The Bonne  

French Alps, July ’99 ,  Erwin :^), Frank, Piet, Bert 

This is the story of probably the worst descend of my vacation. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, nevertheless I had a lot of fun. 

We started at Pont la Fayette near Entraiges and Valbonnais, although I ‘m not sure. The word "La Roche" was written on a small building near the bridge. 
The picture shows the start. Normally I would have jumped with the boat down off the rock with the grass, left in the picture. But by the time I got there, the others already got down by rope a little bit farther in the gorge. And I needed someone to push me, because it was too shallow directly underneath. Sh…t ! So the only thing I could do, was to throw the boat in and jump. The moment I jumped, I realised how deep it was, sh…t! The moment I hit the water, I realised how cold it was, again sh..t.

The following part of the gorge was nice, the beginning even a III+. But after a while it turned in to a grade II, yes a full grade II for more then 5 km with almost no water, again s… . I asked the others if anyone had done this part before, apparently two guys did. Then I asked ironically, why we were doing this part, and they answered cheerily : " Oh, it was a long time ago since we ‘ve done this part". Buuuuzzzer. 

One kilometre before the end of this part, there is a nasty weir, everybody went down another way. I went down the worst way. Apparently I chose the right way, following the canal with the most water. The others all went over some dry concrete. But the first turn in the canal was to narrow and I got stuck, thought the vertigo was shorter, bad judgement. This resulted in nasty noose damage. So after a while I got through it, pushing with both hands, but I lost my paddle. As I was going down, without paddle, having a lot of fun, I turned backwards. And finally I stopped, went looking for the paddle that was stuck on the bottom of the narrow part, and got it. Sh..t happens. 

Finally we arrived at Pont du Prêtre. Here the real fun starts, a gorge, 5.5 km long, grade IV(V), sometimes less then 2 metres wide, almost no access or way out of the gorge. 

The entry to the gorge is a steep part, and because of the low level a kind of a boulder garden, followed by a narrow part. I had done this rapid last year and I knew it was tricky. But then I was only a beginner paddling only 5 months. So this shouldn’t have been a problem, guess what ... I went down, paddling left to avoid a big rock. Due to the low water, I jumped over another invisible rock and got stuck noose down. Shaking a little bit I got loose but going too slow the water pushed my back down and I went vertical. I did a wonderful squirtmove, chandelle, solleil, or however you may call it. Being unable to steer for an instant I hit the big rock and went over in a grade 4 boulder garden. Nice place to do this. Luckily I got up almost instantly, and finished the rapid, but too late, damage done. Almost tree weeks later I still felt which muscles made my head turn. Sh…t happens. 

The picture was taken immediately after I rolled back up, still smiling. 

So tree kilometres of gorge follow, relaxed, enjoying the ride. Going through some very narrow parts, passing some heavy stoppers. Until we reached the point where we knew that 300 metres further, is a rapid that needs to be portaged. But this point is a wonderful playspot. Frank was able to put his diablo vertical, squirtmove. Paddling a vertigo, I should be able to do better. So I did. Check out the picture. This was the last attempt to put it vertical, especially for taking a picture, and it was perfect. The picture was taken just before I was totally vertical. It was wonderful, too wonderful !
I kept the boat vertical for a while, so long, that by the time I fell over, I had reached a shallow part near the riverbank. I fell, crushing my arm between my boat and a rock in shallow water, that hard that I did let go my paddle, stupid thing to do. So a short swim followed. By the way, I’m still 250 metres ahead of a rapid that is best portaged. No problem, I got the boat and the paddle in time, but I was still standing in the middle of the river. So the first step I took, I slipped and let the boat go. 
MAJOR MISTAKE, I never should have tried to make it to the side on my own, I should have waited ‘till someone threw me a rope !!!!
But too late, off was the boat. I made it to the side on my own with my paddle. Another guy panicked and followed my boat full speed, that fast that he missed the last eddy. Slipping down, approaching the rapid, he got out but let his boat go. So two boats went down. I ran further alone. At the point where the gorge became narrow and I couldn’t get further, I heard voices and assumed it were rafters, so I jumped in, 6 meters high, hit something in the water but not hard, and swam through the gorge following the boats. My assumption was right, there were two hotdogs in an eddy. So I hitchhiked. An inexperienced girl was sitting in front, a boy the back. Both were sitting on an airbag. But I was sitting in between them on the bottom of the raft. So the next rapid we took, we hit a rock, as I was sitting on the bottom, I did also hit the rock, uuuurrrrghhh, arrgh, arrrghh. The next week, whenever I sat down, I knew what rafting was not about. Sh..t happens.

So we ‘re following the boats and found one floating. I could take it, sitting in the raft, but I couldn’t hold on to it. Fortunately we reached the point where the rafts got out. A large number of people were standing there, over thirty. And luckily there were fishing boats. My little vertigo was lying wounded on the riverbank, the foam rubber (chandelle) in front was gone, and next to it was the other boat, a fly. Thank you, rafters, a thousand times! My friends soon arrived, one also, had to take the 6-meter high jump and swim a bit along the others’ boats, and walk a bit. But all ended good. Later we heard that  a week before us, another group of paddlers lost a boat in this gorge.

The French guide warned us that further downstream there were strainers everywhere, and that it wasn’t advisable to go there after having had two swimmers. But after having given more precise information concerning the strainers, we continued the ride.

And indeed 800 metres further there was a tree blocking the river. Eddy’s everywhere, no problems stopping. But no way to portage, unless you leave the gorge climbing up 8 metres. So we got out and examined the situation. Walking over the tree we found two new raftpaddles, took them and hid them somewhere, ‘cause they didn’t fit in our boats. We also found a possible passage through. Because the current wasn’t heavy, one approached the tree and found the passage through, so did the rest. Apparently we made the right the choice by not portaging because there was no way back into the gorge behind the tree. The group that paddled it the week before, portaged and didn’t got back into the gorge so they walked to the end, carrying there boats. The last one reached the car at midnight, so we’ve heard?

But trouble didn’t stop. Immediately behind this tree, there was another one, this time in the middle of a rapid. We could portage without leaving the gorge, only using the ropes to get boats and paddlers over. Along the side we found a commemorative plate. A girl had drowned here some years ago.

The rest gave us no more problems. At the end there is a dam, were I went looking for the foam rubber that had left my boat. But all we find is a broken topo, being stuck between the bars where the water goes over the dam.

That evening we went back to get the raftpaddles in order to give them to the rafters that saved our boats. After a long walk, we descended into the gorge, and found the paddles, but in the middle of the river I saw something stuck in the fallen tree. I had to check it out. So I stripped (having no swimsuit), bare naked I walked in the river and yes, yes, yes, … The part of my boat I had lost, was floating there. I got it, got onto the tree, and got out of the river. The water was cold, but it was worthwhile.
Finally we went to the raft base and donated the paddles and thanked them again. They were grateful. And we felt a little as if our debts were settled.

Satisfied we returned home. Having learned an imported lesson, never play in front of a dangerous rapid, certainly not in a gorge.
(Wooow nice story,  and what a moral, wooow, … sucks, doesn’t it?)

The next day my friends paddled the Gyr, I sort of bailed out, licking my wounds (literally and figurative). But the day after we all  paddled the Ubaye, La Fresquiere to Martinet and Le Lauzet to the lake Serre Ponçon. About this last stretch I can tell you another story, just as funny and mean, maybe someday? 

See you