Saturday, October 30, 2010

Krutåga - Norway

Mariann Sæther headlines Norway's search-for-more tour on the Krutåga - Norway
All photos courtesy of Benjamin Hjort

There's no question that the secret is out of the bag. Whitewater in northern Norway has always been on the map waiting for the first paddle strokes to arrive. Yet exploration by the foreign crowd has been limited mainly due to the laden creeks and overloaded options in the known southerly regions around Voss and Sjoa. With a few exceptions, stories have been kept on the low by tight lipped Norwegians savouring too many good things up in these parts. In the summer of 2005, Simon Westgarth, Sam Hughes, Rob Coffey and few others headed further into the midnight sun than many had before. After a couple of weeks they returned beaming with great tales for the rest of us.

Northern Norway has it for sure, why not? The mountains follow this amazing country from the south up to its far reaches as sure as the summer sun stays long into the evening. With mountains as far north as 65' latitude, it was only a matter of time before these new paddling zones would be sought after by more foreign eyes.

This past summer, the missions were on in full. Tuomas Vaarala and Mikael Lantto from Finland arrived from the north. Their group hit the Tromsø - Narvik area and shared light on the very good situation around there. Another three groups headed up from the south with the maps in hand. First stop was into Susnadalen, Hattfjelldal, and the classic roadside Krutåga. With us came 3 token Dutchy paddle bums living out of their car, 2 Germans with an inflatable roofrack and of course the veteran lady huckster with her summer home on wheels.

With its headwaters trickling down from across the border in Sweden, the Krutåga is another example of an alpine creek quickly becoming the whitewater potential that keeps Norwegian kayaking legendary. With a late start in the summer sunshine, a few corners of routine ledges soon became high doses of vertical liquid consumption.

Benjamin Hjort leads the charge on the first big slide.

The Krutåga falls down the valley with beautiful rapids on the way down. One of the biggest slides goes off the charts and most likely requires a walk through the open forest around it. After a flat section along the road, the final canyon changes character and produces a few ugly cataracts in between more good lines down until the take out bridge.

Roy Hopmans gets it on in the Nord

Hattfjelldal is a small forested community with the basic services to keep you in the region as long as needed. The big Susna drainage will likely be the next on your radar with multiple paddling sections along its path. Head up the valley to Unkderdal for an amazing beach camp and another paddle option down the easier Unkerdalselva.

Midnight base camp on Unkervatnet

Surprises are many in this region but perhaps the biggest surprise of all was what it wasn't. Getting up to this classic area was hardly a suffer. Hattfjelldal is really considered the middle of the country and from the Sjoa area only requires 600 kms of scenic road. Breaking up the trip with a detour to the Forra just north of Trondheim is also a very good paddling idea. Discoveries still await in the numerous hidden valleys off the beaten track. Northern Norway is sure to become another special part of Europe's best paddling country. Come and get it.

View Krutåga (III - V+) in a larger map

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Stikine Grand Canyon, BC - Canada

Perspective. Corey Boux getting his 5th descent of the Stikine Grand Canyon
Photos courtesy of Benjamin Hjort

The Stikine needs no introduction. Easily representing the genuine mental and physical game in North American expedition kayaking, it's one of the greatest river experiences that might ever cross your whitewater path.

Over 25 years have passed since the legendary first attempt of the Stikine Canyon produced the definitive level in which all other rivers would be challenged. Even in the present form, only a handful of paddlers have experienced a perfect combination of whitewater isolation, beauty and adventure.

On August 1 - 3 2010, Corey Boux and Mark Basso headed back into the depths of North America’s biggest whitewater beasts, teaming up with Jamie Wright (UK), Ricky Lambert (NZ), and Benjamin Hjort (NOR)

A hot dry summer and uncharacteristically below average snowpack in northern BC put the Stikine watershed on the low side in what might be the earliest date a group of kayakers have ever attempted the run. Despite having drysuits thought essential to battle such a known hostile environment, our team put on with just over 12000 cfs under blazing heat and summer sunshine.

and so it begins....again.

The first 12 miles compromise some of the most crucial rapids on the river. Entry Falls comes hard and heavy offering us one last chance to change our minds. Soon after, Wicked Wanda, Pass/Fail and the most infamous Wasson’s Hole stack up in succession and committed us for the next 3 days of big volume class V.

Arriving at camp on day 1 unscathed, meant a welcome mental break off the river after some big surfs and close calls in and around the lead in to Pass/Fail.

The next day began with a long portage around Site Zed, the last unrun rapid on the river. The steep scramble along sharp loose rock combined with an important ferry out of the eddy below sets the tone for the second day in the ‘narrows’.

Corey Boux starts day 2 on the rocks during - Site Zed portage 2008

Dozens of big technical moves deep within towering vertical rock walls played at our mental and physical limits relentlessly until the river gods provided the ultimate reward… a seemingly endless whitewater dragon, aptly named ‘The Wall’

The closest you can get to 'The Wall' without being firmly in its grasp.

