Alpine Challenge: White Water Rafting

I awoke early the next morning with a very fuzzy head. The sun was just starting to peak through the gaps in the blinds and my alarm sounded like the worlds loudest fire alarm. My friend who was sharing the room with me started to stir as well. My voice tends to go very deep and crackly after drinking alcohol, due to the fact I was sounding like Barry White I knew I’d had quite a bit.

Alpine Challenge

Hungover at breakfast!

Dressed, we knocked on the girl’s door to make sure they were awake and then made our way to breakfast. There was an all you can eat buffet downstairs but all that I could manage were a few croissants that were smothered in Nutella chocolate spread and a glass of pure orange juice.  While at the breakfast table I looked around at my friends who all had the “don’t bother me, I’m hung-over” look on their faces – I couldn’t help but laugh.

Slowly we recovered from our underage-drunken states and managed to get our luggage downstairs on time. A taxi was waiting for us to take us to the airport where we would meet with the other challengers that would be joining us on the weekend. The bus ride was short but definitely long enough. The driver must have thought he was a rally car driver as he sped around the corners as if he were being chased in a high speed pursuit. It wasn’t a wise idea with 6 ready-to-vomit teens in the back. Luckily we made it without any accidents and I swear if it wasn’t busy at the airport I would have kissed the ground.

We met with the other team members, introduced ourselves and then piled on board the coach that would take us straight to our first challenge of the weekend – a White Water rafting race down a grade 5 river. It took us a few hours to arrive but the scenery we passed on the way was fantastic. Upon arrival to the river I heard somebody say “The river doesn’t look very rapid to me” to which one of the instructors said “That’s just a stream coming off the river, the river itself is behind the trees” ….*gulp*.

Alpine Challenge

Ready for the water!

We were given a quick safety brief that included some horrendous horror stories and then told to get in to our wetsuits. One of the girls managed to put theirs on inside out without realising anything was wrong – I quietly prayed I wasn’t going to be in her raft. Luckily our group of 6 were partnered with 2 of the biggest men in the group to make a complete 8 for the raft. We each grabbed on to one of the handles on the side of the raft and walked it down to the river’s edge. Now we were standing there we could see the full force of the river… it was most definitely rapid!

Once all of the teams were lined up at the water’s edge, a whistle blew and each team raced to get their raft in to the water. Once enough of it was in, our team jumped inside and the current started to take us down stream. Somehow our raft was managing to sail through the rocks and rapids without a problem but one of the rafts behind us were getting bounced around as if they were in a pinball machine. We’d occasionally have to duck in to the bottom of the raft to avoid low hanging trees or we’d suddenly have to shift all of our weight to one side to stop ourselves from capsizing… but amazingly a group of 17 year olds managed to beat groups of much stronger and more athletic 20-30 year olds to the end. We’d reached the finish line first without any accidents or losing somebody in the water!

Alpine Challenge

Our raft just visible on the left there..

Celebrating, our group thought the challenge was over, however, the French instructor said “OK, on to the bus for the next part of the race” – we all looked at each other rather confused but apparently our skills would be tested a little more. Back at the start line we’d now been split in to two’s and given a smaller raft to use. I was with one of the girls in my group which turned out to be a very silly idea as the power balance between us was completely wrong when trying to row. Again we lined up at the edge of the water and again the whistle blew. This time my friend was already sitting in the raft and I had the job of pushing it out and climbing in afterwards. I didn’t feel it on the first go as I managed to get in pretty early, but now I was further in to the water I could feel the bitterly ice cold water running off the Alps seeping in to my wetsuit… I could have sung soprano.

Alpine Challenge

Very tired team mates on the way to the hotel

We tried our hardest to keep in rhythm but the difference in power in our strokes was too great, we ended up going in circles and then got lodged on top of two rocks sticking out of the water. Any attempts to free ourselves made us slide up the rocks even further. I shouted to the instructor “how do we get off this?!” his reply was “get out and push!”  Now normally I’d be fine doing that, but I was on top of a jagged rock in the middle of freezing cold white water rapids… I looked at my friend but she just gave me a cheeky smile which only meant one thing “you’re gonna get very wet and very cold”. Taking a deep breath I plunged in to the water and dragged the raft off the rocks but making sure I kept close enough to the raft in order to get back in. Unfortunately due to our little set back we came in 2nd to last… the raft that came in last managed to get themselves tangled up in a low hanging tree. Even though the water was freezing, we’d managed to get pretty hot trying to keep control of the raft on our own. I plunged in to the water by choice this time and stayed there for a while letting the water seep in to my suit again.

The first challenge was now over. We’d changed back in to our clothes, boarded the coach and made our way to La Clusaz and to our hotel. A free meal was provided for us and an early night followed.

Author: Dan Collins

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