Probably the Best University Alps Trip in the World
For those not acquainted with the University of Exeter, we have a saying that our university is “probably the best university in the world”, hence the title of this article. However, for now, I shall try and convince you over this two-part article, that if you have a competent organizer, or a team of organizers, you can make a great trip by following a few simple guidelines. The focus will be on the trip that was conducted by Exeter University Canoe Club (EUCC) in June 2017 to Austria, Slovenia and France but the same principles can be applied to any trip with a group of 15 or more people in a club based group. This is perfect for a university group that wants to do something different from two weeks in the southern French Alps camping at Camping des Ecrins at l’Argentiere Slalom site, but can also be outfitted to work for a city club or a large group of friends who share a common love for kayaking and the great outdoors.
This segment can be skipped for the experienced European kayak road trippers; but for those unfamiliar with the Briancon region and the usual trip that universities do there, let me brief you on it. Year after year, British universities frequent the same campsite in the Alps for roughly two weeks. Logistically this is minimal faff and each year it is run in a very similar way with the main difference being the attendees. The comradery linking individuals in a chain with many twists and turns makes for a highly entertaining trip. There will be fall outs, bonding moments, exceedingly large quantities of alcohol consumption, carnage, highlights and more faff than you would expect from ordering pizza to share between 10 people. Sometimes this can be the trip of a lifetime and other years it will be a conga line of epics. Which category the trip falls to is partly due to luck, but also due to the committee running the trip. Overseeing the trip can be unfulfilling, especially if they aren’t getting paid, but I’m about to tell you that with the right team and group of attendees who are willing to trust their money to the team in the hope that the trip will be a success, you can break away from the status quo and venture deeper into the unknown.
A French alps trip can be great for a few years in a row, however it can get tiresome for the experienced members. A way to avoid this is keep the trip fresh by changing it to a general European Alps trip. Many clubs do this by going to Slovenia and employing a coach to show them the beauties that the river Soca has to offer. For several years, Exeter have done a week in Slovenia and a week in France which is a great progression combo trip. Slovenia isn’t as continuous as France and twice as stunning, a perfect way to introduce first years to the alpine club trip lifestyle. This is a simple solution to refreshing a stale trip and entices ex-students back to experience a new area with the club and their friends. If this is enough, read no further and look up the copious amounts of river guides and online resources. With these, decide if you need to hire a coach or if you can be self-sufficient within the club in running the trip. For those of you who wanted to hear about an amazing trip and how you too can run a similar trip, buckle up because it’s time to get down to business.
After three consecutive French Alps trips with a school club then two university trips to Slovenia then France, I wanted to do something new and exciting. I can’t take all the credit for this train of thought, as I was told that the Styria region in Austria had rivers of Slovenian style and then had help in finding an online resource, of which there aren’t many on the area, from ex-EUCC members.
The little I found was a description of a river like the Soca and after a little convincing, the committee agreed it would be fun and interesting to try out somewhere new for us, as well as the recent club. Thorough research must be done before conducting a trip like this, as English guidebooks are few and far between for a region such as Styria. I found it useful to make a map of the rivers surrounding our campsite with the grade, get in and get outs and any other points of note. For a university club trip, you are limited by the end of the academic term when you can venture to the alps, therefore you are limited to areas that are in season around this time. A trip such as one to Pyrenees would not work in June, so research into regional seasons is also key. Now, it’s also potent to point out, that you can’t take a club out to an area that is way above their ability, even if “there are a few easy rivers” as this can be said about any region and is a relatively selfish move on the part of the organizers and safety if the beginners only get to paddle the same river every day for two weeks.
Unlike France, Austria and Slovenia do not have the quantity of rivers that allows a university club to go out for two weeks without getting bored (although I would argue if you have the right levels and patience, both countries have much to offer in the way of a two-week progression in a more pleasant way than France can). Therefore, the only question left was, where to go after Austria? The plan was somewhat set when I found out that levels in Slovenia were very low. The plan of Austria-France was devised that would satisfy all parties within the group. This too fell through as we found out France was far higher than expected, a week before we were leaving for the continent. Sounding like a bit of a train wreck? The indecision, so close to the leave date, was stressful for a lot of the committee and caused some tensions. But as we shall see, that indecision was a crucial trait that would benefit us as the trip progressed.
Setting off from Exeter at 8am, we arrived in Austria 23 hours later, so we decided to go for a paddle. With grumbling and complaining from the whole club, we got on a gentle, yet scenic, grade 2 section which left the majority of people smiling for the rest of the day. For the two consecutive days, we slowly upped the difficulty of river to settle people into the alpine life style and remind everyone it’s not a race of ability progression, but a holiday for everyone to enjoy. What many experienced members will say is that they paid for a holiday and not to supervise everyone else having fun while they suffer. This is a great point, but at the same time, it is the job of experienced members to ensure everyone has a fun time so the future club alps trips are manned by a committee that have fond memories of their first alps trip. Almost everyone who goes to the alps will say that their first trip out there as a novice was their best experience, as there was no pressure or responsibilities on them and subsequently, their rate of progression was the strongest. For this reason, the committee of a complex alps trip needs to be proficient in the type of trip you want to run.
Stay tuned for part two coming soon…