Gaustaälven – Big Water, Big Drops, Good Stuff!


At midday I emerged from my tent feeling as rough as a donkeys arse. We had had some more rain and the weather was quite miserable. It was time to pack up the tent after having settled in next to the Piteälven for the previous five nights. It felt good to be packing up and getting on the road again. The time here had brought a welcome relief to the rigours of being on the road constantly. Even though I hadn’t paddled very much during that time and had rested my shoulder it was time for one last paddle on the incredible Piteälven.

Tuomas had befriended a few other people there and a small group of us decided to paddle from the camp downstream for about twelve kilometres. The group consisted of Deb Pinniger (UK), Ingrid Schlott (Germany), Tuomas Vaarala and Kai Heltola aka Kaitsu (both from Finland), Anna and Emma from Sweden and of course me from South Africa. A good blend of characters on the river and the most surprising thing to me was that for the first time us men were out numbered by woman on the river! That was definitely a first for me. Perhaps it is just Tuomas’ charm with the ladies… I don’t know?! Hehehe.


From the camp down we paddled past the Paltvalsen (Palt Wave) where the Euro Cup freestyle event had been held and stopped for a quick surf. Some of us were paddling creek boats but that didn’t stop us from having some fun too. I was paddling my Fluid Solo and had a bit of a laugh on the wave and did what little I could in the creek boat.


From there on it was a new to all of us except Tuomas and Kaitsu who had run this section more than once prior to our run down here. This stretch is a pool drop run with some quite long rapids thrown in. It is fairly big volume and consists of mainly class II and III rapids with the occasional one being slightly more challenging. You’ll find yourself in some IV+ spots pretty quickly if you just blindly bomb down the rapids. Luckily we had Tuomas up front and he guided the way for us and in this manner we never had to scout anything.


The cool, big water was a pleasure to paddle down and after having rested my shoulder for a few days the paddle actually went down quite well. Even though the rapids were pretty easy I felt a lot better that day and really enjoyed myself. Towards the end I paddled up front and had a blast.


The take-out of the Piteälven.


Sadly, after about twelve kilometres of paddling we were at the end. It had been a fantastic trip with some really super people and an excellent way to end this section of the journey. At the end my shoulder was feeling it again but I felt it justified to have paddled that section.


We parted company with the other members of the paddling group and drove off on our long journey towards the Gaustaälven. We met up somewhere along the line with the other Finns; Aapo, Satu, Samuli, Jussi, Mikael, Juho, Sami and Mirkka and of course Nalle, their Alaskan Malamute. These sled dogs are often mistaken for a Siberian husky. Originating from the Mahlemut tribe from the far north western reaches of Alaska, these large dogs are quite at home in the high latitudes above the artic circle and perfectly adapted to the harsh climate of where Sami and Mirkka live. Their friendly temperament is also a bonus and something to consider if you ever want to live somewhere bloody cold! At least you’ll have some friendly company. I’m not a dog person and prefer cats but he was a really beautiful dog.


On the road in Sweden. Tuomas pictured here.


A huge drop on the Kultsjöån awaiting a first descent... This was another time we drove past this river on our zigging and zagging across Sweden!


A tree next to the Kultsjöån and a VERY sharp rock that was one of many lying around. These are the same rocks that inhabit the river bottom. After paddling that river my boat had taken some serious licks... Luckily not my skull.


Another mozzie on my boat. Even when the temperature got right down the buggers would be there!


After driving many hours and even more kilometres we camped out next to the put-in for the upper Gaustaälven section. The log cabins where we going to stay were already closed, as was the hotel. After a week of no showering and what not we were in need of a refresh. I know I was! Jeepers.


This northern area of Sweden is the windiest region in Sweden and the overcast weather did nothing to alleviate the already chilly air. With the wind pumping outside and a light rain coming and going I climbed into the tent with Mikael and we settled in for the night. The wind was tugging at the tent and it was a rather noisy night with sleep coming in brief sessions.


Gearing up for a cold session...   :-)


The following morning we got up fairly late and the weather looked the same; overcast, windy, very cold but at least no rain. My cell phone was measuring around about 8 degrees and I kept on telling myself that this was their summer. Our summer is a wee bit different back home! I decided not to paddle that day and to this day I don’t regret my decision. From our camp site you can walk downstream to the first big drop and we had been down there before when we drove past this river a few days earlier. Tuomas told me that this was one of the easier drops on the river. No comment. If my shoulder hadn’t been injured I would have paddled the river but I think I would still have portaged a fair amount. Half of the group portaged about half of the rapids and they are all very good paddlers. One day I’ll have to go back and paddle this beast. Mikael decided not to paddle that day as all the paddling over the past week had removed skin off of his back and left it very raw. If you are not on your game and 100% right then don’t get on a river like this one.


Adrian (left) and Mikael (right). Note the mozzies on his hoodie!!!! They are bad, bad, BAD!!!


Some type of berry or something growing in a tough environment.


From the camp everyone walked upstream from the put-in to run the two rapids above the normal start. The first rapid is pretty big and tricky and only Samuli, Jussi and Tuomas paddled it. The next rapid was also quite interesting and you have to really see part two of the video to appreciate this river. Even then it gives no feeling for the power of the water. Standing next to this river would get the heart beating of any seasoned paddler.


