Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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Packrafting Semois

Unless a miracle happens, 2018 will set a record for the lowest number of rain days in Belgium. December has therefore already started when Evert, Jelle, Glen and I can finally make an attempt at packrafting one of the most scenic sections of the Semois river, i.e. the stretch from Chassepierre to Pont de Linglé.

We meet up at the Linglé bridge, leave one car behind and drive on to Chassepierre. After the usual preparations we set to the water a bit after 10 am. The weather is gloomy and after some heavier rains earlier in the morning, precipitation seems to have changed to drizzle. We make good progress and when we stop for lunch at noon, we have already done a good 9 km. The river is generally easy, although rocks loom just below the water surface and are often difficult to spot until it is too late… At a certain location there is a ramp that apparently is not so easy to conquer with a canoe, but doesn’t pose problems for our packrafts. We also meet a number of small dams, all of which are easy to jump.

After lunch the weather temporarily breaks (it stops raining and some tiny bits of blue sky appear) and we continue floating down the river until Herbeumont. At the water mill is a somewhat higher dam that is not easy to jump. Evert and Glen make an attempt anyway, but the rocks below the dam are not very becoming for their packrafts. Jelle and I take an easier approach and just port around the obstacle.

A couple of kilometers before reaching our destination we encounter a dam that has a fish ladder on the left hand side. The ladder is possible to descend by packraft but only with care since pieces of metal are sticking out here and there. In fact, some people have already ruptured their packrafts at this location. Luckily the 4 of us get through without incidents.

During the entire trip we are accompanied by bird species such as blue heron, great egret, common cormorant, and kingfisher. Signs of beaver activity are ubiquitous. After a good 23 km of paddling, we reach Pont de Linglé at 3 pm, and Glen and I drive to Chassepierre to pick up my car. Weather again closes in and rain starts to fall, fairly abundantly. Back in Linglé we load our gear into our cars and drive back home after a fun day on the water.

Later in the evening and during the following night, rain keeps pouring down and by the end of the next day, the flow of the river stretch we packrafted is no less than 25 times the one of the day before. In fact, in the upper Semois basin, a flooding pre-alert is issued, which again shows that nature always finds a way to cause surprises…

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LLT: Borinage

18.5 km with the Lustige Lochtingterters (LLT) through the Borinage region in the province of Hainaut: old mining communities and wooded terrils. The region used to be bustling with activity during the haydays of the coal mining industry, but since the last of the mines were closed in the 1960’s, decline has set in. At this moment the region has the highest unemployment rate in Belgium, and many houses and buildings are in a deplorable state.

The weather is pretty lousy throughout the entire day, with bad visibility, rainfall and relatively low temperatures. At lunch-time we erect a temporary shelter to escape the worst of the rain, and towards the end of the day we reach the UNESCO-listed industrial site of Grand-Hornu.

Due to the bad weather I leave my DSLR camera in the trunk of the car, and shoot a number of low quality cell phone pictures instead.

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High Fens: Getzbach & Hill

A 16.5 km family hike around Haus Ternell in the German-speaking part of the High Fens, mostly along the Getzbach and Hill creeks. A slightly chilly and frosty start of the day, but nice and warm for the time of year in the afternoon.

Ternell – Getzbach – Rotenbüchel – Hohes Venn – Getzbach – Wesertalsperre – N67 – Hill – Ternell

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Packrafting the Dommel on All Souls’ Day

On All Souls’ Day I make another packrafting trip on the scenic Dommel river from Neerpelt (B) to Valkenswaard (NL). In fact, I did the same trip almost exactly one year ago, i.e. on All Saints’ Day 2017.

Similarly to last year, the weather is unseasonably sunny. I start a bit after 9 am in Neerpelt with a rather chilly temperature of 4°C. Thanks to a rainy episode earlier in the week, water level seems to be higher than last year, and one particular bridge in the Hageven nature reserve is difficult to pass under. I make 4 stops along the way and at 12:30 pm arrive at the Venbergen watermill south of Valkenswaard.

At 1:30 pm I start the return hike while temperature has risen to 11°C. The hike respectively takes me through the Malpie, Plateaux and Hageven nature reserves, as well as through the village of Borken en Schaft. I get back to my car around 4 pm after having traveled a total of 33 km (including 16 km of paddling).

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Packrafting Lac de Nisramont

Last Sunday on the Nisramont lake, in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes…

I start paddling at 9:30 am, temperature just below freezing, cold mist rising from the water and common cormorants flying overhead. During the course of the day temperature rises to a pleasant 15°C thanks to abundant sunshine. The lake looks as scenic as ever and warm autumn colors make the package complete.

After 13 km or so of relaxed paddling I head over to the rocks at Le Hérou for a classic hike above and along the Ourthe river.

In 2016 I first witnessed autumn foliage in September in Quebec, and late October experienced the same phenomenon a second time in Belgium. This year the situation is similar: in September I enjoyed the peak of autumn foliage in the Norwegian fjells, and one month later we are now heading towards the (less intense) peak in Belgium.

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