river

Kayaking the Stunning Soča

We finally got to see for ourselves the absolutely stunning scenery, rivers and people of Slovenia. 

The Drive: We travelled through Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and into Slovenia!  It was a bit of an epic journey and we did get held up in traffic a lot in Germany due to a Long weekend, everyone was travelling somewhere nice for a day or two.  After about 24 hours driving, getting stuck in yet another jam we made a snap decision to pull off in Nuremburg, a quick scan of booking.com had is in a cheap hotel within minutes, showered, changed and out and about, stretching our legs and filling our bellies with pizza and beer! 

Early night for all and an epic sleep occurred.  Back on the road the approx. 5 hour journey to Bovec took a good 8 hours but we were here and the memories of the drive melted away.

All present and accounted for!

Day 1

Otona – Kobarid  (2 / 4)

What a day!  Through our pal Mat who was part of the 7 strong group we got to paddle with the Team Pyranha man himself Rok Rozman.  I usual Danger fashion I wasn’t really up to speed on what was happening and who we were meeting until we arrived at the get in.  There we were greeted by Rok and a lovely woman called Irene who had kindly turned up to run shuttle!  

Ronnie caught me doing something right!

We organised ourselves and started the long walk down to the river.  It’s really steep and maybe takes about 15 minutes but it most definitely is worth it.  When we finally emerged at the bottom, shaky and sweaty from the exertion we were greeted by the stunning blue/green water of the Soča and oh yeah a Grade 4 rapid!  Despite perhaps desiring a gentler paddle for day 1 on the Soča we were quick to start gearing ourselves up for more of a challenging run.  Rok was absolutely amazing at leading us down the section.  He allowed us to read and run most of it and advised when there was a particular drop or rapid which perhaps required more care.  From the moment we got on, tackled the first rapid, we were eddy hopping and boofing our way down this amazing section of river.  

Rok front looping a Machno

We also got to see Rok front loop (almost) a Machno and it was the best thing ever.  Not only is Rok a mega babe and an amazing kayaker, he was like the nicest guy ever and we were all super stoked to have him with us on the river.  At the get out there was a race ramp which had been built and some of the guys went for a blast and we then clambered up to the Campsite get out.  By the time we got there Rok had bought us all beers and he had firmly set himself up as the coolest guy on the planet.

The gang with Rok

After a couple of beers and soaking up the sunshine Rok said his goodbyes and told us of some cool waterfalls to go and look at, which we did.  It was about a half hour walk away and was well worth a visit.  I had a little swim with a couple of the others but be warned, it’s freezing!

Exploring the freezing pool

Day 2

Srpenica 1 – Tronovo 2 (2/3/4)

After a breakfast of fresh pastries we got from a friendly bakers next door to the Pivovarna Union Bar and super strong coffee we headed off to the get on at Srpenica 1.  After a bit of umming and ahhing we drove to Trnovo 1 as we were unsure where the Slalom actually ended before Siphon Canyon started.  I can confirm if you park at Tronovo 2 this is at the bottom of the Slalom course.  There is a final eddy about 100 feet or so from where Siphon canyon begins.  The entry to Siphon canyon is marked by two huge bits of rock (which look like an old structure of some kind) and the river channels between these. 

Ferg getting air on grade 3 section

At the get on the river starts mellow and wide with a few waves and rock splats to be had.  Soon enough you are coming around a slight bend in the river and the fun begins!  Pour overs, waves and whirly eddy lines make for a fun read and run section which is the flavour for the rest of the run down to the start of the slalom.  This was where the fun really started!  We scouted from the river to make sure we knew where we were getting out and to see if there was anything to avoid.  The first run down was pretty stop and start, I took a load of eddies to see where I was to go next and settle my nerves.  There were big waves, a few drops and some more technical twisty moves but all in a whole lot of fun!  

Ronnie chasing me down the Slalom!

We went back up to do another run and this time Ferg announced it was a “Fast is Fun” run and we all shot off!  Minimal eddies were had and we all blasted down, boofing, capsizing and whooping the whole way!  It was a bit of a rush and I was pleased to find my Axiom really took to being driven fast.  For the rest of the trip I reminded myself to look ahead more, avoid eddies whenever possible and keep the boat moving.

