Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Paddletrain - Ron Fischer

A much heard adage among paddlers: “kayaking equal motorsport.” We wanted to re-write this a little we thought, so booked Inter rail tickets for Norway. The kayaks heavy loaded with equipment to survive, we entered the train in Voss and went off for a two week adventure.

Uncertainty plagued us in the beginning. Trains do not appear every half an hour. The few trains every day have limited storage space for bicycles or kayaks, but they are officially not allowed. Do we have enough time at the stations to enter and leave the train with four kayaks and are the conductors friendly minded? We had to try it.
We are: Tomass Marnics from Latvia, Lukas Wielatt and I from Switzerland and the Norwegian Benjamin Hjort which organized the whole trip.

In Switzerland you buy a ticket, jump in the next train and you can go pretty much anywhere you want. In Norway however, the rail network is relatively small, it usually only runs one to two trains per day with room for bikes and you have to reserve your seat in advance. We had so much to plan and set, and that for paddlers is notoriously difficult.

Voss was our starting point and of course, the classic Raundalselvi was our first river on the program. We did it not too classic and started at the highest possible put-in in Upsete which is about 15 kilometres further up then Mjölfjell. A lot of water from below and above, plus low temperatures dominated the first 25km down to the train station in Reimegrend. Maybe the most famous train station for kayakers, because it’s the put-in for the “railway section” on the Raundalselvi. Our luck was the waiting room was open and heated! A perfect place to spend the night.
For breakfast we eat Poritsch, the usual multiday menu. For the next section of white-water the water level was high, but the local Benjamin guides us through perfectly everywhere and we had a lot of fun despite persistent rain.

The day was not without a spectacular incident. In the case of “morning glory”, one of the larger rapids with two thick holes, as usual, we went out to scout. It was a lot of water in the river and the holes have seemed huge from the shore. Direct comparison to something festive we get promptly delivered. Suddenly a green Prjion Cross with a yellow paddle came down the entry of the rapid. Our eyes wander over to Luke, whose eyes couldn’t be more open then in these seconds. Camera, passport, money and credit card, sleeping bag, food and dry clothes were all in his boat, which just get trashed from a monster hole! We no longer looked after the kayak, but made our way back to the ours in order to portage super quickly and save the important goods.
Tomass and I followed Benjamin blind through the next rapids until we could pull Luke’s kayak to the shore in a large pool. The waterproof packed material survived the trip unscathed! What you learn here? Right, by scouting it’s always important to fix the kayak safe on the shore.

Our next stop on the trip was Hallingskeid which is approximately 1200 meter above sea level and surrounded by snow fields and glaciers slightly above. Beautifully, and only reachable by train or foot. We started on the creek with a few cool slides and waterfalls, then we had to cross a lake, then slides again, back a little lake and so on. Some rapids like the “Konduktör” were high, long, fast, never run before by paddlers and brought us some nice adrenaline rushes. Towards evening we became busy. The train left Myrdal at 6.22 pm and we had to get it! At 5.40 we were at the end of the last lake and had about 200 vertical meters ascent with heavy loaded kayaks up to the train station ahead of us. We arrived just in time, but were completely at the end!

At Finse we spent the next night in a hotel of the Norwegian Alpine Club( DNT). Pricey but with the rain and these temperatures it’s value to each instance. In the morning the thermometer showed us less then five degrees Celsius and kayaking was not at the very top of my wish list, but we had no other choice, because the train didn’t wait for us and we have made the reservations already. On this day, we paddled 28km down to Haugastöl. Much of it was lake, but in between were always good rapids surrounded by breathtaking nature.

After another night in a hotel (Haugastøl Turistsenter, by friends of Benjamin and another day on the Ustedalen, we took the train to Oslo where we spend the night in the park with the “Homies”. The next morning we continued north to the river Driva.
After a great run on the upper Driva from Kongsvoll to Oppdal, Fleming Schmitt invited us to their home where we spent the next two nights. The first of these, however, more or less in the pub, because of cheep beer every Sunday night. On Monday we relaxed and when Fleming came home from work and asked about paddling down the Graura Canyon, we couldn’t say no to the shuttle service. It is one of the most beautiful canyons in Norway and hides 20 km of junky class 4 kayaking!

Our plan was to start from here by train until Bodö north of the arctic circle where the rail ends, to paddle the most powerful waterfall in Norway the Laksforsen. Unfortunately, because of holidays all the trains with space for bicycles were fully booked and Benjamin’s daily calls to the rail company were futile.

But still, we had a “big” one on our “to do” list. The Rauma, one of the most popular white-water river for paddlers in Norway. Our luck: there’s rail support along the river! We reached the put-in of the upper part at noon. For this section, we had a perfect flow, but is it also possible to navigate down the lower Rauma? We were sceptical, but Benjamin motivated us full throttle, even though as a local he has never that much water.
The upper part was a perfect warm up, before the big slides and drops on the lower started. With much excitement, palpitations but clean lines we could run every rapid except the 20 meter drop at the end. At 9 pm I went out of my kayak completely stoked about my personal first descent of this river. I know nothing comparable, just wicked!

The next morning we got the train back home to Voss. Not the joy of all the passengers I think. Elapsed four paddlers after two weeks with only one shower and only one sentence synthetic clothes that dry quickly but stink like hell…. concern.

The “Paddletrain” as we call it, was in any case an exceptional Kayaktrip with quite different challenges to be mastered. By car you can go wherever and whenever you want, but for the train, we do not have our own key. In addition, the stations are not always directly by the perfect put in and take out’s. Sometimes we had to cross lakes to get there, or carry our kayaks for a while. But for this we had a super team and highlights like the Rauma, the “Kondukör” rapid, or the night in the pub in Oppdal, which are making the Paddletrain absolutely rewarding and memorable.

Important links: for photos and movie
Ron 'The Don' Fischer
Nookie Team Rider