The serenity of the Garden of the Gods camp is one of the most beautiful campsites one might discover on a paddling expedition anywhere. Still, it could barely ease thoughts of what lay ahead as our team prepared for the final stretch of river remaining on the final day.

Sunrise on Day 3

In the calm of the early morning, the maze of boulders in Garden of the Gods 2 quickly reminded all of us where we were. Heading into one last deep narrow chasm, the final big four rapids making up less than a mile of river dished one final ultimate ride.

Benjamin Hjort - always a force on the water and behind the lens.

In 2002, Idaho legends Conrad Fourney and Damon Miller fired up V- Drive for the 1st time. Located only one short pool below ‘The Hole that ate Chicago’, V-drive is a massive ramp into two even bigger parallel wave holes exploding off of the right wall.

Jamie Wright and his first glance of the great V

For most V-Drive represents the final dagger in the Stikine canyon complex. After here the intimidating walls give way once and for all. If Mr. Willie Kerns quote ‘Nothing has changed but everything is different’ hasn't sunk in yet…. It most certainly will beyond the gates of V-Drive.

58 degrees latitude BC

The paddle out is long yet it won't give you enough time for it all to sink in. Running the Grand Canyon will always mean heading into a liquid monster with intense precision and nerves of steel.

Through the slot and into the new of the greatest feelings in the world.

Special thanks go to Kokatat for their commitment to creating paddling gear that exceed the challenges of expedition paddling around the world. Also a big shout out to Corey Boux and Erik Boomer on getting new record descents of the Stikine Grand Canyon this year. A true feat of whitewater accomplishment.

Winter now blankets Northern BC and the window to one of the finest pieces of whitewater canyons on earth has closed for yet another season. Up near Alaska where the wild is wilder, low water only means low enough.

The legend of the Stikine will never die and for those who seek fortune in this amazing place, make sure that your reasons are genuine. Thank you Conrad Fourney, Damon Miller and Daniel DeLaVergne for watching over all of us who continue to enter inside the walls of this great river.

View Stikine Grand Cayon (V+) in a larger map

The Stikine class of 2008

Ian Garcia
Evan Garcia
Lane Jacobs
Tyler Bradt
Rush Sturges

Ben Hawthorne
Corey Boux
Cody Howard

Mark Basso
Scott Feindel
Corey Boux
Jordie McKenzie

Stikine 2009

Matt Wilson
Henry Munter
Erik Boomer
John Grace
Jason Hale
Jay Moffatt
Mike McKee
Fred Coriell

Tim Starr
Corey Boux
Simon Tapley
Ali Marshall
Steve Bartrom
Kurt Braunlich

Stikine 2010

Corey Boux
Mark Basso
Benjamin Hjort
Jamie Phillip Wright
Ricky Lambert

Sean Allen
Mikkel St. Jean-Duncan
Bryce Shaw

Ben Hawthorne
Cody Howard
Taylor Cavin
Maxi Kniewasser
Ric Moxon
Darren Clarkson-King

Erik Boomer
Jeff West
Todd Wells

Charlie Center
Darin McQuoid
Jonas Grunewald
Corey Boux
Rush Sturges

When the Stikine beckons the next in line, prepare for the trip of a lifetime and ride the dragon well.

September 22 -24, 2008. 1st Canadian team descent since Jody Schick-Ken Madsen in 1993.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brandsethelva- Norway

Benjamin Hjort rides the magic carpet known as Brandseth - Norway.

Perhaps Norway's most celebrated and frequented kayak adrenaline hit, the Brandsethelva near Voss, has over the years formed infamous relations with local and international paddlers alike.

Sjoa's Kay Arne Randen finds the sweet spot on the bridge drop.

Like a super model girlfriend, so too can be the love-hate relationship of Brandseth. Love comes in countless forms in this valley - Sensational steep slides around every corner. Amazing colors, transforming photos. At the takeout, camp fire stories and laughter last long into the summer.

Good intentions.

Hate comes later. Boney flows sometimes turn the Brandseth into a bad decision. Backbands, ankles, kayaks and asses have also taken too much abuse on these hard rocks.

Over the years, the finest dimension of Brandseth just might be when melting snow and driving rain mix that love and hate with dubious apprehension. High volume Brandseth is an experience to behold for those who happen to be in the right place at the right time. It's when things really heat up.

Good things come to those make the last turn off the E16 and head up the steep road to creek heaven.

Over the weekend our decision to drop into Brandseth at such stomping flows made our solid crew of cackling creek boaters question our sanity once again as we made our way across the alpine terrain to the put in. It all began silently. Before us it was 525 feet per mile, a handful of eddies among the blur, and a wild man named Benji on point.

Mathias Fossum on the ride.

A Brandseth top-to-race course for those who want to know goes a lot like your favorite song in the shuttle vehicle. A quick walk from road to creek reveals the goods many have traveled far and wide to experience. The light colored bedrock lining of Brandseth mixed with aqua blue green - pristine. Here a small footbridge crosses a gap dividing a not so commonly ran upper entry ramp into a beautiful cascading chute.

