been unusually cold and rainy during the month of May so far, with little opportunities for walks under dry conditions. We however manage to do our hike without any precipitation, while back home rain showers keep on passing by.

Belgium 2021-05-15: Dode IJzer route

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Packrafting IJzer

On Ascension Day, I make a solo day tour of 33 km by packraft and on foot through the valley of the river IJzer, in the west of the country.

I put in at the beautiful jetty of Roesbrugge around 10 am and paddle upstream in the direction of the French border. The river quickly narrows, is slightly overgrown in places, and leads through an attractive agricultural landscape. At the other side of the border, the river narrows further, becomes less deep and the countercurrent is noticeable. I pass the bridge under road D947, scare an owl out of its nest, pass a number of obstructions of plant residues and eventually arrive at a place about 1 km short of Bambecque where I have to turn around, as the depth of the water becomes insufficient for comfortable paddling. I return to Roesbrugge around 12:30 pm.

Interesting to mention is that on the French part of the river, there are a number of stretches with lush underwater vegetation, surprisingly clean water and plenty of big fish that are easily observable. I’m assuming that these are spawning areas for some of the river IJzer’s fish species.

In the afternoon, I paddle downstream from Roesbrugge to Stavele, and then further until the locks at Fintele. Even though it rains profusely during the entire stretch, I do enjoy it as there is nobody on the water and there is virtually no wind.

While taking out in Fintele, clouds break and it becomes pleasantly sunny. I hike back to Roesbrugge along the river and much enjoy the beautiful landscape and intense colors.

I return to my car in Roesbrugge at 7 pm after 22 km of packrafting and 11 km of hiking. In fact, I have done today’s trip twice before, however this time it was slighter longer than previously, as I managed to get further into France than before, and also managed to paddle until Fintele, instead of Stavele or Elzendamme.

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Haspengouw is a slightly hilly region in the province of Limburg that is especially known for its spectacular cherry, pear, and apple blossoms in the month of April. Even though May has started, and early cherry and pear blossoms have already disappeared, apples and late cherries are still blossoming. Reason for this is the fact that this year’s month of April has been the coldest in 35 years.

We make a 20 km circular hike starting in Borgloon. Weather is quite unsettled and with a temperature of +11°C also not particularly warm, but the light is good and photographic opportunities are excellent.

Belgium 2021-05-02: Haspengouw

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Packrafting Leie

The first after-work packrafting trip of this year on nearby river Leie takes me from Leiepark Deurle to the public jetty in Sint-Martens-Latem + return on foot. About 16 km in all: 10 km paddling and 6 km walking.

I call it a day at work at 5 pm and a half hour later, I am already on the water. The evening is quiet, sunny and almost windless. The month of April has been unusually chilly thus far, but today temperatures are pleasant.

A bit before 8 pm, I reach the jetty in Sint-Martens-Latem, start walking, and by 9 pm get back to my car, just in time to witness the last bit of sunlight over the meandering river.

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Packrafting Demer

Descending the river Demer from Diest to Aarschot with Evert and Tom. This river marks the border between the Hageland and Campine regions and for some reason is one of the few scenic rivers in Belgium that none of us have ever paddled.

We put in a bit after 11 am and are pleasantly surprised by the current of the river, the nice tailwind blowing from the northeast and the sunny conditions. After a lot of greenery, several meanders and some small rapids, we reach the village of Zichem with its 14th century lookout tower (which plays a role in the Flemish heimat novel “De Witte van Sichem”).

A while later we pass through the village of Testelt and enjoy a series of 3 rapids that bring back memories of packrafting trips in more hilly areas such as the Ardennes. For paddlers without any experience, these rapids may offer a bit of an unexpected thrill.

The river is strongly embedded in the landscape and taking out is not trivial. We hence have lunch in our boats while floating down the river. It is only many kilometers further, in the village of Langdorp, that we are finally able to get out and have a longer rest.

The last stretch towards Aarschot is easily taken care of and at 4 pm we take out at the Demervallei sports center, after approximately 20 km of paddling. To be honest, we didn’t have overly high expectations of Demer, but after today’s experience we have to reconsider. No doubt the unforeseen fine weather plays a role in our appreciation.

(Zichem: 7.10 m3/s)

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Packrafting Ourthe Moyenne

One week after Easter, I am back at the Ourthe river, however not (only) for hiking, but rather for packrafting. During the past week, there has been considerable snow and rainfall, and the flow of the river has therefore risen to good levels, possibly for the last time this season.

The plan for the day is to paddle from Nisramont to Maboge and return on foot via Le Cheslé and Le Hérou. Joining me on this trip are fellow adventurers Evert and Tom.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the day is not good. Even tough we are April 11th, temperature down by the river will hover around +2C, whereas higher up the plateaus it will be around freezing. Precipitation will be constant and consist of rain, sleet and snow.

We put in at the Nisramont bridge and start paddling while sleet is coming down abundantly. We reach the rocks at Le Hérou and pass by the rock scrambling trail (secured by a chain) that we will have to descend on the way back.

We pass a number of smaller rapids, attempt to do some wave surfing, and eventually end up at the rapids at Les Ondes, which are the most “technical” on this stretch of the river. With the current flow, the rapids are good fun and we do them a good number of times.

In the meantime, sleet has turned to rain and on the remaining section to the take-out in Maboge we set a good pace. We reach Maboge after noon, but don’t bother taking a break for lunch, as the weather nor the environment are inviting to do so. We rather start hiking as quickly as possible in order not to get cold.

Eventually, we end up on top of the rocky outcrop of Le Cheslé and as the rain temporarily lessens, we have lunch whilst admiring the panorama. After lunch, it is then quickly onto Le Hérou by following the valley rim.

At Le Hérou, we take the very wet and slippery rock scramble trail down to the river, and at this point all that is left to do is follow the river back to the put-in. Sometime after 5 pm, we finally get back to the car after a trip of 27.5 km.

On the drive back, we cross the heights of Baraque de Fraiture (652 m) and end up in scenery that looks very much wintry. We make a couple of short stops to enjoy the snow and then take on the remainder of the drive home while weather conditions quickly improve.

(Nisramont: 13 m3/s rising to 16 m3/s during the course of the day)