Six days skills development (rather than pure tourist kayaking) in Slovenia inevitably means mostly paddling the Soča – only one tributary is usually an option. It is, however, a fantastic river with lots of short sections of varying difficulty. One constant on all the sections is the clear blue water combined with idyllic scenery.
As a warm-up, we started on the section from the Koritnica confluence down to Čezsoča (where we had lunch while Jake rearranged the shuttle) and on down to the Srpenica 1 access point. These are both shortish sections which could be run at grade two avoiding all the difficulties, which made it an ideal run for deliberately looking for harder lines and moves off the many boulders and eddy lines. One little challenge, in particular, had me rolling up four times in the 8.1 Mamba I started off paddling.
For the second day, we stepped up a bit, to the Srpenica 1 section, with me still in the Mamba. This section is a little steeper, with a lot more spots to play and make lines. There is a wide flat bit at the end where we had a bit of flat-water coaching, and Jake persuaded me I should try a bigger boat. The Zet Toro which he’d been paddling felt very over-forgiving and slow to accelerate at first, but I soon found that it seemed to be very quick in ferry glides and lost less ground. After a quick bit of boat swapping over lunch, I ended up paddling the Toro for the rest of the week. So, for the afternoon, we repeated Srpenica 1, which did give me a good basis for comparison. The high cross to a tiny eddy that I’d failed on four times in the Mamba (managing to capsize on a cushion wave every time) proved to be trivially easy at the first attempt in the Toro, so it certainly inspired confidence to try things I might have been nervous of in the smaller boat. I did, however, find it quite a lot harder to predict the boat’s line in response to my paddle strokes – a bigger boat with harder edges, at least aft, made for a boat which carved turns when edged, but wasn’t deflected as much by currents from the side. I missed quite a lot of tops-of-eddies and bumped a fair few rocks. The trouble with the first Srpenica section is that there is a horrid climb from the take-out to the road, and although the Toro is actually no heavier than the Mamba, I did struggle up here – having been finding the boat required more powerful arm-tiring strokes to drive on the river.
For our third day we returned to the Sprenica 1 put-in and made our way down a little quicker, avoiding the Srpenica 2 egress climb by continuing down the next section to the Trnovo 1 access point, where parking is much nearer the river, just above the footbridge at the start of the “Slalom section”. The second Srpenica section has a lot more to it, with definite lines to make and manoeuvring across the current. The signboards give this section III-IV. Maybe we’d just settled in and were paddling well, but I can’t say it ever felt more than grade III. However, at one point, Mary was a little off-line and was rewarded with the gratification of showing that she could roll the Veloc she was paddling, in real white water. After lunch we went back to the Koritnica confluence to do a bit more intensive skills practice in unthreatening water, down to Čezsoča.
By now we were getting the hang of the river, and went right upstream to put on at the top of the “Bunker” section, on down through “Canyon 3”, passing the Koritnica confluence and taking out at Čezsoča once again. That was quite a long shuttle for Jake, so we had a leisurely lunch. Mary didn’t want a lot more paddling, so decided to sit out the afternoon. We nipped down to the Srpenica 1 access, where the river police checked our river passes before we headed on down. We took a variety of different lines on the second Srpenica section today, and found a couple of places to do neat circuits between eddies and boulders. By this time I’d got the hang of keeping the Toro moving forward all the time by paddling with mostly forward strokes, so I was wasting less energy bringing it back up to speed. This does give less thinking time, so I managed to get one line wrong and have a swift roll. That is one thing to be said for the bigger boat – it floats much higher in the water, even when upside down, so getting the paddle right to the surface was remarkably easy. Since we were going well, we continued under the footbridge and onto the Slalom section. This is noticeably steeper with the flow often more channelled and quite a lot more moving about the river. The signboards give it grade IV-V, but at the water level we had (a bit bigger than on SOC’s trip a few years ago) it was no more than grade IV, and not high in the grade. We took out river right, and Jake went to get a bike from the Gene17 house, to go back for the van, Mary, and bike he’d left at the Srpenica section egress. Since he was expecting this to take up to an hour, I took the opportunity to drop back down to the river and walk up the right bank, taking a few photos and clips of video.
