Idrija – A Hidden Run in Western Slovenia

Rainy November days in Slovenia… Most people seem to not enjoy this time of the year too much. Us kayakers are a bit special. For me, the best part of realizing that I was going to spend this fall back home was the expectation of this wet weather. Idrija is a creek on the border of Slovenia and Italy that needs a lot of rain to become runnable for kayakers. Not many people know of its existence but it is only one of many little streams in the area that bring so much joy to us kayakers. Locals like to swim in Idrija in the summer but when the water rises it turns into a roller-coaster-like kayak run through a beautiful forest. I only had a chance to run it once before and I didn’t know I was going to run it this time until a morning phone call to my buddy who lives close to it, on the day we ran it. That is how unreliable it is and I feel very lucky to have been able to enjoy it again.

I recently spoke to someone about a flood of poorly edited GoPro videos on the internet these days. I am guilty of putting some of those on the interweb myself. I am not sorry for that, instead, I am sorry for a lot more footage that is lost somewhere in my old hard drive collection. You see, before the boom of small action cameras, these experiences would have been reserved only for people, who get to go there. Nowadays, when someone wants to look a river up on the internet, they get to see it through our (kayakers’) eyes. They get to see the beauty of the landscape and experiences these special places provide for us. If by doing this, you end up “educating” someone new about the exceptionality of these places, maybe hydropower is not the only value our future generations will see in them.

Please enjoy my “poorly edited” footage from Idrija. It has a lot of value for me and I hope you get to visit it one day as well.

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When passion returns: From Canada to The Balkans

I seem to have a talent of organizing my schedule so I maintain a constant level of stress. Or maybe I simply have a talent of stressing out. Constant moving, hard work and FOMO-driven play time sometimes leave me feeling drained. Is this bad form of stress a natural consequence of leading a busy life, do I simply stress too much about things I need not to (and can I push a button to turn it off?), or have I pushed my agenda too far beyond what I really want and need in my life? The elusive answer seems to have become clearer after I found my ambitious plans fall apart and life brought me home to Slovenia for a longer period of time. No set plan or job, just time to rest and let myself go with the flow. The latter required learning to listen to me better and to resist an urge to panic.

Slovenia in the fall

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Oh Slovenia, there are so many memories and emotions that connect me to this land. The urge to panic because of unsure future quickly subsided to a simple joy of coming home. It is comforting to have this option and I feel grateful for it. It actually did feel like pressing a reset button that gave me time to think and relate to myself better. Sure, rivers are my passion and paddling my favorite home runs once again makes me happy. But my passion is also the land and so are the people. Kayaking a river isn’t a plain person to nature experience but it comes with a sentiment. Rivers come with a myth, a meaning constructed by its appearance, stories about it, history, and hence value they carry for the people connected to them. Experiencing a river, that has in the past provided entertainment and a learning ground again and again, truly arouses my emotions. That is what makes it priceless for me: All the rapids that made me challenge myself and improve my skills, all the experiences I have shared with my friends, and the beauty of one of a kind surroundings that made me value untouched nature so highly. It all connects into a story of immense personal value. For me, into a story of my personal growth and experiencing feelings of being alive and happy.

I have been following the Balkan Rivers Tour from the distant British Columbia. This project excited my interest and made me wish I was a part of it. It aims to protect Balkan rivers, their fragile ecosystems, and help local people who too often find their voices bare no weight in a “debate” about the future of their own living space. There seems to be a fire sale of rivers in the Balkans, with no real consideration of eco impact, local communities, local laws, or standards of EU, where a lot of investors come from. People behind the legal entities exploiting the loose transitioning countries’ law and order see these rivers as unused potential. Potential not only for producing power but more so to make money, that is money that no average local will ever see. Since I came back to Slovenia I have been fortunate enough to accompany the Balkan Rivers Tour’s mastermind Rok Rozman to Bosnia and Albania. I could see, with my own eyes, the projects in various stages of development and the pain of local communities that have their home land and rivers invaded by construction workers and machinery backed up by politics that they feel powerless fighting against.

