Bua Canyon – A Sensory Experience

Sunday morning late we eventually emerged from the tent. Tuomas and I packed up and did what we always ended up doing, driving. The road took us Vilhelmina, further south to Dorotea, Strömsund and then taking a shortcut (339) through Föllinge to Krokom and then back onto a ‘bigger’ road. With the national speed limit being only 110 km/h the going was slow. At least it wasn’t like Norway where the maximum limit anywhere is 90!

Further west and between Järpen and Åre we visited the Ristafallet. This beautiful waterfall is close to the road and well worth the short walk down. Unlike South Africa, it’s free to see these beautiful sights. There is a very cool camping site for camping, caravanning and also small chalets where you can relax and take in the scenery. I highly recommend. At Åre is probably the biggest ski resort in Sweden and something to consider if you’re going for a winter trip.


The Ristafallet.


The little shop at the Ristafallet.


A wee bit further we had a look at the un-run Tännforsen. This beast is truly spectacular and I wonder when some will pluck up the courage to run it? I estimate the height at more than thirty meters possibly and a little dodgy. There is an excellent play hole there but it’s pretty close to the lip of the drop and once you flush, you’re gone! Perhaps old Flemming or Tao need or someone along those lines needs to have a look at it. It would make truly great footage. I think it’s just a short river connecting two lakes. Below the drop is a beautiful lake and there were a number of people fishing on the opposite bank.


Roadside scenery.


Rainbow right below Tännforsen.


Adrian standing at the Tännforsen itself. Photo by Tuomas Vaarala.


Some local foilage at Tännforsen.


We stopped along some river and Tuomas fried up some blood sausage!


Back on the road we continued our journey to Norway. Through Storlien, which is on the border, and through Trondheim and then south on the infamous E6. Within a short distance we came to Støren and left the main road to go east for only about ten kilometres were we reached the Bua River, our next target. We drove up on river right until we crossed the river again and then still drove a little further up until we found a camping spot. The weather was overcast and fairly miserable. By then it was late at night and we were tired. Of course it is never dark there so we just made supper and then climbed into bed. Let me add here that we spent twenty one days sleeping out on the trip and drove almost six thousand kilometres! That, combined with the paddling makes for a busy, busy schedule. Nothing like a serious road trip to get your mind thinking.


Some random place shortly after entering Norway. Note the classic grass growing on the roof.


One of the many, many, many tunnels in Norway...


The morning arrived chilly and still slightly overcast, although the probability of the sun poking through the clouds seemed high. The standard breakfast of peanut butter on a few slices of bread for me and oats, with milk (or a reasonable facsimile) and some kind of berry sauce over everything, for Tuomas. A few glasses of water and perhaps the traditional Pepsi Max too and I was good to go.


We drove back down to the take-out to leave the bicycle there and also some clothes. We stuffed these into dry bags and tossed them into the bush alongside the bicycle. Again, the thought of doing that in South Africa would mean making absolutely certain you weren’t being watched, then hiding everything away from the road and stacked carefully with inconspicuously placed bushes and even then, I would be worried about the bike and the clothes. Even a chain and lock wouldn’t bring me any further comfort but hell this was Norway and things are way different here.


The road went past our previous nights’ camp and continued up and up. Poor Tuomas would have to be cycling back here later on. I didn’t envy him. From the road we had seen no pools, only rapids and the river seemed easy but very continuous. Soon the river closed up into the canyon and the road moved a little further away. We passed some farm house and the road levelled off and started going downhill. Bonus! We crossed over the Ena and then came to the bridge at the Bua. Be CAREFUL! The first bridge is the Ena and NOT the Bua. Some of Tuomas’ friends thought this was the bridge at the Ena was the Bua and got in here. This is actually the take-out for the Upper Ena and downstream from this bridge are some very big slides, drops and rapids.


Some flowers at our campsite.


Some more flowers at our campsite.