Hendri Coetzee drops the put in slide -summer '08

At high flows the distance between the put in slide, and the proceeding mandatory portage is not that far. Portage 1 or both of these beginning rapids on river right and make sure to again walk around a nasty unran 50 that makes contact with too much rock in the landing.

Lars-Georg Paulsen styles the boof over one of the significant holes - Triple drop upper section.

From below the portage a few warm up ledges will give you the idea of how much water is in the run. As the wise Greg Dashper once said: 'you'll either be scraping or scared' in the 150 m leading up to the 1st triple slide combo. In here, beaucoup d'eau make this entry slide combo smooth, but beware of the infamous beatdown hole at the end.

Benji Hjort on target with the exit hole of triple slide.

If you're still sitting in your boat after the rocking intro, get ready for the beast around the corner. A lone river right eddy leaves you focused on a significant horizon line masking a holy super slide. With significant debate about what to do on this one most usually agree that starting center right and not flipping beyond this point is whats important.

Halfway down what is easily known as 'the slide' on the upper section.

Brandsetelva team race 2009

Onto a brief stretch of windy rock gardens, the second road bridge appearing overhead signals the bridge drop. Often worth a look, high flows reward you with a clean center line followed with a quick blast out of the exit hole.

Bridge drop.

Just beyond the bridge drop a low angled slide awaits a right turn and the only other commonly portaged rapid. In here another slide sends you flying towards a sharp right hand slot with few options. At lower flows catching a river left micro eddy halfway through the rapid makes a sweet peel out line possible through the narrow corner exit.

Low-key doesn't last long in the eddy below the second common portage.

A brief calm might reorganize your adrenaline momentarily, but another 100m leads into yet another epic slide worth knowing about.......

Andy Phillips enters the last slide before the racecourse section.

It's maybe here in the pool below that heavy hitting title track etched in your brain might finally slow down a little. Our group of seven begins to soak in the dozen roaring gradient plunges we have just came through unscathed.

What most creeks wouldn't possibly contain from top to bottom in quality, the Brandseth only now serves up the famous Brandseth downhill section. A new chapter of goodness leaves many more quality paddling strokes in a familiar setting and beckons hundreds of spectators every summer for quite a spectacle. For now that is the least of our worries. It's May, high water and the song is certainly not over yet.

The creek in your thoughts comes alive and immaculately produces what you have searched for. Special thanks to Silje Skjorve and Arild Tvilde for the quality images.

View Brandsethelva (III-V) in a larger map

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bjørndalselvi - Norway

Eirik Øvreeide on Norway's first drop of the year. Bjørndalselvi - Norway

There are many undiscovered rivers around Hordaland's coastal region that would be all any kayaker could ever ask for in other parts of the world. But in reality, by the time paddlers reach Bergen, the final hour to the creek-mecca of Voss is usually too high one's list to explore the rain filled drainages here on the coast. The Bjørndalselvi is a great creek outside the guidebook realm and often overlooked.

Put in slide.

When that first stroke on the water comes to anyone hibernating in the Northern hemishpere long enough, its a warm feeling no matter what the temperature is outside. Norway's paddling season is finally back on here after a long wintry hiatus even here on the ocean.

Benjamin Hjort trying out the new helmet cam.

Here's how it's been so far... Voss - No snow until Christmas, super cold and only a few isolated dumps ever since. Mountain snowpack is brutally low in this part of Norway and has many of us wondering what summer will bring. Bergen should have been under rain clouds during this time but in fact had abnormally cold temperatures, clear skies and the most snow to stay on the ground ever.

So yes we got to go powder skiing even here in the rainiest town in Europe, but now all that is history after the low pressure weather systems are returning from the Atlantic.

doomy and gloomy is how we roll.

Getting on Bergen's local creek doesn't happen with much ease. The shuttle to the Bjørndalselvi takes less time from home than most people spend loading boats on the roof. However despite the distance, the real task is getting lucky with the levels. Even with an internet gauge, no one can be really sure unless your drive is attempted in the most dismal of rainy weather AND your house was shaking from the rainstorm the previous night before. Even then, its best not to sleep-in as the Bjørndalselvi spikes and drops in flows similar to the rain dependent runs in Scotland and Wales.

Taking pictures of this creek has especially been a challenge as I have yet to be on it without some sort of precipitation hitting me from various angles. However other than the stingy flow, the run is still pure Norway in a short blast.

Considered a lighter version of Voss's famous Branseth, the Bjørndalselvi is composed mainly of read and run slides and a few horizon lines worth looking at the first time down. Above and below the normal section are of course more good rapids to scout, but could often do with even more water. Enjoy the last of winter and we'll see you all coming up to Norway for another year of whitewater paddling.

Flows: An internet gauge on Dyrdalvatnet gives a basic idea of what is happening. Look for at least 1.5 cms and and rising. However the the best way is to check the flow at the put-in. A rock in the middle of the creek should be mostly covered. See map below for more details.

View Bjørndalselvi (IV) in a larger map