Events, Guides, Inspiration, Kayak

The Emerald River – Paddling the Soca in Slovenia

Live2Flow ran its first paddling holiday to Slovenia in 2014 and the only question remaining at the end of a great week was why on earth hadn’t I been here before and when can I come back?!?!  The answer was the next year, and every year since…

Slovenia is not a new destination for paddlers but it remains pretty much unspoilt.  The country extends a warm, friendly welcome to tourists and along with the stunning scenery and crystal clear waters comes, surprisingly, superb infrastructure; campsites are well placed, trails and paths are properly waymarked and mapped and river access and egress points are mostly signed from the road, many of which have toilet facilities.

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Crystal clear water belies ample depth…

All of this comes at a small price.  Once you have made the fairly epic journey out there (if driving – 13hrs from Dunkirk) living costs are reasonable and although there is a small river license fee to pay, there are no parking charges anywhere.  It is rare to find yourself truly welcomed by all as a paddler but this is one of those places.

All the whitewater is predominantly on one river, but what a river it is!  Beautiful clear emerald water flows in the Soca, which runs through most of the summer.  In my first couple of days on the water I produced this short video which should give you a feel for the place.  The footage is taken from runs of Boka to Trnovo 2 and Zmuklica to Cezsoca (see below to make sense of this!) on grade 2/3+ sections in medium flows.

However, there is no guidebook for this river and I found detailed information on paddling in the area quite hard to come by and somewhat inconsistent.  For this reason I resolved to produce this blog to provide some guidance for any paddler thinking about heading to Slovenia and wondering what to expect.

Clearly, grading is fairly subjective, rivers change and flow levels adjust the character of sections so this cannot be definitive and should only serve as a rough guide of what to expect.  However, I’ve visited in May, June and August with water levels ranging from summer lows to post heavy rain floods.  All place names are consistent with the river map handed out by the tourist information centers in the area, and found online here.

SOCA

Bunkerji to Krsovec – Starts at a red suspension bridge with a relatively technical continuous Gd 3-3+ section to start which can get quite pushy at higher levels (you can get in on river right below the first rapid if this start is too much for you).  This leads into a more mellow G2 with a couple of less technical, shorter Gd 3 rapids.  Get out river right after the road bridge if you want to exit here, carry on to a rocky beach on river left to portage/inspect the gorge.

Shortly after the get in at Bunkerji…

Krsovec to Zmuklica (The Upper Gorge) – A sweet little scenic gorge, not particularly technical but fairly committing with confused water; a swim anywhere in the gorge is probably a swim to the end of the gorge.  Viewing from the footbridge is advised.  At higher levels the entrance rapid is straightforward but the chicane after the footbridge can get sticky, at lower levels the entrance rapid becomes more technical but the chicane is easier – here is another short edit showing this section at the lower end of medium flows.

Zmuklica to Sotocja – Follow the steep path down to get in just after the gorge for a friendly, scenic section of river that is mostly G2+ and never gets above G3, even at higher levels.  A good intro to the Soca and I found Zmuklica to Cezsoca as an ideal first paddle in the area and good coaching run.

Sotocja to Cezsoca – Unless you are staying at the campsite I see no reason why you would get out at Sotocja rather than continue to Cezsoca, but included as a separate section for completeness.  The river widens after the confluence with the Koritnica but remains at or below G3 and includes a few nice rapids and play waves, offering different features at different water levels.  Get out river left under the road bridge.

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One final move to finish the gorge…

Cezsoca to Boka – This section never gets above G2 but one of its most difficult rapids comes shortly after the put in so if you have some beginners in the group be on guard!  Very scenic run for those new to whitewater or who simply prefer to take things easy.  At very high water levels becomes one of the only sections intermediate boaters can access.  Get out river right on the beach before the large road bridge.

Boka to Srpenica 1 – Very similar to the above.  Get out on a large beach river right, worth scouting if you do not want to continue onto the next section.

