A Norway Paddling Guide
(for kayakers who aren't very good)
by Richard Bown/ Cambridge Uni
During July 2002, a group of distinctly second-rate kayakers visited Norway. We found that the information on offer about the rivers was scarce and was either aimed at complete Muppets ( e.g. elvepaddling, some club trip reports) or psycho-waterfall boaters (e.g. advice from anyone who uses the word 'sick' to describe a river). This guide attempts to describe the rivers from the point of view of the average UK boater who's been to the Alps once or twice. By giving a viewpoint somewhere between 2 extremes, we hope to cause even more confusion than the present 2 extremes allow.
Dan Yates on the upper Rauma, Norway's answer to the Etive. The picture shows the 'interesting lead in' to a bigger 4m fall downstream. Photo by James Farquharson
The best way to get to Norway is probably either the Newcastle to Bergen ferry or a cheaper ferry to Denmark and drive up. Bearing this advice in mind, we decided to take the Dover to Calais ferry and drove a long way. Norway is an expensive country, but by spending carefully and avoiding alcohol it's possible to avoid a complete meltdown of the finances. Wild camping is permitted throughout Norway, as long as you're 150m from a dwelling and are only staying the night. A really organised group could save a lot of time and money by camping near river put ins for an entire trip, however, we found it easier to have a fixed camp. Fortunately campsites are quite cheap - you can stay at Voss or Skjak for 3 pounds per person per night. The kayak camp at Sjoa is free. We started our trip based in Voss, then moved across to Sjoa. The last few nights were spent at Skjak. Ideally, we could have done with shifting campsites every 3/4 days to minimise driving.
Paddling in Norway has a very different feel to the UK or the Alps. To put it simply, paddling in Norway is hard work. Expect difficult walk ins, walk outs and portages. River information is unreliable, so close inspection of everything is imperative. However, once you're on the river, Norway has some awesome whitewater. There's everything from big water to steep creeks, from playwaves to gnarly waterfalls. There's a huge amount to do - every blue line marked on the map is a potential river to run and this guide only scratches the surface.
Using the Guide:
Don't rely on this guide - it probably contains a string of errors and half-truths. Don't paddle anything you haven't seen and get out and look if unsure. Rivers change and the large number of trees that line Norwegian rivers have the potential to form a terminal strainer at short notice. I've tried my best to give the best directions I can to the rivers. The descriptions are deliberately a bit sparse, as I'm assuming that you'll be scouting the river on the way down. The gradings given in the guide are pure guesswork and fairly subjective. UK paddlers used to guides by Knowles and Storrey may find the grades a bit low - hard core Norwegians will say that they're too high. As important as the grade is the character of the river - a continuous 4+ run will be more serious than a pool drop 5, and rivers in deep gorges add an element of commitment. Left and right always refer to what you'd see when looking downstream.
The river runs along the road going north out of Voss. Driving up the valley, you'll find the lakes at the top and the bottom of the worthwhile bit. There are several sections, only one of which we ran. The lake down to our get out is a 3 with a 4 drop and a 5 gorge. Below this the river becomes easier, providing a grade 3 section down to the campsite (the kayak school run). The lower section, starting from the campsite has a 4 rapid and the 8m high 'Tricky Drop'. Below the waterfall, the section is meant to be quite interesting.
Drive out of Voss on the road going north (signed E16 Oslo). Drive up the valley and eventually bear left at a roundabout. You'll see a lake on the left - park in a lay-by and get on here. Take out can be as far down as you like, although it might be useful to locate Tricky Drop before you decide. If you look downriver from the bridge where the road crosses the river, you should see the horizon line. The campsite across the river some way upstream might be a good take out, we found a small tributary further upstream and paddled up to the road.
From the lake, the river goes into 2/3 rapids, which continue intermittently until a horizon line wakes you up. Inspect on the left - the river piles into a big boulder creating a grade 4 rapid that's easier than it looks. Whilst inspecting this, also walk across the bridge and down the road to look at the gorge, which has some nasty stoppers and a hideous siphon at the end. Note that the last feasible get out before the gorge is probably not far after the bridge. The gorge may be portaged along the road, putting back on across a bridge on the left bank. Below here the river was grade 2 to our take out just up a small side stream.
This river is a classic of the Voss region. The river can, apparently, be paddled from the confluence at the end of the road all the way to Voss. The top section contains an infamous fall called 'Nosebreaker' and is generally reasonably hard. The Reime-Skiple section contains some great grade 4 water, but has some awkward portages in high water and most groups will want to portage the final 6 drops. The Skiple-Urdland section is a little easier and certainly less serious. Below Urland the river goes into a gorge that is apparently quite desperate.
