The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

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Croft
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The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by Croft »

The Swiss Drances

Global warming has given a new lease of life to these fantastic glacier-fed rivers which are now runnable for most of the summer (paddle them while there is still some ice left). Waters draining the N. side of Mont Blanc, Gd. St. Bernard and Grand Combin ranges. So very convenient for the Aosta valley (1 h), the French Dranse (1.25 h) and rest of Switzerland.

Image

Brief overview of the paddling stretches.

1. Drance de Ferret (June). Put in at bridge (end of open-road) about 2 km above Ferret - take out at HEP station below La Fouly. Steep high alpine creeking with one v. steep drop (V) near Ferret, and a micro-gorge (IV) just above La Fouly. Watch out for avalanche debris.

2. Drance de Bagnes (May-August). Put-in at bridge above Champsec - take-out at the weir on the main Drance below Sembrancher. Grade III bumble, largely canalised, overgrown and not so interesting. OK at 4 m3/s. Discharge: http://www.hydrodaten.admin.ch/e/2117.htm

3. Drance d'Entremont (June-July). With about 7-10 m3/s this is an amazing run. Put-in at the HEP station above Orsieres - take out at the weir on the main Drance below Sembrancher. The top section through Orsieres is one of the most continuous stretches of grade IV-IV+ (depending level) you are likely to come across in the Alps. Granite bouldering at its very best. Not recommended for swimmers. After Orsieres not so continuous but still some good drops (a bit like Romanche). Weir at HEP entry immediately before confluence with Drance de Bagnes, often debris trapped on lh side (can portage lh) .

4. Drance (June-August). With about 10-15 m3/s* this is a classic run. Put-in lh bank below weir below Sembrancher (Les Trappistes) - take-out Martigny-Croix rh bank at bridge. Straight into grade IV rapids for the first 3 km, then about 2 km of II before entering the gorge stretch (IV-V). Gorge starts after Bovernier on lh bend with 3 narrow drops against lh wall (watch out for wood), then another 4 drops after entry-gorge opens-out (IV+). Continues at IV down to wooden footbridge near Le Borgeaud (!). About 200 m after railway bridge a steep jagged boulder-field rapid that is often (easily) portaged lh bank (really not nice for swimmers). Great boulder rapids (III-IV) down to nasty weir (lh portage) just above Martigny-Croix. Discharge: http://www.hydrodaten.admin.ch/e/2053.htm (*subtract about 7 m3/s to allow for HEP input above gauge).

All these stretches are pretty reliable in the periods indicated and outside when it is VERY hot and the HEP cant use all the glacier-melt. All these stretches tend to contain debris - so watch-it. All stretches are within easy reach of roads - but may require a bit of scrambling. Combine runs 3&4 for a full-on full-days paddling, which will leave most mortals pretty exhausted. Note that other (unspecified) stretches almost never have water and, if they do, it is because of flushing of HEP sediment traps - so debris laden, not nice and dangerous to paddle.

Endword: kayaking is currently banned in Canton Valais. However, nobody enforces the ban, but it could get complicated in case of accident with commercial groups. Private groups no problem.

Ian Beecroft
Last edited by Croft on Sun Jun 28, 2009 11:40 am, edited 8 times in total.

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Re: The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by Mark R »

Vague memory ... I think I've paddled a Drance/Dranse on the Swiss/French border that was a short grade 4 conglomerate gorge, followed by a rafted grade 3 section to a lake - same Drance as any of the rivers above?
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Croft
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Post by Croft »

Hi Mark - No - these Drances (with a c) are all in Switzerland - further up the Rhone valley, join the Rhone at Martigny, about 40 km upstream of Lake Geneva on the way up the to the Grand St. Bernard tunnel and pass and the ski resort of Verbier. These are my local rivers which used to be runnable only a few times a year, but are now stonking for most of the summer. They are mainly glacier-fed, so start later but last longer than the snowmelt rivers.

The French Dranses (with an s) flow directly into Lake Geneva at Thonon-les-Bains and are described in Peter Knowles WW S. Alps.

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Swiss Drances

Post by Dr Kayak »

Hi Ian,

I have looked at these rivers manya time when driving up to La Chable during the winter, and always wondered what was in the gorge on the bend!

Shame I have bikes arranged this weekend rather than boats...

Duncan

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Re: The Swiss Drances - are pumping

Post by Croft »

The Swiss Drances have started up early (running for past 3 days) and are currently in high water (above 22 m3/s at the Pont de Rossettan http://www.hydrodaten.admin.ch/e/2053.htm). Expect them to keep running until late July unless there is a cold snap. The Drance and Drance d'Entremont are both very continuous and at the top of their grade in high water - definitely not pool drop and no respite. Why not try something different thats not in the guidebooks (English anyway)?

The Rhone playspot at Sierre has started working late afternoons/evenings: http://links.playak.com/index.php?optio ... le&id=1224. Any level approaching or over 200 m3/s is good to go: http://www.hydrodaten.admin.ch/d//2011.htm
Ian Beecroft - old-timer amateur boater

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Re: The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by Terryg »

Can this information be put into the River guide pages?

