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PostPosted: 29 Apr 2013, 16:41 
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Joined: 04 Dec 2012, 16:57
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Location: Antalya, Turkey
Among the four big »A« rivers of Greece Aoos and Arachthos are known to offer the best big water gorges in the country. The two others of the quartet – Aliakmonas and Acheloos – were not able to keep their glorious reputation from the times of the folding kayak. In the 80ies and 90ies several big dams reduced the kayak sections considerably. Especially the Acheloos soon was on the black list. Due to a painful series of dams kayakers started to call it a dead river.

The Acheloos exiting the Skala Gurlinga canyon. The hydropower station is supposed to turn the water of Mesochora Dam into electricity but never went into use. | Foto: Salome Fritz

The last big reservoir, the Mesochora Dam, was supposed to be flooded in 2006. This uppermost part of a chain of dams was constructed to produce electricity and to divert the water of the Pindos range to the cotton fields of the Thessaly plains.
The unbelievable thing about this story: At least the Mesochora Dam never started working. The reservoir which should fill up the valley for about 10 km is still empty, in the valley bottom several small hamlets resist the fear of soon being drowned. The giant hydropower station in the canyon of the Skala Gurlinga seems perfectly ready, but there is no water in the pipes and turbines.
What does this mean for the paddlers?
The Acheloos is still a real good kayak river!
This applies not only for its uppermost reaches around the villages Polithea and Gardiki but also below the Mesochora dam.

At the put-in right below Mesochora Dam. | Foto: Salome Fritz

One can easily imagine how the image of the central Acheloos valley as a lunar landscape emerged. Especially in the vicinity of the 150 m high Mesochora Dam numerous access roads were carved in the steep slopes, rocks were blown up and gravel taken out from banks and river. Nearly eight years after the end of the construction works time is healing this wounds. Erosion breaks the access roads, vegetation spreads over scree slopes, kayakers' eyes start to enjoy again.

The lunar landscape in the empty reservoir slowly turns back into nature's hands. On the bottom of the picture you see the Acheloos disappearing in the tunnel. Better not to enter by boat! | Foto: Salome Fritz

This is the bottom outlet of the dam. The following 15 km offer fantastic class 2-3-4. Just put-in your boat at the bridge. | Foto: Scheuer

The Acheloos is a big river. Till late May and even June you gonna find enough water, end of April the river is a pushy 50 cubes water highway interspersed with boulders, nice play holes, countless surfspots and powerful wave trains. Along the first two kilometres after the dam occasional metal bars are visible witnessing the huge construction works years ago. After three kilometres the first bridge marks the start of an easier section, rarely passig class 2+. But the bimble does not last long. At the bridge the Acheloos takes breath and shortly after storms into the narrow rock gate called Skala Gurlinga. In spring the river builds huge waves (and also some holes) culminating in a big water class 4 rapid which you can portage on the river right. As you pass at the power station watch out for the wide tow-back, you can can easy pass on the left. After some more class 3+ rapids you can finish at the broken bridge near Kapsala.

Very scenic! The Skala Gurlinga is the main rock gate the Acheloos passes on his way to the sea. As long as the dam is not working you will find water here till June or even July. Be ready for some nice class 3 and 4.

This bridge is also the put-in for the easy gravel section till the next bridge between Tetrakomo and Myrofylo. Only in high water the rapids power up to class 2-3, in normal conditions you enjoy easy floating in the green forested valley.

And the upper Acheloos? Franz Bettinger calls the right branch of the Upper Acheloos Lakmos. Today its very clear and clean waters constitutes the most popular whitewater run of the Acheloos river basin. The confluence of Lakmos and Stefaniotis (both are artificial names, invented by Franz as the Greek seem to call all the Acheloos headwaters Aspropotamos) is easy to reach from Meteora. After having paddled Lakmos sometimes the run is continued on the Acheloos till the bridge of Milea or another 8 km down till the new bridge near Gardiki.
This section can be highly recommanded. It is a non-ending series of wave trains, powerful gravel sections interspersed with boulders. There is an excellent base camp river right next to an old weir (playspot included!) just before the river enters the short gorge of Aghia Paraskevi. Unfortunately at the entrance to the gorge a garbage dump right at the river bank spoils the banks with plastic. Nevertheless the rapids are fantastic (up to class 3+).

The Acheloos in its upper reaches. This photo is taken from Milea bridge. | Foto: Salome Fritz

Having reached the big new bridge near Gardiki the Acheloos loses his wild temperament and oscillates in the wide gravel valley bottom. The road to Mesochora runs always at the right side of the valley and can be reached from various spots within a 20 min walk. Although the gravel/earth road has got better a lot the shuttle driver should count an hour for the 12 km till the dam. Currently the lower road is blocked by a landslide. Always follow the signs (handmade, only in Greek alphabet) to Pleochori and you are fine. The Kamnetikos adds another quarter of the water. If you arrive from that valley it is not worth to carry/paddle upstream the Acheloos to the take-out Franz describes in Greco 2. Better follow the Acheloos till a small hut on the right bank and carry up to the road there.

The Kamnetikos confluence. | Foto: Scheuer

Endless gravel sections below the Kamnetikos confluence. This rapid is the most powerful of that section. The big waves at the end can be avoided easily on the right side. | Foto: Salome Fritz

Anyway the easiest option is to continue till Armatoliko. Get out at some houses (the hamlet is called Lefeika) which you can reach on a good gravel road. The old road bridge some 300 m before the dam is no longer accessible by car.

In high water condition the old bridge is sometimes submerged. This probably results from the silting-up of the reservoir even the water flows off the bottom outlet. | Foto: Salome Fritz

While paddling down towards the dam you will notice several small hamlets and settlements at the valley bottom. Some of them don't even have road access. If the reservoir is getting filled the inhabitants have to be resettled as the lake will reach back to the Kamnetikos confluence. At the moment it is not clear if and when this is going to happen. Talking to some workers at the HPP we were told that European Union and especially the German government urges Greece to put the divertion scheme into use. Also the public services like electricity and freshwater management are currently being privatized. It's hard to say how long kayakers and nature lovers can enjoy the Acheloos. Let's hope for many more years.

A small settlement just a few kilometres upstream of Mesochora dam. Currently the access road has been washed away by the winter floods. If the reservoir is getting filled the little village will be drowned. | Foto: Salome Fritz

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