Day 3

Camp Soča to Tronovo 2 (2/3/4)

A misty, thundery and cooler day on the Soča.  

Levels had dropped but were on the way up with the rain coming in.  We decided to do a longer run down from Camp Soča to the Slalom course.  A varied day with a lot of grade 2 sections but there were a few interesting sections to be bagged.  Near the top there was a grade 4 gorge section, which I, after executing the perfect entry, missed a stroke on and ended up having some down time but I was stoked I eventually managed to roll up!  The rest of the river after this was read and run with long sections of grade 2.  We kept the pace on because most of us were in shorty cags and the day was cooler.  

Ferg nailing the line into gorge

When we got to Srpenica we started to recognise the river again and decided it had risen a bit with the rain which had started coming on quite heavy.  By the time we got to the Slalom the rain was lashing!  We blasted down again but I will tell you, the boils on the eddie lines were far more turbulent and keeping the power on was key!  By the time we got to the bottom I was shaking from adrenaline and tiredness!  It had been a long day, I’d had a ball but I was ready for that beer!

Day 4

Kortnica to Cezsoča (2/3/4)

A new day and for the first time in 3 days a new river!  With all the rain that had come over night the Koritnica had shot up but was falling fast.  We got up and on as quickly as we could (which wasn’t that quick to be honest!) and on this new river.  As soon as we were on we were in it! A wee boulder garden led into a twisty turny section before the gorge.  

Ronnie in the narrow gorge

This was awesome because after entering the gorge it kept getting narrower and narrower until you were sure it would not be wide enough for a boat until you were spat out round a corner!  A mix of small drops and boulder gardens followed until the river joined the Soča at Vodenca.  We had run the section below this on the first day and as  we continued down talked about how much pushier the river was!  

Ferg ear dips above Slalom

At the get out I decided to call it a day and ran shuttle for those who wanted to get back on the Spernica and Slalom sections at Medium.   

Ronnie on medium Slalom (c) Mat Wilkinson

Day5

Sperenica 1 to Tronovo 1

The second to last day was a mixed bag for me.  I was off to a shaky start, really feeling the weeks paddling and drinking taking its toll.  I was ready to get off after the first run and a short swim, however, was convinced to give it another bash and so glad I did!

Alfie hugs a rock

My runs down were poles apart and I was comfortable, decisive and controlled.  

Being brutal on my second run down…

When I got to the campsite I decided not to run anything else and Ferg and I went up to the beer garden instead!  Drinking beer in the sun and eating Marlenka honey cake while talking about the weeks exciting moments was perfect. 

Taps aff for this stud! Mr Tom (c) Mat Wilkinson

After the others got back we headed back to the apartment to get ready for our outing to one of the local restaurants ‘Guesthouse Martinov’.  The food was stunning but the head waiter/owner really made it a memorable experience!

Day 6

Otona to Kobarid (2/3/4)

Last day!! We went back to where it all started and got onto a slightly higher than first day section.

Alfie runs first rapid on Otona section

It was a lot pushier and grabbier and we all mused about how we were glad we’d been down previously with Rok or I’d have been getting out to scout all over the shop.  I had a couple of capsizes but also the quickest roll I’ve ever done in my life! I think this was my favourite day but it was really hard to choose because each day had something awesome to it.  

At the bottom there was the most amazing surf wave which I kept going back on because it was perfect!  I think my grin gave away how much fun I was having and too soon we were heading for the get out.   At the get out I found out (after huffily putting off for months because ya know, I can’t do it) I sulkily went to do a handstand to show everyone how much I could not do them, to find myself still in a handstand 5 seconds later, unsure how to get down…

Team celebratory handstands!

We headed back to Bovec to pick up the slackline and supplies before heading to a park to play for the rest of the afternoon, visiting souvenir shops on the way back down to the villa.  We packed and headed off after dinner to start the long journey back home.  

Playing in our last day

One tip for you when you get the vignette in Austria it might not look it but it has a peel off bit which you take off and stick to the window.  Do this as we got pulled by Austrian police on the way out because it wasn’t displayed properly.  They were cool about it but warned us it could have been a fine.  We drove through the night and had a couple of brief stops before stopping in Brussels for the day.  A beautiful if not expensive city I would recommend a visit to.

