Upper Valldøla – A Feast of Fun

From the take-out on the Upper Driva we got in the car and took a drive, back towards Dombås and then past the Upper Rauma section. Further down the road we all had a look at the infamous Lower Rauma section. For those that don’t know this is a sick class V/VI run for the hardcore only. We had a look at Flemming’s Waterfall and all I can say is wow. Leave your boat at the car and just take some photos unless you’re super human.


Once we reached Andalsnes the road took us south-west and towards the Trollstiggen. This is Norway’s most famous set of hairpin bends, eleven of them going up some awesome scenery. On the way up we found this awesome little creek that was flowing at full force. It was totally runnable too. We stopped at a bridge and had a look at it. The wind coming down from the mountain and off the water was ice cold. The blue colour of the water and the snow on the mountains left little to the imagination as to how cold it really was. A real gem and if you’re into low volume, steep stuff then here’s an option for a potential first descent. Who knows? There are so, so many little streams and creeks just waiting to be explored. Because there is such an abundance of more accessible and well known water people often don’t make missions to find new runs. I guess the locals will eventually find almost every little river to run.


The last rapids on the Lower Rauma section. Extreme kayakers only...


Tuomas walking away from Flemmings Drop, Lower Rauma.


The road towards Andalsnes. Incredible!!!


An awesome little creek coming from the Trollstiggen.


The same little creek getting much steeper!


The valley leading up to the Trollstiggen. Too bad about the weather.


The infamous Trollstiggen pass and the same creek at an unrunnable steepness this high up.


Once at the waterfall at the top of the Trollstiggen we were blessed with a spectacular view down into the valley. It’s such a pity there was no sunshine otherwise it would have been even better. The road carried on up and into the mist, zig zagging all the time and soon we were on the snow line with some patches here and there. It’s not exactly that common for a South African to see snow just casually lying next to a tarred road. Usually that would only happen in winter, near the Drakensberg or sometimes the Cape and then it would melt within hours or a few days if it’s bad. On the high lying peaks in South Africa we often have snow there during winter but no roads. Unless you venture into the high altitude country of Lesotho.


The first glimpse of the river got everyone excited. The water level was high, as it seemed to be on almost every river we paddled. The season was a high one, no doubt about it. They had had above average snow falls over the winter and the river levels in Sweden were almost records high during the spring run-off. From the road the river came in from the left as we drove towards the small town of Valldal. It looked pretty steep and definitely intimidating. It was pretty obvious that the following days run would be a cold one. The river is rated as a class IV/V run with some VI and X classes thrown in too. And about three kilometres long. This according to the guide book ‘Norway, The Whitewater Guide’ by Klatt and Obsommer. As I mentioned in another article, if you don’t have this book, get it. I would say it’s closer to four or five kilometres although I could be wrong.


We would put-in a few rapids above the bridge. The rapids above that looked nicely in the class five to six region and I wondered if any of the guys would try them tomorrow. Under the bridge further down is a nasty manifestation and some people actually run this rapid. It consists of a drop leading into an undercut shelf. Not exactly a very good place to be. If you look on Max Bilbow’s site you’ll find a picture of someone running it. I also found another picture on someone else’s site. It looks like a good place to come short though.


The Cave Drop going under the bridge.


About a kilometre down the road we found a little spot to camp, right next to the road. Let me just stop a second to explain something. You can basically camp anywhere you like in Scandinavia. Within certain rules like not within sight of a house or otherwise a few hundred metres if the line of site of hindered by some means. I won’t get into the whole thing here otherwise I’ll receive a hail of criticism because I’m talking about something I know little about. But in any case you can just camp virtually anywhere, for free. And best of all, you won’t be mugged, robbed, raped, murdered, harassed etc. Yes, that’s right. Crime is virtually non-existent. We camped within ten metres from the road and left all our kayaking gear to dry outside and guess what? It was still there in the morning! Hahaha. That was the life.


