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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Black Forest: Katzenkopf

The third day of our stay in the Black Forest is beautifully crisp and sunny. We hike from our hotel in Oberwolfach (290 m) to Katzenkopf, a lower summit of approximately 650 m on the eastern side of the valley.

The hike first passes the ruins of an old fortress and subsequently leads through the woods to a number of lookouts.

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Black Forest: Brandenkopf

The second day of our stay in the Black Forest marks the return to full winter conditions. Snow relentlessly comes down the entire day, and I decide to make a 20 km solo hike from our hotel in the village of Oberwolfach (290 m) to the summit of Brandenkopf (940 m) – the highest elevation in the central Black Forest.

The hike leads entirely through the woods and since nobody seems to have gone before me, I have to break the trail the whole way. With only 10 cm of snow on the ground at lower elevations this is of course not a problem at first, but towards the summit snow deepens and without snowshoes I only just about manage.

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Black Forest: Hornisgrinde

Between Christmas and New Year we make a short family trip to the Black Forest in Germany. On the first day of our stay we embark on a snow hike around and over Hornisgrinde (1,164 m) – the highest summit of the northern Black Forest region.

Hornisgrinde stands tall above the flats of the valley of the river Rhine. The latter marks the border to France, and across the border the city of Strasbourg and the Vosges mountains can be seen.

The top plateau of Hornisgrinde is very much windswept and seems to have a snow cover of almost 1 meter.

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High Fens: Breaking Trails

December is well on its way to become one of the murkiest on record. It is therefore no surprise that during another 20+ km solo hike across the High Fens conditions are extremely eerie: all is silent and white, and there is hardly a person to be seen. I have to do a substantial amount of trail breaking, but manage relatively easily without snowshoes as there is only up to 25 cm of snow.

Baraque Michel – Noir Flohai – Geitzbusch – Petit Bongard – Helle – Herzogenhügel – Spohrbach – Miesbach – Cléfaye – Pont Marie-Anne Libert – Baraque Michel

Pictures > Belgium 2017-12-17: High Fens

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LLT: Parkbos Gent

The last “Lustige Lochtingterters” (LLT) hike of the year takes us to my own “backyard”, i.e. Parkbos Gent, Westerplas and the village of Sint-Martens-Latem. Conditions couldn’t possibly be better to offer us a true LLT experience thanks to intense downpours of rain, flooded trails, slippery duckboards, remains of snow and ice, mud and low temperatures …

One of the members of the group is celebrating his 80th birthday and to everyone’s surprise he manages to walk the entire 20+ km without issues.

Pictures > Belgium 2017-12-16: Parkbos Gent

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High Fens: First Snows

After a few dustings in November, the first real snows arrive beginning of December on the high plateaus in the east of Belgium.

I make a 25 km solo hike on a day with non-abating light snowfall and pretty pitiful conditions for photography due to the lack of light.

Baraque Michel – Bouquet Bastin – Noir Flohai – Geitzbusch – Petit Bongard – Herzogenhügel – La Béole – Haie de Souk – Botrange – Neûr Lowé – Béleu – Fagne de Polleur – Baraque Michel

Pictures > Belgium 2017-12-03: High Fens

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