A small path led of from the road where we left the car but we bush-whacked after a few meters and got down to the river. The Bua is a tributary to the Gaula and not too big at all. The water level was low and it is said that if the level is above the blocks on the pillars at the bridge at the take-out, then it is best not to get on at all, as it’s too high. We had a level below the blocks and one could see it was fairly low but still fully runnable. If one looked from the road, or from the picture taken at the take-out bridge, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d scrape down. But you’d be wrong. The water channels nicely and if you’re good at technical water you’ll find a variety of sweet lines, all the time. The clear water makes it look shallower than what it really is.


The Bua is snow and rain fed and as I pushed off into the current I noticed that the water was not too cold. Similar to the Ash, maybe a bit warmer. Tuomas went out in front and within a hundred metres or so we were faced with a big horizon line through a narrow slot. We climbed out on river left and tried to get higher and closer to the drop. Tuomas saw the difficulties I was having and opted to walk in the water instead. I saw his move and decided to go down again. Funny how it’s always far easier to climb up and than it is to go down! My shoes weren’t giving me too much grip on the wet and moss covered rocks and as I tried to find my way down I eventually slipped down the rock face about four or five meters and landed hard on my heel in the shallow water. It was a little painful but I was glad not to fallen into the main current. Eventually we could see the drop and realised this was a definite portage. The guide book did mention a cataract at the start. I’m sure it’s been run a few times but it is very narrow and pushy with undercuts on the right and small but viscous recirculating eddies straight into the holes. There are three drops to this beast and you better be a skilled boater to tackle this one. Leave it to the pros.


The portage on the left was not really possible but right looked ok. We climbed back into the boats and made a careful and calculated ferry to the other side of the river. With very steep banks we opted to use ropes to get the boats to another eddy further down and from here, would carry around. There is a small and tricky path and I think the whole scout and portage took more than half an hour. I arrived on the other side and drank keenly from the river after the annoying and sweaty portage. This, I might add, was the only rapid we portaged. The sun was coming out now from time to time and it looked like it was going to be a great day. The portage had put me off a little and I was worried there would be more rapids like this. Luckily there weren’t.


Adrian running a small slide into a narrow section, awesome fun! Photos by Tuomas Vaarala.


What followed was 16 km of the most beautiful and fun water I had done in a while. I think that’s what makes paddling rivers so much fun. They are all so very different and special in there own way. I think this differed from the Kalixälven and possibly the Kultsjöån because it was the type of river I am more familiar with; low volume, technical, boulder garden type rapids. I feel quite at home with rocks scraping under my hull as opposed to Tuomas who hates that and doesn’t do as well. He is at home in big volume rivers, as was clearly proven on my Åmot experiences which I will relay later on. He styled it no worries and me, well, that’s another story.


The Bua starts off fairly gently and it extremely continuous. There are maybe three or four small pools on the entire stretch and you will get a solid workout running this beauty. When people say the Blyde is continuous they have no idea. The Blyde has plenty of pools! The river is rated as a class III/IV run with some V at high levels. At our level we had it fairly easy and had a blast. In between the easy stuff are some interesting rapids that require a little scouting. Tuomas and I would paddle down, swapping lead from time to time and get out to scout every now and then. This is where we’d set-up for some photos, usually. Sometimes we would get to something we weren’t sure about and then if one of us was feeling brave, we would just bomb down ahead and then relay some hand signals back up to the other. With only two of us it’s such a pleasure to cruise down in this manner.


The river drops about 17.8 m/km over the 16 km stretch. So less in the end and more in the beginning and middle. If I compare this to a popular South African river like the Umzimkulu. The short 8 km section of Thrombosis Gorge drops 12.5 m/km and overall, through the full 25 km distance, it drop 13.36 m/km. That can be your tip of the day, indicating that the section below the falls is actually better. Although I admit I have yet to do it but this summer I will do it for sure.


Tuomas punching one of many holes on this section. Beautiful water!


