The Oetz is currently Tyrol’s longest free flowing river. I remember my first time coming to the Oetz valley, revelling in the love that kayakers of all abilities have for this place. Enjoying the precision needed to be smooth on the Wellerbrücke section, the calmness needed to stay in control on the chaos of the Middle Oetz and the stoke of blasting down stress free big wave trains on the Upper and Lower Oetz. I love this river but there has always been one section of it, lurking just upstream of the Wellerbrücke that I haven’t kayaked. The last remaining piece to the puzzle.

The Achstürze

This part of the river is almost certainly not the best or nicest section of the Oetz. Landslides have left the river littered with random piles of rocks and the powerful, silty water of the Oetz has done a good job of eroding them to leave a section made up of tight lines and hideous siphons. Though still, despite this, there are still lines to be had down this section.

Finding a line down a rapid is not too piecing together a jigsaw, you have to pay attention to small details to create a bigger picture, with you, the kayaker, as the last missing piece to the puzzle. However the Achstürze is a jigsaw with a few too many pieces that have been forced into place in a random, chaotic order.

We put in way above the section and planned to kayak through the dam site to access the first set of rapids. Unfortunately but perhaps not surprisingly the construction team would not let us pass through the dam site and so we had to portage around to get in to the river. Due to where we had to access the river, the first rapid we came to was the main rapid of the run. No warm-ups.

This was a really cool piece of water to put together, with three parts to the rapid. A tight lead in with a must make move above the crux of the rapid that requires you to remain in control for the final third part of it. I was not 100% sure what was in the middle of the crux and I was a little bit concerned that there might be something insidious lurking in there, hence the look on my face as I drop in … I quietened my nerves by deciding that the amount of water going in was about the same as what was coming out and hence it shouldn’t be anything too bad in there. Still it required confidence and a leap of faith that is unique to pushing hard whitewater that makes me love this sort of stuff.

I showed Huw my line on my GoPro and talked him through it. When he went he made a slight mistake at the top and had to roll, got pushed around above the crux and was backwards but managed to pull it straight and regain control right at the last second and finish with a solid line. Watching it, it made me think think back to all the time I spent with Dave Fusilli learning from him, listening to his advice, watching him nail the line and having to do a bit of wrestling to get down the rapid myself.

I was pleasantly surprised with how the river was going. I had scouted it in my clothes and decided that I could get down it but often that decision changes when you are in your drysuit, stood at the top with your kayak and the hazards suddenly became more apparent. There was one chossy, rock filled rapid that I was very close to just bashing down but ultimately I had to force myself to walk around it. It was not a good rapid on it’s own and the only reason I would kayak down it would be to have a no portage decent of the river. Not good decision making.

Putting back in the river spilt in two on the right hand side was a cool, chossy drop that is honestly decently sized for this valley and on the left was a beautiful rock move that I just couldn’t resist.

The rapids after this are a jangle of boulder gardens but we pinballed down everything and came into the final rapid of the Achstürze. A winding dog leg rapid with a decent hole to get over and as with most things on this section of river, a rock backing up the hole.

With us both at the bottom we didn’t even stop to celebrate but blasted instead straight into the first rapid of the Wellerbrucke. After a slow day of scouting and piecing together the river upstream it was beautiful to just be able to flow down the lines we know so well.

Getting to the bottom my brain was alight with the idea of combining the Achstürze straight into the full Wellerbrücke at higher flows. We will have to wait another week or so for the snow melt to come but I think that at a slightly higher flow you could link them both up … and then maybe even push the levels up on the Achstürze as we become more familiar with it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but for all of it’s flaws I really like this piece of the Oetz river, it’s not the unrunnable mess that people told me about but instead is yet another solid piece of class 5 found on the Oetz river.

When I showed the edit I made to my friend Will Sparrow he remarked –

Interesting that the ‘unrunnable mess’ was not the natural boulder gardens, but instead the man made dam site. If that doesn’t sum up the problems with dams , I don’t know what will.

I liked that thought a lot.

For more information on the dam project in the Oetz valley and how to protect this river, please check out the Free Rivers Fund and Save Our Rivers campaigns against it.

Catch you on the water, Bren

Photos by John Haines // Pistyll productions