This past spring, Diane and I headed back to Europe to explore the last major mountain range in Western Europe that we hadn’t paddled before, the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees form the border between Spain and France, and of course also include the small mountain country of Andorra - sandwiched firmly between the two countries in a deep river valley. Joining us were our friends the Glanz brothers, who would drive out from their homes in Austria for the trip.
As the trip approached, the reports of record high water for this time of the year came out and cautioned us from the plan A Pyrenees rivers. While the abnormal high flows closed out some options, we were treated to several surprise classics. First up was perfect flows in the central French mountain range called Massif Central. Here, the Dourbie and the Tarn rivers provided our first ultra-classics of the trip and kept us entertained and rich in pain au chocolat.
From there, we headed to the Pyrenees, knowing that much would be too high to run. We found some great rivers in the Salt area; certainly some easier days than expected, but the scenery was superb. Before leaving the town of Salt, we drove up to see if the Palomeras section was indeed too high to run as we had been told. Upon arriving luck was in our favor; the classic Boavi, which rarely runs due to dams upstream, was at a great level, landing us another surprise classic.
After leaving the Salt area, we began to work our way north up through Spain. Stopping at a few spots for park and hucks or short road side runs, we kept ourselves entertained. Our next surprise came on a plan B day. We had hoped for the classic Rio Cinquetta, but found the river flooded. We saw the nearby Cinca had water and decided to go for it, but to our surprise upon arriving at the put in, we also found its tributary, the Barossa also had water, so we got to run this nice section along with the Cinca.
Our luck ran out as we headed to the Ara the next day as all the nice sections were much too high, leaving us for a valley class III run which Diane and I had to hitch due to the Glanz brothers doing a family day. As the nice weather deteriorated, so did our hopes for hitching a ride. Some 2 hours later in the pouring rain some nice folks from Belgium took pity and drove Diane up the road to our car. While I waited, lightening struck 100 meters from me. I then huddled in a ditch and got very cold, which then caused alarm to some police who drove by. Luckily, they spoke enough English and I spoke enough Spanish to clarify that I was not 1) homeless nor 2) in need of help and soon enough Diane returned.
We then headed to France. We knew the classic Cautereat River was too high, but we still hoped to squeak out some easier sections on it. But first we stopped on the way at the Brousset. This river looked like it would be too low, but the rapids were fun and we all walked away with smiles. We then headed to the Gavernie, which the Cautereat flows into. We got two super classic sections on it, surrounded by alpine mountain scenery and gorgeous gorge walls.
We then went to look at the Cautereat, which was having a race the next day. The race section ended up being shortened to a mere 200 yards to make the high flows safer. We opted away from the run and instead went back for one last day on the Gavernie.
This trip was perhaps the hardest from a flow perspective, especially without any local contacts to give us the plan B options. Quim Fontane did his best remotely from Austria to help us through Spain, and Eric helped us with France a bit as well. But when all the classics are flooded, the best you can do is be happy with boating new runs every day, even if they aren’t the ones you had hopped for. In the end, I write this trip down as a classic time with my friends, and feel we left enough good runs on the list to warrant a trip back in the future!