Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions


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Packrafting Basse Lesse

The river Lesse is one of the most scenic in Belgium and the lower section between Houyet and Anseremme easily sees hundreds of paddlers on a nice summer’s day (water levels allowing, that is). In winter however, there is often not a soul…

On a frosty January morning, I put in at 10 am in Houyet for a solo descent. There are no technical difficulties on this part of the river, however since there is a good flow today, the current is not to be underestimated.

I pass the village of Gendron and subsequently paddle below the Furfooz rock formations. The fog of the morning hours starts to clear, and it becomes fairly sunny. Next on the trajectory are the rock needles of Chaleux, which are surprisingly spectacular when viewed from this angle, and are actually not something one would expect to find in Belgium.

The most impressive sight of the day is probably the castle of Walzin, which sits high above the river, on top of a vertical rock face. The castle stems from the 11th century, but has been rebuilt several times. Some parts are however still original.

I take out at the Villatoile camping, a bit before Anseremme. Since my plan is to hike all the way back to Houyet, there is absolutely no time to lose. I therefore cannot afford to take a break for lunch.

The return hike first takes me through the woods above the Walzin castle, while weather turns cloudy. I pass a lookout that offers a view towards the castle, and then one that looks over the river bend at Chaleux. As of Furfooz, the trail leads along the river and becomes very muddy.

Eventually, I arrive back in Houyet at 5:15 pm, after having travelled no less than 37 km by packraft and on foot (average travelling speed: 5.1 km/h). In order to make it back before dark, I was not able to take any breaks at all today, except for photo stops. So, a pretty intense day!

PS: I deliberately chose to hike back, whereas in this case, I just as well could have taken the train.

(Gendron: 24.74 m3/s)

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Packrafting Aisne

A cloudy but calm day in the Belgian Ardennes with a temperature of approximately 5°C. Evert, Jelle and I meet up for another packrafting trip, and this time we are also joined by Berten, an avid mountain biker who has developed an interest in packrafting.

At 10:15 am we put in at the village of Fanzel, intending to float down the river Aisne to Bomal-sur-Ourthe. Today’s flow isn’t particularly high, but it is still sufficient to have a comfortable ride (although a bit less so than during our previous trip of February 2019). We have to take out twice due to fallen trees, and Evert’s good deed of the day is to clean up one of these obstructions. We also take out at a concrete dam, although strictly speaking this is probably not necessary. All other dams are jumped, some of them even multiple times.

We arrive in Bomal around 12:45 pm, after 12.5 km of paddling. We fool around a bit with our cameras, pack up, and head home after another pleasant day on the water.

(Erezée: 1.68 m3/s)

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Packrafting Vierre

Temperature is just above freezing when Jelle and I put in at the quiet village of Martilly for a descent of the river Vierre, which seems to have a good flow today, although not excessively. We get going at 10 am while the initial sunny spells of the early morning hours start giving way to low clouds and fog.

Vierre is rated 3 stars in terms of technical difficulty and “engagement”, however we experience it as rather easy. The river is constantly meandering, but with a manoeuvrable floating device such as a packraft, this is not a problem.

We have to portage 3 times (2 fallen trees and 1 low bridge) and after having passed the village of Straimont, and a lot of beautiful natural scenery and signs of an active beaver population, we already arrive at the take out in Suxy around noon.

(Straimont: 7.26 m3/s)

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Packrafting 2019: Videos

Here’s an overview of all the packrafting videos that I produced in 2019.

It turns out that I did at least one trip every single month of the year, except for the month of May, for some unclear reason.

In addition to the trips below, I also paddled the river Leie in August and the river IJzer in December, but of these trips I do not have video footage.

January

February

March

April

May

No trips!

June

July

August

September

October

November

December


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Packrafting Houille

Another murky but luckily mostly dry December day when Evert, Jelle and I put in at Vencimont for a descent of the river Houille. Back in January we did the same descent, but took out somewhere below Felenne, before entering into France. This time we intend to continue across the border, to a location downstream of the village of Landrichamps, where we have our second car parked.

Temperature is around 6°C and after several recent rainy episodes the flow of the river is just below the allowed maximum. The descent is therefore fast and exciting, and several portages are required due to fallen trees and beaver dams. Generally, concentration needs to remain high due to tree branches, rapids, low bridges (I even take a swim at one of these), and small dams.

One location at a meadow just before entering Landrichamps is particularly dangerous, as there is barb wire across the entire river bed. Luckily red & white tape has been stuck it, so it is not entirely invisible. The situation nonetheless is rather unacceptable.

After slightly more than 4 hours and 18.5 km of paddling, we arrive at the take-out. Tired, but content.

(Felenne: 7.87 m3/s)

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Packrafting IJzer

A 20 km solo trip on a pretty murky but nevertheless dry December Saturday.

I put in at 9:30 am in Roesbrugge and paddle the river IJzer upstream towards the French border. The river soon narrows, and I spot several bird species such as common cormorant, kingfisher and coot. I meet an obstruction consisting of tree logs, plant residues and – unfortunately – plastic junk, but manage to get through.

I enter into France, meet another manageable obstruction and notice that the counter current substantially increases. I arrive at the bridge under the D947 departmental road, and – contrary to what is mentioned in online reports – do manage to continue. Eventually I however meet another obstruction just before the confluence with Ruisseau d’Houtkerque, decide not to conquer it, and head back.

The downstream paddle back to Roesbrugge is quite a bit less strenuous and quite a bit faster than the upstream paddle. I get back at 12:30 pm, decide not to take a rest, and just continue to Stavele. The river is wider now, but still scenic.

I arrive at the drawbridge in Stavele, and although in principle I still would have time to continue to Elzendamme or even Fintele, I take out since a nasty wind starts blowing. I have lunch, and hike back to Roesbrugge where I arrive at 3:15 pm.

Unfortunately: forgot to take my head strap, so no PoV GoPro footage, only low quality cell phone shots…

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Packrafting Amblève

A 35 km solo trip on another sunny November Sunday. The trip consists of a descent of the river Amblève by packraft from Stavelot via Coo to Pont de Cheneux, followed by a relatively strenuous return hike. In Coo a portage of a couple of hundred meters is mandatory in order to bypass a well-known 13 m waterfall.

Temperature is -2°C when I put in at 9:30 am just downstream from the main bridge in Stavelot. The river has a good flow, after recent snow melt on the plateau of the High Fens. One hour later I already find myself in Coo. After a 30 minute break spent on portaging and admiring the waterfall, I continue paddling until Pont de Cheneux, where I arrive at 11:30 am.

The return hike takes me back to Stavelot across hills and valleys, while temperature rises to a pleasant 8°C. I set a good pace and return just after 4:30 pm, before darkness sets in.

(Stavelot: 11.5 m3/s)

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