Standing on a steep rock face that stands 5m above the Freser River, I’m about to jump into the chilly waters. Nothing quite as intimidating as the heights I’d experienced while coasteering in Wales or skydiving in Costa Brava – but like every first attempt, I’m slightly nervous. Looking down at the shallow waters that flow beneath me, it’s hard to fight off the anxiety and paranoia in my head. But my guide, Victor, who’s standing in the river beneath me, gives me an assuring nod.
Right leg forward, left leg arched – I take a big leap into the shallow waters and emerge within seconds, with a bright smile on my face and a mixture of relief and adrenaline.
A Refreshing Sport in a Hidden Corner of Spain
In the chilly waters of the Freser River, I’m trying out canyoning for the first time. Armed with nothing more than a neoprene wetsuit, hiking boots and helmet, we are scrambling over rocks, wading in rapids and leaping off cliffs. I’ve long heard of this active sport, especially popular among adventure travelers seeking unconventional experiences. As a water sports enthusiast, I knew this would be right up my alley.
Earlier that morning, we’d driven to the Ripollès county of the Pyrenees in Spain and found ourselves surrounded by mountain peaks, deciduous forests and alpine huts. This part of Spain refreshingly defies all stereotypes of the country – offering snow-capped mountains instead of rolling olive groves, hearty bean stews and cold cuts instead of seafood paella and wooden alpine houses in place of white-washed villages.
It’s the love for such contrasts that had brought Victor here in the first place. Originally from Barcelona, he had moved to the Pyrenees over 20 years ago in search of a change of environment. Now he can’t imagine living anywhere else but in this mountainous region. Obsessed with nature and sports, he set up Basaroca six years ago, leading skiing and snow-shoeing trips in the area before venturing into canyoning. In recent years, Freser River has become increasingly popular with both locals and tourists. With its myriad of waterfalls and rapids, the river creates natural circuits ideal for canyoners of all levels.
Playground for Adventure
Back in the river, we continue to traverse the rocky stream – sliding down naturally-sculpted rocks, maneuvering narrow caves and leaping over giant boulders. Victor had chosen the basic circuit for our group of canyoners, since most of us were first-timers. “It’s the time of the year when the water level along Freser is at its lowest,” says Victor. With less water also comes more physical obstacles to overcome. “The best time to do canyoning in the area is from March to May, when snow from the mountain peaks starts melting and floods the river with water.”
As we advance further along the circuit, we reach an obstacle that resemble an S-course slide – except that the end of the slide is out of sight. “Just slide down this section of the rock, use your legs as a wedge then sit on your butt and I will push you off the edge.” We exchange looks of puzzled anxiety – wondering what he meant by pushing us over the edge. One of our group mates, Arantxa, was the first to brave the obstacle. Sliding off the mini waterfall, she disappeared from sight within seconds. There was a short lapse of silence before we heard a quick yelp followed by a loud splash. Erh oh… When it was time for me to slide off, I was more curious than nervous to find out what lay ahead. As I swished through the gushing water, a vertiginous rock face awaited at the end of the course and before I could react, I was falling off a vertiginous rock surface, squealing in excitement.
By the time we reach the lower half of the river, our group of canyoners are beaming with satisfaction and exhaustion – our faces flushed red with excitement and our heads reeling in delirium. As we hop back on land, we are rather reluctant to leave the gushing water, and the thrill, behind us. Looking back, I wished I had gone up on the cliff a second time – perhaps then, all the anxiety would be gone, and in its place, child-like ecstasy.