St Anton am Arlberg has a big reputation in the Winter as one of the worlds leading ski areas. So many pictures appear in magazines of deep powder and steep slopes set in some of the most breathtaking scenery there is! However, it is not all about the Winter. As the snow starts to melt and it feeds a high mountain stream that quickly drops into one of the best creeks in the Northern Alps, the Upper Rosanna.
Not as famous as the Oetz Valley (where the World Championships are held) or the Upper Pitzbach (a little torrent of water straight from the Glacier) the Upper Rosanna receives little traffic, sometimes just one descent a season! Maybe it is the route to the river - you will have to earn your drops by walking in, plus there is a steep, narrow gorge that cannot be scouted from the path or it is just the general lack of information.
The Rosanna River springs from the lakes below the Fädnerspitze at around 2600m. Throughout its journey the Rosanna cuts a route through the Verwall Group of mountains - with peaks over 3000m in altitude - just southwest of St Anton am Arlberg on the western edge of the Austrian Tirol.
Early on Sunday morning, Oetz Valley resident and local kayaking legend, Andy MacDonald arrived and after some tea and toast we headed into the mountains. We managed to get the boats dropped off close to the Konstanzer Mountain Hut and with just our paddle and camera kit we started our walk up to the kayaks. The last bridge over the river before the lake has the gauge on it and it was looking good. The path first follows the river, the cows were all content being in the meadows and their bells were ringing and echoing off the mountain sides. We were soon making some altitude as the path was moving way above the river. We could see some lines and from what views we got of the Rosanna everything looked clear and good to go! There was just one section where the river drops into a deep, tight gorge with no possibilities to scout from the track. Once we passed this the path came back towards the river and the steepness calmed down, we were also close to the Konstanzer Mountain Hut.
Our plan had been to kayak just below the hut and to try and complete a descent all the way to the lake, however we were stopped by an old avalanche that had completely blocked the river. It was the first week of July, the Spring had been a cold one and though the sun was getting stronger and had been a more permanent feature over the past couple of weeks it would have been a really long wait for this old avalanche to finally disappear.
With walkers coming past with a look of despair and worry on their faces we sorted out our equipment and finally got everything down to the river, it was 9.30am.
We put in just below the old avalanche, the towering Patteriol Mountain was looking over us, the sun was out, the sky was blue and with enough water to work our way through the rocks and small drops we got into our rhythm.
After about 1 kilometre the river started to gorge up and with the sunshine unable to penetrate into the steep sided walls we got out for our first scout and to find out just exactly what was hidden in the gorge.
What we found were plenty of drops, all with different characters. We were kayaking over lips, ledges, working our way through tiny gaps next to the gorge walls, every landing seemed to have a different character too. It really was a sweet little section and the perfect place to put all those hard hours of technique and fitness training in the Winter and Spring into action.
The final drop in the mini-gorge was a 4m waterfall. We took a look from the left bank and Andy was like a kid on Christmas morning. His face lit up, he was jumping around and finally as he looked at me he said “I am going to Hammer it!”
My reply was just the usual “Sweet, the camera is set up, let’s get it on!”
As Andy got into his kayak, concentration was there to see on his face. He gets to the lip, puts his boat on its left edge and as he starts to catch air, he just slams his bow down and he is freewheeling down the waterfall. It looked so good from my position, I just hoped the photo would do Andy justice and also the waterfall!
The gorge started to open up and the sun was back. The river still kept its steep character but now the rapids were a lot closer with plenty of rocks and boulders making route finding and clean lines more and more difficult. Also with just one small pool between each drop we were now scouting a lot more.
We came to one long rapid where the entrance line was on river right, the middle section had to be run on river left and the final drop looked like it would go on river right! The problem we faced was trying to get on these lines while avoiding some dangerous undercuts where a lot of the current was pushing to. We decided to avoid the first drop and we hopped over a rock to run the second drop so that we could get over to the other-side of the creek to run what looked a very sketchy last drop. The camera was ready and again Andy dropped in.
He nailed it, in fact he made it look so easy that some of the walkers looking high above just shrugged their shoulders and carried on plodding up the track. There was no carnage to see, and not before long I had joined Andy in the pool that denoted the last major rapid on the Upper Rosanna.
The final part of the river calmed down a grade in both steepness and technicality and so we kayaked down looking for some nice features to flare and slide off and over rocks. By the time we got to the lake we had huge smiles on our faces and it had been another great day in the Austrian Alps. We were probably the only descent on the Upper Rosanna in 2013. Hopefully this year will see more kayakers running this little gem of a creek!