July 29, 2019
Adventure Report: Isar River, Austria
The Karwendel is a huge mountain area within the Austrian Alps that features 125 summits over 2000 m (6561 feet). It is an area to find your inner peace and to connect to nature whether you are hiking, biking or climbing in this area.
Just at the western borders of the Karwendel, in one of those beautiful valleys, hides a whitewater SUP jewel: the first few kilometers of the young river Isar. Clear spring water, a breathtaking mountain scenery, peaceful nature, and class III rapids make this section of the Isar my favorite whitewater playground. Unfortunately, the Isar – in this early stage of its life – is very dependent on the yearly thaw and, therefore, time on the river is limited. This year, Tuyen Nguyen and I timed it perfectly and scored a beautiful day on the Isar.
As we drove to the section we planned on running, we hoped to be the only paddlers to take on the whitewater since it was during the middle of a week. While masses of bikers and hikers prepared their equipment, no other paddlers were in sight! Our anticipation grew and we got our Hala boards inflated in no time. As Tuyen was on the small Atcha 86 and I was on the big Atcha 96, we were the perfect partners in crime. People were very curious and skeptical about our endeavors as we inflated our boards in the parking lot. As experienced whitewater stand up paddlers, we were familiar with people being unfamiliar. Regardless, we kept on and prepared for the upcoming class III rapids.
To get to the put in, you have to call a local taxi company, since the entrance to the Hinterautal is restricted for environmental protection reasons. At least while getting up to the entry of this section, we were sheltered of curious looks, but as soon we got out of the big taxi van, the whole Hinterautal stood still and gazed. As a big hiking and mountain biking path just goes by at the entry point, every outdoor enthusiast got a perfect view on us getting our boards in the water. Since whitewater SUP is still very small and unpopular in Germany, we were the biggest attraction that day. Bikers stopped to take pictures, hikers sat down and kids touched our boards to see what on what futuristic gear we intended to paddle down the river.
We hurried up a little to get away from this crowd and as soon as we stood up on our boards and got around the first corner of the Isar, we were all by ourselves. Just the river, nature, the landscape, and the perfect sunny weather.
The water was running fast but easy on the first few meters but things got harder quickly after that. The roaring sound of water rushing through a cataract got louder and louder and the river began to turn turbulent. We found a safe eddy, secured our Atchas, and scouted the upcoming obstacles. What we found was a fast, long and shallow Class III cataract with loads of stones poking through the surface. Clean lines would be essential...otherwise dangerous falls or catapults would be unavoidable. Being confident about our abilities and our excellent gear, we tried and made it through one at a time while the other one acted as safety.
Going through a Class III cataract for more than 300 meters is physically and mentally challenging. Luckily calm waters and another perfect view of the surrounding mountains afterward were the perfect contrast. However, we were not here for a smooth paddling but a challenging river and just a few minutes after, the Isar delivered again.
The river got even narrower and the forest got thicker and thicker. The landscape disappeared behind it and as we were paddling into this green forest canyon, the Isar got wilder again. Without any eddies, we had to take on the Class III challenges inside this canyon in one rush. Stopping or failing was not an option and even though this section demanded my whole concentration, I still felt this beautiful nature around as with every nerve cell I have.
Rushing down the river without any break brought us to the absolute highlight of this tour: the Isar canyon. High rock cliffs on both side and a narrow river bed offered breathtaking scenery and a gnarly class III step on the beginning of the canyon. All of this proved the unyielding yet prepossessing power of nature. In the progress of the canyon, the river got calm again and we took one last glance before leaving this short but majestic canyon.
The landscape widened up again and new summits came into view. Cows roamed around the river shore freely and inspected us skeptically. After more than two and a half hours after fleeing the crowd, we got entered into civilization and could see bikers and hikers along the last mile of the Isar. The take-out is along a wide riverbed with white and grey gravel, which looks a lot like Canadian rivers.
This tour has all. It is what whitewater SUP is all about for me: a breathtaking landscape, majestic nature, crystal clear water, and challenging rapids.
Tobias Risch is a Hala Gear International Ambassador.