On Thursday, we paddled both Srpenica sections once again, making a few new lines and having fun at a few playspots on the steep second section. Whilst Jake was shuttling, I took a lot of photos of the top of the slalom section, as we’d noticed that there had been some major changes since the SOC trip of four years earlier. One boulder on the left in the entry rapid has split, and another huge boulder that was on the bank has vanished, leaving a large obstacle in the middle of what had been a flat pool on the earlier trip.
There were now only two bits of paddling we hadn’t tackled (well, also Syphon canyon, but that’s not really sensible to run at this sort of level, if ever). The Otona section is longish and perhaps a bit more committing than Mary was up for, so we headed past Bovec to the top of the Koritnica. The put-in is down a steep path (which would be hard work if you were coming up), leading to a short section which was a bit of a scrape as it was rather braided, over a cobbled bed (good weather meant that levels had been dropping all week). From an eddy on river left, we now headed into the “gorge”, which is a narrow section between rock walls, which weren’t high enough to stop it continuing sunny. This is easier than it looks, and only slightly steeper just at the entry before becoming boily but straightforward. A big sunny eddy towards the end really showed up the clarity of the water. It is then an alternation of wooded canyons and wider bouldery rapids for some distance until, under the road bridge which we’d crossed earlier on the way to the Bunker section, it got a bit more lively right down to the confluence with the Soča. Rather than the steep walk up to the parking here, we continued down the by now very familiar section to Čezsoča.
By the last day, we were perhaps starting to burn out a little – I was definitely not concentrating as hard as I would have liked and whilst I didn’t miss any lines on the now familiar Srpenica sections, I didn’t feel that continuing onto the Slalom section would have been as successful as the first time. Over lunch we came to the conclusion that perhaps we should call it a week – saving the Otona section to give an excuse to come here again.
We headed back to the chalet at Camp Koren above Kobarid and decided to have a walk in the woods looking for flowers. We started river right, looking at the lower part of the Otona to Napoleon bridge section of the Soča, which by this point is fairly pool-drop with some long flattish sections. The harder part is just below Syphon canyon and we really didn’t have time to walk that far up. Consequently, when we came across a sign towards a footbridge and indicating a scenic waterfall, we took this route, dropping steeply down to cross the Soča and ascend a pleasant path for twenty minutes on the other side. This intercepted a canyonny stream with a small waterfall, and a small path dropped off the main path just above and led us into a deep cleft with a couple of footbridges crossing the stream and back. Steps now led to an elevated walkway stuck to the canyon wall, but at the start of this, Mary suddenly gave a squawk and jumped back. “Monster ?” I asked. “Yes!” came the reply, and indeed there was. Guarding the bottom step was a Dinosaur. Well, OK, maybe not a giant Mesozoic warm-blooded reptilian, but a rather sluggish amphibian secreting potent neurotoxins from its skin – a Fire Salamander.
Stepping carefully past the salamander, we ascended to the walkway, which clung to the wall and rounded the corner to reveal Slap Kozjak, a rather fine 15m waterfall into a deep blue pool. Apparently this is the biggest of six canyonning pitches. As our eyes grew accustomed to the light, Mary spotted the abseil tat above it.
And that was essentially it for the week – our half days in Venice on the way out and back are covered in another post.
One thing I do feel obliged to mention – not really kayaking-related – is rural broadband. Here we were, in a small campsite, a decent walk away from a very small town, Kobarid. Perhaps a bit bigger than Boldron, but way smaller than Barnard Castle. Our accomodation came with free broadband (cabled ethernet or wireless, to taste) out of which I consistently got 20 Mb/s (despite it being shared with all the other campsite residents). That is a bit over thirty times faster than we get at the best times at home. So it looks as though a small, formerly-behind-the-iron-curtain country only recently free of violent politics, can manage a vastly better rural broadband infrastructure than the UK. So, well done Tory government ! Now stop spouting bullshit and actually get some decent bandwidth out in the sticks !!!