Unkerelva – Last Creek in Northern Norway

The day came like just another day in Northern Norway, cold, overcast and generally quite miserable. But our spirits weren’t be dragged down by the weather and at least the lack of wind transformed the lake into a mirror that conveyed a message of pure beauty of the surrounding hills consistently covered in trees.


The rigours of paddling day in and day out had been taking its toll on some of us and Tuomas and Mikael decided not to paddle that day. After the Gaustaälven Tuomas had mentioned that he felt mentally fatigued after that paddle and his paddling had been going downhill. He had paddled that river extremely well and had gone balls to the wall. The Unkerelva was nothing like it so he wouldn’t be missing much. Instead the two of them opted to go on a bit of a hiking mission to scout an un-run river that they had found on the map.


View from our camp site.


We camped on left where the cars are parked.


Late afternoon in paradise.


Another tough day in Norway.


So that left Sami, Juho and I to paddle the roughly ten kilometres worth of whitewater from our camp down to the main road where a bridge goes over the river. This section is graded as a class III and IV run. Some pool drops rapids as well as some more continuous and demanding sections.


We packed up our tents and readied the cars for the next leg of the journey. It was a little sad to leave that camp site as I had really enjoyed just being there out in the wilderness. I could easily return to Norway with a couple of fly rods and just go fishing there for a month. It is so relaxed there it’s unbelievable. No traffic jams or people in your face, just pure bliss and peace and quiet in the most scenic surroundings you could possibly imagine. I’m really not one for the cities and prefer just total silence away from any other people. This was the ideal place for me.


The perfect camp on the perfect day.


The start of the Unkerelva as it leaves the lake.


Just wanting the moments to last forever I pushed off into the current where the water from the Unkervatnet drains out and into the Unkerelva and did not paddle. I looked back at the scene and didn’t want to leave it behind. Eventually I turned and just looked down through the clear water as the bottom of the river whipped on by. It was a spectacular place to be paddling and I remembered again how privileged I was to be there. The river turned a sweeping bend to the left as entered the first bits of moving water. Another bend to the right and then we were on our way and all thoughts of the camp left my mind and I concentrated on the task at hand.


This was possibly the last time I would be paddling a river there so I had taken a few pain killers for my shoulder and they seemed to be working quite well. I felt good that day and for a change paddled reasonably well. Taking pain killers is really not my thing at all but I felt it necessary on the odd occasion and changed my usual ways every now and then.


Tuomas had warned of a river wide hole near the beginning and two probable portages. Within a kilometre we came across the large hole and paddled down without scouting. It wasn’t too bad at all. The river drops at a steady rate in the rapids and the action is punctuated with calm but swift flowing pools. The water is incredibly clear and I would often find myself just staring down at the scenery whipping on by underneath the hull of my kayak.


We scouted another rapid from the slippery and wet bank on the right but could not go down too far. It looked good to go and Juho went first. Sami filmed the action and then I went down too. There were no problems and the day was going very well so far. From here on there were many, many great rapids and some of them needed your full attention or else you could come short.


The river changed characteristic a little and the rapids became a little better and closer to each other with steep rocky sides making it look a bit like California. We climbed out to scout a rapid as we weren’t sure on the line and Sami climbed out to film. Just then it started to rain. The valley transformed in an instant but the river carried on with an indifference to the changing conditions. I peeled out of the eddy and dropped down. Pure bliss again. Juho followed and then Sami. Because of the rain I could not take any photographs. We seemed to be all out of umbrellas on this trip!


Within a few hundred metres we were at a rather dodgy rapid. On a previous trip they had all portaged this mean little drop. The level they had had was a lot lower but this time it was a lot higher. I was told that there was a very small eddy right above the drop on the left, or if we didn’t want to catch it then we could portage on a small ledge on the left. As we looked down none of us was certain that we could catch the eddy. I certainly wasn’t going to be a hero and try. Getting out of the boat was very difficult and we took turns helping each other. The side was pure rock and quite steep. The rain that was now falling very lightly was not helping the situation and conditions were slippery.


The portage on the right is visible (above my green boat). Not fun at all over the wet and crumbling rock. The portage is on a small ledge where the wall gets vertical.


Sami (left) and Juho (right) having a look at the entry of the drop. River right was super bad with a mean hole and a rock that look undercut with an eddy feeding into it.


