Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Paddling the best of Norrland

My week paddling in the north of Sweden was the perfect kind of Summer-holiday kayaking trip. The sun shone almost too much! The mozzies mostly stayed away. And paddling was fantastic.

Norrlandsturen is “the kayaking tour of Sweden”. For one week, kayakers from all over Sweden head to the very north of the country to try some of the best paddling Sweden has to offer. This year, we were two minibuses, many cars, and around 40 people.

Ask any Swede and they will tell you Norrland is a very special place. It’s the land of the midnight sun, where tents become saunas at 6am. It’s where you’ll find lots of reindeer and only a few people. It’s where Sweden greets Finland and place names start to have ridiculous numbers of i’s and j’s. It’s where even the Telia mobile network stops working and life becomes simpler.

For me the fun begun on the Laisälven. After a night of searching for the non-existent bridge and meeting point, we had given up hope of paddling this river. Luckily in the morning we found our friends and some fantastic rapids. This trip is something of a Swedish classic. It’s a lot of relaxing class II broken up with adrenalin-pumping IV rapids. In particular there was a highly memorable long rapid that finishes in a high fast slide and huge breaking wave. Good clean fun woohooo!

After that it, we moved to Paltvalsen on the Piteaälven. This is one of the best white-water campgrounds I’ve been to. From the lakeside camp it’s only a 10 minute paddle to “the play wave” which leads onto a lovely class III-IV run. In the other direction it’s only five minutes to the end of either a crazy class V-VI run or a more manageable class IV creeking trip. Take your pick!

What’s even better is that parts of all these runs here many channels. They call it a delta landscape. So you paddle any of these runs several times before you’ve even seen all the whitewater!

The play feature, Paltvalsen (Palt hole), is named after palt, a local delicacy. It’s a little like a scotch egg with a bit of sausage wrapped inside a thick batter made from potatos. You then cook the balls in a big pot of hot water. When the palt is cooked it rises to the surface and that’s how you know that they're ready. The play hole is pretty similar. It’s pretty big and pushy, but you know if you just hang around you’ll pop to the surface when you’re ready to get out.

One night we got to try palt at Palt. With a little butter and sylt (jam) it’s good shit after a hard days paddling. (Mind you anything is good shit when you’re hungry and someone else has done the cooking for you – Thanks Eric!)

I just loved my based at Palt. We stayed three days, but I think I could have stayed two weeks. One of my favourite runs in the area was called bonebreaker. It’s “boating at it’s best” with big water, and big waves. There are also plenty of continuous sections were you could eddy hop your way down. Finally, there’s the un-missable friendly little waterfall called “Autoboof”. If you’re dreaming of staring in your own kayak-porn film, here is a good place to start training for the camera!

From Palt the tour moved north to the Torneälven on the border with Finland. Here the fun meter stepped up a notch as we were there to paddle Matkakoski, the monster wave. This wave is three meters high, and has a wicked bounce. Of course after paddling the wave, I couldn’t resist visiting Finland in order to complete my first (illegal?) crossing of international waters.

The final stop on the tour was the Kalixälven. By now we really were in the very north of Sweden, so north that mobile telephones stopped working completely. (Significant to Swedes, many of whom suffer withdraw from the moment “contact” is lost). However even our little one room stuga (bach), beside a lake in the middle of the forest was not far enough away to escape the world cup. Sweden was playing and the boys had brought a generator just for the purpose….

We were here to compete in the Swedish National Champs and locals put on a great show. It was big water, big waves, good music and big fun. Thanks guys. After the Swedish national champs on Saturday our week was ended and it was time to go home.

There’s only one thing problem with paddling in the north of Sweden. It is a bloody long way home…. After 18 hours of driving....

Thanks everyone for a fantastic week of boating!

Picture credits: Honk, David and Lotta

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