Early Spring in London is a season for celebration, congratulations you’ve managed to survive the long dark and inevitably wet winter and it’s time to get ready for some glorious sunshine! This spring one of my best friends took the plunge and proposed to his better half. It was an incredibly romantic proposal and needless to say she accepted! While you may be interested in the amorous details, what happened really was incredible, I was more concerned with the bachelor party.
My friend is a rather classy individual so his final weekend of independence was celebrated in the south of France. We found a mansion for rent, that could accommodate 16 thirsty gents, in the historic city of Beziers. Step one was to divest the local super market of it’s under priced overly delicious regional french wine. The night was a long one of liquid indulgence and storytelling.
The next morning I was rudely awoken from a deep red wine induced slumber. Apparently it was time for the first of the days activities. Canyoning! The exclamation mark is used here with some irony, because my disposition at the time was far from ecstatic.
That being said, what better way is there to escape a hangover than hiking through mountainous forest and splashing around in the freezing glacial melt water?
We clambered to the head of a river located at the top of a long beautiful wooded valley. Our overly tattooed and far too muscular guide smiled ominously as he innocently asked “Vous les gars sont prêts à commencer?”. I was literally and metaphorically thrown into the deep end. The only way to get into the river was a 12 meter drop into angry frothing white water. I looked up at the guide, was this some kind of amusing joke? I expected him to say “just kidding” but his smile had become worryingly serious. 12 meters is around about the equivalent of being three floors from the ground. Peering over the precipice my head swirled with a horrendous mixture of fear and hungover self pity. Jumping to my death was really not what I felt like doing.
The instructor pointed to my left and said, “Don’t jump there it’s rocky, and keep your arms tucked in so you don’t hit the side on the way down.”. I felt far from reassured that taking this jump was a wise life decision. But hell, what else was I going to do?
Feet at the edge of the rock, my body screamed for me to step back I bent my knees, held in my pee, and jumped.
Unlike storybooks the fall did not last forever, almost instantaneously I felt my body smack into the water. I landed hard and the water ice cold. Panic gripped me as I sank down to the bottom my left leg banging against a rock, I kicked and spluttered reaching the surface and gasping for air.
Light returned to the world and I heard the guys cheering, adrenaline coursed through my body and I could feel my heart pumping wildly. A huge smile spread over my face as I thought, hot damn that was awesome.
For the next three hours we continued to plunge from absurd nights, slide down water falls and at point serenely float along the river.
By the third hour my fingers were getting numb and my energy levels were low. We had reached a large waterfall and the guide had gone ahead to see what the best direction to take would be. He returned crest fallen and explained there wasn’t enough melt water to safely jump. We were going to have to rappel down the side of this waterfall. I’m not a particularly avid climber and my rappel experience was a firm zero. I felt like this hurdle was going to defeat me, could I trust my numb fingers not to slip on the rope? After all the jumping was I about to fall to my doom?
After a 23 second safety demonstration I was strapped to the rope and standing on the edge, the instructor urged me to trust the rope and lean back. My exhausted adrenaline reserves gave me their last as I leaned back and placed my faith in the rope, my numb fingers, and the incomprehensible French instructions. This time getting down did feel like eternity, I slowly edged my way inch by inch clinging to the rope for dear life.
When I reached the bottom my fears worsened, my foot started to get tangled in the rope and I had no idea how to unhook myself. The waterfall beside me roared and sprayed me with ice cold foam. As I started to submerge myself in the pool the current from the waterfall began to pull me down, towards the heart of the white water. I freaked out. Wriggling madly I managed to free my leg and pull the rope from the harness. Kicking against the water as if it was a rabid dog I made a beeline to shallows and survival!
I can testify that canyoning is indeed a hangover cure, however it may be an experience better enjoyed without a hangover and with an english speaking guide. Preferibly one that has not recently escaped from an insane asylum. I would also seriously consider taking some energy bars, all said and done we spent 2 hours hiking and 3 in the water by the end I was more than ready to eat! My biggest regret from this trip was not having a GoPro because it would have captured some amazing footage, but maybe that’s a good excuse for me to go canyoning again in the near future!