Our roadside camp in the most spectacular place I've ever camped.


Tuomas having breakfast at our roadside camp.


In fact I must say now that during this trip I have never been that relaxed before in my life. Never did I see a single sign of aggression from anyone. Ok, so maybe once at a bar/club near Sjoa but that’s what happens late at night when people get pissed. Some young Norwegian dudes had a bit of a fight and one smashed a glass across the others face. But apart from that incident, which happens everywhere, it was very chilled. When you stand in a queue while you are waiting to pay, people don’t stand on top of you. When you’re fumbling with your change, you don’t hear them huffing and puffing because you’re inconveniencing their lives. People are more relaxed and patient in their daily lives up there. It was an amazing experience and I wish I could bring that peace back home.


And the best part of it all. When you are driving, people obey the rules. Take a moment for this to truly sink in. I repeat for all South African readers; people drive by the rules. Incredible you say? Unbelievable? Yes. Indeed! When the sign says sixty, people actually drive sixty. When there is a stop sign, they even stop. I mean really. Something radically different from our way of life back home! I don’t wish to bad mouth my fellow South Africans or the country but we really are some of the most dangerous drivers on earth. In general it’s a bit dodgy but in Johannesburg its, how to say it, highly unpleasant? People driving four metres behind you, flashing their lights and raising their fists (possibly with a finger combination) while you are in the fast lane already doing one forty and exceeding the limit while they anxiously wait for a moment to charge past and carry on cursing you. Yup, that’s the way it is and not surprising that so many people die on our roads. From 01 December 2006 to 10 January 2007 there were 1645 people that died during this happy holiday time. This figure does not include people that are maimed for life or slightly injured. ANYWAY, enough of me getting side tracked and depressing you! South Africa is still a great place to be. After all, if it was that bad tourists wouldn’t still flock here and I would have left a long time ago too.


So we camped there, and didn’t get encounter any hassles. The only trouble makers we encountered were the mosquitoes. These wild beasts are everywhere and I think I’ve made the point pretty clear already if you’ve been following the articles. Here’s my tip of the day: get yourself some ‘Off’. It’s a good roll-on mozzie repellent and available from most petrol (gas – for American readers) stations and supermarkets.


At this point I’ll allow myself to be side tracked yet again, this time in a more positive way. Thank you to my friends in South Africa and to those people from all over the world that I have never even met before for your positive comments on the site and in particular the articles on Scandinavia thus far. These things take ages to put together and sometimes I feel a little demotivated to write up something half decent and throw up so many photographs. But then along comes an e-mail and it really makes the world of difference. Thanks for the feedback.  If you don’t know already this site is totally non-profit for me. I don’t pay for the site and the sponsors banners have nothing to do with me. This is all thanks to Jeroen of Playak.com. Basically I give nothing but get nothing. It’s just fun to do and I think a useful resource to at least some people out there.


A note on the Bua article: It seems the maximum speed limit was changed to 100 two years back. I never saw anywhere where we could do one hundred but oh well. Thanks to the man from Norway to pointing that out and educating me a little more. Feel free to correct me on anything you feel strongly about. These articles and indeed anything else on this site is written as my opinion only and facts may differ…


Also, some interesting notes on the way the river names are spelt. I quote as follows from a mail I received two weeks ago:


PS. In your article about the Kultsjö river (Kultsjöån), you commented that you met some Swedish paddlers who (surprisingly) never had heard about this beatiful river. Unfortunately this is a sad proof of the lack of geographical knowledge among younger generations in today’s Sweden, or perhaps ignorance. The name Kultsjöån is on the other hand somewhat confusing, because the word “å” (singular, indefinite form) means a creek or stream instead of a river. It is said that the people living in the county where Kultsjöån is located; Västerbotten, used to be very low key and humble in older times (supposedly due to their ascetic protestantic upbringing, they were mostly small-scale farmers). Hence a river would be called a creek, believe it or not. By the way, the word “ån” means the creek. The ending –n or –en like in Kalixälven, is thus the definite article (“älv” means river, “älven” means the river). It is the same in grammar of the other Scandinavian languages; Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic. Finnish is of course a completely different matter, which I am sure that you have discovered after your trip with the Finnish guys…


Thanks for that one mate! (He prefers to be anonymous) Something I didn’t know and something a little different. See, you do learn something new everyday!


