The kayaking club at King Edwards School, Birmingham is a small but keen group of boys who meet every Thursday lunchtime to hone their skills in the swimming pool. Once or twice a year we load up the boats and kit and head out to rivers across the UK for a weekend to transfer these skills to challenging but rewarding water. During the July of 2015 two vans were filled with more gear and more boats than ever before to transfer the KES Kayaking club to the southern French Alps. The aim of the trip was to improve everyone’s abilities and skills on challenging water, whilst also working towards the 3 Star award.
After the day and a half of travel from Birmingham, navigating delayed Euro tunnels and closed Cols, camp was set. The morning was spent on the lake at the campsite shaking off the cobwebs and reminding and revising the key skills for the river: edging, sweeping, sculling, drawing and, of course, rolling – skills which would later be called upon regularly on the river. That afternoon was spent on the first river of the trip – the Durance. Paddling down the deep blue icy water in 30C heat with a gentle breeze proved a welcome change from the cold, brown rainy rivers of North Wales in October. After some gentle rapids and a cold introduction to the faster moving current to one member, we finished after the slalom course at Le Seras, where the more experienced paddlers got their first taste of larger alpine rapids. Day two followed suit as we returned to the lake in the morning again to improve skills, returning to La Durance after lunch. The culmination of the day saw the stronger paddlers taking on Rabioux rapid. After a motivational talk from one of our leaders, Mr Irvine, who described it as ‘a massive punch in the face… by a big, white, bunny rabbit’; we one by one ran the rapid blind, trying to remember whether we were supposed to go river right or just right of centre. After what seemed like a gentle stroke across the face we all returned to shore with big grins after what we thought had been a big rapid, we were told we’d missed all the good stuff by going too far right!
Returning to the Durance on the third day saw some slight complacency from the conquerors of the rapid the previous day, as, fired by the insults from taking the easy line the day before, we all decided to run the rapid again as one chain straight into the stopper. A head over heels flip and a swim by myself and a three boat stopper pile up from the group reminded us that perhaps Rabioux was bigger than we thought. Following on down to Embrum we rolled through the long grade 2 wave trains, which provided great fun as well as upgraded water to push skills. the following day, having spent the morning in Briançon, we moved to the Guisane river in the afternoon. A much more technical, low volume creek; the Guisane provided the group with the opportunity to change the skills we were building as we needed to adapt the eddy hopping to a more continuous flow where the line was key. However, the numerous swims of the day saw the adaptability of the group tested as we all collaborated to help the guys in need. A very rewarding river, especially as the river moved to a 2/3 grade later on.
Day 5 returned to the Durance to revisit the large volume skills then onto the reservoir downstream to test the flat water skills required for the 3 star award. The final day saw the more experienced paddlers drawing on our skills on the Ubaye as we tackled a solid grade 3 river.
The trip proved to be as exciting as it had sounded when described to us the year before. This trip was the most challenging any of us had ever seen, but was also by far the most rewarding. The entire group bonded well and increasingly became hugely more confident paddlers.
Thanks must got to the staff, Trevor Collins for providing shuttles, Colin Irvine for his vast knowledge and teaching ability and to Craig Storey, who organised the entire trip and coached us throughout. Furthermore, we would also like to thank the Ulysses Trust for helping us to run the trip.