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White Water Rafting Down The L'Arve

An ice cold adrenaline rush

featured in Activity reviews Author Joel Evans, Chamonix High Mountain Reporter Updated

An introduction to White Water Rafting with EVO2 in Chamonix

Not wanting to pass on a new and fun activity, I jumped at the chance to get cold and wet drifting down the river in the heart of the Chamonix valley. Before meeting the guys at Evo2 near the Montenvers train station I was feeling a little nervous. I have been canoeing and kayaking before but that was always on canals or fairly relaxed rivers. Although the L'Arve is only a grade 2 river, which they told us was pretty tame in the White Water World, it had its moments and I definitely felt the adrenaline rush during some of the more hairy moments. 

Once at the meeting point I met Jacinta from Evo2 who was very helpful and gave me a quick insight of what to expect then I got to know my fellow rafters. All in the 20-30 age group and all looking fairly fit. You must be over 10 years old for the Chamonix experience, however for ages 7 and up they have an alternative in Passy where there are less rapids.

After a quick meet and greet we were given our outfits. A wet suit, wet suit jacket, shoes, life jacket and a helmet. For me this was the first time I had put on a wet suit for about 15 years and most likely the last time I will put one on for another 15! Jiggling my way into it I then came out of their on-site changing facility wearing the full kit and after 1 minute standing around in the hot afternoon sun I was stripped right down to just the trousers. I like the idea that this scuba suit will keep me warm in the near zero degree water, but standing around and riding in a van in it is a sweaty experience.

When we were all kitted up we headed into two vans of their vans as there were 14 of us on today's trip. A short van ride later we were near the Heli Pad in Les Bois, and after grabbing a paddle each we went through a few instructions and safety points with out skipper for the day Greg. The fun started here with Greg making countless jokes and really getting everyone laughing and involved. 

It was time to get going, so we each grabbed a corner and headed down the bank to the icy cold water below. As soon as my foot hit the water I felt the water rush into my boot and knew it was going to be a cold hour in the water! We were all in the water and ready to go. Starting backwards down the river we quickly had to turn around to tackle the first rapids - time to put that training into practice. Sitting at the front I took the full force of the first rapids in my face. Cold is an understatement, it takes your breath away, but you are so involved that you block it out and keep paddling. After the first one hundred metres the river calms slightly and here Greg started instructing us on what to do, Left Forward, Right Backwards etc. We started spinning around and bumping into the banks and the other boat which was great fun. This happened every time the rapids subsided, so it is fun and engaging the whole trip.

Entering Chamonix there are a few drops under bridges where Greg shouts SAFETY, we all jump into the middle of the boat with our paddles pointing to the sky and brace for the white water ahead. Getting thrown about in the boat was great fun and even if you ended up on someone else's lap you would just laugh it off and try try to get back into your place as quick as you could to start paddling again. 

Coming through the town there are many bridges with unsuspecting tourists waving and shouting hello. Being encouraged to spray them by Greg, we waited until the last moment and gave them everything we had, this really added to the fun vibe the trip had. This happened throughout the town centre and when there were no tourists to spray we would spray the other rafters while drifting backwards and vice versa. Ducking under one bridge Greg gave me a hit on the head with his paddle, I was unaware and thought I was low enough to not hit it! After leaving Chamoinx town centre the river mellowed again and we started to play around. Leaning back with your feet secured in a strap we all dunked our head in, testing out our abs and getting an all mighty brain freeze. Later some of us jumped in and made a full trip around the raft while drifting down river, keeping our heads out of the water (to avoid more brain freeze!). Some other members of the trip had a go at surfing the soft inflatable raft to some success, holding onto our helmets to avoid falling into the shallow rocky water. 

The rapids picked back up towards Les Bossons and by now Greg had a feel of our ability level. We started going full speed into rapids and rocks and were being thrown about the raft, luckily no one fell in but this was so much fun. When you are charging straight into an obvious rock there is something in the back of your mind telling you this is wrong, but we assumed Greg knew what he was doing and went with it! It was great to see what these rafts can handle and stay afloat. 

Coming to a stop near the Chamonix side of Les Houches we carried the raft up the bank to where the two vans that dropped us earlier were waiting. 15 minutes later we were back at the the meeting point rinsing our wet suits and getting back into warmer clothes. When you think of Chamonix you think skiing and climbing. I had such an amazing time trying out this new and wild activity and would recommend it for everyone!

For more information on White Water rafting and to see what other great activities EVO2 have to offer head over to their website by clicking HERE.


Map of the surrounding area