Vjosa Valley in Albania

One of the biggest conservation actions in Europe is happening here. Vjosa is a last completely free flowing river in Europe (outside Russia). Unfortunately, that can’t be said for all of its tributaries anymore. We got introduced to the river, landscape and people living here by Rok Rozman. Read more about Vjosa and what is at stake here.

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I see a lot of skepticism and implications that activism against hydropower is an oil industry conspiracy. Rejection as a conspiracy is very dangerous as most people will not look past this point to search for arguments. Such rhetoric is what gives a lot of power to hydro benefiters, no matter their intentions. If you look deeper into the problem, you will discover how new hydro projects these days are often no more than a story of greed, corruption and no respect for nature and people’s rights. It is not OK that rivers are only seen as commodities, it is not OK that locals have almost no say in the matter and it is not OK that the law too often takes side with the money. It is also not OK that our descendants won’t get to experience the beauty of a free-flowing and healthy river in a way it was left for us.

Rok made an interesting point to me. He says that he is not there to defend their rivers instead of the locals. The strategy of the Balkan Rivers Tour is to let these people know that they are not alone in fighting for their cause, to let them know that it is a just cause and also to connect them with each other. Instead of being rejected as an outsider, often derogatorily seen as a nature lover that is against any form of “development”, someone who will always put nature before people, he can thus highlight all the specific concerns that are different for each project by amplifying voices of the people who get affected.

I like to look at this problem from my perspective as s kayaker. There are rivers that not many others but kayakers care about. Us kayakers often feel like the “recreation value” isn’t a big enough reason to stand against the interest of general public. It took me a lot of time to question this guilt that I carry as well. When asked why I fight for a certain river, I would often seek for other reasons than my own selfish one, to keep it good for kayaking. But even without knowing all the other issues about the problem, I am learning that my needs are a worthy reason to fight for them. I am guessing that if you aren’t a kayaker it is hard to imagine the great story each river provides for us. And even if you weigh advantages against disadvantages of diverting most of the flow of a river far away from the eyes and sentiments of general public, us kayaker have a right to fight for the value these sections might have for us – also because it isn’t only about us, it is also about the people coming after us. I wish for my kids to be able to experience these treasures of nature untouched.

I am passionate about the rivers. An idea of damming rivers like some of my favorites, the Učja in Slovenia or Callaghan Creek in BC anger me. I am going to fight for them to remain untouched. I am local in these areas and keeping these rivers free flowing has immense value for me. I have a right to be vocal about it and I have a right to be heard. And so does everyone else that finds personal value in keeping a certain river untouched! If people manage to extend their love and support for rivers beyond their local area, then even better. Showing support for each other makes us stronger. Thank you Rok and all Balkan Rivers Tour contributors for being passionate and reminding me of my passion. In the end, stress does not feel negative at all, as long as your mission is in line with your true self.

Balkan Rivers Tour needs help finishing their full-length film that will give voice to the many local communities in the Balkans and hopefully inspire more like minded people and projects around the globe. Check their website http://www.balkanriverstour.com/ for more information and donation. Anything helps, even just sharing the word.

In solidarity with Standing Rock!

Action for Unac and Una in Bosnia

It has been years since I’ve been to Bosnia. I was beyond stoked when I got an invitation to join an action in support of local communities fighting for their rivers to remain free flowing. Some of the proposed projects are beyond senseless with little or no regard, not only for natural but also for the cultural heritage of the area.

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Rutherford Creek in BC

This year was my fourth season in this area and the first time I got a chance to kayak this legendary river, formerly a must stop for kayakers. Most of the time it is almost dry due to a run-of-river project. It is unbelievable that they built a slalom course as a substitute for kayakers. How ironic, how sad.