The rapids upstream of the put-in.


Downstream of the put-in.


Waiting for the shuttle to come back, and yes, it was pretty damn cold!!!


Right, back to the story. The following morning dawned and with it some more decisions. Should I paddle today or give it a miss? My shoulder was still very sore but the beautiful scenery on this river was too tempting for me. The clear blue water was calling my name and the temptation was too much. I decided to give it a bash. A short drive up to just beyond the bridge and we were there. Jussi and Tuomas drove to the take-out while Colin, Leon and I waited. Leon took huge pleasure in ‘flashing’ the hordes of tourists as they drove past with his spray deck. The looks on their faces was something else and he had Colin and I in stitches from the laughter. Whole tour buses would be peering out at us and in unison their expressions would suddenly light up in various smiles, smirks, disgust and laughter! Haha!


The rapids upstream of our put-in were too much and no one had the balls (or lack of brains) to attempt them. We started off and ran a few drops before coming to a small drop that we quickly scouted. The line was fairly simple and I watched a few of the others run it quite easily. Only problem was the hole at the base. Again I thought I would be clever and try a different line. (Like on the Upper Driva) Their lines had been down the right with the bow pointing slightly to the right as they went down. This would result in one running the hole at its weakest point. The hole at the base of the drop was backed up by a rock about three or so meters downstream and was a fairly sticky one.


Leon styling the line.


I decided I would line up a little more left and then go over the lip more diagonally with a left to right momentum. It is probably one of the stupidest runs I’ve ever had. My brain must have stopped working. I paddled towards the lip and as I was above it I realised that I was far too left than I wanted to be. In fact, waaaaay too left! In the video, you can see how I hesitate on the right with my stroke just above the lip and then go directly into the meat of the hole with a very poor boof stroke. Needless to say the hole side surfed me quite nicely. I tried few strokes on the right to try and get out of the hole but suddenly got flipped over on the upstream side. I felt the paddle bang against the rocks and I lost it. I was paddling like a champ and should have been punished to drink ten booties in a row. Within an instant I grabbed the spray decks tab and pulled. Usually one would be ejected immediately but on this particular rapid I still had my Pelican 1300 case in between my legs. I forced my way out as fast as possible and grabbed the box as I floated out of the hole and performed the most spectacular body helix on a rock shortly after. This resulted in a dead leg and a nice bruise too. There was a rock just downstream and I kicked away from it to avoid the upstream side. The water was ice cold and only now did I become aware of it. Luckily the current wasn’t too strong and there was a pool downstream. Jussi threw me a rope and I grabbed hold of it. As I was dragged towards the shore I just held it close to my chest. Swim number one. Back on shore I was ready to throw in the towel but Jussi convinced me otherwise. With the shoulder still aching I thought I would get back on the horse and carry on.


Adrian getting creamed. (Stills taken from video footage by Tuomas Vaarala)


You are probably wondering about the case between my legs. I DO NOT recommend that anyone does this. It really is at your own risk. Throughout the trip I paddled hundreds of rapids in this manner but invariably the camera would be on the bank when I ran bigger rapids. This is not to say that accidents can’t happen on the easier stretches. You can quickly become trapped in your boat. The case was free to move around and not attached to anything inside of the boat, another risk. If the case is attached it greatly improves your chances of being trapped. On the other hand I could have lost the case along with a very expensive camera inside. It’s a risk I run though and you should make your own judgements about it. If in doubt, get a boat like the Fluid Solo in the Expedition version where you can store it in the hatch.