Drive out of Voss along the Raundal valley (east). A track on the right in Urdland leads to a bridge, which is the take out for the Skiple - Urdland section. Further up the valley, a road on the right just beyond Skiple, going through a toll barrier leads eventually to a bridge at the end of a gorge - this is the put on for the Skiple - Urland section and the take out for the Reime - Skiple run. Reime is further up the valley. Follow signs for the station and walk across the tracks to put on.
Reime - Skiple
The section starts with some pleasant 4 rapids, with the odd thing requiring inspection and at least one possible portage. The river banks close in and the river goes over a series of drops culminating in a river wide stopper. This may be shot on the right at some levels, otherwise make a long and awkward portage on the left (allow 3 hours!). Below, the river is mostly good read and run, with some 4+ and a probably some inspection required. A horizon line then heralds the first of 6 major drops, which can be inspected and portaged on the right. Apparently they all go, with the possible exception of the 3rd. The run ends with a short gorge leading down to the bridge. This is worth a look, as there is a big stopper halfway down that has to be skirted.
Skiple - Urdland
Either put on below the bridge, aided by metal chains left by the rafting company or walk up the river through the woods to paddle the gorge above the bridge (mentioned above). The two drops below the bridge should be inspected before putting on, probably easier on the left bank. Both are fairly straightforward. The river is easier below, but some rapids will require inspection. These, and the portages around them, are fairly obvious. Near the end of the run, where the river runs close to the road is a 6m waterfall. This may be portaged from well above on the right bank.
Kleivelva (North and south forks of the Raundalsaelva)
At the end of the Raundal valley road, the river splits into two. Both forks provide interesting technical paddling, as does the short section from the confluence down to the road head. A highlight is 'Sacla Falls', a straightforward 6m drop.
Drive along the Raundalsaelva (see above), beyond Reime. Keep going until there is a barrier across the road, and you have reached a small hotel on the left. A wooden suspension bridge crosses the river. Park just before the hotel in a car park on the left. This is the get out. Walk up along the barred road to a wooden sign with hunting tolls on it. For the put in to the north fork, branch left here and put in where you can see the river from the track (there are some impressive waterfalls above here). For the south fork, turn right here and cross a bridge. Continue up the track and put on at a lake.
The south fork has several slides and drops of varying severity. Some are probably 5s, many are somewhat easier.
The north fork has a nice 2m drop, followed by an S-bend type rapid. An obvious horizon line then appears over a large two-tier drop - inspect and portage on the left. Easier water leads to the confluence.
Below the confluence, the first drop is below the bridge crossed on the walk-in. This is followed by 4 drops of increasing difficulty. This can all be viewed and walked round if required on the left bank. A flat section leads to a wooden weir, immediately followed by the 6m Sacla Falls. Both can be inspected from the right bank. It is also possible to portage one, or both of the drops on the right. A messy rapid below the fall may also be portaged right. Easier drops lead to the take out at the wooden bridge.
The section below this takeout can also be paddled, although we didn't do it, and contains the infamous "Nosebreaker" Fall.
A classic creek, apparently the scene of at least one extreme race. The river certainly has other sections of interest. We paddled the section between the two bridges. Above here are some large slides that looked like good fun.
Drive out of Voss on the road going north (signed E16 Oslo). Drive up the valley and go straight on at a roundabout. Drive around a lake, then turn R at a sign marked 'Branseth'. The take out is at the first bridge across the river that you come to; the put in is at the second.
The river is pool - drop in character, with a range of drops and slides. Most of it will need inspection, so any detailed description would be superfluous. The rapids include: a 10m rock slide, a 4/5m near-vertical drop and a boulder garden leading in to a 1.5m drop. A fun paddle, possibly with the odd portage.
Most paddlers will stay at the Sjoa kayak camp during their time in Norway. It's worth making your visit coincide with the annual Sjoa Festival - for dates see www.padling.no . The Sjoa is the classic river of the surrounding area, and has a range of sections. The upper upper section, called the Ridderspranget (4(5)) is an excellent run with some exciting rapids at the right level. Below this the river is easier. Most boaters do the 'play run' section (3) at least once. From the bottom of the play run, the river flattens out for a few km (1/2), before entering the upper gorge, passing through the slalom site (3+) then running through the lower gorge (4) to the confluence with the Otta. It's possible to run all the way down the play run to the bottom take out, but in practise most paddlers do the play run a few times and save the lower sections for a quick evening's paddle.
