The Hautes Fagnes after flood

What is the best time of the year to hike along the draining rivers of the Hautes Fagnes? In a white snowy winter landscape? On a crisp spring day between the emerging green? Or on a sunny autumn day when the birch trees wear their golden leaves? No! The answer is on a gray winter day after a week of intense and prolonged thaw with heavy rain!

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A week back in time the moors where still buried under a 70cm thick pack of snow. A few patches of wet snow is all that’s left in the woods by now. The prolonged and often intense rain of the preceding days has not only caused flooding of the Amblève, Ourthe, Lesse and Meuse rivers. The small peat rivers of the Hautes Fagnes have temporarily changed their shape into a monstrous flood.

Friday January 14th, the flood has already retreated, but water levels are still high. It’s glorious to finally admire a Getzbach and Helle in their vibrant life. Never before I’ve heard the rivers rustling so abundantly. The flood has left its traces everywhere. A piece of the path along the Helle just downstream from the mouth of the Ternellbach has been swept away. The soil in the valley is all wiped clean. Almost no autumn leaf is left on the ground.

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The young bridge over the Helle at Herzogenhugel has been washed over as one can witness the strands of grass hanging on the bridge. The bench beside the river has been dripped in the water by its legs. A heavy drizzle is falling as I’m drinking the hot soup out of my thermos with some bread.

It’s surprisingly easy to walk between Herzogenhugel and the Pont Libert. Of course with every step I put my feet in water. Water is flowing down from everywhere out of the moors. The path is often transformed into a stream. Despite all those wetness, there is almost no mud to encounter. The ground is still frozen hard. There are no footprints to discover on the freshly emerged ground from under the snow surface, nor in the remaining patches of wet snow. I put my footsteps in the landscape as a pioneer on the cleaned floor… and then again deep in a next patch of wet snow.

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The Pont Libert has become shaky. Large branches are flushed against the bridge. I follow the Helle further upstream, although this part of the trail has been closed already for some time for the work of the LIFE project. There is no snow remaining on the Fagne Wallone. Only at the edge of the forest at the Botrange there is a white ribbon to discern in the distance.

I visit the pine trees of Noir Flohay once more. The wind blows hard and I get cold. The Geitzbusch is even colder. The soil in the forest is still covered with snow. Rain and stormy winds dominate the night.

4,9°c while awakening at the edge of the moors. The Helle seems to be more retreated despite the rain during the night. I move on to the Brackvenn. Vast moors, freshly cut recently by the excavator, are now standing full with water. Over the beautiful path along Neu-Hattlich I reach the Getzbach again. What an attractive river this is at Rotenbüchel with these high water levels!

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Through the moors of Kutenhart I reach the Steinbach. The river divides itself into two seperate streams sometimes. Large tree trunks are blocking the valley, been put into motion by the devastating water. At the confluence of the Steinbach and Eschbach I encounter the big surprise. The bridge has gone! No trace at all left, not along the water, not further downstream in the streambed. Only a trace on the bank marks the place where once this heavy trunk with railing was laid to rest. What a flood must have been taken place here! I ford the river.

De valley of the Eschbach is a devastation. Branches washed to dams behind cleaned pieces of valley floor. The grass is still lying flat in the direction of the current. The trail is eroded into deep holes. The peat river finally flows as it should. I cross the moors of Kutenhart again and descend into the valley of the Getzbach. The path to Ternell is swept away. An almost dry creek bed has come in its place.

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This flood has left traces, traces that will keep staying visible for some time.

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