Extreme Kayaking in Corsica: The French Connection

Corsica, the fourth-largest island in the Mediterranean, is a stone massif with towering peaks laced with a network of deep, rocky gorges. For a brief three-to-six week period in March and April, snowmelt run-off explodes down the steep gorges, creating the ultimate destination for any extreme kayaker. The powerful runoff drains down narrow, twisting chutes marked by intense vertical drops. While the Corsican whitewater season is short, the rocky island offers some of the world's most extreme whitewater—demanding technical runs in the Class V-VI range and some of the wildest waterfalls anywhere. However, Corsica's larger rivers, including the Gravona, Tavignano, and Golo, also boast numerous less-hazardous Class III to VI+ runs that still pack plenty of whitewater punch.
The Gravona, in eastern Corsica, is a long run, replete with intricate Class III-V boulder fields, runnable waterfalls, and some Class VI drops that only a handful of paddlers in the world can negotiate. Beginning as an easy Class I-II float through alpine pastures, the Gravona soon steepens and gathers speed as the water moves through a maze of rounded boulders; scraping against rocks is a constant hazard here. The Gravona continues with several of miles of Class III-IV whitewater, but expect to spend some time scouting the major rapids to plan a descent or takeout if you should choose to portage. There are many other runs similar to the Gravona, including the nearby Golo with countless Class IIIs and a swift current even during low water.

The Travignano or "Travo," a classic Corsican river, features nearly continuous Class III whitewater through beautiful narrow canyons in the island's bedrock. The upper reaches are particularly tight, sometimes no more than a boat length in width. Dropping to the Travo's lower reaches you will find an intricate network of narrow channels through boulder fields and more Class III-IV rapids.
For the ultimate in extreme boating, the Fium Orbo delivers solid Class V-VI action. It begins as a modest, narrow creek flowing through chutes as narrow as one meter. As the river steepens, it makes several tight bends producing turbulent rapids and powerful eddies. Here you'll find waterfalls that have attracted top paddlers from around the world. On some of these cascades water pours out of the top like a pitcher and the paddler becomes airborne, riding a plume of water before plunging into the roiling waters below. While vertical drops of three to four meters can be negotiated safely by most advanced paddlers, the Fium Orbo has several pitcher-style drops of 7-10 meters that should only be attempted by the most skilled and fearless paddlers. Such vertical drops give the rivers of Corsica some of the steepest gradients of any runnable whitewater rivers in the world. Still, while Corsica has earned its whitewater reputation for such dramatic runs, there are still plenty of opportunities for experienced paddlers to enjoy other, less-demanding runs on this exotic island.
Practically Speaking
There are several outfitters in Corsica that offer kayak rentals (about $40 day) and guided tours along the island's rivers are available (starting at around $70 a day). Week-long package trips are also available and include equipment, rentals, and lodging (around $750 a week). Some U.S.-based outfitters offer guided trips to the island as well.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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