Peace, Thrills and Hijinks on the Trebbia River.
On a wet Sunday morning in May, in a canyon just beyond Bobbio, Italy, a group of rafters and their guide gathered for a descent down the Alta Val Trebbia (High Trebbia Valley). Snug in Smurf blue wetsuits, they laughed and joked with one another about the journey at hand. Then the guide pointed towards the river, setting the novice team into motion. I’d been lost in a series of flashbacks throughout these conversations, flipping back through my whitewater experiences of the past 25 years–the cold water quickly snapped me back to reality though.
After practicing some maneuvers in a placid pool, we paddled into the first rapid. By whitewater standards the Trebbia is fairly tame, consisting of only Class I and II rapids. A tributary of Northern Italy’s river Po, the cold water that cuts through the Trebbia’s limestone valley begins 70 miles away in the Ligurian Apennines. By May, the river’s water levels are pretty low but the rapids still churn enough to produce a thrill akin to a carnival ride.
Floating down the Alta Val Trebbia shed a different light on the valley than the one I saw from the curled highway above. At water level, the Trebbia lives at its own pace. Trees color the steep tributary walls in deep greens, and birds sing backup to the rhythm of the river. We were engulfed in sound; yet, somehow, it was more quiet than an elementary school in summer. In between this tranquility, we faced the challenges that the river threw at us–finger numbing troughs, turbulent eddys and protruding boulders. Our biggest obstacle, however, lurked just around the last bend.
We were well prepared for the encounter with the tunnel. But that’s not saying much. Because until you go into a pitch-black cauldron of whitewater, you really don’t know how you are going to react. Our guide told us before entering the cavernous tunnel to get down on the raft floor if things got too intense. Some got low from the start, while a few of us, myself included, battled the schizophrenic rapids head on.
The long rock tube of whitewater turned the heavy raft into a raging bull that bucked harder the darker it got. The tunnel, which had been created years ago to circumvent a now shuttered dam, had all the makings of an amusement park ride, except this was no Disney Land and there was no Mickey Mouse. We paddled hard through the black, finally reaching daylight again and a large deep pool that held its own surprise: a perfect ledge to jump from.
After flailing ourselves off the rock ledge a few times, we polished off one more rapid before calling it a day. On the van ride back to Sports In Open Spaces, we laughed and recounted stories from our whitewater excursion. The good times didn’t stop there though. After shedding our wetsuits at the center, we were treated to a delicious meal with plenty of wine, local craft beer and hijinks to go around.
Like so many things in life, size doesn’t always matter, and the Trebbia River is a perfect example of this notion. It may not have the biggest rapids, but that doesn’t take away from how much fun it is to explore the river by raft, especially with a good group of friends. I have no idea when my next rafting trip will be, but when the time comes for a little reflection on the river bank, I’m glad this trip will be at the forefront of my memory.
Know Before You Go: Facts and Information
The Trebbia River
- The river basin cuts through Emilia-Romagna, Liguria and Lombardy, totaling 440 square miles.
- Occupation of the Trebbia Valley dates back to the end of the Acheulian in the Paleolithic Period, approximately 150,000 years ago.
- Hannibal defeated the Roman army along the river’s eastern river banks in 218 BC in the Battle of Trebbia during the Second Punic War.
Whitewater Rafting Tour
- Each boat is outfitted with an expert guide who will brief you on the journey and explain the river environment during your tour.
- You will get wet! Shoes are required for the journey, so bring an extra pair as well as a comfortable change of clothes.
- There are two sessions daily–morning and afternoon– that operate from April until the river level permits. For more information check out: www.sportsinopenspace.com/
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