This is about our paddle day from Dettingen to Neu-Ulm on the 24th of May, 2019. We paddled a total distance of about 25 kilometers. It was our first state border crossing from Baden-Württemberg to Bavaria.
Letting the Hochwasser Pass
We stayed in Dettingen for two nights and work a little. On Thursday, the flood we’d experienced its humble beginnings of would reach its peak. After that, it would go down again slowly to safer water levels and speeds. Dettingen/Berg has a Pegel (water level monitoring station), which remained in the green the whole time. But the one at Neu-Ulm (our destination for the next paddle day) quickly went from green to yellow, to orange, and even red, over a matter of hours on Wednesday and Thursday.
The problem wasn’t the Danube; it was the Iller. The Iller is a tributary river from the right side just before the city of Ulm/Neu-Ulm. In the rainy days in south Bavaria before, the Iller swelled up and now the Danube and the city of Ulm/Neu-Ulm had to deal with the consequences. Jonas showed me a news article about the floods and the pictures of flooded bike lanes in Ulm/Neu-Ulm.
So we had to wait for the floods (Hochwasser) to pass. I chose to spend my time editing in some of the Wehrs (dams) we’d passed on the Danube on Open Street Maps to help other paddlers in the future. I added only a few points of interest (POIs) and then got bullying messages from some other mapper. Uh oh. Apparently, I’d pissed over someone’s territory.
By the time we left Dettingen the next day, I’d received a dozen harassing messages from this (undoubtedly a) Guy-Who Read-The-Manual-Cover-To-Cover who should look up the words “constructive criticism”. He threatened to undo and delete all my edits because, even though they improved the map, they weren’t up to his standards. It was truly annoying and not in the spirit of open source at all.
Leaving Dettingen for Neu-Ulm
We left Hotel Knupfer at 8:55. We picked up the kayak backpack from the garage and walked the 300 meters to the launch spot on the right-hand side of the river. I squashed a few stinging nettles (and only the nettles) with a paddle to clear a passage for our bare ankles. We’d trample a few plants anyway when carrying our boat to the spot. As predicted, the weather was sunny and warm, with a little bit of headwind.
Some cyclists waved at us from the Höllweg bridge, seemingly approving of what we were doing. By 9:45, we were paddling. The water is still quite fast and high. A “danger zone” some 200 meters after the big Biberacher Straße bridge appeared. The sign on the bridge urged us paddles to pass on the right side. There were some weird currents, but no real danger because the water was deep enough to pass without scraping anything. We passed another such “shallow” (untief) area 400 meters before the bridge on the road named Neue Steige.
Jonas installed and tested his €2 boat mirror to see if this was a really great investment or a useless one. He stuck it into a zipper of the CabinMAX and was really happy with it. Now, we could see big boats coming from the back, which we thought would soon become useful after Ulm/Neu-Ulm. Distracted by something in the foreground, the big church tower of Öpfingen appeared in the distance. Soon we were close to Öpfingen and also spotted a beautiful pier from a restaurant or something for kayaks and canoes.
In Öpfingen, the river splits up in two. On the right side are the dam and a dangerous drop to push the water into the left arm. On the left side, we continued paddling. Before the rivers rejoin, the left side has a hydroelectric dam (Wasserkraftwerk) and a big lake-like area where the water virtually stands still. While beautiful and full of waterfowl, it does make the paddling a lot more challenging, both physically and mentally. We arrived at the power plant at 11:15 and passed it on the right-hand side. I added the official entry and exit points to the map. By 11:45 we were paddling again in the hot sun.
The Long Stretches Without a Current
The areas in between the power stations always went from pleasant current to complete standstill. The birds seemed to love it as there were many nests along the quiet spots. Once we paddled quite close to the embankment and spotted a surprise swan. They didn’t like our presence and hissed aggressively at us to tell us to GTFO of there.
We arrived at the second fork in the river at 12:20. This time, we had to go right while the water dropped on the left. While doing our research the night before, we were pretty sure we’d had to portage here and re-enter in the left arm, but the signs told us to keep paddling on the right. We’d also seen on Google satellite images that the fork was currently under construction. As we weren’t sure what to do, we landed and Jonas got out to see what was up.
