I’ve seen many photographs and videos of Corsica since I started kayaking 4 years ago but never imagined that I’d actually get to go and experience the crystal waters and steep creeks of this stunning island. It is difficult to get any detailed information on the kayaking out there aside from a few videos and German guidebooks from the 80s full of air bracing pioneers in fibreglass boats!
Getting to the island involved a drive to Dover, the channel ferry, a 13 hour drive to Toulon and an overnight ferry across the Mediterranean. Despite over 24 hours of travelling, once you’re on the island, the rivers are all very close by and range from relaxing grades 2/3 to some scary 5/6 with siphons the size of cars and portages as long as some British rivers!
We spent the first day finding our feet on the grade 2/3+ Lower Vecchio and Tavignano Gorge, working out team dynamics and acclimatising to the Corsican style. Later in the week we paddled another section of the Tavignano which had some awesome surf spots and flair opportunities, a great river for beginner and intermediate paddlers to practice skills on!
Subsequent days were spent on the Asco and Upper Golo, the first being a relentless 12km of boulder garden grade 3/4 and the second being a high-altitude grade 4/5 bedrock slide and drop playground! Both of these rivers have an incredibly remote and wild feel about them, being boxed in by high canyons and surrounded by dense forest (roamed by wild boar!). An afternoon run of the Middle Golo was a great warm-down in the glorious sunshine, despite our group stumbling upon the ‘hoover’ rapid which resulted in some green-room down time and a few confused faces!
At the mid-week stage we opted for the Fium ‘Orbo (great name!!), a run which we expected to take 3 hours and thus some of us forgot suncream and lunch. A whole 6 hours later after winding our way through bedrock slides, boulder gardens and armies of German paddlers, we got off the river after 5km and 141m of descent! The crux of the Fium’ Orbo is not any of the grade 4/5 rapids, it is in fact the portages which involved a trek up the canyon wall, a bit of climbing and a 25m throwline to lower boats back to the river! A truly epic day, and one of my favourite rivers yet, not forgetting the thrill of the 7m rocket drop sandwiched between two grade 6 nasties!
After a ‘day off’ which involved a sunbathing session and a quick play run on the Tavignano, the team regrouped for a descent of the infamous Travo. This river is the ‘postcard’ of Corsican kayaking with its amphitheatre drops and siphoned boulder gardens, ceaselessly dropping away at 33m/km along its 5km length. This river can only be paddled on a Monday and Friday and therefore we got on early to avoid the bulk of the (mostly German) crowds. It was an unforgettable day, paddling the steepest and hardest rapids I’ve ever tried and watching sponsored teams charge some of the more forbidding grade 5+ cataracts. The Travo proved a little too pushy for me with a smashed GoPro and a granite block to the face, but nothing a booty beer and a few ibuprofens couldn’t sort out! Full facers anyone?
After the ‘last supper’ (which involved calamari, pizzas and copious amounts of Pietra Beer and Corsican Vino), we charged the Lower Golo in true German ‘sporty style’, bashing down and piling into some sneaky holes, before boarding the afternoon ferry back to mainland France. A huge thankyou to Andy Holt (Escape to Adventure) and Ian Dovey (Dovey Coaching) for the trip. I can’t wait to go back with a little more experience in a few years’ time although it will not be the same without the hilarity of Wendy, John, Mark, Harry and Steve of team ‘old gits’!
If anyone is thinking of heading out there, go with a guide/coach and do your research because the rivers can be unpredictable and the season is very short! Be prepared to cover every last inch of your boat in scratches (if it’s not rocky, it’s spikey), take spare paddles, prepare for epics with good safety kit, use suncream and drink Pietra Beer responsibly!
Article by: Kirstie Macmillan