Monday, April 09, 2012

Hinterrhein Gorge - Switzerland

Early Spring and great views in the Rofla Gorge of the Hinterrhein - Switzerland

Switzerland's Hinterrhein river valley drains north from the San Bernandino pass and adjoins the Vorderrhein confluence near the city of Chur. However as most paddlers familiar with the Swiss Alps already know, the Hinterrhein river ends up being dammed and diverted through numerous tunnels and reservoirs. Switzerland's popular hydro electric production means the Rofflaschlucht and Via Mala gorges are sadly barren of water throughout most the year.

The historic Via Mala into where the Hinterrhein nearly disappears.

Kayakers wishing to get this run have been fortunate over the past few months as maintenance work on the dams created a steady release of water between the reservoirs. In the Fall a few lucky paddlers were able to get the rarely running Rofla checked off the list before the snow came.

Hearing good stories from friends Mariann Saether and Ron Fischer, I was keen to see if the taps were still running on the Rofla. Tim Starr and myself met in Salzburg as probably the only 2 paddlers originally from British Columbia now living in Europe and headed off with car loaded to start another paddling season in the northern hemisphere. A random drop into the Vorderrhein valleys saw us reunite with the Rofla's number one local Thomas Rogenmoser of Kanuschule Versam. He assured us water was still running and tomorrow would indeed be the scene of some high quality adventure inside the Hinterrhein.

Sandro Sprieter on one of many Hinterrhein highlights.

Morning started in the sunshine with myself, Swiss ninja Severin Haberling, photo g Sandro Spreiter, trusty Toro Rogenmoser and Timmy the Starr heading up the windy roads of the Via Mala to a chilly put in. Snowbanks and shadows were still looming as a torrent pulsed between tightly spaced boulders, signifying what was going to be demanding Swiss class V from the first paddle stroke.

The Rofla's manky boulder maze looks over the top at first glance, but it paddles better than it appears. Scouting comes often and many rapids start with long technical moves, but with good stroke placement and big boofs, the eddy's and pools space themselves nicely throughout the section.

Toro clean on a comparable Swiss version to hammer factor of the Green Narrows.

Visible from the put in, the second drop is a steep slide into a powerful hydraulic. Catching a far left line should help with clearing the hole, but when you're barely into the first paddle strokes of the season I was intimately reminded there is never any real guarantees to what a section like the Rofla might throw at you.

Tim Starr sends the put in slide with success.

Immediately the Rofla becomes a steep boulder blur of epic proportions and we were grateful of the line recognition coming from Severin and Toro after their last mission only the day before.

A look at the mid point portage

The unequalled highlight comes near the end of the run as all eyes stared at disappearing corner chute. It was here Toro confidently mentioned to us how we had all now arrived... at the 'commit'.

The outstretched neck says it all.

On the first trip through the Rofla kayakers popped through this narrow chute and into a walled cauldron with an ominous horizon line.

Into the crux of the Roffla and no turning back.

Water levels allowed for a scout on a small rock near the lip and a sweet discovery was made. If you're going to get down the Rofla expect to be in flight upon exiting this pool.

Downstream the Rofla contains one more burly waterfall but a look at the the lead in will certainly make you understand why it's good to bring the climbing harness as well. A river left rappel puts you into a pathway that was carved through the rock to go behind the curtain of the falls. Once a grueling construction project by the land owner who got an idea to make a tourist attraction after a visit to Niagra Falls back in the day.

The Rofla gorge of the Hinterrhein is a committing piece of class V whitewater that well represents the topography and harshness of this Swiss region. The past few weeks since have seen quite a bit of traffic from paddlers in and around the area and it is only a matter of days until this magnificent stretch will dry up and go back into hiding. Thanks to Sandro Spreiter for some of the pictures from an excellent day on the water. More information and a video about the lower Via Mala section from Ron Fisher here.

View Hinterrhein - Rofla Gorge (V) in a larger map