Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions

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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 Appels Brooks and Meadows

A 10.5 km afternoon packrafting trip with Tom, exploring the brooks and meadows north of Appels (Dendermonde).

The area consists of a maze of small waterways (of which Meerdamsloot is the most sizeable) and borders the confluence of the Scheldt and Dender rivers. Plenty of fish in the water, ubiquitous signs of beaver activity and grey herons flying overhead. As there is no shortage of dense pockets of water plants, low bridges and dams, a bit of acrobacy and some portaging cannot be avoided. Cool trip!















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Packrafting Zuidlede

On a blustery Saturday in May, Jelle, Evert and I make a pleasant packrafting trip on Zuidlede, a nice little river that flows through an attractive pastoral landscape to the northeast of Ghent. We paddle back and forth from Stenenbrug to the confluence with the Moervaart canal, and enjoy the natural scenery mostly consisting of woods and meadows.

At this time of the year, nature is teeming with life, and we get to see lots of bird nests and newborn ducklings. One of the highlights of the trip is a close encounter with a young fox that appears to be skimming the shores for an easy meal.





















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Packrafting Oude Kale – bis

Another close-to-home after-work paddling trip with Evert. This time we revisit Oude Kale, however not the section between Merendree and Vinderhoute that we did back in February, but rather a hitherto “unexplored” stretch between Nevele and Landegem.

We put in at a small wooden bridge in Landegem and paddle upstream in the direction of Nevele. We meet quite a number of potential obstructions in the form of fallen trees, dense patches of plants, low bridges and tunnels, but manage to get through everywhere, without a single portage. We are struck by how clear the water is, and by the large number of coot nests (with eggs) tucked away along the shores.

The last tunnel before reaching the sports center of Nevele is quite something. It is so low and narrow that we have to pull every trick in the book to get through. At the sports center, Oude Kale disappears below the Schipdonk canal, and connects to Poekebeek at the other side.

After a well-deserved break, we take on the downstream paddle back to Landegem, while the sun slowly sets. Before taking out at the wooden bridge in Landegem, we try paddling a bit further downstream into a mosquito-infested forest, but do not get far, as the river bed is too narrow and overgrown.

In conclusion, another very pleasant and adventurous after-work trip. It continues to amaze us how many interesting spots are available close to home, if one is open to them.