by Patrick Clissold
We left arrived at Stockholm Vasteras from Luton later in the evening to be greeted by Theo and the rent-a-wreck car, that wasnt that bad. We then headed off for the first stop which was the Renforsen on the Vindelalven. On arrival we realized what Swedish whitewater was all about. This was full on big volume stuff and the timing of our trip meant that we had hit them in peak flow. The section we were looking for was about 1km long however after seeing the river in flood we only ran the last 200m section a few times. We camped by the river which may not have been a good idea as all you could hear all night was the roar of the river which made for pleasant dreams.
We woke up with the idea of finding something a little less horrendous. However our plans were soon foiled by the fact that the key in the rent-a-wreck car would not turn. This is quite a problem when your in a small town in northern Sweden. How long does it take a mechanical engineer, an electronic engineer, a civil engineer and a bio-chemical engineer to hotwire a car? About four hours. However with that behind us we carried on up river to the Mrdseleforsen. This was an awesome rapid with lots of channels in-between islands. We decided on our route and then began the hour long pondering on what would happen to you if you went into that hole? Cameras were set up and Me and Tim went to do it first while Theo and Glyn filmed. I remember not paying much attention to this little entry rapid on the walk up, however when I got to it on the river I realized how big the waves were and wondered how big the main rapid would look from boat level! Both went smoothly, as I looked behind me I saw Tim was ok too and we both broke out to relieve the others of camera duty. Theos and Glyns run did not go so smoothly. Glyn rolled in the entry rapid and managed to break out before the main event. He pulled his shoulder and could not move his whole arm. Theo made the main rapid however a rather suspect line took him into the middle of a rather large hole. He rolled up looking rather confused and broke out. After consulting Glyn who was in no state to paddle we headed on down the next rapid which was not so intense thankfully.
The next day we headed to the Pitelven which is a rather fantastic river as it is a creeking delta. A large volume river split into so many steep channels. This made the volume a little more manageable. Some nice rapids and drops ended in a giant slide that after a long think was decided not worth it and we got in below with only an easily skirtable stopper to negotiate. Not so for Tim who ended swimming out of the afore mentioned hole. We camped on the river bank just down stream.
The next day we got back on for an easier run for a few km. We then headed north towards Jokkmokk which is just north of the Arctic circle. We crossed the Arctic circle and had to stop to send some postcards. We then headed to the river Kalix. This was a long drive and we got there about 8pm. We had dinner then decided at 10pm to get on the river, hey its the arctic it doesnt get dark in the summer! This river was supposed to be 7 distinct rapids however I remember 2. The last of which is one the best I have ever paddled, consisting of some very large holes and waves but somehow all went well. We got off the river at about 1am.
The next day we didnt paddle instead we went to visit Europes largest rapid, Storforsen. Literally translated as big rapid. This was one the most breath taking things I have ever seen. I cant imagine anybody ever paddling it. We spent a long time just in awe of the shear size of it. We ate dinner on the banks of it then camped.
The next day we drove to the Laislven which is a tributary of the Vindelalven. This was again some very large volume rapids most of which went with not much problems. However one rapid was inspected and Tim insisted that there was a green tongue in the middle of this large stopper just out of sight. Myself nor Theo thought that there would be one however gave Tim and chance to prove his theory. He paddled over the lip the drop to find no tongue and a very large hole a minute or two of trashing followed with him eventually swimming out and managing to get out with all his kit on a very small island in the middle of the river.
The next day we drove south again. And after a long drive we camped next to the river Ammer which we intended to paddle the next day. Myself and Theo decided not to erect a tent and sleep in this wooden shelter we found. However the next morning I awoke to find myself looking like the elephant man after being the meal of several thousand mosquitoes. Theo has slept in the inner of the tent which protected him. We got on the river and expected a reasonably hard run to finish off the trip. After a few fairly easy rapids we were greeted by a lake. The guide had screwed up and we ended up paddling 5 km of flat water and were eventually rescued by spotting Glyn drive past.
An enjoyable holiday with far too much driving, far too many mosquitoes and far too much water. An adventure all round.
Timing: We went in the middle of June which was at peak flow. For less water it would be better to go in May. It would not be a good idea to go after June as the mosquitoes come in thick black clouds and would make the trip miserable, it was bad enough when we were there. It is 24 day light up north in the summer which is good or bad depending on your point of view. The temperature was like a British summer even in the arctic!
Getting There: We flew from Luton airport to Stockholm Vasteras airport. We flew with Ryanair which are happy to take kayaks if you pay the 17 each way sports equipment fee. We found a very good deal for about 10 each way but this was a special deal, so you have to keep a lookout. Once we were there we hired a car from rent-a-wreck. However be warned its called that for a reason and ours did break down, although we got roof racks with it which was a bonus.
Getting Around: There is paddling all over Sweden, but we decided to go to the far north. The roads are good and congestion is non-existent. However in the north the yearly cycle of freezing and thawing does do some damage to the roads. The Swedish government are very good at fixing them but there is a lot to cover! Maps of Sweden are good for roads but they are no OS maps. We had a very good map that had all the petrol stations on which is an issue you want to plan ahead for as the north is very sparsely populated. The main dangers on the roads in the north is reindeer. Many accidents happen because they jump out of the forests into the road. Language is not an issue because nearly everyone in Sweden, even in the far north speaks perfect English.
Accommodation: We wild camped which is legal and free. Some restrictions do exist in the national parks, especially at Storforsen but these are made quite clear when your there. For the rivers we paddles there was not many other options as the campsites are few and far between.
Theo Petre on the Vindelalven
Patrick Clissold on the Vindelalven