The photos I’ve taken of this river do it no justice what so ever. Within a short distance from the start the sides of the river close in to form a steep canyon and offer little in terms of escape if something dodgy happens. It is best to take a split paddle on this trip to avoid an unpleasant situation for yourself and those around you. We saw an older gentlemen and his son fly fishing from river right somewhere along the line and they must have had an extremely steep hike down to the river! We really wondered how they got there… They were probably more surprised to see us though. 


About a kilometre or two from the put-in you arrive at the confluence with the Ena River coming in from the river left. Looking upstream you are faced with a spectacular sight of a big slide and drop combination. These drops have been run before but you better be ready for it. Only for the confident class V boater. The Ena naturally adds a little more volume to the Bua but you don’t really notice it too much. Although the rapids are mainly boulder gardens, many of the more serious ones have large ledge type holes and some small slides too. You don’t want to swim here as you’ll go pretty far and come out battered and bruised.


Tuomas on a rapid that turned out to be more pushy than we both initially thought.


Given the length of the stretch and the serious amounts of really good rapids, I cannot even begin to explain them to you. My memory is very sharp and I’d remember every rapid if I returned even more than a year later, once I was there. But now, it’s just a haze of pleasant memories and endless rapids. If I were to guess I’d say that the first kilometre is fairly easy and then for the next eight or ten you’ll find some more exciting ones and then the last stretch is a lot easier. The canyon opens up a bit and then you may notice the farms on river left, high above you. The rapids are easy all the way to the end with the exception of about two that we just ran without having a look anyway. Even then they aren’t much to write home about. On the last section, once the road is high up on your left, there is a bridge and you could use this as a put-in to paddle down to the take-out bridge if the water is very high. If the water is medium to low and you’re a beginner then you’ll enjoy this little section too. Although it is nothing compared to the beauty of the canyon that waits further upstream!


Tuomas on yet another rapid in the canyon.


Adrian taking in the awesome scenery.


Adrian on one the last tighter rapids. Biggest pool on the whole stretch in the background.


Pure beauty.


It was a downer to get to the take-out and it felt great to have had the privilege to have been there. It’s one of those places that only a kayaker can experience. A very special place that I will never forget and wish every paddler could experience. I highly recommend it even if you’re a very seasoned boater wishing to push your limits. You will appreciate the tranquillity and solitude found here. I would love to try it with more water and can’t wait for the next time.


Tuomas in the same rapid as above. He's opted for the straight shaft H20's.


View from the take-out bridge.


Tuomas grabbed the bicycle and headed up. At least he had unlocked the back wheel this time. I chilled next to the dirt road and even had a little sleep in the grass. The clouds started pulling in and I hoped Mr Vaarala would make it back in time. After more than an hour he arrived and he climbed back into his trusty Passat and headed back towards Støren and then south on the E6 again. Passing Oppdal and then Dombås, which was our final destination. It’s a very central spot to several rivers in the area. We hadn’t had a shower or a shave in a few days and decided to stay in a proper camping spot. The thought of a fresh shower was great but my visions of a lekker hot one was short lived as I found out you have to pay for the shower! Unbelievable. For about ten or twelve rand you can shower for about three minutes. An absolute rip-off. Once the time is off the hot water is cut and trust me, you don’t want to be standing there still. Back in SA you pay far less for the camping in the first place and then can shower for as long as you like. South Africa is considered a semi-arid country and we have far less water than there. Not to mention continuous electricity problems. I guess it’s the way things are there. It felt so, so good to be clean again though and every shower was worth it.


Old abandoned farm house at the take-out.


Typical scenery somewhere near Oppdal.


Any takers for this roadside run? I didn't think so...


I slept well that night and thought back to the time on the river with fond memories. The trip was going incredibly smoothly thus far, maybe a little too smoothly. I wondered what tomorrow would bring…






Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. Thanks to Tuomas for swapping over with me from time to time.


Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Upper Rauma & Lower Jori (Norway)