Yesterday Yves, Willem and I went to the east of Belgium to start a run on the river Grensmaas. The days before we had made the plan to go on a multi day packraft trip in the Ardennes but the abundant rainfall of the previous days resulted in dangerously high water levels so that we made the decision to divert to the Grensmaas. This became my fourth run of the river, this time however at a discharge of 1300m³/s, instead of the 50-200m³/s I was used to the previous times. We only needed less than half the time to run the 37km to Maaseik, our average absolute speed about 12,5km/h. At some points the fields next to the river were standing under water and made it at some points confusing to determine where the real riverbed went again. All the rapids were now flattened out, but that could not spoil the fun. The Grensmaas is equally enjoyable at any water level.
The Belgian packraft scene is ever growing. Steve & Katrijn and me agreed upon packrafting the Grensmaas from the Borgharen dam to the village of Maaseik at the last weekend of June. Then came Yves, telling us he had just bought a packraft. And then Michael Jackson could join us too at the last end (no this one is still alive). That would make 5 packrafters in 4 boats! Wait! Does that mean that one of the team had to swim? No! Steve & Katrijn like the honeymoon style.
We started Friday evening. Calm weather and so was the water. We reached the mouth of the river Geul at sunset where we met a perfect spot to put our tarps and shelters. An intimate camping night around a campfire with numerous beavers that circled around splashing on the water nearby. The water level of the river rose for 70cm overnight, enough to swallow our campfire, luckily not enough to invade into our shelters. Upstream dams always cause a source of concern when camping low to the water line. The next morning the water had well retreated.
On Saturday we had a welcome 4 Beaufort in our back. The water was warm so I even made a few swims with the packraft lined in my hand. The rapids were a good school for the less experienced among us. At the ferry crossing passed halfway we couldn’t resist the local Belgian “frituur” to fill our stomachs with a meal of delicious Belgian fries that made our last stretch to Maaseik pass effortless. Such a big river is always more fun to paddle with congenial companions. Certainly something we should repeat in the future.
An active rain zone swept over Belgium during the night with about 25mm of precipitation as a result. When I left work during the morning, the river discharge of the Maas at Maaseik still showed the usual low summer discharge of about 50m³/s. I met Willem on the train to Maastricht. When we arrived in the city, we immediately walked straight to the dam of Borgharen. A few months earlier in April, I had been packrafting the river already at low water levels starting from this same spot. Now when we descended to the river just downstream of the dam, I became a little shocked by what I saw. The water level stood 1.3m higher than last time! It must have been increasing very rapidly during the last hour. After lunch we threw our packraft in the water and immediately floated downstream in the faster current.
After some time we arrived at the mouth of the small tributary Geul and fought ourself upstream on foot through the debouching rapid. The river was only 3 to 4m wide, ideal to have some fun in the final rapid and a good exercise in ferrying through the narrow rapid for Willem.
Back on the Maas we paddled till the bigger rapids (though still PR2) near the village of Meers and looked for a bivouac spot on the riverside. Next day we continued till Maaseik while further enjoying the rapids and the fast flow at the outer bends of the river. The rapids didn’t look exactly the same as the time before due to the much higher discharge. Some became a bit tougher but most of them looked more fluent now. Still it remained a lot of fun and luckily Willem didn’t fell out of his packraft because my friend didn’t yet found a fitting PFD for himself. Next time from Maastricht to Maaseik at bank full discharge in a half day? Sounds like possible.