36 hours after leaving Slovenia we arrived home.  A quick nap and breakfast later we were on the Leny for a blast down as it’d be raining at home all week!  No need to waste a day sleeping when your local run is on.

In summary, Slovenia is an amazing country to kayak in, the scenery is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, the weather is amazing, it’s cheap and everyone we met were super lovely.  The river has something for every level of kayaker.  If it had of rained constantly there were still options and wold have brought more tribs into play.  There is plenty of things to do in the surrounding areas too so you’d never be stuck.  I would definitely go back in the future and if you would like to quiz me on certain sections or have any questions please get in touch.

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Running the River Etive

I’ve run this exciting river twice now and envisage many trips back to enjoy its many drops, deep pools, bends and twists. There are many other blogs and guidebooks that show you how to find the river and get in so I’m going to launch straight into describing the paddle. I will add that as this river is gorge narrow even a little rain can change the dimensions greatly, creating stoppers with strong tow back and making some lines foolish to run. Always check falls and rapids you are not 100% sure of and have enough people to run safety when required as there are many boat and paddler munching possibilities along the Etive!
The start of the river is a run of three drops aptly named ‘Triple Steps’ (4).

First drop at Triple Steps

The first drop can look quite intimidating and, as I was still recovering from a bad swim a few days previously, I didn’t run this one, ferry gliding across to the left hand bank and putting in at the eddy above the second drop. I went down the first drop the second time and you want to aim for the middle, slightly left of the rooster tail, taking into account the force will likely push you forward into the second drop without much time to think about it. When I put in at the top of the second drop, I ferry glided out a couple of feet, turned the boat and attempted a boof off the drop! In higher levels there will be a lot of turbulence and pull back on the falls so be ready to paddle hard out of the pool, leaning forward and staying strong. 

Second drop at Triple Steps

There are a couple of mini drops until you enter a calmer pool. From here you can run the final drop, which is a little higher at about 12-14 feet. You take this line at an almost diagonal angle, hitting the edge of the drop towards the middle, but aiming towards the right hand rocks. The force of the water carries the boat down to a lovely open pool which will allow you to roll back up or collect boats and paddles quite easily!

The beauty of this section of the river is its ability to be run over and over again, as the drops are so close together. You can also leap from the cliffs into the pools, but obviously use common sense when doing so.

Once you’ve had enough fun on this section and wish to press on, the river twists and turns a little without much difficulty, although do take care in lower levels as the bed is a bit of a rock garden, often having to squeeze in between rocks not much wider than your boat. The next rapid is ‘Letter Box’ (4+), which would be highly advisable to scout. In higher levels you will get pulled back into a stopper (I’ve seen it happen) and think it has been named ‘Letter Box’ as there is generally only one line down, with not much wiggle room if you get it wrong! Take this as far left as possible, aim for a straight boof to avoid pencilling in and avoid the rock wall on the left.
Next up is ‘Ski Jump’ (3-4) which is a lovely wide drop into a soft cushiony pool. You should notice, as the river falls over the edge, a rock, which you want as close as possible to you right hand side. Aim straight and you will fall easily upright into the pool.

A few twists and turns will bring you to ‘Crack of Doom’ (4). I portaged this the first time round as I was viewing with the memory of my last major swim, but I ran it the second time, with a slight hiccup when I hit a very slippery boulder that spun me round. Thankfully I thought quick and reacted by forcing the back of the boat into a mini eddy allowing the water to pull my front end round avoiding running into the gorge backwards! You want to follow the flow down close to the left, avoiding rocks, before sliding into the narrow gorge section between two boulders, which can be quite tricky. In lower levels you want to stick to the left and drop into the pool below because a rock ledge is exposed just under the surface on the left which you would not want to land on! In higher levels however, you will be aiming more for the left to avoid getting caught in any tow back.

Top half of Crack of Doom

 
Just round the bend is ‘Crack of Dawn’ (4) which I’ve not run yet. This is where I got out on my first visit and the second time round was too shallow, with boulders appearing just under the surface, which would make a nasty landing after a 10 foot drop! 

