The River Tarn flows through deep limestone gorges below the town of Montbrun to Le Rozier where the landscape opens out. This section is a popular rafting and novice kayaking area and can get very busy in the high season (late July and August). Even out of this season the river will never qualify as a wilderness trip but it is very scenic, has super clear water and a few fun rapids at around PR2/3 (mainly PR2) as well as lots of fun floating. A previous trip to the area, where we paddled many parts of the river in a series of day trips, also revealed that the gorge has one other desirable feature – a really great looking trail running high above the river, linking a number of villages and giving the potential for a fun three day packrafting trip. It had to be done....
We started in Le Rozier and arranged to leave our car in a shady spot on Camping Longue Legue. There is a public car park in the viallage but as we wanted to stay on the site when we got back into town we took advantage of a little more security in parking the car at the campsite. The owners were completely cool with this and very helpful.
After packing the camping and rafting gear, we headed out of the back of the site on the riverbank and crossed the river to the true left side in the centre of the village. The start of the trail up the river was indicated with a yellow sign for Sentier du Gorges du Tarn. These yellow signs are a common sight in France and tend to indicate PRs, i.e. petit randonees in contrast with the red/white stripes of the GRs, the grand randonees. The trail starts off fairly close to the river but rises and falls to follow a series of terraces high above the river.
There are a number of sections where the trail follows the sides of minor gorges cut into the side of the main gorge. The only real hazard was carrying a set of 2 part paddles on the pack which made some of the overhung sections of the track a little tricky, particularly when there was a large drop to the left..... The route is very attractive and lived up to its promise but the weaving nature of the trail and the elevation gain meant that the day was a little longer than planned and we eventually rolled into La Malene at around 7:00pm. There is an excellent campsite here, which was very quiet in early June.
The following day we stocked up on supplies at the bakery and headed up river without the camping gear and got into Sainte-Enimie at around 2:30.
We eventually put in at around 3:00 and started the float back to La Malene.
Falls at St-Chely-du-Tarn
The river seemed lower than previous trips and although there was little scraping the flow was definitely slower and time marched on. It looked like being a late return to camp but this worked in our favour as the last of people out for the day cleared the river by around 5:00.
As the evening drew on, we had the river to ourselves and got some great sightings of beaver as we drifted slowly along. Back to camp for around 9:30 and hit the sack after finishing the day's supplies.
The last day we packed the camping gear on the front of the boats and headed off for Le Rozier. The first section to Pas de Souci is all PR1 but with narrow sections of gorge and the water is fantastic.
There is a manadatory portage at Pas de Souci to avoid being sucked into death siphons and this is well marked in good time to exit river right. A quick pack and short road walk (split by a fine ice cream half way through) took us below the rockfall and its siphons and down to Les Vignes.
There is a fun chute down a barrage at Les Vignes and a number of fun rapids follow at up to PR2/3.
The last section is back to PR1 standard and we eventually drifted into Le Rozier at around 8:00. A really fun trip with great hiking and moderate packrafting and great food en route!