Filip H.A. Claeys

Trekking in Mountainous and Subarctic Regions

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Packrafting Leie

Instant holiday vibes during another packrafting trip on the scenic and meandering river Leie, on a sunny and warm day in June.

I leave home on foot, pass the small nature reserve of Westerplas, and put in at Leiepark Deurle less than 30′ later. After 17 km and about 4.5 hours of relaxed paddling, I take out at Leiepark Sint-Denijs-Westrem, having followed the river through Sint-Martens-Latem, Drongen and Afsnee.

Paddling the river Leie is of course a very different experience from the more adventurous trips I tend to make, but I typically enjoy it nonetheless. Next to its obvious proximity to home, there are the greenery along its shores, the multitude of posh mansions and historic buildings, and the parade of pleasure yachts of various sizes.

Belgium 2021-06-09: Packrafting Leie

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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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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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Packrafting Leie

The first after-work packrafting trip of this year on nearby river Leie takes me from Leiepark Deurle to the public jetty in Sint-Martens-Latem + return on foot. About 16 km in all: 10 km paddling and 6 km walking.

I call it a day at work at 5 pm and a half hour later, I am already on the water. The evening is quiet, sunny and almost windless. The month of April has been unusually chilly thus far, but today temperatures are pleasant.

A bit before 8 pm, I reach the jetty in Sint-Martens-Latem, start walking, and by 9 pm get back to my car, just in time to witness the last bit of sunlight over the meandering river.

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Packrafting Demer

Descending the river Demer from Diest to Aarschot with Evert and Tom. This river marks the border between the Hageland and Campine regions and for some reason is one of the few scenic rivers in Belgium that none of us have ever paddled.

We put in a bit after 11 am and are pleasantly surprised by the current of the river, the nice tailwind blowing from the northeast and the sunny conditions. After a lot of greenery, several meanders and some small rapids, we reach the village of Zichem with its 14th century lookout tower (which plays a role in the Flemish heimat novel “De Witte van Sichem”).

A while later we pass through the village of Testelt and enjoy a series of 3 rapids that bring back memories of packrafting trips in more hilly areas such as the Ardennes. For paddlers without any experience, these rapids may offer a bit of an unexpected thrill.

The river is strongly embedded in the landscape and taking out is not trivial. We hence have lunch in our boats while floating down the river. It is only many kilometers further, in the village of Langdorp, that we are finally able to get out and have a longer rest.

The last stretch towards Aarschot is easily taken care of and at 4 pm we take out at the Demervallei sports center, after approximately 20 km of paddling. To be honest, we didn’t have overly high expectations of Demer, but after today’s experience we have to reconsider. No doubt the unforeseen fine weather plays a role in our appreciation.

(Zichem: 7.10 m3/s)

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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)


Packrafting Salm & Amblève

Winter is slowly coming to an end and Evert and I decide to close the whitewater season in style by making one last run on the river Salm, combined with a partial descent of the river Amblève, and a return hike on foot. Indeed, now is the time, since the official closing date of the season is March 15th, which is tomorrow.

It may be true that winter is coming to an end, but during the drive to the put-in location on the river Salm, it doesn’t really look it, as we are surprised by fresh snow on the road above 400 m. At the put-in in Rochelinval, snow turns to rain, while we gear up for a frigid descent.

The river Salm is probably the most sportive in the Belgian Ardennes that can be run without special permission. After a fairly dry period, the river has a good flow today, thanks to yesterday’s precipitation.

Due to an issue with Evert’s raft, it takes until 10:30 am before we are finally on the water. Soon, we reach a first drop, which is so much fun that we run it twice. Afterwards follows a quick succession of rapids and lower drops, which remains fun until the end. Salm may be quite sportive, it however is not particularly scenic. Especially the part around the town of Trois-Ponts is below standard in this respect, however even this section remains fun to paddle.

We reach the confluence with the river Amblève and paddle to Coo where we portage around a well-known 13 m high waterfall. At the other side of the falls, we continue paddling the Amblève river. This stretch of the river is rather laid-back, but as the flow today is good, we make decent progess. We find a lost paddle, which probably belongs to a kayak rental shop, and we decide to take it along until the take-out.

After having paddled 17 km, we take out at the Cheneux bridge, pack up, have lunch, leave the found paddle behind, and start hiking in the direction of Rochelinval. The trail starts climbing almost immediately and passes the village of Monceau. As we climb higher, the sky breaks and sunny spells arrive, returning color to the landscape.

On the crest of the hills, at around 500 m, we encouter some remains of this morning’s snow, and then start our descent towards the village of Mont-de-Fosse. The weather is very changy now, with a quick succession of sunny spells and intense rain and hail showers.

From Mont-de-Fosse we hike to Bergeval through silent woods, and then take on our final descent back to Rochelinval. We arrive around 5:30 pm, after a trip of a bit over 30 km.

Today has been a great day, with very enjoyable paddling, beautiful views during our hike, and basically all types of weather including snow, rain, hail and sun.

(Trois-Ponts: 5.32 m3/s; Stavelot: 9.78 m3/s)

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Packrafting Ourthe Moyenne

Back in October, I made a beautiful combined packrafting / hiking daytrip of no less than 43 km from Hotton to Barvaux and back. On a crisp Sunday in early March, I decide to continue where I left off, and paddle from Barvaux to Hamoir, before returning on foot via the GR57 trail.

