As each and every summer issue of Source Magazine demonstrates, there’s never any shortage of activities to keep all members of the family entertained. But have you ever wondered what your white water rafting guide does for fun? He’s on the river all day long after all. Where does he go for his adrenalin rush?
Take Jeremy Helvic from Frogs Rafting as an example. Last autumn, after a busy summer on the River Dranse, Jeremy travelled all the way to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean to get his kicks. Lying in wait were the legends of the canyoning world, including Trou de Fer (the Iron Hole, but don’t let that put you off), Takamaka, Bras Rouge and Ravine Blanche. Jeremy’s group included expert canyoning and climbing guides, spending 12 hours a day tackling virtually inaccessible canyons. And the good news? Canyoning is available in Morzine this summer.
Canyoning, in a nutshell, is a technical descent down a gorge. It involves rope-work, abseiling, heights and currents. It also involves walking, slipping and swimming down a riverbed as water rushes past. Wetsuits, harnesses and helmets are essential, as is an appetite for adventure. Canyoning is mentally challenging, daring you to jump into a void, side down a chute or launch your abseil. In return, you’ll experience seldom-visited gorges filled with clear, clean mountain water, beautiful waterfalls, natural pools and a joyful sense of elation when you overcome your own fear. Canyons are nature’s very own adventure playground.
JEREMY IN REUNION
What inspired you to travel to Reunion?
It’s a tropical island, it’s exotic and it’s renowned for being one of the best places on earth for canyons – I couldn’t resist the opportunity!
What did you find there?
Huge, long, challenging canyons that are on a totally different scale to those in Europe. The size of the abseils and length of the canyons means you can easily pass a couple of days in them. And then the cultural element of the island: it’s a French colony and the people there are a melting pot of cultures; African, Indian and French . It was a super-chilled out atmosphere where everyone seemed pleased to see you.
As a river guide, you experience the thrill of rafting every day. Did any of the canyons in Reunion scare you?
Yes! I was grateful to be part of a really strong team of two p ot-holers, a climber and a kayaker, so we had a great mix of disciplines and skills for the canyons. I feel confident in water, but when you hang o ver 400m voids, you quickly find the limit of your comfort zone and skill set! Throughout the trip I felt my perspective change. Abseils I couldn’t look down at the start of the trip seemed less intimidating by the end.
How did your experience compare to canyoning in Morzine?
Reunion is quite a challenging island. The volcanic rocks are s harp, the vegetation means even walking to the start of a canyon is full on and it’s very isolated. This all adds to its mystique for canyoners , but it’s hostile and unforgiving for people who just want to give canyoning a try. By contrast, Nyon Canyon in Morzine is accessible, the rocks are rounded and carved by the water so they look less intimidating and they allow for fun slides and chutes. Nyon is colder, but I hav e always felt that we’re very lucky in Morzine to have such a nice, all-round canyon so close to us. There are fantastic jumps, slides and abseils, which makes it a challenging but balanced canyon and an excellent introduction to the sport.
If Jeremy’s tales of adventure in Reunion have inspired you to take the plunge, the 400m canyoning route at the Cascade du Nyon in Morzine is a great place to start. It’s thrilling enough to satisfy adrena line junkies, but reassuringly for the rest of us, there’s always a quick route out of the canyon. Along the way you’ll discover deep pools of refreshing mountain water and at the very end you’ll find a 25m abseil as your reward for bravery.
You’ll also be comforted to know that French canyoning guides are some of the most comprehensively trained in the world. “Often when people sign up to come canyoning with Frogs, they’re not sure what they’ve let themselves in for” Jeremy told us. “So I use my wife Natalie, a writer, as the guinea-pig upon which all Frogs’ activities are tested!”
NATALIE IN MORZINE
When did you first give canyoning a go?
Eight years ago, Jeremy’s suggestion of ‘doing a canyon’ sounded so exotic. I didn’t give much thought to what might be involved, imagining a walk along a steep path or a scramble over a couple of boulders. I was surprised when I was squeezed into 5mm wetsuit long-johns before stepping into a complicated jacket with a diagonal zip and hood. I felt pretty darn intrepid when I wiggled my wetsuit clad bottom into a harness with a piece of pvc covering my buttocks (called a ‘nappy’). With harness tightened and carabiners rattling impressively from various loops and toggles, I stumped sweatily to the van.
What were your first impressions?
As we set off walking down a rocky, slippery riverbed, I watched Jeremy lithely hop from rock to rock, accepting that my balance was not as good as I’d thought. Humbly, I slid and slithered over bigger obstacles on my nappy-clad bottom, focusing on keeping upright. Before long we reached a waterfall and I thought that was that. It was short and sweet, and I smugly decided that all the gear was to make me feel less like a tourist, more like an explorer. Jeremy pulled me to his side of the gorge and clipped my harness to a handy wire (‘so you don’t fall off’ he explained). Excellent. Assuming he was going to take an action snap of me at the waterfall’s edge before we got out, I posed and watched him tie himself on to my wire before organising a really long rope. He smiled reassuringly and told me he’d not be a second, he was just setting up the abseil down the waterfall and I wished I’d thought to ask more about what was involved at the start.
What was the best part?
In the canyon, with the shock of cold water entering your wetsuit, the concentration taken to absorb and understand something new gives you focus and clarity. I was fully aware of myself and my surroundings in a way I hadn’t even realised before and it felt great. The scenery was fabulous, the rock was beautiful, the water was clean and clear. As a grown-up, I rarely have to learn new things, and I hardly ever leave my comfort zone. Canyoning forced me to do both so I could experience a brand new environment and it left me buzzing. It was well worth the trepidation I felt at the start of the trip!
Canyoning is a challenging, potentially dangerous sport. If you are new to it, it’s important not to underestimate the dangers. Taking part in the activity with an experienced guide greatly decreases the likelihood of injury.