Komarnica, a diamond in the rough (never to be discovered?)

While many have heard of River Tara, Komarnica River is virtually unknown outside of Montenegro. We hope to change this because it is under a massive impending threat of being dammed! How anyone can think of damming one of the few remaining free flowing rivers left in Europe in 2022, especially one as beautiful as Komarnica, is unbelievable.

This blog post is a brief recollection of my recent packrafting trip, with the aim to promote Komarnica and its beauty. Balkan Expeditions hope to raise awareness of the damming project that would destroy Komarnica. We also want you to join us on holiday on this incredible river and experience this epic wilderness adventure for yourself.

After spending three months in the nountains I have to say that I couldn’t wait to go on river  adventures  again is an understatement. After 48h that I spent home with my family,I packed my expedition gear and was gone by 9am the following morning (sleeping and rest are overrated on adventure days).

This trip was even more exciting because we had our first client of the season, Phil from Berlin – a born adventurer, it turns out! 

Kaleza and I set off from Nikšić to meet Gigo and Phill, who already started the adventure on the Tara River, in a village bordering the Komarnica canyon. Having set off on many kayaking, fishing and camping trips from this village it was only right we stopped and said hello to some of the locals we have gotten to know over time. A quick hello turned into a longer than anticipated sit down. No regrets there though, we sat with our local friends in a garden surrounded by beautiful mountains, sipping on Nikšićko beer and rakija (a strong homemade grape alcohol liqueur), eating locally produced food and giving Phil a true experience of the Montenegrin people, culture, food and drink! He later remarked that at that table he felt like Antonio Banderas in The 13th Warrior 🤣 (he didn’t become fluent in Montenegrin by the end of the trip, unfortunately).

Before we knew it, it was getting dark and time for us to, merrily, following many a rakija, bid our friends goodnight and go set up our camp for the night. We had a tent each and a vast field to set them up in, meaning a good night’s sleep, free of the snoring tent-mates and neighbours, was guaranteed! It was a chilly night with a full moon and plenty of stars.

Rejuvenated and excited for the paddle, after breakfast we went through the equipment and planning of the adventure. Not long after, following some necessary logistical arrangements, the details of which I will spare you in this post, we were kitted up and ready for our descent into the canyon!

The descent into the canyon is approximately an hour long walk through a forest, with several 100s of metres of elevation loss. Historically, this adventure consisted of descending carrying 25 kg kayaks on our backs. Gigo’s back in particular bears witness to this, not in a good way 😔. Today, however, Balkan Expeditions has state of the art inflatable packrafts that pack down to the size of a sleeping bag and weigh mere 2 kg, meaning this adventure is now possible for almost everybody!

Lightly packed, it was a leisurely walk down to the river. Finally, it was time for the best part of the adventure – paddle down approximately 14km of white water!!! But, before I get into the paddle itself I want to highlight one thing. We in Montenegro know this and always take it for granted, but it’s worth a mention for those from abroad – we weren’t going to encounter anybody else on the river, not on this day or any other day we paddled Komarnica. How many people can say that on most other rivers in Europe?!

Komarnica consists of class II and class III, with an occasional class IV rapid in April. This river, however, is really friendly to beginners, as each rapid is followed by a calm section, where an (un)fortunate capsized paddler can easily stop, climb back on and recompose. For our group, made up of seasoned, intermediate and novice paddlers this was perfect.

Gigo was playing daredevil in some of the biggest eddies, Phil and I were jumping over readily available bigger waves down the rapids (with my occasional capsize). Meanwhile Kaleza was holding on for dear life in some of the narrow parts of the kanyon with a smile, knowing that if (when) he fell in, a calm section was just around the corner.

It turns out that paddling Komarnica early in the season (April) definitely has its advantages. The water flow was stronger than any other time I have been on the river. Another perk was that since the snow from the surrounding mountains hadn’t melted, the water level of the lake, which the river flows into, was lower. This meant that we gained an extra 3km of river that would have otherwise been sunk by the lake. For me, this was the best part of the river too, as none of us had paddled it before (nor have many people, I was told by Gigo) and it bore the exciting unknown!

During the paddle we made several stops at spectacular springs, waterfalls and beaches, which can be found along the entire length of the river. Meanwhile the views are uninterruptedly breathtaking, which, I suppose, is to be expected if you are in a 500m deep canyon surrounded by nothing but cliffs and forest! Throughout this blog are pictures of the paddle – check out our Instagram account for more content. I can’t keep trying to find suitable adjectives to describe this experience.

All in all, it was one of the best paddling adventures I’ve been on! If there is an adventurer in you and you would like to experience it for yourself, you can book the adventure with us here. 

Now, that you might have a small idea of the natural beauty of this river and its canyon, the potential it has for all nature lovers, back to the damming problem at hand! Unless something is done, in the very near future, Montenegro’s government will construct a dam on Komarnica and destroy this river along with the canyon and its flora and fauna. A similar project was carried out on the River Piva back in 1976, which Komarnica flows into, with devastating consequences. Entire habitats and ecosystems were lost, along with priceless natural beauty.

In the picture below you can see the dead trees and the desolate ground the lake creates once a river is dammed.

Next month, we are organising a 3 day event on Komarnica, protesting against the dam and  raising awareness of the river, its beauty and natural potential. Apart from education, there will be plenty of adventure activities, including kayaking, hiking and fishing. Here are the details of the event, if you can, please come and join us. In the meantime, we will keep paddling and promoting Komarnica and that way try to contribute to saving one of the few undammed European rivers. Any adventure you join us on will contribute to this cause as well.

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