Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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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)


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Packrafting Ourthe Moyenne

A 28+ km solo day trip on a gorgeous November Sunday. The trip leads through one of the best parts of the Belgian Ardennes and consists of a descent of a section of the river Ourthe by packraft (Nisramont to Maboge), followed by a return hike on foot.

When I put in below Barrage de Nisramont at 9:30 am temperature is around freezing and conditions are foggy. Weather however is supposed to turn sunny later in the day. The descent is generally easy with a couple of small insignificant rapids, however at the location known as Les Ondes there is one rapid that requires some more attention. Halfway the descent, clouds break and it becomes sunny as predicted, with a temperature of 5°C.

I arrive in Maboge at 11:30 am and stow away my packraft while having a quick bite. Indeed, there is no time to lose as the return hike is pretty strenuous and I prefer to return before dusk.

I leave the village of Maboge, more or less follow the river, and then hike up to remains of an ancient Celtic fortress known as Le Cheslé de Bérismenil. After a steep descent, I return to the river, pass the rapids at Les Ondes, and hike up to the rocks at Le Hérou. I take a short rest, have something to eat, and start the descent back to where my car is parked, passing the picturesque village of Ollomont on the way.

I get back at 4:30 pm after 7 hours of paddling / hiking. Sun has already disappeared from the river valley, and temperature is sinking fast.

(Discharge at Nisramont: 9.5 m3/s)

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Packrafting Ourthe & Houille: Videos

The videos of recent packrafting adventures in the wintry hills and woods of the Belgian Ardennes are ready. I must say: quite a bit of work to sift through all the footage, keep the best parts, throw away unsteady sequences, etc. Especially the Houille videos were a challenge in this respect, given that the descent was often a true obstacle run, and shooting decent footage was hence not always my primary concern…

Ourthe Orientale

Descent of the eastern Ourthe from Houffalize to the Nisramont lake (~14 km).

Lac de Nisramont

Paddling (and swimming!) the partly ice-covered Nisramont lake to the main dam (~4 km).

Ourthe Occidentale

Descent of the western Ourthe from Berguèmes to the Nisramont lake (~20 km).

Houille 1

Houille from Vencimont to the dam before the fish farm.

Houille 2

Houille from the dam before the fish farm to Moulin de Bourseigne.

Houille 3

Houille from Moulin de Bourseigne to the take-out below Felenne.

Houille dam

Slow-motion footage of me jumping a dam on the Houille (video courtesy of Glen Dickinson).


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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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Nisramont and Le Hérou hikes

2 solo hikes on the last day of summer, through some of the most splendid landscapes the Belgian Ardennes have to offer. First a 14 km morning tour of the Nisramont lake, followed by a smaller afternoon tour of about 5 km down and up the rocks at Le Hérou, spectacularly rising from the meandering Ourthe river.

Pictures > Belgium 2015-09-20: Ardennes

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