Friday, June 09, 2006

Bouldering in Åland

Last weekend, I wanted to get out of Stockholm. So when I heard that of a plan to go bouldering in Åland, I thought that sounded perfect.

Åland is just hop and a jump from from Sweden, but technically it’s part of Finland. No one has told the locals this and they wouldn’t care if you did. They speak Swedish, and live by there distinctly local customs, which unfortunately means they don’t like free-camping mainland climbers!

The island is quite flat, but somewhere in the middle of it is a line of small over-hanging cliffs of red rock. It is also a really beautiful spot with a treat for those who make it to the top. Up there you get a wonderful over the forest and out to nearby sea.

The rock steep and like sand paper. After a couple of days at Åland if you’re hands are bleeding you haven’t climbed hard enough! The problems are mainly overhanging, but if you hunt around you can find some slabby stuff. There’s also a couple of more obscure problems such a lie down start and a hilarious mounting problem.

The trip to Åland was really fun because it was a relaxed fill up the car with people and go trip. We all spoke English and just had so many laughs together. The weather was kind, and the sunset on the red rocks magical. We even had a campfire and a birthday cake with candles.

Also I got to sleep in my tent and I really love sleeping in my tent. There’s not much better than waking up in a tent in a beautiful place, on a sunny morning!

To top it off I was climbing really quite well. I am starting to feel strong enough to enjoy the challenge of over hangs. On the last day just before we left I did a climb over a big over hanging shelf. It’s the sort of climb that I used to not even try, but this time despite being tired I managed to get up it. I was stoked!

On the way home we did what all people living in Sweden must do on the ferry to Åland – we brought duty free alcohol. Lots of it. I even texted my friends for their requests! Technically you shouldn’t be able to by duty free alcohol between EU countries, but they make a special exception for Åland.

This is perfect because next week I am away for 9 days of paddling right in the North of Sweden. According to local legend, this is where the best Swedish white water is. So I’m off to see how good it gets.

I’m really excited about the trip. We’ll be visiting Lappland, (a magical place since being in a theatre production on the life of Carl von Lineaus) and because we’ll be north of the polar circle we’ll get to see the midnight sun– I just hope I can sleep!

Return to Åre

Åre is Sweden’s main ski resort and an excellent Spring time kayaking destination. Previously I had visited the place for an unforgettable weekend where we paddled at midnight and surfed the excellent wave at Tångböle. So I was really excited to be going back.

Last time, we scouted but didn’t paddle a river called the Över Dammån. At the time there was no one else willing to paddle this sweet but committing stretch. This year with around 50 paddlers meeting in Åre I was hoping to find a playmate.

The first day in Åre we went to the freestyle competition at Tångböle. The play features there really were as cool as I remembered them. The wave was such tremendous fun. I just loved that surfing the wave without a paddle, using the edges of the kayak to steer. It’s such a thrill to just sit there and feel the water rushing under my boat. I even learnt to bounce back on to wave to prevent myself from flushing – How cool!.

On the second day, I found a playmate, well actually 19 of them and we all headed to Över Dammån.

The run is something like a roller coaster as once you start, there’s no stopping. It 4km of continous, rocky class IV, with the odd micro eddy along the side. Luckily there’s no must make line, but there’s plenty of features to keep you busy on the way down. It takes about 20 minutes to paddle and the same time to swim!

So swims are long and brutal and result in the loss of gear. This makes it different from typical kayaking in the south of Sweden. Here it is mostly park and play, or small volume rocky rivers with IV drops and class I water between them. Maybe this explains what followed.

It was one of those days when I felt the approaching chaos before you even hit the water. As I was worried about the abilities of some people in my group, I was happy to lead the last group down. Better I thought to go first than to be scared by watching other people making it look difficult.

My plan was to relax, stay in the flow and conserve energy. It was rocky and I really didn’t want to roll, so I decided to stay upright. The plan worked well, however, I still got tired as there were nearly no easier bits to stop and catch your breath.

About half way down I paddled into the chaos. As I hit the hardest section, I saw pinned boats, people in the water, throw ropes, the works! It felt as half the paddlers were swimming. Someone in my group was swimming, so it made for quite exciting paddling as I tried to follow her and keep an eye on the river coming up.

But all is well that ends well. There were actually only three swimmers and it didn’t take us long to rescue them and most of their gear. All that was lost was a little skin, some pride and a couple of paddles. On the other hand I think it was a huge learning experience for everyone involved.

There was still more good creeking to be done, so the next day a smaller team headed to Medstugaen. The river turned out better than I had expected. It had some really nice three and four part drops which kept me on my toes.

In particular main rapid was a good opportunity for me to push myself a little. I found it scary because it consisted four drops, each harder than the previous, with very little time in between them. I always find drops with poor run outs scary, so it was time to suck it in and go hard.

Unfortunately, today it was me who was struggling to find my form. On the biggest drop, about 2 meters, I miss-read the water and completely missed my line. According to the others I had quite look on my face as I bounced down the rocks. Thankfully I stayed upright!

As luck rather than skill had kept me out of trouble on that river, I decided to take it a little easier after that. The weekend finished with some more play boating and a good party.
That night many paddlers from all over Sweden visited where we were staying. We put the picnic tables together and made a nice long table. On one side of us we had snowy mountains and on the other side the lake. We grilled food on the fire and around midnight there was a beautiful sunset. It was a nice end to fun trip.

There is still one more river I would like to paddle which I never quite made it to. It’s called Vålån. I guess that one’s waiting for me next year.

Check out the Medstugeån movie my frriend Anna made

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