In the white water


Sitting on the bank of the gently rippling Saalach is tremendously calming. However, the water in the Salzburger Saalachtal can also be a playground for adventure seekers, revealing its wild and powerful side: through narrow gorges, over wild waves, on gentle eddies and brave leaps into the ice-cold water in dark ravines!

I love water! All kinds of water sports have always drawn me to the wet element but up to now the crystal clear lakes of Salzburgerland have provided the stage for my activities. So it is about time to step up a gear and add an extra portion of adventure and adrenaline in the Salzburger Saalachtal. Rafting, canyoning and a kayak tour are on the menu. A thick neoprene wetsuit and a life vest are my trusty companions for the next few days on my way through the wild floodwaters between Unken, Lofer, St. Martin and Weißbach.

Riding the Waves in a Team

The starter to my adventure menu is a rafting tour. “White water fun is guaranteed!“, my guide says as he trains us for the ride in the big, robust, inflatable boat. We try out some exercises with the paddles because teamwork will be very important later in the boat. We are transported to Au, towing the boat, where we prepare to get into the water. While we all jump into the water in neoprene wetsuits, life vests and helmets, to cool off, our guide announces, “We’ll ride past the ‘Auer-Hole’, the ‘Magnet Rock’, the ‘Impact Wall’ and the ‘Washboard’ to Unken.“ I don’t really want to think about what these names mean for our trip and I’m happy when we finally drag the boat into the water.  All eight of us take our places in the rafting boat – four on each side. The guide sits right at the back and begins to call out commands straightaway, “Everyone forwards!“, we hear and stick our paddles powerfully into the water. There are foot straps on the bottom of the boat to give us purchase.  The current pulls us into the middle of the river and the boat gains momentum rapidly. The green, shimmering water still seems tame and we gradually get used to the rocking but ahead we can make out the first white crests – a sure sign that the ride is about to become a little wilder!  Then we’re off –  we jolt and roll from side to side through the rapids. We obey the commands of our guide and circumnavigate big waves and sharp rocks which protrude from the river bed of the Saalach.  After a while we steer into a gentle eddy and take a short break on dry land. We jump into the current from a high rock and swim with it for a couple of metres before we climb back onto the bank. Back in the boat we enjoy the rest of the stretch over the wild waves to Unken.  After the first day in the white water a broad grin is fixed on my face – and it has only increased my appetite for the main course – canyoning tomorrow.

Hiking through the Gorge

At our meeting point our guide enthuses, “We will hike through a picturesque, water-containing gorge, swim in white water, abseil down a waterfall, slide over natural stone slides and the high point is a leap into a crystal clear rock pool!“ I pull on the neoprene wetsuit and life vest again. We are ready to set off with helmet, neoprene shoes and a canyoning harness.  Slowly we step inside the darkness of the gorge. With a few pearls of sweat still on our foreheads from the heat of the summer day, here it is pleasantly cool and millions of the finest water droplets surround us in the mist of the spray. On our guide’s sign we move forward carefully step-by-step in the torrential floods. I feel the mighty power of the water on my calves and marvel at the power of this water which has carved out the hard rock over thousands of years. The water becomes deeper.

We now swim forwards and slide over natural channels in the slippy rock.   Laughing, we let the water pull us along like driftwood. A loud roaring announces a waterfall which we will tackle with a rope, secured by our guide. “Now we have reached the high point of our tour“, he says and indicates the cliff edge in front of us and adds with an enthusiastic smile, “We’re going to jump!“   I am only too happy to let the others go in front as the idea of leaping from a great height into a small pool of water makes my heart race. But eventually I am standing directly on the edge and looking down 8 metres to the rock pool, carved out by the water. I close my eyes and feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I concentrate on my landing place in the middle of the pool and jump off powerfully. I did it!  On the rest of the way out of the gorge I am already looking forward to the third course of my adventure menu – the kayak tour on the Saalach!

Gentle Rodeo Ride in a Kayak

There is a multi-day course available in the Salzburger Saalachtal for kayak beginners which begins in still water with simple exercises. When the technique has been mastered it is then time to go on the Saalach. As I learned kayaking on a school sport week and have already completed a few river rides, I book a private guided river tour on a calm stretch of the Saalach. Nevertheless, I still need to refresh my technique on the Ritzensee in Saalfelden. In addition to neoprene wetsuit, life vest and helmet, today a spray-cover is pulled over everything to prevent water getting into the kayak.  Gradually the different paddle strokes needed to manoeuvre the kayak through white water come back to me.  Finally we practise the eskimo roll which rights the kayak quickly if it capsizes in the river. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, where I open the spray-cover underwater to be able to get out of the kayak, I have gained enough confidence for my first river ride this year. My guide and I drive to St. Martin where we unload the kayaks from the trailer and carry them across the green meadows down to the Saalach.  We climb in and push off from the bank. It is tranquil at first and I have enough time to get used to the increased movement of the water compared to the lake. After a short while we take a rest in an eddy. Two, three paddle strokes and the  tip of the boat turns to the bank and we come to a stop in the still water. “Now we’ll practise a couple of manoeuvres. We’ll begin by crossing the river to the other bank“, announces the guide and we set off. With the help of the current and regular paddle strokes I make it to the other side of the river. I look up at the blue sky and the green meadows all around – and suddenly I’m swimming with my head under water in the kayak. After a moment of shock my body reacts instinctively and carries out the practised movements. I emerge from the water and swim to the bank with the boat in one hand and the paddle in the other. Laughing about my baptism of fire, the guide comes over to me and we set off on our journey again. Unfortunately this time the eskimo roll didn’t work, but as they say: practice makes perfect! Surfing over the little waves feels like a tame rodeo ride and we reach the end all too soon.

After three days of adventure in the wild flood waters of the Salzburger Saalachtal, a happy grin is engraved on my face and adrenaline and endorphins are coursing through my bloodstream. One thing is certain, “That was definitely not my last course – I’m coming back to the white water for a second helping!“


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