tisdag 30 juni 2015

Nine days solo canoeing trip

At the end of May I finished my woodworking course at Insjön in Sweden. The school was quite far into the country and I usually live by the sea. So I saw this as an excellent opportunity for a long canoeing trip.


Dalälven is the river I paddled, it is one of Swedens biggest rivers. It starts off as two rivers, west Dalälven and east Dalälven which both have their sources in Norway, and then meet up and flow a little bit south of the middle of Sweden to finally reach the Baltic sea close to Gävle, about 100 miles north of Stockholm. East Dalälven passes close to the school so I decided to follow it down to the sea, a total of 256 kilometers (159 miles).
The name Dalälven consists of two words, "dal" which means valley and "älv" which means a river starting in the mountains. It flows through the county Dalarna (valleys) in Sweden which I believe has given it it's name.


The stream pass by some cities which allowed me to resupply along the way. This gave a lot of freedom in the planning process. I did not calculate how long it would take, I decided to not be in a hurry and just paddle as far as I felt like each day.
The time between deciding to do the trip and actually starting was very short, a little under one week. And I did not have all of my outdoor gear at school so some things were just improvised or simply left out. I dried a lot of food before heading out; potatoes, carrots, zucchini, paprika, onion, mushrooms and other vegetables. I only ate vegeterian food, and except the butter most things were vegan. Oat milk for example lasts much longer in warm temperature than milk product and works just as well in food.
I printed the maps from http://kso2.lantmateriet.se It's a free service where you can print your own maps of pretty much anywhere in Sweden. Unfortunately I only had access to a black and white printer so sometimes during the trip I had trouble navigating.

The trip

The rainy beginning

I started in east Dalälven and reached the meeting point already the first day. It was a day of constant rain, not an excellent start of a trip but I didn't get let down by the rain. And later I would have a lot of benefit (and some trouble) from the high water level the rain made. I also had to portage past the first dam this first day. There was about one dam per day to pass, but sometimes more. During the whole trip I portaged 14 dams.
I spent the first night in an abandoned storage shed. It was nice to have a dry place to sleep at after a day of constant rain.

Misery campfire after a rainy day.

The abandoned storage shed I slept in first night.

The city of portaging

The next day was also raining but in the evening it had stopped. I reached the first city now, Borlänge. I spoke to a man which explained that the name is old Swedish and means "carrying far". And that proved to be very true. The city had 4 dams. I did the first dam, which was just a short portage and then set up camp in a small forest on an old dirt road.

The next day was probably the heaviest during the whole trip. The first two dams were not too bad, quite short portages. But the last one was a lot worse. It was a total of over 3 km because the riverbank was blocked by a sewage plant. I first carried my packing and managed to hitch hike to the bridge where I was planning to end the portage. Then on the way back to get the canoe I put up my thumb again... and surprisingly got picked up by the same guy again. So then I portaged the canoe all the way. It was windy so the canoe caught wind all the time while carrying, When I got the chance I used the areas with high grass in the ditch to pull it instead of carrying on my back. I found it to be nice to alternate between the two a bit. At least it was fun to see the look on the psaserby's faces when I walked around in the city with a canoe on my head.
When the canoe was in place I decided to go into town and get some new boots, this far I had only used my working shoes which were in very bad condition, since I didn't have my tripping shoes at school. My shoes had gotten totally soaked by the rain and were also falling apart. So I bought a cheap pair of rubber boots which I used for the rest of the trip. It wasn't ideal but it was much better than the wet ones. I didn't want anything with lining as those never dry.

Lost in the forest and thunderstorm

The next few days were quite straight forward. The weather was better. It was a bit windy some days but I soon got into the rythm of waking up between 4 and 6 before the wind got strong and then setting camp between 2 and 5 when it was too windy to be comfortable to paddle.
Up until this point the stream had been narrow all the way, never widening into lakes or such. But on the 5th day I reached the first lake, close to Hedemora. By now the water level was very high and the land in this area was very low. This in combination with my bad maps and that I didn't have a compass made it hard to navigate. I decided to take a shortcut in a narrow canal between the mainland and an island. But it was hard to find where it started because the forest was flooded. I thought I had found it and started following it through the forest. But soon lost it and realized I was just paddling between the trees and because of the cloudy weather couldn't really tell directions.