The 257 from the town of Sjoa runs along the river. Shortly after the road crosses the Otta, there is a turning for Sjoa on the R, followed by a small layby. This is the place to park for the get out for the lower canyon. The egress is reached by walking 100m up the road and down into the trees on the left to find the eddy. A little further up the 257 is a sign for the Sjoa Kayak Camp. Camping here is free outside of the festival. Further up the 257 is the village of Nedre Heidal, and the local kayak shop. Just below this is a sports field / campsite / area of chalets which is the take out for the play section. The first bridge across the river above Nedre Heidal is the put in for the section.
Finding the access and egress for the Ritterspranget is trickier. To find the get out, drive much further up the 257 then take the second left that is signed 'Murudalen'. Turn left again onto a dirt track signed 'Nedre Trasafossen'. Park at the end of the track. To find the get out, continue up the 257 to Randsverk and turn left onto the 51. Turn left at a stone 'fisking information' sign and a white tourist sign. Follow signs for 'Ridderspranget' down a gravel track and park at the tourist car park with the toilet. Walk down the tourist track by the information sign (not the vehicle track) to the river.
Whilst at the put in to the Ridderspranget, take time to read the story on the tourist information board and walk upstream a little way to convince yourself that it's not worth carrying your boat any higher. You might also want to have a quick look round the corner into the short gorge. Put on either by seal launching down the slab into the pool, or put on a little lower off some rocks. The latter option avoids paddling through the stopper that forms just below the pool at some levels. The gorge leads on to easier water. The first drop is obvious from the water - this 4m fall may be inspected and portaged if necessary on the right. Immediately after this drop, find an eddy on the left hand bank, and eddy hop down until the eddies run out, as the next section is portaged on the left to avoid an evil looking waterfall. Put on just below the waterfall down a steep bank. The river now goes into an entertaining gorge, which is mostly read and run, with a bouncy, big water feel. At the end of the gorge, the rapids ease off before 2 triple drops. Both can be inspected and portaged on the right. The second is easier than the first, although the first does have a chicken shoot for lazy paddlers.
We ran the play run twice, once in very high water. In high water the section provides good high volume rapids (4). At normal levels, take a playboat down as there are some excellent playspots. These include the Gulfstream hole a few hundred metres down from the put in, a lovely green wave on the left about halfway down and the rodeo wave (also called the Faukstad wave) just above the Nedre Heidal bridge. Its possible to walk directly to this wave by following a track down from the kayak shop - ask for directions. The get out is a little awkward due to the small eddies - an alternative, particularly useful at high levels, is to get out from an eddy on the left just below the Nedre Heidal bridge. There is a steep path up to the road.
Below Nedre Heidal, the river flattens out for several kilometres and divides around several islands. However, the section dosen't take long and it provides a break before the interesting final rapids.
Eventually, the river enters a gorge - the upper canyon just above the slalom course. This should be inspected from the layby off the 257 as it can contain a nasty stopper at some levels.
Below the gorge, the river widens to flow past the campsite and down the slalom course. Egress is possible in a large eddy on the right just above the campsite, or at some steps on the right at the bottom of the course.
After the course, the banks again close in as the river enters the lower canyon. This may be inspected by walking up some rough paths from the get out, although it's much easier to just paddle it first time with someone who knows it The first rapid is an S bend shot on the right to avoid an undercut. Below the bridge is a river wide stopper that seemed alright on the left when we ran it. The rapid following this is the hardest, a V wave leading into unavoidable stoppers. After this, an easy bouncy rapid leads to the get out eddy.
We ran the Upper Driva, a 2/3 run with one 4 drop that fails to make it worthwhile. Apparently one of the lower sections is rather more interesting
Put in is off the E6 just south of Oppdal. Follow a sign for 'Vollen' and put on below the bridge. Take out is off the 70 and is awkward to find. Turn left down a track in the second 60 zone out of Oppdal.
The first notable obstacle is a river wide stopper that goes fairly easily. Some twists and turns lead into the first gorge. Halfway through a horizon line broken by a rock in the centre indicates that you've arrived at the grade 4 drop. Inspect on the right. At the end of the gorge, the riverbanks open out for a while before closing in to form a fairly unremarkable second gorge. Get out below this somewhere - worth inspecting, as it's not obvious.
We ran the lower, which provides continuous 3/3+ rapids all the way down - excellent if you're paddling at that grade. The upper section, found by driving all the way up the road has some good drops on it, and is apparently well worth doing, but needs rain.
