Packrafting. Where to start? How difficult is it, and how much do we enjoy it? A while ago we made a start with packrafting by buying two rafts. We paddled a bit in the Netherlands, which is fun for a start. But as soon as we try to find other tours, we encounter words like white-water and PR2 rivers. What does it mean? Can we do that?
We bought the book ‘White Water Massif Central’ by Peter Knowles. In it a lot of example tours for open canoes are described. If you can do it with an open canoe, it must be possible with our packrafts. The river the Tarn meets our eyes, a river of class 1, class 2 and class 3- water. A nice river, in a beautiful environment and hopefully nice and quiet in October. So we hit the road and drove to Southern France. Because the waterlevel can rise suddenly in autumn, most campsites along the Tarn are closed by October 1st. We didn’t knew, so it took us half a day to find a campsite that is open. Luckily we found a site in Boyne that stays open until half of October. Our home for the next week.
During this week we do daytrips with the packraft. We start with a stretch of class 1 water: we park our car near the campsite La Blaquière, walk a bit down the road and find a footpath to the Tarn. We cross the Tarn at la Croze and search for Sentier de la Vallée du Tarn at this side of the river. It’s a footpath along the Tarn. Just before la Malène we find a nice beach. We inflate our packrafts, assemble our paddles, attach our backpacks and leave for the water.
The view alternates between beaches, forests and rocks. There are not many rapids on this stretch of the river, but the river flows faster than our local stream de Dommel. We enjoy floating past the towering rock pillars. Too bad we’re back at the car so soon.
The next day we park the car in La Malène and walk over the bridge to the other side of the Tarn. We continue our way on the trail we were walking yesterday and head upstream. We go through the village Hauterives, that can only be reached by foot or by boat. As soon as we see Saint Chély-du-Tarn, we enter the Tarn. This part of the river should be class 1 or 2, but we cannot tell the difference between this part and what we did yesterday.
The third day we park the car in le Rozier and walk towards les Vignes. This part should be class 2 to 3-. We cross the river over the bridge in le Rozier and walk upstream over the well-known path. This time the sailing is really spectacular. The rapids and quiet water alternate evenly. To catch a breath. Magnificent. We have to try hard to surf the rapids and the packrafts take quite some beating. Though the packrafts are made for flat water only, they might be used in white water. We enjoy this to the fullest. Our film equipement has a flat battery this day, so we don’t have any recordings. We decide to do this part again later this week, this time with a full battery. This part of the Tarn is a nice challenge to us, we will not be bored a second time.
The last day we go to the river le Dourbie and packraft back to Millau. Le Dourbie is actually too low on water for our packrafts. We have to portage a few times because of the low water, but still enjoy us a lot.
Though we took our climbing gear with us, we never went climbing this week. We walk a bit near the campsite, from Boyne to Mostuéjouls and back. Another day we take a walk from le Rozier. We go to Rocher de Capluc, where the last climb to the top is equiped with ladders and iron bars. From the summit you have a nice view over le Rozier and the Gorges du Tarn. We proceed over Sentier J. Brunet (sentier très difficile) a nice path over rock, to return via the GR6A and Gorges de la Jonte. A nice walk, along rocks and dizzying heights.
The whole week, but especially during the walk in the Gorges de la Jonte we see griffon vultures. They soar all day in a group over the many summits. We count up to 50 vultures in one group. Impressive.
Peter Knowles – White Water Massif Central
Rivers Publishing U.K.
IGN Carte de Randonnées, Carte topographique top 25, 1:25 000, 2640OT: Gorges du Tarn
IGN Carte de Randonnées, Carte topographique top 25, 1:25 000, 2641OT: Millau