The very next rapid was a pretty tricky one and Tuomas said it was one of the trickier ones on the section. It looked reasonably simple but the entry was a little dicey, a hole on the lip, followed by a two metre drop onto a slide of about thirty or thirty five metres. My line was nice but I somehow lost my balance and over I went onto the right while going down the drop. The landing is into a cup in the rock and I landed on a hard right brace. By elbow bashed into the rock and I braced off of my elbow to come upright and complete the drop. Again, lucky for me I was wearing elbow pads. More pain shot up into my shoulder and I was not a happy camper. My confidence had just taken another knock and I didn’t feel good.


Adrian with a dodgy moment but recovering nicely. Photos by Tuomas Vaarala.


We portaged the drop under the bridge with the dodgy undercut and moved onto the rapid directly below it. It was a moderate rapid and one that I would normally have run with ease but I looked at it and just couldn’t see myself doing it. What was happening to me? I had to shake the cobwebs from my mind as we got to the next rapid. This one was more challenging than the previous rapid and I knew that the rapids further downstream would be even harder. I watched everyone run it except for Tuomas as he was taking some video. It was then that I said I would walk back to the car and I couldn’t carry on. He ran it without hassles and I got some great shots as you can see from the photographs.


Tuomas Vaarala on the rapid below the bridge.


Leon Bedford on the same rapid.


Tuomas having another sweet line!


That decision I made was a real blow to me. It is easy to analyse the situation from the comfort of your own home but at that time, I was physically sore and mentally blown. If I had carried on I would have risked myself and the group and that is something that not everyone can admit to. I can honestly say that I really felt depressed as I walked back to the car and held my head in disbelief and shame. In two days I had walked off of two rivers and admitted defeat. Emotions welled up inside of me. Never in my more than three years of paddling had this happened to me. With no more energy left in me I left the boat at the bridge and walked back to where Tuomas’ car was parked. It was not a good feeling at that stage and I will never forget the moment. I had come all this way and paid so much money, only to be injured early on in the trip. Now what? Why me?


I walked back to the rapid where I had taken my swim...


Looking upstream at the rapids above the put-in. Hike up further for more action!


Classic Norway.


Cave Rapid - luckily no trolls under this bridge!


The Litlelangdalselva at the parking lot (take-out).


The river looking so inviting near the take-out!


The night before had been my seventh night spent on the road and I had lost weight already. I could feel how loose I was in the boat on the previous two days’ paddles. Meals had not been as frequent or steady as per my normal routine. Usually I would eat several times per day back home but here it would be only twice per day. Another factor that was killing me was that we went to bed very late every night so far. Everyone who knows me knows that if I go to bed later than ten o’clock I’m usually pretty grumpy the following day, unless I sleep in. We had been going to bed after midnight every night and getting up late. Every morning I awoke not really feeling rested. Gee, I sound like an old woman! Well, I’m a very routine person and I usually do the same things day in and day out. Looking back it was probably a combination of many things.


Feeling terrible, I drove down to the take-out. It is such a beautiful place. You really have to go there to appreciate it. It would have been too much of a waste to wait at the car so I drank as much Pepsi Max (diet Pepsi for those that don’t know) as I could, grabbed my camera and headed upstream from there. Even though I had just been at a major low I had to do something positive again and pick up the pieces in whatever way I could. Eventually, after some very serious bushwhacking I found a nice high spot and decided that there were enough good rapids downstream from my position to get some great photographs. Luckily you can cruise through the bush in Scandinavia and never worry about getting creamed by thorns. If you just starting missioning through the bush in South Africa you’ll get nailed very quickly. Ok, ok enough comparing, I know.


One of the more serious rapids that most people don't run. This is downstream from the foot bridge.


Some more interesting flowers that can be found in the odd open spot.


An open little field on my hike upstream from the take-out.


I sat here waiting for the others. The rapids at the top were not run.


