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What’s not to love about Italy? Delicious food, friendly people, and great cappuccino. Well add to that spectacular scenery, incredible whitewater, and little driving and you have Val Sesia. I had heard of the this area for kayaking for some time, but it was not until my trip there last week with Juerg and his buddies, Lars, Gary, and Jannick that I got a real taste of how great it is. Let me also add that we were car camping and stayed in Juerg’s car at campgrounds and various other parking/sleeping locations which was also really easy.

We began our journey in Switzerland and drove first to a beautiful and fun creek called the San Giovanni. It began to rain on the way over the pass and the forecast was for lots of rain. Once we arrived at the San Giovani, we met nearly 40 German paddlers – I was totally amazed and thought are all these people paddling down right now? As it turned out, they were there doing a safety course – very lucky for us as we put on quickly and had the river all to ourselves. Juerg and Lars lead the way down and gave me very good instructions as we paddled down. Even though we were making good time, the river level was coming up quick making things a bit pushy with all the rain so we paddled about half way down and took out. The part of this river that I did see included some nice drops and good rapids, and it was incredibly beautiful and friendly – I am looking forward to going back there – soon I hope.

From there in the pouring rain, we headed to the nearest town for a drink – nothing like Italian cappuccino! There is a difference and I have to say that everywhere we went had great coffee – and cheap too. Anywhere from 1.10 – 1.30 Euros compared to 4 – 5 Swiss Francs. After our stop, we drove by a small lake, over another pass, and down into the town of Varallo, right next to the Sesia river. Varallo is an incredibly pretty and charming town that has both the Mastallone River and the Sesia River running through it and next to it. It is also home to a very famous abbey that you can get to either on foot or by cable car – in fact, it actually boasts Europe’s steepest cable car to get to the abbey. Lots of people come to visit Varallo and it has some delicious restaurants, fun bars, cute shops and gorgeous architecture. We had dinner at a pizzeria that overlooked the Mastallone River and we could see the river slowly rising as we ate! The food was good and cheap and after dinner we went to car camp in Lars’ s favorite camping site across the street from the local disco. Luckily for us it was Monday and not a party night. It poured rain all night and when we woke up in the morning it was still raining. The surrounding mountainsides were dotted with numerous waterfalls and everything was intensely green.

After our first cappuccino, we decided to go look at a section of the Sesia to run, as everything else was quite high. We picked a fun big water section from below the Balmucchia rapid that ran to Varallo. And we took out just above a large weir. It was a big fun run with some big waves, holes, and eddylines, sort of like a cross between the Nile and Futaleufu. We even found some cool play spots just near our take out. Since it was still raining with no sign of anything letting up, we decided to go have a look at some creeks and other rivers just to see what they looked like. Lars took us high up close to the top of the Mastallone. It was incredibly steep and remote though there were small towns up high in the mountains. Apparently, much of the area was part of the resistance in the Second World War and home to a culture of people known as the Walsers who still exist today and speak a Germanic language. This area certainly looked like a good place to hide out! After exploring to the end of the road, we decided that we would run a section of the Mastallone the next day even though we figured it would be pretty high.

The next morning, it was still raining but not as much and we got ourselves ready to run that section of the mastellone. It certainly started off quickly and there was plenty of water to help move things along. The rapids were quite continuous and wide open though the riverbed is much smaller than the Sesia. It was a fun and action packed run. Since we enjoyed the run so much, we decided to do it a second time. On our way up, we met a very nice German man named Michael who was travelling with his dog Milly and paddling in the area as he had done for the last 25 years! It turns out that he is 63 and was president of the AKC in Germany for many years. As he was explaining to me, kayaking is his life and even though most of his friends have either died or stopped paddling or are only paddling class II, he wants to continue. He knew about every river in the area and had run just about everything during his life. We all headed up to the put in and began our paddle down. Michael was a really good paddler and he was so excited to be on the river! It was really fun to share that paddle with him. Since he works as a personal chef, he can make his own schedule and every year he takes April, May and June off to paddle. I have to say it was a great inspiration to meet Michael and see him action. I hope I will get to paddle with him on another river soon. As we reached the bottom of the run, the sun just started to peak through the clouds and we had our first hint that the weather might be changing. Once the sun came out, everything was even more beautiful than in had been in the rain.
We said good-bye to Michael and went back to Varallo for dinner and to meet Gary.