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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Packrafting Semois

33 km on foot and by packraft through the Semois valley in the Belgian Ardennes, on a rather typical murky and chilly (4°C) December Sunday.

I start at the Tombeau du Géant lookout in Botassart at 9:15 am and hike to Bouillon via the newly erected suspension bridge of l’Epine. In Bouillon, I hike up the rock for a view of the early Medieval castle and then put in my packraft.

The river Semois has a good flow and around 2 pm I arrive in Poupehan. Unfortunately, there is no time for lunch nor for a prolonged break, as there is still a relatively strenuous hike ahead and I prefer to return to Botassart before dark.

The return hike takes me via “sentier des échelles” in Rochehaut, a rather steep, slippery and muddy trail with a number of fixed ladders securing the most treacherous sections. It is not so easy negotiating the ladders with a backpack (containing my packrafting gear and with some trekking poles sticking out), but I manage.

Around 4:30 pm, I arrive back at the Tombeau du Géant lookout, a mere 15 minutes before sunset.

(Bouillon: 25.1 m3/s)

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Ardennes: Rochehaut

A 30 km solo day hike (~1000 m of climbing) above, along and even through the river Semois in the Belgian Ardennes. The day starts a bit dull and grey, but gradually clouds lift and conditions become pleasant with a temperature of 15°C.

Rochehaut – Frahan – Crêtes de Frahan – Poupehan – Les échelles – Tombeau du Géant – Rochehaut

Pictures > Belgium 2020-09-01: Rochehaut

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Promenade des Echelles

After having descended a section of the river Vierre by packraft in the morning, I drive to the village of Rochehaut, which sits high above a scenic bend in the river Semois. Although it is already 2 pm and days are short early January, there should still be enough time to do the so-called “promenade des échelles” or ladder hike. This hike is quite short (less than 6 km), but is still surprisingly strenuous as it steeply goes down and up the flanks of the Semois valley. At 4 places permanent ladders have been installed to conquer near-vertical rock faces.

It takes me 2 hours to complete the hike, including several photo stops (GoPro). Weather remains dark and gloomy, but the hike is still pleasant.





















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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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Semois: Monthermé

The second day of our weekend takes us to the French part of the Semois region (where the name of the river is spelled as Semoy). We steeply climb up to Longue Roche and enjoy the many viewpoints overlooking the town and its bend in the river Meuse.

In the afternoon we head to the picturesque site of Roc la Tour for a bit of scrambling fun.











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Semois: Rochehaut & Bouillon

After 2 months with mostly below average temperatures spring suddenly arrives in Belgium with temperatures around the 20°C mark. We head over to the Ardennes for the weekend and spend the first day on a 18 km hike through and around the Semois river valley, from the village of Rochehaut to Tombeau du Géant and back.

The warm temperatures are in strange contrast to the trees, which have not sprouted one bit yet and still look the same as in the dead of winter.

We spend the night in the town of Bouillon, close to its citadel. The latter was first mentioned in 988 AD and was once owned by Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the leaders of the First Crusade.