The Lower Ötz

OK, so we’d gone for a look at the Lower Ötz (starting just below the grade 5 section used by the Sickline race) the previous Wednesday, found the coloured gauge reading what we believed to be ‘low’ and had a real good look, before running away. Neither Michael nor I thought we’d be safe enough to be sure of getting out in time above the Brunau weir, and Dave and Anthony thought they’d better not do it with just two, so we did a bit more reccying, then went to pick up the others who had bimbled down the Imst gorge and were by now thinking that perhaps my car had been stolen from the take-out. We later found that the level was actually quite big and the coloured bands on the gauge we’d looked at were lying to us (perhaps the stick had been moved?).

On our first day as a family with Lowri after the rest of the group had gone home, Michael had got a bit bored and lost concentration resulting in an untoward upset which made him very cross. He was keen on doing something a bit harder than the Sanna, so Lowri reckoned she would take him down the Lower Ötz. I came along for a look, perhaps to run a shuttle and maybe, if it looked a lot lower, even get on…

Well, it was indeed lower – maybe two feet or so lower than when we’d looked last week, so we got on. There’s no warm-up – 20 seconds after taking the first paddle stroke to break in, we are passing under the first bridge, where pinning on the central pier has caused several deaths, so it’s an intimidating start, and pretty bouncy !

There’s a big boulder this side of the pier creating a nasty two-point pinning spot – kinda scary twenty seconds into the trip…

At this level, though, there are eddies big enough for all of us, and we got a couple of breathers before the second bridge where we knew that the river got briefly quite a bit steeper. Start right, down the tongue and punch a couple of stoppers starting to head left – it all worked and the river eased off again. It never really slows down anywhere, but at least you can see ahead on the gentler bits and have time to pick a line avoiding rocks and pourovers. Well, avoiding most of them … but I did roll up, so that was alright !

Michael swiftly avoiding a hole which tried quite hard to detain me

Apart from the speed and continuous nature of the river, mostly at no more than grade 3, the great psychological mantrap is the knowledge that the Brunau weir is downstream with its utterly lethal towback (boats have been known to get stuck in it for six weeks and there have been several fatalities). Once under the bridge, 600m is going to take under ninety seconds, so swimming has a poor prognosis. Fortunately the water is as easy as it has ever been all the way down, and we picked an eddy well above the weir to take out river right and portage. It’s getting on for 8 km to this point, and we’d taken under 33 minutes, including eddy time – 18m/km is quite steep for a river of this size, and that probably explains why, subtracting eddy time, we moved at about 18km/hr !

The sign on the bridge warns of “Extreme danger weir in 600m”

Putting back on below the weir, the whole place seems somehow less serious and we started to enjoy ourselves a bit more. But after only three minutes, we eddied out right (at a spot we’d reccied last week) and got our breath before the “Ötz Cataract”. As in several other places, the White Water North Alps guidebook bigs this up, in this case as “the most difficult rapid, also known as the ‘Constructa’ (a brand of washing machine) which can be class 5 in high water” and indicating that it is continuous for 300m. Fortunately, it is just a series of stoppers and rocks to avoid, easily read-and-run and not quite as continuous as much of the river above, owing to the obstacles creating eddies. The main difficulty was getting a great glob of silty water in one eye, rendering it too difficult to open, and having the contact lens knocked off-centre in the other eye, so I couldn’t see a great deal from about halfway down. Most relaxing – after the fashion of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s sunglasses which go completely black in the face of extreme danger. We bounced down and into another big eddy right, generally well pleased with ourselves.

The Ötz cataract – just a bouncy rapid with some pourovers to avoid

The river now eases a bit, and with no psychological barriers from guidebook descriptions ahead, we relaxed and bounced on down having fun, soon passing under numerous bridges and out into the Imst gorge on the Inn, which was fairly low. We took out at a raft take-out a little earlier than the busy main Haiming one, and were soon collecting Lowri’s van from Ötz.

Landeck Gorge

There were three runs here during the trip – Mary had a sneak preview with Lowri before anyone else had a go, then we had two runs with bigger groups, on 2nd and 8th August. This is not the hard set of rapids immediately below the dam that you can see from the road up from Landeck itself (which the current guidebook refers to as the Inn Chute), but starts a kilometre or two lower down, as the gradient starts to ease and the boulders become a bit less populous. It’s still a moderately intimidating put-on straight out from the eddy into powerful water, but the lines are fairly straightforward both to see and to make, so the only rolls we had were caused by clipping the edge of the occasional hole that hadn’t been seen quite early enough. There’s plenty of water to roll in, and no retentive stoppers, so on the second run I took the playboat. The video was compiled with my headcam footage (both fore- and aft-facing) from both runs, my boat-mounted camera and Sarah’s headcam from the first run.