Jonas talked to some construction workers who also weren’t really sure what to do. The big problem was that while the water continued on the right side, the big metal things to shut down the arm were hanging pretty low. We weren’t really sure if we could pass under it. Portaging around wasn’t really an option as there wasn’t a clear re-entry point nearby, so we decided to make our luggage lie flat and paddle underneath it anyway. I passed while sitting up straight, but Jonas had to lie flat. The construction workers curiously observed us from the dam and were happy we were successful.
Paddling Past Power Station Two
The flow of water fell still again. Parts of the river were extremely shallow and we ran aground in the dirt and plants. The left shore was actually a river island that split the two sides of the river, so when we were near a bridge, I got out to check if it made sense to portage into the other river if it flowed faster. It did flow faster, but there wasn’t a non-nettled area to put our boat back in. Also, there were some bee boxes around and wasps. It wasn’t worth the effort, so I returned to Jonas to paddle on.
One time, I got out of the boat to check the parallel stream and if it had more current. I walked over the land to check it out and did see much more current on the other side, but it was also quite shallow. This and the effort of portaging our boat around helped me make the decision that it wasn’t worth it. Also, there were tons of bees around from a bee box. I was afraid to get stung. We paddled on in our flowless stretch.
Progress was slow, but we had plenty of snacks. We passed under a very shallow train bridge that had a warning sign. A river named the Rot added but didn’t increase the current. Jonas enjoyed the weather and the paddling a lot, but we hadn’t made a lot of progress yet. When approaching the Wasserkraftwerk Donaustetten, we got into trouble. The waters were really shallow and we ran aground in some mud that sucked down our paddles. Neither of us wanted to stick our feet in and pull the boat out. This took quite a bit of our energy, but we managed to set ourselves free until the final landing.
Our landing featured more of this smelly mud. With our special technique of scooting ourselves forward so our boat would do the same, we managed to get close enough to the shore. I jumped onto the stairs without getting muddy and helped Jonas do the same. We completed our portage at the Wasserkraftwerk Donaustetten at 14:15 and took our time to re-apply sunscreen and rehydrate from this effort. We were wearing too many layers of clothes as well and had to cross the (public) bridge that was the Wasserkraftwerk to get into a more convenient launching spot on the right embankment.
The Last Portage at Wiblingen
Paddling on to the last hydroelectric power plant was again quite tough. On this stretch, we munched our sandwiches which we’d prepared at the hotel. Our hydration bladders were emptying quickly. Jonas enjoyed it a little bit less, and I had trouble maintaining a good rhythm in my strokes. Paddling on both sides would mean I’d make the boat quite wet, but it would help Jonas because he’d have to steer less. Paddling on one side would keep us dry but also make us less efficient. I’d been paddling mostly with the yellow paddle on the previous paddle days, but the blue paddle is a bit longer, which would help me keep the boat drier. Jonas has a preference for the blue paddle. Reluctantly, we’d switch paddles so I could do the double-stroke. We did get rewarded with a cute but dangerous family of swans.
Then we arrived at our last portage in Wiblingen, some six kilometers before Neu-Ulm. We had to get out on the left side and portage around. The left arm of the split was the Stauwehr (weir/dam) with the big water drop, while the right arm featured the canal for the hydroelectric power station. But the re-entry point was a bit wild for our liking. The water really flowed in a powerful way and it might be difficult to embark. Jonas said that he’d do some research once we arrived at the hostel in Neu-Ulm about how to read currents and see what is dangerous. A very good idea.
I asked Jonas to get into the boat first. He sometimes has trouble getting seated as he needs to put his legs left and right of the CabinMAX. For me, it’s a matter of keeping my center of gravity in the boat and confidently hopping in. We immediately paddled past the trees that were blocking us and caught the current downstream. It was 15:20 and we were physically tired.
The Confluence of the Danube and the Iller
Wiblingen was the last dam of the day and the last dam without a lock. From now on, the Danube is navigable by small motor boats. We’ve left behind the “Young Danube” and entered the “Upper Danube”(Obere Donau). From around the river bend, before the Iller spills its contents into the Danube, something strange appeared. And it was moving fast.