It was the most frightening portage I’ve ever done and one I wouldn’t want to do that again very soon, definitely not in the rain at least! From the photos it doesn’t look like much but you have to almost use some rock climbing skills to negotiate a very small and narrow ledge that consists of crumbling and also wet, rock all the while holding onto your boat. One slip and you’d fall a couple of rocky metres down into the rough waters below. You’d swim down the rapid and this rapid I would really not want to swim. Jeepers I really hate stuff like this and the thought of it brings back some dodgy memories. My shoes have quite a hard compound and this makes them last very long but doesn’t offer quite the same grip. It’s always a trade off and I recommend you take this into consideration when purchasing a pair of paddling shoes.


Eventually we made it around and had a look at the rapid. Juho said it looked a lot more runnable with this much water and considered running it. Apparently at low water there are rocks everywhere at the end of the drop. After some debating he decided to run it and luckily the rain had now stopped. Considering that this river is almost never run as it is very far north and remote I’d say that this was probably a first descent on this rapid. If not, then at least a very rare run of it. It doesn’t look too bad on the photos and seems pretty straight forward but I guess that photos often have a way of reducing the magnitude of rapids. Juho peeled out of the small eddy right above the drop and headed down. He cracked a rock somewhere at the bottom and emerged from the hole at the base still upright and stroking. A sweet run indeed!


Juho Vaarala making a sweet line on a tricky rapid.


The view downstream of the rapid above.


Adrian (foreground) with Sami (background) about to seal launch into the water. Photo courtesy Juho Vaarala.


Sami considered running it but then decided against it. We climbed into our boats and seal launched into the calm water below. There were a couple more good rapids and then we reached another probably portage. We climbed out on the left and walked with our boats. Juho said it was pretty bad so we walked without scouting. Right near the end we had a look. It didn’t seem too bad at all but the ending of it looked suspect. With that we walked to the end and continued with our journey.


Sami (left) and Juho (right) having a look at a portage.


The fine undergrowth that is found in this region. Look at the photo above, the light pink patches are these tiny little flowers.


From here the rapids went up a notch in steepness and length and the fun factor increased. We were all paddling well and bombed down some amazing drops. At one we caught an eddy on the left and I think Sami may have climbed out. Juho looked down and he said it looked ok so on he went. I followed but then took my own line down. There were some big holes and a number of large, exposed rocks that one had to miss. There were no longer pools and just the river dropping down more and more.

At one particular rapid we all broke hard right around an island and into a blind corner that turned left again. A hole near the end caught Sami and decided to have a chat with him. Sami loves holes anyway and enjoyed the surf while we looked back at him and tried to catch the nearest eddy. After a couple of seconds he broke free from the hole and we were good to go. The river carried on dropping through another excellent rapid and then to the final rapid above the take-out bridge.

There were two decent sized river wide holes near the end and the bottom one knocked me offline and to the left. It was calling my name and tried to pull me in but I put my paddle down into the green water and threw in some ninja strokes on the right. I had managed to evade this final hole and that was that.


The view from the bridge up. Incredible river.


Without really knowing it at the time this would be my last river. I had the feeling it was as Tuomas had said they wanted to paddle a really good creek even further north and I wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling at the time. My paddling had been mostly of a substandard level throughout the trip unfortunately.  It started off very well but then went downhill after I messed up my shoulder on the Lower Jori. I guess I’d only been paddling for just more than three years and the injury I had picked up had made matters a lot worse. Under the circumstances I think I had made the best of the trip and had experienced some amazing rivers in places out of this world with some awesome people. It is sometimes easy to compare oneself to other people but you should never do that. Experience and time on the water still counts the most and I just don’t have that yet. Not compared to the other people I paddled with throughout this trip. Either way it’s just about having fun, being outside and exploring new places with cool people. That’s what paddling is for me.


The take-out. Northern Norway, it's fantastic!!!


Mirkka was waiting at the take-out and Juho’s car was also there. She had helped out a lot with the shuttles and I want to say a big thank you to her! Tuomas and Mikael were still on their mission elsewhere and it turned out that they didn’t scout any rivers. We joined up with them and Mikael was itching to get going. He had his eye on the Laksforsen and was rearing to go. This monstrous drop has been run a couple of times on a couple of different lines. The level was high on the Vefsna so it would be interesting…





Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Laksforsen, Northern Norway. (A huge park and huck)