Massif Central/Ardeche

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Steve Agar
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Massif Central/Ardeche

Post by Steve Agar » Wed Aug 13, 2008 3:14 pm

Any clues on whether current levels are anything other than the usual Summer lows?

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geyrfugl
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Post by geyrfugl » Wed Aug 13, 2008 9:55 pm

It rained on Monday as we were on the Ardeche from the Gournier
bivouac down to Sauze. Impressive thunderstorm, fantastic atmosphere.
The level didn' t come up at all, but by next morning at our campsite at
Aubenas, the river had risen (the rain had continued for 24 hours and
eased off early morning). I was playing on the wave for an hour or so,
then paddled/dragged a km upstream to run back. Heading for the same
breakout I had been using for days, I found it had become fully occupied
by a boil, and I couldn' t get out of it the right way up. After a roll into
the current, I looked carefully at the little section of grade three I had just
run, and found that it had risen 20 cm in the half hour I had been away.
At this point I stopped my solo playing (the playwave no longer worked
at this level) and retired to watch. Over the next three hours the volume
went up by what I would estimate to be a factor of ten, and the level by
well over a metre, as well as several new channels filling up. The little playwave and bottom-end-of-grade-three rapid had become a nasty
grade 4 with a tree about a third of the way in from river left, then
some serious standing waves over what had recently been the footpath
on the corner ...

Today the level is back down to about what it was when I got off
yesterday, although it still looked highish and brown in the gorges, but
nothing serious looking this afternoon. We're coming home tomorrow,
so can't offer any more commentary ... but I suspect it will all be back
to summer low in a day or so.

The book (Fluffy's) says that the Ardeche has a dam release of 12 cumec,
with another 8 cumec from the Chassezac, meaning a theoretical
minimum of 20 in the gorges. What this doesn't allow for is the water
being taken out of the rivers for irrigation - about a third of the
Chassezac seems to be being taken out at Mazet. My estimate is that
we had about 6-8 cumec at Aubenas before the storm, and maybe
somewhere in the 60-100 range yesterday afternoon, but with so many
channels, and a river bigger than any I'm used to, this could be way off.
There are a lot of rocks, some quite big, washed over roads above the
gorges, so the rain was clearly torrential there, too. Quite a lot of rivers
that are normally bone dry looked to be at paddleable volume yesterday
but none are in any guide I've got ... most (not all) are down to a trickle
or dry again today.

Executive summary: Yeah, they were well up, but you've missed it !

Andy

Steve Agar
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Post by Steve Agar » Thu Aug 14, 2008 9:23 am

Well it's been tanking down here, so who cares - !!
Thanks for the info, better make sure I leave enough room in the boat for adequate supplies of wine and cheese to idle away a few hours on the Allier and Orb then.

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Adrian Cooper
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Post by Adrian Cooper » Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:26 pm

geyrfugl wrote: The book (Fluffy's) says that the Ardeche has a dam release of 12 cumec,
with another 8 cumec from the Chassezac, meaning a theoretical
minimum of 20 in the gorges.
I have to say I can't understand this. Having paddled in May June and recently in July, I would say the gorge had less water than the Tryweryn on a normal release of 8-9 cumecs. We also paddled the Chassezac this July which was dog low with a level surely to be measured on one hand (year before last in June it was like a wet pavement, honest).

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geyrfugl
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Post by geyrfugl » Sun Aug 17, 2008 11:37 am

I have to say I can't understand this.
That's why I pointed out
What this doesn't allow for is the water
being taken out of the rivers for irrigation
No matter how much water comes out of the dam, there are a lot of
farms taking water out, and presumably big towns like Aubenas also
get their domestic water by abstraction from the river (or maybe the
bigger towns have pipes from the dams, but smaller ones surely
abstract).

Downstream of Aubenas, before the storm, we had a nice level for a
playwave on our campsite, but no way was this 12 cumec. Comparing
with the Tees barrage, I'd be guessing the Ardeche here was at 6 cumec
or less - and there are plenty of opportunities for taking water out
between Aubenas and the top of the gorges at Vallon Pont d'Arc...

The Chassezac above Mazet was not 8 cumec, either, though it was
certainly at a paddleable level. But on the outside of the bend at Mazet
is a big warning sign telling you not to get within 10m of the abstraction
point to avoid being sucked in. Below that point the level is really poor,
which is why I said that
about a third of the
Chassezac seems to be being taken out at Mazet.
It might have been more than a third ? There's presumably yet more
taken out downstream ...

So 20 cumec from the dams doesn't remotely guarantee 20 or anything
close at Vallon. There are other inputs, though, and the gorges were at a
paddleable level before the storm. Presumably the many businesses
that put 2000+ numpty paddlers on the river every day would have a
hard time if the level went to zero.

Presumably one reason why the rivers come up very fast is that the
farmers stop taking water out as soon as the rain starts to do their
watering for them, so that the levels switch back to the dam release
volumes almost instantly when the rain starts (the level change only has
to propagate down from the abstraction points, not from the dams). Of
course, at a low level, even this step change takes quite a while to
propagate down to the gorges, but once the level is up a bit, further
rises propagate progressively more quickly as the stage rises. Once
the bone dry tributary river beds start to run, things take off very
quickly.

There was a dry river bed at the back of our campsite, and judging by
its size and the size and position of dead trees that had been washed
down, I guess it would put 50 cumecs into the main river in a proper
flood. In the 30 hours of rain, occasionally torrential, that we had, this
one never ran at all, but others like the Ruoms came up to a paddleable
level and were only drying out 24 or more hours after the rain stopped.

