I’m not sure quite what came over me last week, normally not one for extreme sports, quite the opposite really, I agreed to go white water rafting with my family! I’m still surprised at myself. If you’ve read my blog recently you’ll know I wrote about climbing, canyoning and via ferrata and clearly stated that I hadn’t actually done any of those crazy activities personally though this area is an excellent place to give them a go. So how come less than a month later I found myself hurtling down a fast mountain river in a rubber raft?
Every summer we go camping for a few days in the mountains nearby, to breathe the fresh air, hike, spend time outdoors and live under canvas for a few days. This year we decided to combine this annual event with a trip to Italy as we felt we needed a little fix of Italiano in our lives. We hadn’t been for a few months and it was time – living where we do, less than an hour from the Italian border, we often pop over for lunch, or a spot of shopping. This time we headed for Piedmont, keen to discover somewhere new, and we found ourselves a lovely campsite on the Stura river about 2.5 hours from home. It turned out to be a rafting centre and the boys were busting to give it a go. So we did!
We were almost the only people staying at the campsite and managed to book a rafting trip just for us, no one else which made it extra special. The four of us and Manuel our guide. We booked for 2 pm and after a gorgeous sunny morning the sky clouded over and threatened rain. The forecast said 50% chance of precipitation. We decided to risk it, and although the afternoon was dull and overcast, making it a little cold at times, we didn’t get rained on – just soaked from the river! Manuel took us through some safety procedures and then we were driven upstream to the start point. The rafting trip was 8 km long which took us just under 2 hours with stops for rock jumping and swimming along the way. Being late summer the water was reasonably low, but perfectly fast enough for us beginners. Manuel told us that in May the same route took 15 minutes without stops as the river was so high. No thank you! I think I would have died of fright. As it was I was scared out of my wits often enough as we paddled faster and faster toward huge boulders for the express purpose of crashing into them to bounce off! The kids loved it! The look of pure joy on their faces made the terror worth it….
Not being equipped with a waterproof camera there was no way we could take our own photos so I’m very thankful Paolo from Stiera Rafting gave me permission to us some of his. All photos with rafts in are his, the rest are mine as usual. I so wish I could have filmed JF and the boys jumping off rocks and hurtling down stream on their backs, feet forward, arms crossed. But I’m also very glad we didn’t try to risk taking a phone or camera in a plastic bag as we got very very wet, even without jumping in, and JF was thrown from the raft at one alarming point. I was honestly very scared at times, squealing like a little girl (I was so glad we didn’t have to share the boat with anyone else!) but I genuinely enjoyed it…I think…in retrospect! You can get an idea of what we did by viewing some of Stiera Rafting’s videos here.
For rafting novices like us, here’s how it works: you sit up on the side with one foot hooked under the seat in front to anchor you in. You paddle along at a reasonably relaxed pace until the guide tells you to go fast, fast, faster at which point you paddle like mad despite the fear. This is usually in the fastest bits of current and often directly into big boulders. Sometimes one side paddles forwards and the other side backwards so you spin round and round in 360° loops. The guide is in charge of steering to avoid hazards such as branches and dangerous rocks and if/when he shouts “in the boat” you all dive into the middle as fast as possible so as not to fall out on a steep drop or fast twist. The adrenaline is crazy! You don’t paddle continually; sometimes you just drift downstream taking in the quiet and enjoying the views. We saw plenty of birds and in the less rapid parts of the river the silence was overwhelming. We stopped a couple of times, once to jump off rocks and once to jump off the raft itself. Manuel turned it over and we used it as a trampoline to spring into the water. Despite being August it was refreshingly icy! The guys also all bailed out of the raft to drift down on their backs but being as blind as a bat without my glasses I decided to stay in the boat.
The rafting along the Stura river where we were is classified as grade 2-3 out of a maximum of 6 on the official scale. This was perfect for us, enough action without being hideously dangerous. As this was an on-the-spur-of-the-moment decision and not thoroughly planned and researched I didn’t really take into account just how extreme rafting can be. I’m glad I didn’t read the Wikipedia entry before I went as it is pretty scary. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have taken part and would have been extremely nervous of my kids going off if I had read it first. Of course I was aware that it’s an adventurous sport not to be undertaken lightly but as children as young as 6 can participate I reckoned I’d be OK. I was, but as I said before, it’s not normally my kind of thing at all. I’m delighted I did it, but I doubt I’ll do it again. I think the boys would have happily continued on several more hours and gone back the next day. JF was somewhere in the middle of that!
There are several places in the Alpes-Maritimes, close to the Côte d’Azur, near Lou Messugo to go rafting if you are looking for adventure and an adrenaline rush like no other. The season runs from about April to October, depending on the weather, just make sure you choose a licensed operator with a good reputation. I would of course wholeheartedly recommend Stiera Rafting as a professional and friendly place to start.
Have you been rafting? Would you like to? Are you an extreme kind of person? I’d love to hear from you.