A five-headed rowboat moved at us at a great speed. All the people were facing backward, so we weren’t sure if they’d seen us. Perhaps they also had a fancy boat mirror, like us. These people were paddling against the current, like some maniacs. We passed them at a safe distance and then passed under a bridge that featured two goalposts for what I presume to be for water polo. It was a very strange part of the river.
Some 500 meters after the water from the side-canal rejoins, the Iller finally joins the Danube. The Iller is that river that had thrown a proper tantrum in the previous days to flood the shores of Ulm/Neu-Ulm. The shade of the river turned light at the confluence, and the water immediately looked choppy and fast. Two kilometers to go!
Again, another rowboat – this time only consisting of two people – paddled towards us against the current. They were virtually standing still in the water as they were still subjected to the mighty power of the Iller. Here we were, paddling downstream, while these muscular masochists did something I didn’t know the human body could do. The tip of the Ulmer Münster appeared in the distance.
Arriving in Neu-Ulm
We only used our paddles to break. A distance that had taken us hours to paddle before only took a minute on this stretch. As it was such a sunny day, many people in Ulm and Neu-Ulm were out and about to enjoy the weather. All the stairs into the water on both sides of the river were full of people relaxing with friends and cold alcoholic drinks. Many people waved while we were focussed on controlling our boat.
The sound of the water made it hard to discern what Jonas was saying, but he wanted me to put down the camera and look at where we had to land. Right behind the train bridge, as I’d seen on my GPS. I couldn’t hear what else he was saying and by the time I understood, we’d spotted a good spot to land our boat a few meters before the official exit stop at the Neu-Ulm Kanuclub.
Sliding onto the muddy sand seemed like the best choice. I got out to see if it made more sense to paddle around and get out at the other exit, but it was OK. It was 16:00. I helped Jonas get out. He seemed upset at me. We lifted the boat out of the water and moved it up the shore into the public sphere. We picked up our bags and then put our boat upside-down to let the water out. Now we could sit and wait and let everything dry.
Within 20 minutes of arrival, two women approached us to ask about our boat. The first asked where we rented our canoe and the second one who was just curious. After about 40 minutes, another paddler arrived at the proper ramp. He also had an inflatable canoe like us, but from the brand Gumotex. He wheeled his rig up the shore like a professional and directly went to the canoe club to pitch his tent for the night.
Packing Up and Checking In to the Hostel in Neu-Ulm
I walked around the area where we were waiting for the boat to dry. The Ulmer Kanufahrer club had its headquarters here. Their infrastructure was pretty comprehensive; there’s a campsite for paddlers like us with plenty of shade and a restaurant right next to it. I called it a restaurant, but apparently, it was a Biergarten (beer garden) in proper German. Jonas misunderstood the price category and level of casualness, so when I suggested going there, he was quick to dismiss it.
We packed up our stuff and walked the 700 meters to the Brickstone Hostel in Neu-Ulm. Ulm/Neu-Ulm is our first ‘big’ city we paddled to at more than 100.000 inhabitants. If you’re wondering what’s the difference between Ulm and Neu-Ulm, here’s an explanation: the left bank of the Danube is Ulm which features the famous cathedral-like church and lies in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The right bank of the Danube is Neu-Ulm and lies in the German state of Bavaria. Yes, this means that we’d just crossed our first state border by canoe! Achievement unlocked!
We could enter the hostel with a door code and found a lady at reception who helped us find our room. The kayak went into the garage, which was mostly used by the many long-distance cyclists the hostel attracts. We’d stay for three nights until the next Monday.
After checking in, we ate some amazing food at Çiğköfte M on the river island. We then had our celebratory beer at the restaurant/beer garden of the canoe club anyway. I checked out their storage room for boats. Many non-paddlers had pitched their tents. We could see the tent of the other paddler. The weather is much warmer than when we started three weeks ago. I’m looking forward to soon finally pitch our tent and test out the other half of the gear we haven’t used yet.
The days after, we’d get some work done, socialize in the hostel, and finally cook for ourselves again. We also visited the local Decathlon on the side of Ulm to buy neoprene socks to keep warm and protect our ankles from the stinging nettles. I also really needed new shoes as the ones I was using had holes from all sides and were really through. Next up on our paddle trip will be paddling from Neu-Ulm to Günzburg, our first full paddle day in Bavaria!
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