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Re: The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by RichA »

Thanks Ian, really useful guide yet again! Another option for this summer to keep us busy :-)

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Re: The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by Croft »

The Drances have dropped to a more reasonable level and conditions are now perfect for the integral Orsieres to Martigny run (3&4 combined). If you are out this way its worth the detour.
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Re: The Swiss Drances - update

Post by Croft »

Owing to the recent cold spell, the Drances have dropped and are now 'just' scrapy runnable (lower stretch). However, warm weather has returned and is forecast and this should restart the melt. Probably similar situation in Aosta valley and Piemonte. Check the levels on-line if you are thinking about it (see above). For other possibilities in the Upper-Rhone basin see here: http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk/foru ... =3&t=49724
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Re: The Swiss Drances - updated links for river levels

Post by Croft »

The Swiss Drances

Global warming has given a new lease of life to these fantastic glacier-fed rivers which are now runnable for most of the summer (paddle them while there is still some ice left). Waters draining the N. side of Mont Blanc, Gd. St. Bernard and Grand Combin ranges. So very convenient for the Aosta valley (1 h), the French Dranse (1.25 h) and rest of Switzerland.

Image

Brief overview of the paddling stretches.

1. Drance de Ferret (June). Put in at bridge (end of open-road) about 2 km above Ferret - take out at HEP station below La Fouly. Steep high alpine creeking with one v. steep drop (V) near Ferret, and a micro-gorge (IV) just above La Fouly. Watch out for avalanche debris.

2. Drance de Bagnes (May-August). Put-in at bridge above Champsec - take-out at the weir on the main Drance below Sembrancher. Grade III bumble, largely canalised, overgrown and not so interesting. OK at 4 m3/s. Discharge: http://www.hydrodaten.admin.ch/en/2117.html
3. Drance d'Entremont (June-July). With about 7-10 m3/s this is an amazing run. Put-in at the HEP station above Orsieres - take out at the weir on the main Drance below Sembrancher. The top section through Orsieres is one of the most continuous stretches of grade IV-IV+ (depending level) you are likely to come across in the Alps. Granite bouldering at its very best. Not recommended for swimmers. After Orsieres not so continuous but still some good drops (a bit like Romanche). Weir at HEP entry immediately before confluence with Drance de Bagnes, often debris trapped on lh side (can portage lh) .

4. Drance (June-August). With about 10-15 m3/s* this is a classic run. Put-in lh bank below weir below Sembrancher (Les Trappistes) - take-out Martigny-Croix rh bank at bridge. Straight into grade IV rapids for the first 3 km, then about 2 km of II before entering the gorge stretch (IV-V). Gorge starts after Bovernier on lh bend with 3 narrow drops against lh wall (watch out for wood), then another 4 drops after entry-gorge opens-out (IV+). Continues at IV down to wooden footbridge near Le Borgeaud (!). About 200 m after railway bridge a steep jagged boulder-field rapid that is often (easily) portaged lh bank (really not nice for swimmers). Great boulder rapids (III-IV) down to nasty weir (lh portage) just above Martigny-Croix. Discharge: http://www.hydrodaten.admin.ch/en/2053.html (*subtract about 7 m3/s to allow for HEP input above gauge).

All these stretches are pretty reliable in the periods indicated and outside when it is VERY hot and the HEP cant use all the glacier-melt. All these stretches tend to contain debris - so watch-it. All stretches are within easy reach of roads - but may require a bit of scrambling. Combine runs 3&4 for a full-on full-days paddling, which will leave most mortals pretty exhausted. Note that other (unspecified) stretches almost never have water and, if they do, it is because of flushing of HEP sediment traps - so debris laden, not nice and dangerous to paddle.

Endword: kayaking is currently banned in Canton Valais. However, nobody enforces the ban, but it could get complicated in case of accident with commercial groups. Private groups no problem.

Ian Beecroft
Ian Beecroft - old-timer amateur boater

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Croft
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Re: The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by Croft »

The Swiss Drance (section 4 above) is running really nicely right now and is pretty clean (for wood/debris etc.). Any level between 14 m3/s and 20 m3/s on the online gauge below is good to go:

http://www.hydrodaten.admin.ch/en/2053.html

Up to and above 20 m3/s and it starts getting pretty sticky in places but is still manageable for strong paddlers. Note that the wooden footbridge mentioned above no longer exists. Note also that the hydro barrage at Les Trappistes are currently regularly releasing more water (approx. 5 m3/s more) as from about 11 h.

If you are passing over the Grand St. Bernard pass (to Aosta or Piemonte) or heading up the Rhone valley towards Brig (Upper-Rhine), the Swiss Drance is really worth a look. With all the snow the river should be good for several more weeks.

For a full description, see WW. S. Alps 3rd edition.
Ian Beecroft - old-timer amateur boater

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Re: The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by Croft »

The Swiss Drance is in top condition this weekend and perfect for the total descent (above) Orsieres to Martigny - don't drive past it!

Should be good for several more weeks at least for the lower part.
Ian Beecroft - old-timer amateur boater

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Re: The Swiss Drances - paddling guide

Post by Croft »

Swiss Drance has now gone into later summer regime - i.e. there is now only water in the afternoons/evenings as from about 15 h. The top section from Orsieres will be usually dry unless it is exceptionally hot or after heavy rainfall.
Ian Beecroft - old-timer amateur boater

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