The first rapid with Tuomas making a mistake.. oops! And then the second rapid right below it. This river starts off strong and doesn't relent.


The group paddling down to the third rapid.


Next up was the drop that Tuomas had said was one of the easier ones. Of course the levels that day were very high and made the normal class IV and V run and took it to the next level. Jussi ran it first and had a brief moment on the entry drop before dropping down the roughly three metre waterfall and emerged no problems. Samuli went next and also messed up the entry drop but recovered smartly and dropped down into the frothy whitewater down below. When Mikael and I were scouting this drop and waiting for the others I still remarked on how the hole at the bottom looked pretty bad. He said it didn’t look bad at all but I had my doubts. There was a lot of water going down there with feeder eddies on either side making it worse. I wondered what would happen…


Jussi managing the third drop nicely. He was paddling like a demon that day!


Another look at the same drop and the bad hole at the base... It looks so easy from here.


Samuli getting creamed and after a long and respectful beating he emerged on the right.


Aapo (top) and Satu (bottom) collecting the boat.


Samuli Suokko. What a character. More concerned over his boat that anything else. He is one of the best paddlers I have ever had the priveledge to paddle with and this beating here didn't bother him in the slightest.


Much to the horror of everyone Samuli got beaten very badly in the hole. The speed of the water and the fact that it was so aerated meant he could not roll and get out. He spent a very long time in there and after loosing his paddle he tried to hand roll several times. I take my hat off to Samuli and I think 99% of people would have bailed long ago. Eventually he did and then disappeared. His boat kept on being circulated in the hole and after a few nervous seconds he popped a few metres downstream on the right. Once he had climbed out on the bank he seemed far more concerned with his boat and carried on paddling like nothing had ever happened. It had been Samuli’s first swim in about seven or eight years and at least one can honestly say that there was no escape from that hole, it was not even possible to throw him a rope so well done for hanging on for so long and providing us with some good action. At least it ended well although it could have turned out differently…


Samuli had a few things to say about the experience:


" The morning at Gausta made my flesh creep. There was an ice gale, thank God, and all the three thousand gnats were attached only to the other side of our tent. So after eating some not-so-traditional Scandinavian breakfast, we started to walk towards the put-in. First drop was quite exciting and our lines proved the same. I’ve never run so smooth and bubbling drop before, so the journey started very nicely. Though the water was only about 4-5 Celsius degrees and the sun wasn’t too shiny.

The third drop was the one where all the action took place on my behalf. First there was a 1,5 meter step which had quite a big hole on the bottom. It was very hard (at least to me) to pass and I took a couple rounds losing my line as well. I drifted to the left, whereas the drop was supposed to paddle from the right. Even though I managed to straighten my kayak, it was only a very poor speed for running a massive 5-meter (?????) drop. I was already upside down when I popped on the surface. I was just spinning around having no idea where I was and hitting my paddle at the rock few times. The stream managed to tear my other hand of the paddle a few times, while I tried to pick the oxygen out of the water into my not-so-filled lungs. At the third upside spin I lost my paddle, and I succeeded to make couple hand eskimos to get the slight but significant air (later we analyzed that there would have been the only chance to get out under the drop). I hadn’t swam for nine years, and thanks to my cross-cuontry skiing I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of my Mafia. The last ten seconds I just waited, but nothing happened and I had to pull my skirt off. I don’t know how deep I got, but I can tell that it was dark and quiet in there, even though I didn’t get further than five meters away fronm the drop when I got up. Before that I faced the rock, and I was able to climb the last two meters along the wall to the bank. I haven’t studied the psychiatry curriculum yet, so I can’t tell if I’m insane or something, but I didn’t have any shock at all. Under the water I was only laughing to myself. Nice experience in its entirety. And I have to mention that I made six Felixes in a row, which is my personal record!

The river offered many adrenaline increasing rapids and slides, also a couple which we didn’t run yet. It all ended in a canyon, which had the funniest massive-water section I’ve ever run. In the end we got into our warm and cosy cars and started to head towards Norway. "


From there on, Mirkka, Mikael and I drove downstream to go and take some photos at some more rapids. We were not to be disappointed and this river is thick with action. It is a must run if you are in Sweden! I got some more great photos and it’s such a shame that I can’t post them all up.


Juho Vaarala on another drop and taking a line different to everyone else. Pictures make it look so easy.


Jussi with another good line!


Samuli with a great run through this drop.


The rapid finishes and then it's a wild ride all the way to the next bigger drop. Have a good look at this picture? It's either your best day on the river or one filled with lots and lots of walking. Not many pools.


Mirkka and Nalle watching the madness.


This is what Satu Vänskä-Westgarth had to say about the Gaustaälven:


“Trollforssen in Sweden was the perfect place to get back in to the swing of creeking after a long winter of next to no paddling, and some summer months of playboating in Finland. With the temperatures climbing up to 30°C and sun shining from a bluebird sky, one could choose from surfing away at the Paltvalsen, getting adrenalin running at the Creeking Delta, or just chilling at the campsite by the lake.