Srpenica 1 to Srpenica 2 – The Soca is now a very different river to the upper sections; it is wider, deeper and more powerful.  As a section itself this is a great G3 introduction to the increased power and speed and could be used as a follow on to the previous section as an alternative first day on the Soca.  Equally, it is a good warm up for the following 2 sections.  The Srpenica 2 take out is river right in a big eddy formed as the river takes a sharp left turn and heads over a horizon line.  Scout the get out if you don’t want to head into the next section, I’m afraid it is a steep carry up a ramp if you get out here.

Srpenica 2 to Trnovo 1 (The Graveyard Section) – I would recommend that this section be completed as a follow on from the previous; it is a long carry down to the water at Srpenica 2 and the last section is a great warm up.  Either way, the river moves up a gear heading over the horizon line mentioned above; the gradient increases and there are many G4 rapids.  It is not continuous G4 but rarely drops below G3 and is therefore an engaging and fun section, that packs a punch at higher water levels (I hope you like boily water!).  As you approach the footbridge marking the start of the slalom course there is a beach river right to get out and egress or inspect the slalom site.

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Further down the river the rocks and rapids get bigger…

Trnovo 1 to Trnovo 2 (The Slalom Section) – An excellent challenging, continuous G4 alpine river section.  Powerful and fast, it contains multiple line choices and is a joy to run when you are on your game.  However, if in doubt make sure you have safety cover to prevent an accident spilling over into the G5/6 section directly below this (section not mentioned here as beyond my ability and the site of several fatalities).  Considering there is a warning about the upcoming G5/6 section at the top of the slalom site you would be forgiven for expecting an obvious get out and further warning before the danger but it isn’t clear and is worth inspecting the narrow cobbled ramp that constitutes the egress.  Not advisable to take on this section at high water unless you really know what you are doing…

Trnovo 2 to Otona (The Katarakt or Siphon Canyon) – I have never paddled this G5/6 section but despite a number of fatalities over the years there are plenty of paddlers that do.  For me, the risk to thrill ratio isn’t right but I’ve heard that it is best to go with a local guide who knows the river well and can keep you away from the worst dangers…

Otona to Napoleonov Most (The Abseil Section) – In my opinion, the section most misrepresented by the existing river information.  At medium or high levels, so almost all of May and early June, this is a fairly continuous G4 section, rarely dropping below G3 until the final 500m or so.  At 60 on the gauge in Kobarid this is high quality G4, powerful whitewater with drops, boulder gardens and a gorged in feel throughout and a great section (if you are expecting this!!!).  I have heard it becomes easier in lower water but be careful not to underestimate it.  Bear in mind it is a long steep walk down to the get in.  There are various take-outs for the Kobarid campsites but the main egress is below the final gorge and road bridge on a rocky beach on river left.

KORITNICA

Kluze to Sotocja – A real gem!  Possibly the most scenic run in the area, this section has a bit of everything; a very narrow mini gorge, fun winding G3 rapids, fabulous alpine scenery, a wider more technical lower gorge and finishes with the most technical rapid just above the Sotocja.  Has a long steep walk down to the get in and after putting in so much effort I would always recommend continuing down the Soca to Cezsoca unless you are camping by the Sotocja egress.

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Simply stunning surroundings…

Most river runners will want to group the sections together to create a more substantial paddle.  For example, we do sections such as Bunkerji to Cezsoca, Boka to Srpenica 2 and Srpenica 1 to Trnovo 2, each taking 2-4 hours depending on the ability of the group and how much playing we do!  Repeating sections is no hardship and sections can change radically with varying water levels, so most people will find there is plenty of whitewater to fill your days, enough for at least a week of excellent boating.

The beautiful Soca Valley
A wonderful place to visit…

Live2Flow runs paddling holidays in Slovenia every year in May, keep an eye on Facebook and the website if you are interested.

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2 thoughts on “The Emerald River – Paddling the Soca in Slovenia”

  1. Pingback: A Tough Call…

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