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Making the Best of Life Lessons

Scouting the Lower Cheakamus with Mount Alpha in the back

Scouting the Lower Cheakamus with Mount Alpha in the back

My second season living as a raft guide in BC was kind of same, same. I moved to Whistler instead of Squamish to be closer to The Cheakamus and the Callaghan, while I still worked in Squamish, but other than that, not much changed. Big mountains, cold rivers, insanely fun rapids, wood in the river, short kayaking trips to the USA, a lot of good times with crazy friends, a lot of work, epic scenery, insanely long drives that don’t feel that long anymore, annoying gravel roads, my dog Pipi and a lot of kayaking. And an overwhelming amount of it. It sounds crazy but it can get too stressful when there are so much fun things to do around. I find it hard to organize well and just want to do it all at the same time and I couldn’t have done it without help of my lovely and far less messy girlfriend Ana and our freaky roommates and friends. Continue reading

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A short but sweet kayakin trip to Colombia

Andrej Bijuklic in a Suarez canyon

Andrej Bijuklic in a Suarez canyon

Our van from the outside

Colourful Bogota alley

Colourful Bogota alley

There is something about kayaking being such a big part of my identity that is making me have a very ambiguous relationship to winter. I’m spending this northern hemisphere winter in Whistler and while most people here can’t wait to do an annual (seasonal sports) transition, I find myself having trouble letting go of kayaking, even though I really love snow and skiing. It starts getting better fast for me after New Year and I soon find myself back in the boat, even though it is cold, but the end of the year is also characterised by very short days, low water levels and low (kayaking) motivation.  Hence I tend to break the winter down by traveling somewhere warm and sunny. I have been doing it each year for the last 7 years, give or take, except for the last winter. I spend the whole last winter in Slovenia and I had an awesome time skiing most of the days. I still found myself feeling a bit incomplete after the season for not pursuing my annual kayaking migration. I wasn’t going to do the same mistake again this year. Continue reading

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RAFTING JOB IN A KAYAKING PARADISE

Squamish Sunset

Squamish landscape

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As the saying says, British Columbia provides. It is one of world’s best destinations for kayaking and the season here is extra long. But when I think about what I remember the most about the last five months that I spent in BC I must say the beautiful wild nature. When I went to work, when I went kayaking and when I got back home I was always surrounded by magnificent glacier covered mountains, dense forest, clean creeks and lots of wild animals. You don’t even have to go out of towns like Squamish or Whistler to see a bear, coyote or a Bald Eagle.  All this beauty was the first thing to comfort me when I first arrived to Squamish. I had just spent a month of kayaking in warm cloudless spring weather before that and as soon as I got to Squamish it started to rain. I had no car, no kayaking crew, it was cold outside and it made me start to wonder what I was doing there. A kayaker without a car in BC isn’t much of a kayaker. But after a week or two I bought a car, made some new friends and started to realise that I was living in paradise.

A raft guiding and safety kayaking job on the Elaho and Cheakamus rivers kept me busy through most of the days but unlike most similar jobs we always finished working before 16.30, which meant I had enough time to go kayaking after work. The Callaghan River is normally the best option for after work run in springtime and early summer. It is an amazing mix of class 4-5 rapids and some fun waterfalls, a truly great home run if you live in the area. Unfortunately it is under threat for a hydro power plant diversion. You can read more about the issue in a blog I published at my Palm Blog page.

Continue reading

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Good things in life (my time in White Salmon)

The Columbia Gorge

The Columbia Gorge

I know you shouldn’t look back too much, but I do miss living in Bovec. I miss the great view out of my window, I miss knowing most of the town and the privilege of kayaking Soča River whenever I felt like it, even if I was alone. I am currently caught in the chaos of adjusting into life and work in Squamish.  Buying a phone, a car and just getting to work is all making me trouble.  So I sometimes drift and think about the past month. I wrote about the incredibly good time I had in Bovec in my Palm blog (LINK). But I guess all of that stuff is necessary evil anywhere you go for a longer term, so I’m going to stop complaining and write more about the amazing time I had in White Salmon.