Once the Euro cup was over and our heads were cleared from all night partying, it was time to head towards Gausta on our way to Norway. After a quick stop in Arvidsjaur for sauna and good dose of kebabs and pizza, we were on our way. As the road climbed up and we approached the Norwegian border and our destination, the weather changed considerably. With some snow in the ground and howling winds, we set up our camp close to the put in.

Waking up slowly with the morning sun, not wanting to get out of the warm sleeping bags we (Jussi, Samuli, Tuomas, Juho, Sami, Aapo and me) were the last one of the groups to get on the river. The boys from Northern Finland had done the river before and apparently the water levels were higher than what they had previously experienced. Still it was all good to go.

Pretty quickly we noticed that besides temperatures something else had changed. The water was freezing cold and the power it had was something totally different to the Creeking Delta. Although the week in Sweden had left me feeling strong and not at all rusty, at Gaustaälven I felt like I had never been on a creek before…

While Jussi, Samuli and Tuomas ran most of the rapids, for me it was more of a “fat camp” day– with more hiking than really paddling…!! As I picked and ran some of the cleaner drops, at many occasions I opted for the hard left or right lines – scrambling through the rocks & fields with my boat. Luckily the riverbed at Gausta is quite open so portaging really was the easier option. In any case it was a great day watching the guys hitting their lines on some of the spectacular drops, and making quick recoveries when receiving even more spectacular beatings at times.

I have to admit that after the 6-7 hours spent at the river I was more than happy to get changed in the rain, hop into the car and drive away as fast as we could. But after a day of much more chilled paddling at Gåsvasselva, a full tummy and well slept night, I reflected back and thought that I wouldn’t mind going back for Gausta – with some days of high volume warm up beforehand!! And little less water on the river for sure…”


Jussi having to roll but recovering super fast.


Tuomas (right) and his brother Juho in the eddy on the left. (river right...)


Juho with a slight miscalculation.


Tuomas making it easily.


Samuli had a great run down this slide and on the video it looks like he actually gets some air when he pops out of the hole at the bottom.


Tuomas also had a few words on this incredible river:


“For me the Gaustaälven was probably the best paddling day of the trip and definitely the most full-on. At the Trollforsarna we had been paddling all the time and I was starting to feel in shape for paddling. I had also desensitized myself to powerful white water to a degree where you can reach the zone for running bigger drops. Relaxed, sunny days at Piteälven provided a lot of good spirit, which proved to be essential as after the Gaustaälven mental fatigue finally set in and my paddling went downhill for the rest of the trip.


The mood was set already at the first drop of the day which was paddled only by Samuli, Jussi and me. I watched guys running the line with minor difficulties and I was happy with my line after what I had seen. However, it didn't quite go according to my plan... In the lead-in a small reactionary wave pushed me off the balance and I had to recover with a quick brace. Regaining the balance I was drifting a little bit sideways towards the curler-wave at the lip of the drop. The bow of my boat caught some slower moving water on the right and I knew I wasn't able to straighten myself before the lip. I quickly decided to push my boat completely backwards and tucked hard forward for the drop. I fell down the drop in a little bit inverted position and according to the video footage probably slightly hit my helmet in the out cropping bed rock even I didn't feel a thing. I popped the deck on impact, but after a quick roll saw myself online and clear of the backwash. I smiled in relief and put my thumb up to let the guys know I was ok.”


Satu threading her way through another sweet drop. And no, she did not flip after this last photo. Who says woman can't paddle?  :-)


Aapo also with a nice clean run.


Sami running the first drop perfectly and then getting a little vertical (afterwards) in this wild little hole!!!


This drop and the rapid above it don't look too bad but they were really juicing! No one paddled them.


A very calm section of the river. (quite rare)


The group climbed in again and this was the last we saw of them until a bit later on.


Another day in Sweden, another day of taking sweet photos of great paddlers.


So after a long day of taking photos and waiting around in the cold it started raining. The wait in the car wasn’t too long and then the paddlers returned and all were still in one piece. They looked pretty buggered I must say and moderately cold, ok so maybe more than just moderately cold. 


From the take-out we drove past the middle and lower sections and off towards Norway. Through Stora Blåsjön, Røyrvik, Namsskogan and then further north well into Norway. We stayed at a camp site and in a bungalow/wooden cabin. This was luxury at its best after sleeping in a tent on the floor for many, many nights now already. We paid 400 Kroner for a 4 sleeper and took two 4 sleepers between the ten of us. Two people would get a discounted rate (or no charge!) and then sleep on the floor. I showered and cleaned up for the first time in over a week. Ah, what a fantastic feeling.


The first and also the only time we slept on a bed!


The view from our little cabins in Northern Norway.


After another excellent meal I retired at 23:35 that night with the enough light to see the reflection of the distant hills on the lake we were sited next to. It was still overcast and chilly but I guess that’s the way it is this far north of the equator. The feeling of sleeping in a bed was almost forgotten already.... ahhhh.... night night!





Photography by: Adrian Tregoning.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Gåsvasselva, Northern Norway.