River Soca trip. June 2016

These are my memories of the club River Soca trip in Slovenia. It has been a while now, so rather than a day by day account, I will try to convey to you the sights and general feeling of the trip.

Our group left for Slovenia tea time on Friday 22nd July. The group consisted of Matt Burnham, Tom Tom, myself (Adrian), James my son, Alex Elliot and David Elliot. David did all the driving, towing a trailer full of boats and camping equipment. We were going to meet Steve and Sarah, Andreas and Santa at the camp site which wasn’t far from Bovec.

We arrived at the campsite on the evening of Sunday 24th, having stopped the night before near the German Austrian border. The Slovenian campsite was great. We found an area which nobody was using, so we set up camp. The scenery in Slovenia is fantastic, and the area where we were based was very rural. You constantly have a backdrop of mountains, trees and wild flowers as you drive along the road. The locals seem very friendly, and all seem to speak English.

After the tents were up, we all sat together to have a bite to eat. This was a constant theme of this trip. All the evenings were spent relaxing, either near the tents, or only occasionally at the campsite bar. Ok well, maybe slightly more than occasionally. In fact the whole week of paddling was very laid back.

After tea I think we all had an early night. It was a very humid night and I was tired. Because it was so hot I decided to sleep in the porch of my new tent with the door wide open. Now picture this, I’m lying on my back in just my underpants (oops, sorry about that part of the image) looking up at the stars! I can glimpse Fire Fly’s darting around, behind my tent mountains rise to dizzying heights lit by moonlight. To my left is a small wild flower meadow, where wild Deer could be seen at night. In front of the tents and to the side were trees/woods.

I soon drifted off to sleep…… At about 2 O’clock in the morning there was a blood curdling noise coming from the woods. It woke me up, and also some others in our group. I’m not saying I was scared, but I jumped up, staggered around still half asleep trying to find the zip to do the tent door up.  After all I was only thinking of my son James who was asleep at the back of the tent. I wouldn’t want him in danger, and whatever it was making this squealing noise couldn’t possibly get through the thin walls of our tent (could it?).

We all met in the morning. The noise from the woods was a hot topic of conversation. What was it? Who was it? We had various theories over the week, but we decided in the end it was Wild Boar. They were heard every night, but never seen.

Anyway, on to the paddling………The various sections we paddled just seemed to blur into one, not because they were boring or uninteresting, but because for me, I was in awe of the scenery and especially the river Soca. I have never paddled a river anything like this. The river, while we were there, wasn’t massive. The levels were quite low, but still an entertaining paddle, especially for the less experienced members of the group. What I couldn’t get over was the quality of the water. It was absolutely crystal clear, while sparkling in the bright sunshine. The water varied in colour from tap water clear in the shallow sections, to a beautiful blue colour in the deeper parts. The rocks beneath the surface were visible at all times. Add the Mountains, blue sky and sunshine, and in my opinion you have paddling paradise!

Steve led the trips, and did the rescues, thanks Steve! The first day was a lovely gentle warm up paddle. Although the water was quite cold, the air temperature was very hot, so you could get away without wearing a cag. On the first day I think most of us just wore rash Vests under our buoyancy aids.

As the days went on the sections of river we chose, got more challenging. These sections were quite/very technical depending on your ability. Aside the usual selection of rocks that I have seen before on natural rivers, there were some massive rocks that sat all over the river bed. Some of these had syphons running through them. I have never come across syphons before, they make me very nervous. We knew they were about, but just not sure where they were.

On what I think was the second day, we did what for me was probably the most adventurous kayak paddle I have ever done. The water was slightly bigger, faster, there were sections that dropped into pools, and from there dropped down into other pools. We got out to inspect these sections and pick a line through the many rocks. At the first of these sections we split up into small groups. David was on the bank with a throw line just in case. I’m guessing this was pretty exciting for the entire group; it definitely was for me as well as nerve racking. We carried on down river until we arrived at a canyon. Upon inspection it was decided that the entrance rapid was a bit too difficult for the majority of the group. Steve and Tom Tom would take it on, while the rest of us portaged the boats to the middle of the canyon. Steve and Tom Tom met us there. I’m not sure how he did it but Steve got to the top of the canyon where we and the boats were. What happened next I’ve never done before on a kayak trip.

One of Steve’s other past times is climbing. With some great team work we shuttled the boats to Andreas, who lowered the boats down the side of the canyon to Sarah and James who were standing on rocks at the water’s edge.  When the boats reached the bottom of the canyon they were detached from the rope and stacked on the rocks. All that was left to do then was for us to climb down to our waiting boats and paddle the rest of the canyon. Earlier I mentioned syphons. At the end of the canyon which had high vertical walls, we came across a massive example in the side wall. Fortunately both the inlet and the outlet were above water level on this day. I would say the top of the syphon was big enough to get a small car in i.e. A Mini, while the lower end was much smaller. It would be a tight fit for a person in kayaking gear.

Another section that springs to mind on another day was a feature that required skilled paddling and balls. To negotiate this section you had to paddle over a small drop and land on a rock with a flat (ish) angled face. From there you slid sideways to the right off this rock and dropped down into a narrow channel, with a high rock face to the paddler’s right. From here it was a quick paddle across the current which was coming from the left, missing some rocks and dropping down into the pool at the bottom.

While we were at this point, we met a family of German kayakers. The mother was paddling a two man kayak. In the front was a little lad in his paddling gear and his own set of small paddles. I asked if they spoke English, which of course they did. I wondered how old the little lad was. His sister told me he was three years old. He was really excited about this bit, and somehow his mum safely negotiated the rock slide in that big boat.

Another memorable moment was when Matt got himself pinned sideways on a big rock and lost his paddle. Steve was there straight away. He helped Matt out and then gave him his paddles. Matt continued a few yards downstream to a safe eddy. Steve floated downstream and borrowed Sarah’s paddles to get back to the rock so as to retrieve Matts paddle. So here we are, now Matt has Steve’s paddle, Sarah has no paddle and Steve has now got Sarah and Matts Paddle, Confused? Well I am. Needless to say it was all sorted out and off we went again.

As I said at the start, this was just a brief taste of the trip that I hope it will encourage you to go and experience it yourself. We had a great trip, with lovely people and scenery. I can highly recommend Slovenia and the river Soca.

We have a great club with people that are prepared to go that extra mile to coach or organise events and trips and many other things. With that in mind I would like to say a big thankyou on behalf of all the people on the trip to David Elliot who organised pretty much everything and did all the driving. Thanks also to Steve Battams for his guidance, coaching and rescues (of which I had more than my fair share) on the river.

Adrian.