Interestingly, and on a different topic, I noticed a lot of anglers, not
remotely discomfited by the paddlers. One in particular I took a photo
of, was just below the put-ins at Vallon, where he was guaranteed to be
passed by a couple of thousand paddlers in the first couple of hours of
the day, most of whom have not yet figured out how to steer their
banana boats and are still crashing into everything. If he could be
happy fishing there (and a mile upstream there would have been far
less paddlers, so he must have chosen that spot not caring about the
boats), why do UK anglers resent the passage of even small groups
who are in control and passing quietly on the other side ?

Andy

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Ed Lefley
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Post by Ed Lefley » Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:05 pm

The extraction at Mazet is for a lake on top of the hill; if you stay on that side of the river you can see it when you drive up to the put on.

Just spoken to someone out there who was saying that the wave at Pont D'Arc was a bit low and bumpy at the moment

Slime
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Post by Slime » Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:32 am

Thanks everyone for this feedback. Fluffy and I plan to do a new edition of WW Massif Central in the next two years - entailing lots of onerous research of course!

Fluffy was in France two weeks ago but is still a bit traumatised from a visit to the French Alps when he got duck knapped by an evil band of river terrorists....

Good paddling,

Pete Knowles

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geyrfugl
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Post by geyrfugl » Wed Aug 20, 2008 3:23 pm

Fluffy and I plan to do a new edition of WW Massif Central in the next two years
Oh good. Lots of pages have started dropping out of mine. In
particular, the pages near the start where it would have told me a
bit more about the Ardeche floods :-)

If you are doing a new guide, one bit of useful info that wouldn't
require a huge commitment of space would be a figure for the
gradient of each river section - in terms of metres dropped per km.
I think we had rather failed to appreciate just how much of the
Ardeche gorge (and indeed, the Chassezac) was flat paddling.
Thanks everyone for this feedback.
To elaborate about that campsite - Camping Le Plan d'Eau at St. Privas
(downstream of the Aubenas bridges over the Ardeche, river left on a
bend where the river turns south). Nice campsite, few English, and no
other canoeists when we were there. Although this section of river is
not runnable at the low summer level (and having just come back from
the Tryweryn at 9 cumec, I'm a bit more confident in saying that we
had about 6 cumec at Aubenas), the little playwave on the bend is
actually quite fun for a day when you are not out and about on a river.
I moved one or two big rocks to make the eddy service easier, and
then was able to get my daughter doing her first freestyle moves, and improve everyone's confidence and balance in a hole, so quite a
worthwhile few hours spent here. It does, however, get quite nasty
when the level comes up. There's then a worthwhile half km of rapids
downstream, though it flattens off before the next bridge/egress. The
campsite has free WiFi (which is how come I was able to post from
there :-).

On the Chassezac, we found the directions to the take-out less than
clear. I think we tried too strenuously to avoid going into the Chaulet
campsite, and ended up at a perfectly good take-out (with parking in
trees) maybe a kilometre or so downstream. The shuttle from here is
under half an hour one-way by bike.

One result of this was that we did a bit of the river which is not described
in the guide where the flow suddenly disappeared into what I can best
describe as a miniature karst maze. Walls two or three metres high and
channels not as wide as a paddle, and junctions all over the place. The
way to go was a matter of reading where the most flow going, but every
corner revealed new interest - such as a lady wading backwards pulling
two kids on rubber rings, and occupying the full width of the channel.
She didn't look round as I frantically back paddled, aware that my
eleven-year old was about to come up behind me with perhaps a tad
less control, and two more of the family closely behind him. Also
kids jumping in from 3 m up not expecting to find a kayak, and various swimmers also surprised to meet a lump of red plastic heading towards
them at face level.

This bit acts as a very effective banana-boat filter, we saw no other
boats downstream of it :-) It was no more than grade 2 at this level,
with a few boils and interesting swirls, one of the most worthwhile and
entertaining bits of easy water I've ever paddled ! But I bet that as it
comes up it gets more serious quite quickly with a nasty pinning
potential and not a lot of room to roll if you do go over.

The final bit of feedback concerns the main Ardeche gorges. The put-in
/ take-out at Chames is not accessible from the road before about 9 a.m.
as it is chained off. We parked (at about 07:30) in a layby on the corner
before the steep hill, and used the footpath to reach the river at a nice
little beach. Then did a cycle shuttle and still be on the water at nine. This
is not ideal, as the parking is _very_ limited (OK at 07:30 but very
soon full).

The various plans to avoid the crowds didn't include what we did, which
also reduced the length of the cycle shuttle I had to do. We dropped the
boats at Chames, took the car to the top of the track down to the
Gournier bivouac, and at the end of the day (well, about 14:30) walked
out to the car and returned to our campsite overnight. Next day I
dropped the family at the top of the track, drove to Sauze and cycled
back (61 minutes cycling for an unfit middle-aged bloke who hadn't
been on a bike this year before the previous day). It then took me
just ten minutes to jog down to the boats (it had been an hour's walk out
the previous afternoon). Looks as though you could also walk out/in via
a track which leads above the naturist colony, which would make the
first day's (mostly downhill) cycle ride longer and second day's (more
uphill) shorter. Left-bank shuttles are always going to be a lot shorter
than right bank ones. One advantage of doing your trip this way is
that you are not obliged to do the second half of the paddle on the
day after the first (although obviously you don't have your boats until
you paddle them out the bottom:), although we are glad we did, since
we would have been very nervous about paddling the day after the big
storm !

Andy

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