The group came down and ran some very cool rapids. Most of them had great lines and there were no mishaps. There was a great drop where you could pull off the most amazing boof. Colin even went back to run it a second time. Those photos are really great and you’ll love them.


I guess they were surprised to see me again alongside the river. I’m sure they thought there was something wrong with my mind or that my shoulder wasn’t that sore but I had to go up there, take some photos and do something constructive and just make the best of a bad situation. The only thing I could do was to be positive and take it one step at a time. Looking back the trip was still a success and even though I wish I had never gotten injured in the first place, these things happen and you deal with it in the best way you possibly can.


Colin going first no problems.


Jussi (top), Leon (left) and Tuomas (right) scouting a slide.


Jussi going first.


Leon on the same slide.


Tuomas with another good line.


Colin also with another great line as per usual!


Jussi Tanskanen with an awesome boof in the great style he typically displays.


Jussi deep in thought...


Colin Furmston going again to better his previous line.


Tuomas with a textbook boof. Nice!


Just downstream was a very interesting rapid; a narrow drop where all the water went down. This was directly underneath a small foot bridge. Everyone checked it out suspiciously until Jussi eventually decided to give it try. He managed perfectly, getting some good down time and resurfacing upright. There is an undercut on the left with an eddy feeding into it although it’s not too bad and he had no problems.


Colin decided then that he’d also try and went for it. He tucked beautifully for maximum downtime and popped up, needing to roll. Within a second he was being pulled towards the undercut ledge but cleared it. Colin described it as being flushed down a toilet. How he would know, I don’t know…


Jussi running the toilet bowl rapid under the little foot bridge.


Colin getting some good downtime too!


The rapids from here to the car park are even more serious and you should think twice about venturing further. The guys took out here and started walking down to the car. Leon and I hitched a ride in a woman’s Audi A6 station wagon and he proudly sat in the front seat, with a wet ass, and not saying anything to the woman about his physical state. She didn’t say much when we passed the other guys and laughed at them as they were walking alongside the road. I guess she was already regretting picking up one weird and crazy Tasmanian kayaker and a South African with a big black case on his lap.


The Upper Valldøla is a true gem. From what the others told me they scouted virtually every rapid and it was an exhausting but satisfying day. I’ll have to go back and run it one day properly. You can see more action in the video. Where is the video you ask? Wait dear reader, have patience. A link or an embedded video will be provided once the articles have reached a certain stage.


That night we moved further downstream to another more ‘official’ camp site and spent the evening there, right next to the Valldøla. I wasn’t in the best of moods that night and decided that I would not paddle at all the following day. Even though the Middle Valldøla was far easier my shoulder needed some more rest. As I write this article more than a month later I am on the way to recovery at least. It seems I may have actually dislocated my clavicle where it joins at the sternum and it is rather painful for a few days after each physio lesson. It is about two times the size of my other collar bone. My home exercises have begun (with no weights) and I’m feeling far better now.


Of course at that stage the choices were hard. Do I paddle every river and increase the damage to my shoulder and risk myself and the people I’m paddling with? It didn’t seem a wise option given my confidence level at that stage and my physical state. Or do I not paddle at all and just write the whole trip off? That seemed like a total waste to me! Or do I paddle only certain rivers and try to only do a little more damage? Well, I paddled a couple more rivers but took it easy most of the time. During the Euro Cup at the Piteälven I only paddled the creeking delta a mere two times and the rest of the time I chilled and took photos of people creeking and playing at the Palt wave downstream of our camp. When we got to the Gaustaälven in Sweden I didn’t do that one either. A real shame but I guess sometimes those are the cards that life deals to you. At least I still managed to capture some great photos, paddle some amazing rivers and met the most awesome people. More on that later…


BUT, don’t worry. I have got plenty more stories and many, many more great photos to share with you. Stay tuned and thanks for taking the time to read this. Until next week, cheers!




     H20 PADDLES


Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated.


Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Middle Valldøla and a play session at Skjåk on the Otta (still Norway, for now)