Drive along the E136 out of Dombas. Just before the road crosses the river, pull off left beside a building marked 'Lesja Bilrutter'. The take out and gauge are just below the road bridge, next to a broken weir thingy. To find the put in, drive further up the E136 and turn right at a sign for 'Sjong Seter'. Pass under a railway bridge and through a toll. Turn right at a building marked 'Lesja R.K.H' and put in at the bridge.
A flat section leads into bouncy grade 3. The river continues in an increasingly predictable manner, until a tributary increases the volume and makes the river a little more interesting. The weir at the end is apparently a bit gnarly at some levels.
A superb creek, which we may have done the first British descent of. A profusion of slides and drops make this a must for any group with creek boats and a video camera.
Down the E136 out of Dombas, turn left at an airport sign (Rana, Bjorli). Keep going down this road until the tarmac runs out. Fork left then turn sharp left - if you get to 'privat veg' signs you've missed one or both of the left turns. The road ends at a footbridge. Carry boats across this and along the path up the river. Put in as high as you like, although eventually the river gorges up and eddies become increasingly scarce.
A profusion of slides and drops, the most major of which is a steep drop with a wooden construction on the right followed immediately by a slide through a narrow gap with a nasty stopper at the bottom which can be avoided by punching through the plume of water spraying off the left wall. The river eases off to grade 2 for the last km.
Skjerva and Finna
The Finna is a classic grade 4 gorge run and well worth a paddle if the levels are right. It's tributary, the Skjerva is somewhat harder (5?), with many drops requiring inspection. The Skjerva may be split into two sections by a difficult walk out/in. Both sections take quite a while, although the lower is more serious, with more inspection to be done and some slightly harder drops.
Take the E15 out of Otta. Just before crossing the river in Vagamo, take a right turn for 'Skogbygda', then branch left again following a Skogbygda sign. To find the take out for the Finna and the gauge, turn immediately left (signed Statnett) and continue along the track past an electrical substation. Drive/walk through several gates, almost reaching a farm at the end of the track. Walk left towards where the river exits the gorge. The gauge will be found among rocks. The gauge should be at least 1.1 to run the Finna. Continuing up the valley, you eventually reach a fork in the road. The Finna put in (lower Skjerva get out) is at the bridge on the left hand fork. The other Skjerva access points are on the right hand fork (signed Lesja). The road takes a loop around a tributary - there is a pond on the right of the road feeding the tributary. To get to the access for the lower Skjerva / egress for the upper, find a path in the trees just after the road bends right to curve around the tributary. Walk / scramble down to the river here. If you're lazy and want to inspect this access point from the road, it's just about possible from a layby further along. To find the put in for the upper, continue along the road until you get above the trees. Stop when power lines cross the road. Walk under the power lines, then down a small side stream to the put in.
The Skjerva has at least one impressive (18m?) drop above the get in described, which has apparently not been run - worth a look! The river is fairly steep and technical, with some drops and blind corners requiring inspection. Two boulder sieves will need to be portaged. Some of the pourovers on this section form quite grabby stoppers - be warned.
The lower section is of a similar character to the upper, however, more bank inspection and portaging is required. The section is also probably harder and more committing due to an even steeper sided gorge.
The put in to the Finna is actually on the Skjerva, about a km above the confluence. The river runs through a deep gorge, which would make emergency egress difficult or impossible in places. Most of the Finna is read and run, though some points will need inspection. There are two 'portages', both of which can be done without getting out of your boat at the correct levels. The first involves making a small eddy on the left and sliding over some rocks. This eddy disappears at levels below about 1.1, possibly making the drop impossible to portage. One group we talked to did try to run this drop. They lost a boat and destroyed the sump on their car engine - far easier to slide down on the left! The second portage is a similar affair, sliding the boat over on the right, or carrying at lower levels.
Well worth doing for the slides, which will put a silly grin on your face, and the drops, which will get the adrenaline flowing. The slides are used for the annual extreme race held during the Sjoa festival.
It's worth checking the map at the Sjoa kayak camp, if it's still there, as the Ulla area is covered with small tracks. Drive up the E6 from Sjoa and take a right signed 'Rondane, Mysuster'. Drive up the switchbacks and continue until the tarmac ends. Turn left here and come to a fork. Take the right fork through a toll to reach a gate from which you have to walk to the put in. The left fork leads to a hotel near the get out.
An easy section leads down to a warm up drop - inspect on the left. The slides are shortly after this, again inspect on the left. While you're inspecting the slides, make sure you find the waterfall just below the bridge. Most people choose a boof at the centre of this drop, although speed freaks / those who don't mind getting hurt should note that the racing line is on the left. Below, the river continues over several 2/3m drops. The section ends with three large drops ('Ula Falls') in close proximity. The third drop is uncomfortably close to a fourth drop, which most will not wish to run. Probably worth setting some safety up, as well as the video camera.
