In Western Europe, the Noguera Pallaresa has become a classic river run for kayakers, this is where commercial rafting was born in Europe in the 80’s. The summer working season is nearing its end and my need for paddling is growing daily despite the dryness of our rivers in France. I received a call from Nico Fayol, “What’s up buddy? What are your plans next week? I have a plan to SUP on a juicy river, the mythical Pallaresa on the other side of Pyrenees in Catalunya.” “OK bro I’m in!”
In Sort we meet up with local kayaker Gerd Serrasolses, and Gautier Boudat, our official photographer. Due to the massive snowfall last winter, the water levels were still pretty high even in September! We decided to paddle down, step by step, the 60km of class II-III-IV whitewater from Llavorsi to la Pobla de Segur.
The first section is the classic whitewater of Pallaresa, 11km of class III-IV rapids from Llavorsi. This village is also the starting point of every rafting company in the valley, the put-in is on the left bank at the confluence of the Riu de Cardos, which doubles the flow of the Noguera Pallaresa, that’s good for our fins!
We get a short warm up by inflating our three Rapid Air boards. Gerd and Nico are on 11’ boards as they are carrying stuff, and the 9’6 is for me. The weather is perfect, warm and sunny, but the water is quite cold.
The first few kilometers are quite easy, perfect for whitewater SUP paddling where the rapids are deep and we can forget about breaking our fins and paddles – It’s so good after months of waiting!
‘La Lavadora’ is the first class IV rapid, where the river speeds up and turns to the right with big volume and waves, then finishes with a massive rock in the middle that forms a large hole you don’t want to play in!
We follow each other, spread our feet, bend our knees, performing strong strokes with our paddles. Gerd shouts, “Now guys, let the party begin,” amidst the strongest rapids of the section with perfect whitewater. Paddling here is so cool and continuous; you can play everywhere, surfing waves, boofing holes, stopping in strong eddies, but it’s also sketchy and we lost count of the number of swims!
The river is totally surrounded by nature, there are no factories, no power lines crossing the river, just a few cows and horses in the green fields below the massive cliffs. The sun is shining the whole day, that’s so good.
The section between Rialp and Sort isn’t the most interesting part with flat water and small rapids but the view is still beautiful.
Watch out for the dam after Rialp, which we walked around to arrive at Sort’s whitewater course.
Sort is the most important city of the valley thanks to its tourism (skiing in the winter, rafting and whitewater activities in summer). It’s also the kayaker’s basecamp of the valley where you can see boats, paddles and gear everywhere around the city. The locals built a whitewater course crossing downtown and we finished the day playing on the course: boater cross, wave surfing, etc.
We decide to camp next to the river, drink beers and eat some tapas in a local bar. Tonight Barça are playing and the sidewalk is on fire with excitement!
The firsts eight kilometers are very easy before the famous ‘Pastis’ Rapid, a class IV- IV+ depending on water levels. We’re nervous at the top. You can’t see anything from the side, just massive boiling whitewater, with big, sharp rocks. The line looks simple: entry on the right, paddle through the first wave, boof a big hole then come back into the middle, paddle to maximum speed and boof the second hole.
Gerd goes first, we watch him attentively, he begins with a nice line but falls in the middle of the rapid, it’s going so fast! OK so now it’s our turn. I follow Nico and we fall after a few strokes. “It has been a long time since I had a swim like that,” affirms Nico. “OK guys let’s do it again, we must get back on the pony!” The second run was good for all of us and we continued the descent.
This is the last whitewater section of the Noguera Pallaresa River, and one of my favorites. It’s well known for crossing the Collegats Canyon, a famous spot for rock climbers and its multiple canyoning courses. This scenery is breathtaking; between two huge multi-colored cliffs, we paddled under la roca de l’Argenteria - a magical waterfall with flashing green moss on orange rocks.
A kilometer later, the gorge opens up again to become once again the classic Pallaresa style until the end at the lake of la Pobla de Segur.
The Noguera Pallaresa is definitely a river to discover regarding whitewater standup paddling. The rapids are challenging, plus the environment and weather is perfect for a 3-4 day trip. The best period for good flows is between June and September, and mid- summer (July and August) is the busy season for rafting companies, where the river can be full of people. We’ll be back for sure!