Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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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 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 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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Packrafting Ourthe Orientale & Occidentale

A gorgeous sunny and windless day at the very end of December. The thermometer indicates -5.5°C and Evert, Jelle and I put our packrafts into the frigid water of the eastern fork of the Ourthe river (Ourthe Orientale), just outside the village of Houffalize. The idea is to descend the river until the Nisramont lake, and then paddle the length of the lake until the main dam. It’s quite a bit colder than expected, so there’s at least a tad of doubt in the minds of some of us about the general feasibility of our undertaking…

A while later we are floating down the river, from one small rapid to the next. Icicles are hanging from tree branches above the water line and frost on grass and pine trees is glistering in the sun. The water that splashes onto the bow of my boat and onto my jacket and paddle instantly freezes. The cold however is soon forgotten since the river offers a very fine doze of packrafting fun!

We reach the Nisramont lake, port around a dam, and paddle the east branch until the confluence of the 2 river forks, where we have lunch while Evert as usual demonstrates the efficiency of his dry suit by taking a swim into the icy water.

After lunch we continue until the main dam, and have to cross several sections where water is covered with a flimsy layer of ice. The closer to the dam, the thicker the ice, and towards the end it is a bit of an ordeal to get through.

We take out, load our gear into Evert’s van, pick up my car at the put in location, and drive to Houffalize where we park. We strap on our backpacks and hike into the hills and woods until a so-called “pole camping” location. We put up our tents, have dinner, and enjoy the warmth of a wood fire until later in the evening, while in the distance the cries of owl and fox can be heard.

After a generally quiet but frosty night we wake up to a completely different type of weather: it’s foggy, and drizzle onto a still firmly frozen soil has created very slippery conditions. Jelle and I therefore have to take care while descending back to the parking lot, where Evert has spent the night in the relative comfort of his van.

The plan for today is to packraft the western fork of the Ourthe river (Ourthe Occidentale). We park my car at the confluence of the 2 river forks, and then drive with Evert’s van to the put in location in the hamlet of Berguème.

The descent of this fork of the river is at least as enjoyable as yesterday’s, and we again float from one small rapid to the next. Albeit less cold than yesterday, much of the landscape is still covered with frost. Signs of beaver activity are omnipresent, and we spot birds such as great egret and buzzard.

We have lunch at the dam that marks the start of the Nisramont lake (porting required), and afterwards paddle the western branch of the lake until the location where my car is parked.

In conclusion: a very memorable overnight packrafting trip with a good mix of fun fast-flowing rivers, still lakes, beautiful scenery and adventure!

Descent Ourthe Orientale: 18.2 km. Descent Ourthe Occidentale: 20 km. Discharge at the Nisramont dam:  ~16m3/s on both days.

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