Darren seal launching, Crack of Dawn in background

 
A few moments later we bumbled down ‘The Great Waterslide’ (4), which was a bump and a scrape over a 5 foot drop, plopping into the water rather effortlessly.
Now onto the grand finale, the reason we’re all here, the rush we got out of bed for. ‘Right Angle Falls’ (5+) looms just around the bend. Definitely get out of the boat and have a look at what awaits you. There is an initial curved drop into a pool just before ‘Right Angle’ and care will need to be given. After speaking to a few who have run this before, lower levels can come with its own problems. The curved drop meets opposing forces of water which can cause unwanted turbulence and possibly even a capsize! Take care when dropping in, be prepared to brace or lean and of course if you do capsize….MAKE THE DAMN ROLL!! Personally it’s always these kind of things which catch me out so I focused hard on not letting it. I took my time getting in my boat, breathed and told myself I could do this no problem but if I were to capsize I haul ass and make the roll like never before!  

Drop in before Right Angle

 

Centred, I started off, sticking to the right and following the curving flow down into the pool before the falls, leaning forward, staying strong and putting in positive, stable strokes. Before I knew it, I was in the pool aiming for the right of the drop which I didn’t want. Knowing I missed the eddy I edged the boat to the left and corrected my direction, aiming dead centre of the water cascading over the lip of the falls…and I was off, falling, placing my paddle to the right, head down, eyes fluttering to a close, meeting the water with the nose of the boat, overturning, instinctively rolling up and hearing the roar of pride from Fergus, being grasped by arms and then hugged. 

Going over Right Angle

 

This was on par with pulling off the ‘Falls of Linn’ on the Tummel and I felt exhilarated and stunned in equal measure. I realised, however, this was no small accomplishment and I have started to run features on rivers which demand respect, strength, determination and often courage to succeed intact. I’ve been watching the videos, reading the blogs and pouring over my friends’ photos of massive waterfall drops and today, this part of the journey has been experienced by me and I could not be happier.
Scraping our way through a rock garden, having to get out at one point we make it to the last rapid on this stretch, which is a 5-6 foot drop into a pool. There is a rock just under the surface on the left hand side but towards the middle there is a bit of tow back so try to boof it and gun it out of there!  

Darren running final rapid

 

All in all a fantastic but challenging river to run requiring safety on many of the features for intermediate and in higher levels advanced paddlers alike.

A couple of final points I think are particularly important. The first is something I have come across on blogs and magazines about river grading. I feel strongly that the grading is in place for a reason and a very good one at that. It provides an indication to anyone running the rapid of what to expect, how much care needs to be given and if there are any specific routes to be taken. There are some who argue the grading system in place on the Etive is too high but I wholeheartedly disagree and feel the 4-5+ grading is highly appropriate, the rapids aligning themselves accurately to the descriptions provided below by the UK Rivers Guidebook.  I’ll also be damned if anyone is going to make others feel naive or overly cautious for looking out for themselves and valuing the life of others.

“Severe waves, drops, stoppers and other obstructions. The route is not easily recognisable and will usually require careful inspection from the boat or bank. Grade 4 encompasses a wide range of rivers, from those with pool-drop rapids to those with extended continuous rapids; so there is a huge variation in difficulty. It is common to distinguish easier grade 4 rapids by grading them as 4- and harder rapids as 4+ (or in some cases, 3/4 or 4/5).”

Describing rationale for Grade 4 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

“Extremely difficult rapids with precise and technically demanding routes to be followed. Stoppers, currents and waves will be powerful and inspection is essential.”

Describing rationale for Grade 5 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

What the grading systems fails to mention is the level of damage that can be incurred on taking on a grade 4 and above rapid. You must at least consider the consequences of a swim or a missed ‘must make’ line down a rapid. There have been reports of broken limbs on ‘Letter Box’ and broken backs on ‘Right Angle Falls’ which I’m not sharing to scare people, I only want to highlight the reason behind these grading’s, which need to be respected.

Lastly but equally as importantly, it is imperative you always run rapids you are happy undertaking. Never let others cajole you into running a rapid and always listen to what your head is telling you. Remember that you learn much from watching and championing those who are capable of tackling the big stuff today, cultivating your own abilities and bringing you that much closer to running that rapid more confidently tomorrow. 

Hugging it out after surviving the falls