After a frosty night with temperatures around -5°C, I put in at 9:50 am in Barvaux. The sky is all clear and is expected to stay that way for the remainder of the day. Temperature will rise to +5°C, but thanks to a lack of wind, it will feel quite a bit warmer.

The stretch between Barvaux and Hamoir passes Bomal-sur-Ourthe and Sy and has no technical difficulties to speak of. Nature is not as pristine as for instance on the Houille or Sûre rivers, but there are several picturesque rock formations along the riverbed.

At Roche aux Corneilles, I make a prolongued stop and meet a French-speaking couple with packrafts. Although I have never met Alexandre and his girlfriend before, they appear to know me through my blog and videos. How is that for a coincidence!

Half an hour or so later I am back on the water, pass other rock formations (and rock climbers) and eventually arrive in Hamoir around noon. While packing up, I have a conversation with 2 Flemish mountain bikers who are interested in the ins and outs of packrafting.

At 12:30, I start the return hike which first leads across the bridge to the other side of the river, and then into the woods. At the foot of one of the rock formations that I passed by packraft, I take a break for lunch. Afterwards, I resume my hike, which goes up and down a couple of rocky ridges offering beautiful views of the river valley. Interestingly, trees have been cleared at select locations to offer breathing space to typical limestone flora, which is not visible right now, but will be in a couple of weeks.

I cross the river Aisne, which I packrafted already twice with good water levels. At this moment, paddling is sheer impossible here though as water is simply too low.

After one last climb up to Mont des Pins offering fine views towards the east, I make my final descent towards Bomal-sur-Ourthe. I cross the bridge to the other side of the river, and then simply follow the bicycle / walking track back to Barvaux, where I arrive at 5:30 pm after a trip of 33 km.

(Durbuy: 10.81 m3/s)

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Packrafting Sûre

A couple of days after having paddled the river Our, I travel back to the east of Belgium for another river descent. This time, I have my eyes set on Sûre, a small river that marks the border between Belgium and Luxembourg, before it definitively flows into Luxembourg itself.

Weather-wise, the day is as good as one can possibly expect at the end of February, with brilliant sunshine and an expected high of no less than 16°C in this part of the country. I put in at the Im Wohr outdoor recreation area in Martelange at 10 am, and after a short stretch through a forested zone (where I already have to do my first carry around a fallen tree), I pass through the center of the town of Martelange. The latter section is not particularly nice, but fortunately it is only short. Soon after, I enter the wild, wooded valley of the river Sûre.

The descent is absolutely gorgeous, not only because of the weather, but also thanks to the varied nature of the river. There’s a quick succession of meanders, small rapids, dams, fallen trees and flat water zones. So, basically everything one can expect on a river in the Ardennes. In total, I paddle 5 dams and 3 times carry around a tree.

At the place where the river fully and definitively enters Luxembourg (after having received the waters of the Syrbach creek), I take out, even though it is possible to continue until Moulin de Bigonville or even the Sûre water reservoir. Reasons for taking out are partly that due to the corona situation we are officially not allowed to leave the country for non-essential travel, but more importantly because I still have to hike back all the way to Martelange.

I start the return hike at 1 pm, climb up to the plateau and have lunch in the rather remote village of Tintange. At 2 pm, I then take on the remainder of the hike, which takes me along the river and past the village of Grumelange. At 4 pm, I reach Martelange and spend some time exploring the nicely designed outdoor recreation area / portal zone of the Anlier forest reserve, before hitting the road back home.

Today, I paddled 14 km and hiked 12 km, amounting to a total of 26 km, which is by coincidence the same as on the Our trip.

(Flow: 3.81 m3/s)

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Packrafting Our

Last week has seen a crazy shift in the weather, going from temperatures far below freezing and snow on the ground, to +15°C and brilliant sunshine. This calls for some packrafting and hiking fun in the east of the country!

Our is a little river in the very east of Belgium (in fact, it marks the border to Germany) that is open for paddling between the villages of Auel and Ouren. So, I put in at Auel on a sunny Saturday morning at 10 am and start paddling downstream, which in this case is due south. The river flows through some attractive natural scenery and is technically quite straightforward. Under normal circumstances, the only obstacles are a fish ladder and a crumbled old barrage.

At the fish ladder, I decide to carry, as there is simply not enough water to venture into the fish ladder itself, nor the original river bed to the right of it (one has to take into account that part of the water is diverted to a fish pond at this location). The remnants of the old barrage I do paddle however. There are lots of rocks, so the ride is a bit bumpy, but also good fun.

I arrive in Ouren at noon, take out, and start hiking back via the hills and woods to the west of the river. I’m surprised to encounter some ice remaining from the past cold snap at a couple of locations. I have lunch on top of the plateau, with a view into Luxembourg.

After lunch, I descend into the valley, and hike back in the direction of Auel via the Vennbahn bicycle / walking track (which used to be a railroad in the past). I have another rest at the former railway station of Burg-Reuland, before taking on the last stretch.

After a generally scenic and – to be honest – quite relaxed hike, I return to my car around 4:30 pm. Total distance covered today is 26 km (12 km paddling + 14 km hiking).

(Flow: 6.3 m3/s)