It’s time to try our packrafts in a French river. We’re close to the Allier river and eager for some entertainment on the water. Our inspiration comes from reading the guidebook “White Water Massif Central” written by Peter Knowles. If he can run this river in an open canoe, we should be able to do it with our packrafts with spraydeck.
In Chapeauroux we start at the campsite. A grade 2 river (canoe) with some class 3 rapids awaits us. “One of our favourite runs in an open canoe – ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ for paddling in the Massif Central!” Sounds promising! It becomes reality. We enjoy ourselves a lot and are happy with the sun shining on the spraydeck. Nice rapids, easily do-able with a daypack on the bow and just the right difficulty. Halfway we take a break at a beach to dry and have lunch. If Peter Knowles did this with an open canoe, he would have swamped his canoe. We can’t believe he kept his boat dry.
The second part is easier and we keep ourselves a bit drier than before. We leave the river in Alleyras and pack our backpacks. The ticketoffice at the station is closed and the locals ensure us it’s not possible to pay by card on the train. Luckily we discover to have just enough money to buy a return ticket. The train guard shows us that it is possible to pay by card on the train.
The part of the river before Chapeauroux is too difficult for us (class 3 and sometimes class 5) and the part just after it is slightly more difficult than we did up to now. We try to build experience the way Roman Dial suggests in his book “Packrafting!”. We would like to do a short multi day tour now. Our to-do list has some excersises on it, but we’d rather wait for warm weather to do those.
We find a multi day tour further downstream. We park the car in Langeac and leave further downstream tomorrow with a big backpack. When we bought the hiking maps we already noticed the lack of hikingtrails on the map. They are scarce indeed in this area. Most of the time we hike on jeep tracks, only the last part is on a smaller and nice hiking trail in direction of St. Julien-des-Chazes. We planned to walk until Prades, but didn’t, as we still have difficulty in estimating rowing hours.
Under St. Julien des Chazes bridges we enter the water and paddle a nice stretch of river. Unfortunately it is shorter than estimated. Yesterday we already found out we have to portage the part of Île d’Amour because of a weir.
We carry our rafts and packs along the island and get into the boat again on the other site. Only a short bit of paddling left to get to the campsite.
It’s time to eat and pack our bags for an overnight trip. We take the tarp and cooking gear and leave the next day starting from Langeac. At the next weir we eat lunch while enjoying the sun.
While searching for a good spot after the weir to enter the river Fred almost tramples over a snake who was sunbathing. Luckily the snake is more scared and dissapears at once.
The paddling is nice and easy in the sun and without noticing we arrive in Lavoûte-Chilhac. The village has a campsite, but it’s still early and there’s another one a few miles further downstream, so we decide to keep on going. Slowly clouds come in and suddenly it’s starts drizzling. Actually, it’s not drizzeling, but it quickly builds up to pouring rain. Before we understand what is happening, thunder sounds. We start paddling to the shore, get the boats out of the water and walk to a higher place. After a while the rain stops and we resume our rafting. Not for long when history repeats: pouring rain and lightning, and this time we get soaking wet. We take shelter under the packrafts and wait until rain and thunder are really gone. Luckily it’s not far anymore to the campsite in La Vialette.
The next day. The first two weirs on our map look like normal rapids and we can safely raft them. The weir at Vieille Brioude we have to portage. We continu to the railway bridge (and weir) in Brioude. The last part is mainly class 1 with only a few rapids. In Brioude we pack our rafts, walk to the railway station and buy our tickets back to Langeac.
Altogether we’ve had a good time in this area. It’s a pity that the combination of packrafting and hiking is not so easy here, because of the lack of nice footpaths. The Allier is a beautiful river to paddle and especially in the pre-season it’s very quiet. We didn’t see any other canoeists or kayak paddlers!
Peter Knowles – White Water Massif Central
Rivers Publishing U.K.
IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2634O: Brioude
IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2635E: Langeac
IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2635O: Lavoûte-Chilhac
IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2736O: Monistrol-D’Allier