The Rauma is the perfect pool-drop river, consisting of a series of lakes linked by interesting rapids / falls. The upper section is the run that most will want to do - the lower is apparently rather more serious. If you continue across the bridge and along the road from the take out, you'll find yourself following a tributary. This river reportedly has some fun slides higher up.
Along the E136 from Dombas, drive beyond the Asbjornaa turn. Just after a petrol station and a sign for 'Bjorli St.', pull into a layby on the right just before the road crosses the river. The put in is onto the lake by the layby. Continue along the E136 until you can see a left turn leading to a bridge - this is the take out.
The Upper Rauma is entirely pool-drop and inspection of most of the drops will be required. The drops include a 4m waterfall with an interesting lead in.
A big water run in a gorge, with one fairly long portage.
Drive up the E6 from Otta. For the take out, turn left towards 'Nord-sel', go across a bridge and park on the right in a grassy layby. Continue up the E6, with the river visible on the left. Just after the road crosses the river, park on the left in an indistinct layby.
The first part of the river is a pleasant bounce down. The rapids then get harder until a horizon line is reached - get out here on the left. The bottom of the get out eddy is the start of the portage around a nasty drop just downstream. You may want to run the rapid just below this get out, but this would require you to walk back up. The portage involves carrying the boats up to the road, then along the road until a scree slope is seen on the right. Walk down the scree and seal launch in at the bottom. Below here, the rapids get more interesting, with one or two drops needing a quick look from the bank. The river flattens out before the take out.
A 'pleasant' run at 3/3+, providing you avoid the many undercuts in the upper part of the run. The section below the one described contains the huge 'Falls of Lora' - not a playboating spot!
Down the E136 out of Dombas, turn left at a sign for 'Lordalsvegan, Brenden Seter'. Follow the road through a toll and onto a dirt track. The get out is between a sign for 'Haukruste' and a small layby on the left. The cairn marking this is easier to locate from the river than from the road, although the get out is still worth inspecting as the road and river separate further down. Continuing up the dirt track, you will see a wooden footbridge on the left. This may be used as an alternative get out, avoiding the last few kms of easy water. Further up, turn left across a bridge and park on the right near a sign for 'Ruste'
The rapid under the bridge is one of the harder ones on the run. Below this the river is easier, until a gorge is reached. This contains some interesting rapids and lots of undercut rocks. This can all be scouted from the boat, although one rapid is apparently portaged at certain levels. After leaving the gorge, the river is easy grade 2.
Extremely continuous 4+ rapids in a committing gorge, with two harder drops at the start. Has a must make get out followed be a steep walk-out. The river has few eddies and demands a small, experienced group. An inspection of the get out is highly recommended.
On the E15, turn left just before the left turn to 'Brata' which goes along the Astre (the Astre has one short section of 3 in a gorge below a wooden bridge higher up the valley). This is a private road, as indicated on the signs, so be as discreet as possible. Keep going until you reach a collection of buildings by the river - 'Tundradalseter'. Beyond this point the road appears to get even worse, so put in here below a wooden footbridge. Driving back down the river, you will be able to see a large meander in the river from the track. A few hundred metres beyond, walk down to the river from a grassy layby. The take out is just above a horrific looking drop in a deep and narrow gorge. We never actually managed to see the bottom of this drop! Note that eddies are not plentiful just above.
The river starts easily enough. The first major drop is a slide and drop affair with big rooster's tail thing in the middle - inspect on the left. Whilst looking at this drop, wander further down the river, as a series of grabby pourovers leads to one drop that's worth a look. A pourover on the right and an eddy that feeds back into on the left take up the whole river. Below here the river is continuous 4/4+. Most groups will need to get out of their boats to look around the odd blind corner. Be sure to get out well before the terminal gorge!
A series of large drops, which have a proven ability to cause carnage. Looks great on video though and was a real rush - "if you can/dare, do!".
Follow the E15 west beyond the Skjoli and Tundra. The road crosses a river just beyond the 'Pollfoss' caf and just before the village of 'Billingen'. Turn right onto a track, which crosses back across the river. Walk up from here.
Falls and slides of varying severity - go and have a look. A rapid below the bridge leads into a large slide. We ran this and the two drops above. The drops seem to get harder the higher up you go. We only looked a few hundred metres up though.
By Richard Bown/ Cambridge University.