The transition to North America couldn’t have been smoother, I felt like I came to paradise from paradise. Almost two weeks of great weather and water levels in Slovenia were topped by two weeks of cloudless happy time in Columbia Gorge. I like those trips when you just travel from one river to another almost every day, but it feels like I got so much more out of staying in White Salmon for more than two weeks straight. And it is all due to my friend Max Blackburn and the amazing local kayaking community. I met Max in 2011 in Chile, where we became kayaking, dinner and party buddies.  This time he took a father role and did an amazing job of showing me around. He took me to the prettiest and the dirtiest of the area and introduced me to so many good people, that I spent a good time of my first few days trying to memorise all of their names. Living in a scenic place has its advantages, but I guess it really is people what’s most important. And I met some of the most polite and friendly people there in general. Not to mention the biggest top class kayaking community I’ve met anywhere before.  Most of these aren’t originally from the area though, they came to live there from all over the USA and there’s a good reason for that.

OK, the landscape is stunning, the people are awesome, but what about the kayaking? In more than two weeks of living there I didn’t feel a need to do anything else than the two jewels of the area. Little White Salmon is pure magic, it seems like a river out of a fairy tale and it’s a must do for everyone who’s passionate about extreme kayaking and extreme nature beauty. White Salmon River offers, on the other hand, a bit of a walk on the dark side, if you dare. Big water Farmlands and the Green Truss sections are full of dangerous big rapids, packed into a narrow, wood infested gorge. There’s not much place for an error and you especially don’t want to swim on the biggest of the rapids there.  Each time I did the Green Truss it felt like a committing and daring mission.

Spirit Falls rail grab - I love this move. A tribute to the time before "Brown".

Spirit Falls rail grab – I love this move. A tribute to the time before “Brown”.

Continue reading

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Soča Valley Extreme Kayaking: Soča Katarakt, Lower Tolminka and Učja

Soča Katarakt is an extreme kayaking classic. With swift development of kayaking in the recent years, this section doesn’t present a demanding run for a contemporary high-end kayaker, but it is still notorious and feared for its numerous dangerous siphons.
The Katarakt video was shot in November 2012, right after some of the biggest floods this valley has had in the last century. This section has been known to change often after the floods or avalanches and so it has changed in November. Those who know the section might notice some new lines and even rapids in this video, while the changes are more evident in the low water.
There are numerous Soča tributaries and near-by rivers in the area, but most are only runnable by kayak after heavy rain. Tolminka and Učja are the most beautiful and also most demanding ones. They are long, dangerous and especially Tolminka is in some parts only less than a meter wide. Both of these descents were shot in 2011, probably at a record-high water level. I ran out of batteries at about a half of Tolminka descent, so the narrowest and most breath-taking part, the Tolminka Gorge, isn’t in the video. There is, however, something what could be called a bonus shot. At one point we ran into a complete tree blockade of one of its gorges, which demonstrates how dangerous descents after heavy rain can be. I only hardly stopped before running into it (and probably into my death), thanks to the last second warning of my mates. We improvised to get over the obstacle, which probably wasn’t the smartest idea, as we didn’t know what waited for us behind it, knowing that we had to go one by one, with some of us having to swim through the gorge. Luckily, we all made it through.

All the music has been made by Slovenian artists listed below and I don’t hold any rights to it. If you like the music, check the artists’ other work.

Thanks to all the buddies for some of the best times I have ever had!
Thanks to all the sponsors for keeping me well equipped and making it overall possible!

EDIT: Andraž Krpič

KAYAKERS: Andraž Krpič, Andrej Bijuklič, Jernej Mlekuž, Igor Kozorog, Igor Mlekuž.

MUSIC:
*MELODROM — Counting Days (Raingarden rmx)
*GRAMATIK — Muse – Knights Of Cydonia (Remix)
*GRAMATIK — Born Ready
*TIDE — Evolution

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Adidas Sickline by Tony Demarco

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Sickline by Tony Demarco 3Sickline by Tony Demarco 6
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Učja kayaking

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Učja kayaking, a set on Flickr.

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Wellerbrucke before Sickline

Here’s a short slo-mo video I made of the Wellerbrucke a few days before the Adidas Sickline competition. The waterlevel is high this year and the changes to the course have made the run more demanding but more fun as well. Especially the hole before the Champion killer is fun to stay at as it offers some great quality carnage. You can see Eric Jackson getting stuck in it in the middle of the video. Enjoy!

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