High water level...
Eventually I got out again and decided to paddle around the island. But when I did so I found the canal and it was quite big because of the high water level. It was however blocked by some roads which I could easily pass because they were flooded too.
But now the wind got a lot stronger really quickly and I see some big dark clouds in the sky. It has kind of been building up for this the whole day but at one point it's no longer possible to paddle. I set camp at a big green field already around 2 o'clock. The thunderstorm and rain comes in th evening and is really close. But when it passed by it left one of the most amazing rainbows I've seen!

Halfway point, party and a change in nature

Next day I reach the city Avesta where I resupply for the rest of the trip and also buy a compass which I realized I will need. It's the last city I pass during the trip. It also has 2 dams which I do in one portage, quite far but not as heavy as the one in borlänge. In the afternoon I reach Sjöviks folkhögskola which is the school I did my 2 years bushcraft program at. I've been looking forward to reaching this point as it's the halfway mark of my trip. And after this the nature gets much more wild and untouched. The bushcraft students are still there and have just got back from a two and a half week paddle trip. It's their penultimate day and they celebrate it by visiting one of the teachers and having a barbecue party which I join. It was very nice to get some real food and meeting friends and my old teachers again.
The start of the second part of the trip was amazing. There was no wind and just a very thin layer of clouds, just enough so the sun wouldn't burn or blind me. And I was familiar with the area I paddled this day since we did trips here from Sjövik. From here on the river widened a lot and it was more like paddling in lakes than a river. The first rapids also started showing up now. I could paddle all of them except one. It's called Balen and is famous for it's huge monster wave which now with this much water was 1-2m high and followed by 2 more nearly as big waves. I decided to do it the safe way and portaged past it.

This day I did close to 60km (37 miles), it shows how much knowing the waters and good weather do for the speed. In the evening I set camp at a windbreak and baked bread in the pot.

The last challenging dams and the sea

The last days I did about 2 dams a day and they were quite challenging. The portages were not very far. But the riverbanks were artificial, high and steep and the water flowed fast. To get ashore I had to hold the canoe in a rope while I carefully unloaded the packing. Putting it in a bad spot would make it roll down into the river. Then I had to somehow pull the canoe up. This was also challenging to do without damaging it.
Then I had to do everything again to get it back in water below the dam. I first put the canoe in, and if I had something to tie it to I did so while loading it. At one place I was a bit careless. I had stored the map inside my rolled up sleeping mattress and while loading the canoe I tried to throw the sleeping mattress into the canoe, but missed and it was caught by the stream. So I had to hurry and pack the last things then untied the canoe and jumped in. I managed to catch it but the maps had gotten wet, but was still readable.
An old dam
One day I got into another thunderstorm. I was paddling on open water with just a few islands around. So I went on shore on the closest one which had a small cabin. At first I just waited behind the cabin taking cover from the rain but when it started raining more and seemed it wouldn't stop I went up to it and checked the door. The door to the veranda was unlocked so I could go inside and wait out the storm. It was all white and clean in there so I felt very uncomfortable. When the storm ended I wrote a message thanking the owners and left.
The last dam, in Älvkarleby was easy to get ashore at and from the water it looked like a quite short walk. But when I went to take a look there was a huge waterfall behind it with a long steep rapid following it. I realized it would be a long portage so I asked a pair I met (Magnus and Ulrika which would be the quickest way past it. They explained and in the end they even said they could help me carry. So me and Magnus took the canoe and Ulrika took the gear. Not having to go back up to get the canoe saved me a lot of energy and time. They were very helpful and told me this was the last dam and that the rest of the way would be a breeze.
And they were right, the river got narrow again, much like the beginning of my trip and the water was flowing fast. I just had to sit back and go with the flow, literally.
Reaching the sea was a great experience. It was a feeling of relief and freedom but also a scary feeling. The sea is big and wild compared to the predictable river.

This trip was a great experience! I didn't put much time into planning and preparing the trip. I just did the necessary stuff and went out. It was amazing to be alone for this long time. Lots of time to think and reflect and I got much closer to nature than I usually do on trips. I really learned to predict the weather and could sometimes go ashore even before the wind arrived.

And finally some more photos from the trip.

Amazing construction!