Albania Canyoning Expedition with Guest Author Matthias Holzinger


Guest Rave by Matthias Holzinger

Albania is actually close by Switzerland and is often so far away for tourists. Until after the war in Kosovo there was actually no tourism in Albania, this changed with the end of the war, but only very hesitantly. Albania is on the move, because the country offers a lot to tourists. Beautiful beaches, wonderful mountain landscapes and remote regions to explore, as well as nice people who are mostly very helpful show the country from its sunny side. Also for canyonists this country is still rather new territory and there is still a lot of potential for new tours. In 2010 the first expedition by a Spanish group took place, which showed the potential of the country. Since then things have become a little quieter around canyoning in Albania until then in spring and in autumn 2017 a French (Guillaume Goquin +….) and an international expedition (David Ov, Pascal van Duin +….) with many top first descents took place.

However, the potential of canyons was far from exhausted after the previous expeditions, so by chance both groups started an expedition again at the same time in May 2018. Sacha Gaillet and I from the canyoning association bachab were able to join the two Albanian experts for canyoning David Ov and Pascal van Duin. The “competition” of the two groups then led so far that we could descent and set up a beautiful canyon only 2 hours before the French group. This was then our running gag of the trip and from then on it was agreed among the two expedition groups who went where, so that one did not have to follow the drilling dust traces of the other group.

In the seven days we made a total of six first descents in Albania, two more canyons were already set and done to complete the topos. Equipped with a 4×4 Jeep with extra-large off-road wheels and extra high for more ground clearance, we had no problems to move around in the terrain, because many canyons are remote and can only be reached by 4×4 vehicles.

The rock is mainly limestone, but its shape and colour vary greatly depending on the area. Our geology specialist Sacha Gaillet was able to determine up to ten different types of limestone in Holta Canyon.

The just mentioned Holta Canyon was also clearly the highlight of our expedition! The canyon is 3km long and makes about 220Hm. Thanks to the hydroelectric power station at the start of the canyon, which skims off all the water, an inspection is made possible in the first place. The extremely wide stream bed in front of, as well as after the canyon only gives an idea of the incredible masses of water that eat through the canyon at high tide. The possibility to enter this canyon came about by chance, because when Davidov and Pascal stood at the start of this canyon in autumn 2017, they were denied access and a visit by the maintenance personnel of the water intake was absolutely forbidden. Now half a year later things looked different. By chance we came into contact with the head of the Holta-Canyon hydropower plant. After some beers and a few phone calls he then granted us access and instructed the power plant staff on our inspection. A nearly one hour 4×4 ride leads to the water catchment and the start of the canyon. Already from the water intake you can see the impressive slit that runs through the rock and makes the canyonist’s heart beat faster.

We were not disappointed by the canyon and drilled our first bolts to overcome the higher waterfalls. The descent was a constant change from super washed out rock, with wonderful forms and colours, natural bridges and huge chock stones and pools. After every turn and after every waterfall we were surprised by a new, fantastic section. The width of the canyon varied from 1m to 15m at a depth of up to 200m. Our cameras were in continuous use and everyone wanted to capture the fantastic shapes and impressions in one picture. The quality of the gorge was truly indescribable and unique in this length and continuity, it partly reminds of the Massaschlucht in the best sections. Towards the end of the canyon, where there is only walking terrain, countless warm springs with up to 30° warm sulfur-smelling water are added from the sides. After the successful first descent of this fantastic canyon, an old 4×4 bus organized by the power plant operator brought us back to our car at the start of the canyon.

The other canyons around Përmet and Gramsh also offer a lot of variety and are very rewarding. Beautifully layered limestone rock, turquoise blue pools and beautiful slides and jumps characterize these canyons. Countless layers of limestone, often no thicker than 10cm, have sometimes presented us with great challenges as to how and where the bolt can best be placed. Although the gorges are quite remote, the access and exit is always quite pleasant and can be managed in less than 1 hour. You will also find incredible jewels like the Lengarica Gorge, which can be accessed without canyoning equipment. We were able to cross this gorge as the exit of a side canyon. In my opinion, it is more impressive and spectacular than the Narrows in Zion National Park. But here you don’t pay any entrance fee, nor is the gorge visited by thousands of tourists every day, simply wonderful!

Life in Albania still runs after a different clock than here. Time seems to have stopped in some places 60 years ago. People take everything more comfortably and you are far away from work stress. The shopkeepers sit in front of their shops and discuss with each other, farmers run after their two cows all day long to milk them in the evening, the goat herders enjoy the beautiful weather, sit in the grass and watched their herd supported by their guard dogs. Also the turtles that you occasionally meet on the access paths crawl comfortably and without stress into the nearest undergrowth.

Basically there are four hot spots in Albania for canyoning from where you can plan your tours:

1. District Elbasan & Gramsh (central)
2. District Tepelenë & Kurvalesh (southwest)
3. District Përmet & Leskovik (southeast)
4. District Valbona & Theth (north)

Albania will certainly become a top destination for canyoning holidays in the future. The land offers enough potential to descent top canyons for 2 weeks in spring and then return for another 2 weeks in autumn for the more aquatic canyons.

Traveling the country is also very cheap:

  • Hotel with breakfast 10-15€

  • Extensive dinner including drinks 10-15€

  • Large beer in the bar 0.8-1€

  • 4×4 costs 500-800€/week depending on size and off-road capability

  • Flight from ZH to Tirana about 300CHF – 400CHF

For more information on Albania, the two experts David Ov and Pascal van Duin are sure the right persons to provide you with information’s. David Ov is currently working on the publication of all tours in Albania.

Faleminderit and goodbye Albania!