November 8, 2014
Just a normal weekend
“So, where to next weekend?” It’s a question I ask myself every Sunday evening when I’m lying on the couch, tired and happy after my weekend trip. Back to Surselva maybe? Yes, that would be good. With the next objective in mind, the week just flies by.
“Surselva? Is that something to eat?” Nope. Surselva is a region in the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland, and home to the Vorderrhein, one of the two source rivers of the River Rhine (the other being the Hinterrhein). The region is known for having one of the largest ski areas in Switzerland, but it also has a lot more to offer, from mountain biking, hiking and climbing to fishing, rafting and kayaking. My all time favourite day out is paddling through the Vorderrhein gorge in my kayak.
The trip starts at Ilanz, a little town in the middle of the Surselva and the access point for what is probably the most spectacular and breath-taking gorge run in Switzerland.
From calm water to wild water
After a gentle start and a few kilometres of calm water, the gorge proper begins. The walls of the gorge get steeper and the river bed narrower. This means bigger waves, faster rapids and the cooling effect of cold water splashing in our faces. After the rapids there’s just time to catch our breath and enjoy the fantastic scenery of the steep limestone gorge before we get to grips with the Black Hole.
The black hole
The Black Hole rapid is a 300 metre stretch of river that forms the crux of the run. It takes its name from a hole that can be seen in the rock wall on the left bank of the river at water level. The hole has been shaped by the river, washed out by the currents over a long period of time. Depending on the water level, the Black Hole can be a playful rapid or a powerful cataract. Today it invites us to cruise around the boulders. As we paddle on down to the egress in Versam we enjoy the view of the 400 metre high cliffs and the green meadows.
A final treat
We lift the kayaks out of the water and carry them to Versam railway station, where the unique “Kayak Ticket” allows us to take them back to Ilanz on the train, thus saving a double trip by car. While waiting for the train we treat ourselves to coffee and cakes. We’ve earned it!
When the train pulls in we stow the boats in the baggage compartment. Back in Ilanz we decide to paddle the river again. “Second run, twice the fun,” as the old saying goes.
Anyone who fancies discovering the Rhine Gorge for themselves can contact the canoe school at Versam, which offers both kayaking and rafting courses. With the Funyak, an inflatable kayak, even beginners can paddle a stretch of the river on their own. And for those who prefer walking, there’s a hiking trail that follows the riverbank for most of the way.