Just too special - Simon Westgarth

This past spring would have been my 21st paddling season in Valsesia.
Why come back year in year out? Valsesia is just too special.

In 1999 I pulled into Campertogno with a crew of all star Americans, Dan Gavere, Erik Southwick, Tanya Shuman Long and Sam Drevo, set to join Francesco Salvato for a freestyle event on the Sesia River. During that week of low water, we hit some great highlights, laps down over Mollia and into the Sermenza Canyon. The perfect boulder garden white water and granite slides were the initial attraction. And yet every place we went was like a postcard of mountain village culture, amazing architecture, beautifully cut granite blocks and often wizened people making their livelihoods cutting wood, tending crops and herding goats. Valsesia was and still very much is a place of continued fascination and beauty.

In those early years, the valley had clearly been in decline for a while, many empty houses, bordered up shops and deserted industrial premises. Over generations, it appeared that the young people had moved out to the cities beyond the valley for jobs, leaving those left behind with much toil to keep the farming ways alive. During these past 20 years, the coming of high speed internet and mobile communications, has turned the tide with both youthful zeal and incoming investment changing the valley. New buildings often in the Walser style are built, others renovated and innovative tourism is increasingly on offer. There are many delightful local products on sale, the tastes are incredible.

Valsesia is an intoxicating place to enjoy slowly.

Over the years, amoungst running all the classic white water sections, fabled drops with fine lines, I interestingly find new places to enjoy, weekend restaurants, crowded village square bars and hidden trails to explore. There is always more to see, more to enjoy and more to do. These days I paddle in the day, and go biking in the evening during my month long stays in Valsesia. So often these bike rides take myself into the Sorba Valley, high up above the classic slides in the village in Rassa. The traverse from Alpe Pizzo to Alpe Sorbella high up above the tree line in Valsorba, and then descent down to the Sorba River and Rassa beyond, is my new classic bike ride, a of pristine alpine valley.

Much of the reason I keep returning to Valsesia, is for my work with Gene17Kayaking. This is the coaching and guiding of paddler’s whom come from all over the world to enjoy the delights of the white water, the cultural interactions and incredible hospitality. When we take people on the Gronda & Sorba, an absolute highlight of their trip, their first sight of the Gronda looking up from Rassa, with it’s classic roman bridge framing a seemingly endless cascade of drops with imposing mountains and a lush wooded valley as a back drop is always jaw dropping. Whether they recognise the iconic location from videos or they simply can not believe such a place exists, the sheer joy experienced and shared when running through this wonderland of white water is always rewarding and inspiring.

There have always been rumours that some municipalities are planning micro hydro projects, and yet when I heard that Rassa was proposing this project, my first thoughts where, "do they not know what they have?”.

The fight for free flowing rivers is real, in another popular spot, Sjoa in Norway, a few years back we lost the Rosten Canyon on the Lågen River, which is now completely dewatered outside spring snow melt flooding.

At the same time, another dam was proposed on the Otta River, a local popular rafting run, opposition was understandably driven by rafting operators, with all the focus was on this proposal. So some how the Lågen project proposal slipped through uncontested, this big drop canyon run, is sadly missed, especially in late season and of a summer evening.

I would not wish a similar outcome for the Sorba.
So Save the Sorba, stay vigilant and focused on helping where you can.

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