Get Aboard the Totem Adventure Rafting ExpressAurelien Sudan (backup)
It’s 9am on a sunny Sunday morning in Pré-Saint-Didier. While the old locals gather to attend the weekly ceremony at the local Catholic Church, another ritual takes place at the Totem Adventure Base. Mont Blanc greets us with all its beauty, wishing us luck on this gorgeous day. Here I am, grabbing one last coffee with the Totem Adventure family. As for today, I will not be taking rafting pictures. I will be getting my first whitewater experience.
Shortly, clients arrive and the debriefing starts. “Today will be my first whitewater experience” I keep repeating to myself. I’m anxious. I am used to adrenaline sports, but the river always scared me. A new fluid to navigate through, the fear of the unknown. And the Dora Baltea looks strong. One of the strongest in the Alps, nothing less. Today, we will be going through the fastest rapids starting in Champex. Rated up to Class 4+ I hear. I try not to get ahead of myself and stay in the present, focused on grasping everything I can from the safety briefing given by Miguel and Racchetta, long time rafting guides at Totem Adventure.
Following the safety briefing, we immerse ourselves in the freezing water of the Dora Baltea, which flows naturally from the Mont Blanc Glacier, a few kilometers above. We all grab our positions, breathe deeply one last time and off we go. The fast river stream quickly picks us up, and we soon approach the first rapids. “- Sul Fondo”! screams Miguel, our guide. We oblige. Noone in their own right mind would want to get bucked off the raft in this technical section.
Soon after “Patata” (one of the initial technical rapids), things calm down a little, and my initial river experience becomes less overwhelming. I can start to understand why the guides love it so much. The water, albeit its close to zero temperature doesn’t even feel cold anymore. I’m breathing freely and I can feel my zygomatic muscles pulling on the sides of my face. Must be the adrenaline.
The descent from Champex to the dam lasts about 40 minutes, alternating between rapid sections and calmer parts. A perfect pace, allowing everyone to catch their breath and stare at the incredible surrounding landscape before refocusing on the task. Bliss. I learn that team spirit is essential in Rafting. The guides at Totem Adventure have been guiding on rivers all over the globe and knows this too well. Safety comes from efficient group dynamics and coordinated efforts.
As we approach the final part of the river, I realize that my fear of the whitewater is gone, giving room to a greater appreciation and respect for this powerful medium. Navigation on the river doesn’t come without risks. Just like in any mountain sport, the risk can be reduced by the use of appropriate gear, fitness, group effort and an experienced guide who knows the region well.
Finding the best line in the river is an art that needs to be learned I hear, and the Dora Baltea contains its share of secrets. I look forward to unveiling a few of these secrets myself on my next river experience. For this isn’t my last time going in the whitewater. Who knows, maybe on a tandem kayak next time?