Norway's Rauma - a Game of Two Halves

by Mark Rainsley

(first published in 'Paddles' magazine)

Norway is fast becoming established as the primo destination for UK paddlers wanting glorious scenery, tough boating and impressive overdrafts. I idled a month there last summer and was blown away by the quality of the rivers and even more by the price of the beer. It was truly astounding just how much of the stuff you had to sink before you stopped caring about the price. Anyway, a quick guide to paddling in Norway; there isn't a single duff river in Norway and there isn't a single grade 3 river either. That's a slight generalisation, but you get the gist. If you want more specific vagueness, see for James Farquharson's guide to paddling in Norway. He has put this together over several summers wasted in Norway and if you read it, you might even be persuaded that he knows what he's talking about.

The purpose of this article is to sing the praises of the Rauma, one of Norway's finest rivers. Admittedly singling any Norwegian river out for special praise is like trying to tell Scandinavian women apart, but get an article on the Rauma, like it or not. The Rauma is a game of two halves. Both sections work particularly well in later summer; which is another way of saying that they would be a suicide mission in high water. Both sections have stunning scenery and involve falling off wet cliffs but the similarities end there; two perfect wet days out, two different experiences.

A glorious sunny day; like every boating day ever in Norway. The layby for the upper Rauma put-in was a train-wreck of cars bearing UK number plates. A frightening selection of the lowest underclass of Brit paddlers were sprawled around eating prawn salad sandwiches with the 'Chemical Brothers' turned up loud. One guy was sitting on a fence stark naked, but I'm not too sure what that was all about. In due course these folk slowly donned paddling gear and plodded off one by one to the river. Nothing happens quickly in Norway; it would be the same here if the sun didn't go down so quickly.

The upper Rauma proved to be a true pool-drop river, with the spirit level alternately reading 'horizontal' or 'vertical'. The pools were wide deep lagoons of clear water surrounded by leafy glades, a chance to mellow and take the whiz out of each other's lines on the last fall. The falls themselves were short, sharp and often big. Imagine Scotland's wonderful Etive without the blizzards and eddy queues, and you get the upper Rauma.

The best of the upper Rauma came with the spectacular 'mini-Huka' rapid, named after a scary scaled-up equivalent in New Zealand. We inspected river left, and imagined the perfect line. A no-brainer waterfall to start with; paddle forward, fall off. Eddy out in the gorge below and catch your breath. Peel out of the eddy, weave through your marker rocks, make a final sprint to boof off the horizon line where the gorge opens out into open space. Fly through the air in slow-mo surrounded by rainbows, sunshine and spray. Lovely. Now we had to hop into our boats for real and try to make it happen just like that!

The last fall of 'Mini-Huka' rapid on the upper Rauma.

There are a few non-waterfall rapids on the upper. I inspected one rapid before returning to the group to report back.
"Follow the obvious chute".
"What's down there?" a friend asked.
"Everything; rocks, stoppers, boils"
Oops, he paddled off thinking I was joking! It wasn't long before I had my comeuppance though; a rather simple and innocuous rapid just below saw my boat sinking into an undercut. Luckily I was flushed clear, but it was a brief and hair-raising reminder to stay awake.

The upper Rauma finishes upstream of a railway viaduct, and you'll certainly feel no desire to carry on. The Rauma vanishes down an evil gorge which has 'game over' written all over it. With no desire to meet our makers prematurely, we stripped off wet gear and baked in the sun scoffing down ice creams. The upper Rauma is not an especially tough river in low water; it needs respect but when all is said and done, how hard can falling off a cliff be? If you enjoy this sort of thing on the Etive, then the upper Rauma will knock your socks off.

A few weeks later. A select rabble of the original crowd returned to the Rauma valley, this time with the lower section in mind. The group was pretty useful, containing members of the UK and NZ Freestyle teams. I was allowed to tag along for comedy value as official Numpty.

Dan had sketchy info that the lower section was possible but tough; if you portaged the gnarl below the railway viaduct. We first headed down the valley to see the lower Rauma from the road. What I saw was spectacular but clearly unpaddleable; I have a real problem with rapids visible from space. My first instinct was that Dan had sucked us into a huge windup, and I found myself laughing hysterically. Hopping out of the car Dan announced nonchalantly, "This was first paddled last year for the 'Valhalla' video...and now we're going to do it...isn't that great?"
I won't repeat my answer.

Oh well, it was happening whether I liked it or not. I tried to psyche myself up by blasting 'Limp Bizkit's version of 'Mission Impossible' whilst changing. Who was I kidding? My legs were jelly as we lugged boats down to the river.

Mark Rainsley on the Lower Rauma.

Mark Rainsley and Jo Lucas, Lower Rauma.

Anyway, three hours and two kilometres later the four of us climbed out feeling high as kites. The paddling was astonishing, enormous falls and slides with real volume and power to them. Best of all, nobody got hurt or had a single bad 'moment' on the river. I had staggered out of far easier rivers in Norway, battered and bruised, during the previous month.

Everything we saw proved to be possible when you looked up close and switched off your imagination. We all made portages, each of us in different places. I was the only person to walk the biggest fall which really was amazing - make a sketchy boof onto a 50-60 foot high 50 degree curling ramp and hang on for dear life whilst everything goes whiteout! When the others somehow styled it, I was tempted to go back and give it a shot...but that isn't how good decisions are made.

Jo Lucas on the lower Rauma.

Dan Yates on the lower Rauma.

The key thing is that everybody was on top of their egos and portaged the right bits for themselves at the right times. No bad decisions, no hero boating. A good job really, as this wasn't a place for errors. The lower Rauma finishes with the "sickest slides in Norway", whatever that yoof-speak actually means. Either way, I do now know how you get a Java creek boat to fly. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeha!

Kiwi Jo came off the river screaming "Yis! I am a fickin ligind!" and it summed up how we all felt just then; invincible and totally unbearable to everybody else. I couldn't sleep that night and I was still buzzing a week later when the car headed up the ramp onto the ferry home.

So there you have it. The upper Rauma with its clean friendly waterfalls and the lower Rauma with enough extreme bits to launch a satellite TV channel. Back here in the UK winter during a long dry cold period, the Rauma seems about as real as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. But it is there sure enough. Go to Norway, go see. Take your pick from the upper or the lower; serene or extreme.

Mark Rainsley thanks Perception kayaks for continuing support.

Do you feel lucky? Inspecting.

Dan again (top left of fall).