I’m staring out of the window of my seat. The clouds look like a crevassed field of snow. My destination? Sweden. The North European country may be well-known for its winter activities in Lapland, I’m spending my summer there. On my list is a six-day paddling journey on some of the largest lakes and rivers of Sweden. Wildcamping in an area where bears, wolves and elchs have their habitat.
With our bright yellow Volkswagen minivan we’ve been driving for more than an hour through the forests of Dalarna, close to the Norwegian border. Long-stretched roads surrounded by high pine trees, only to see more trees behind the next bend. I’ve got the feeling to see a bear crossing the road any minute now. Or an elch. But I won’t. Not more than a sporadic glimpse of a yellow- or red-colored scandinavian house. We’re making a turn towards the driveway of a yellow-colored wooden house. Horrmunds Garden, I read. The Swedish flags at the entrance arouses my holiday mood. ‘We’re here.’, our travel guide says. The Swedish owners of the B&B, Anita and Görgen come outside to welcome us. A few days ago, some of their guests had an encounter with a bear on the dirt road running behind the house Anita mentions. Maybe my feeling wasn’t so wrong afterall.
Swedish breakfast & back to basics
Knäckebröd, eggs with caviar and freshly-baked wafels with berry jelly. “Cloudberry is very expensive in Sweden.”, Anita tells us ons. My Swedish holiday mood continues when I see the breakfast setting. Still, our run-in with Swedish pastries and hospitality wouldn’t last long, since in an hour we would be driving to Ransi lake, where we get our first kayak experience before starting a multi-day journey. Six days back to basics what they call.
After being instructed about the different paddling techniques, we load our canoes and launch ourselves from the shore with the aid of our paddle. Minutes later, all we can hear is the sound of water being pushed by our paddle. Loo-oving it!
Camping in the wilderness
After a journey of barely two hours, we arrive at the other side of the lake, looking for a great spot to pitch our tent. Soon after, six tents are pitched between the trees on the shoreline. Words are unnecessary when it comes to divide up the tasks for the rest of the evening. One person starts gathering firewood while another makes preparations for dinner. And what would a first night in the wild be without a campfire? Fortunately, there always is a ‘firemaster’, mastering the fine technique of starting a fire. While the barbecue meat is grilling on the fire, the atmosphere creators start sharing wild and funny stories. It’s not until many hours later, we see the Scandinavian sun setting just for an hour or two.
The shrilling sounds of cranes well-hidden in the tall reeds echoes through the forests and inlets and awakens me at quarter past eight. The sun is already high up in the sky, despite being at this early hour, and it promises to be another hot day. After having enjoyed a delicious breakfast consisting of coffee and tea accompagnied by a loaf of bread with jelly, we start exploring the inlets of the lake.
Spotting some wildlife
In case you still wondered… we’re in bear territory. An area they share with hundreds of wolves and even more elchs. But even though Scandinavia has a large number of these animals wandering around, you often won’t see much more than some birds. It’s fair enough to say that we were quite fortunate when we noticed something moving in the high reed. ‘Do you guys see that?’, I shout and point towards a spot on the shore some fifty meters away. Seconds later I realize it’s an elch grazing, but before I manage to get any closer, it disappears in the woods.
The sun reflects on the surface of the lake when we return to the spot we’d made our camp. After a successful day when it comes to spotting wildlife, we make another fire. Not only for preparing dinner, but as well to keep another type of animal away: the nasty mosquitos that show up every evening. The ambient buzzing of annoying mosquitos around your head is in marked contrast to the fear getting some itching bites. Fortunately fire was lit quickly.
The rapids of the Björnan
The light waves of the lake push our canoes against the small rocks on the shoreline before dragging it slowly. Now and then, the rhytmic scraping is accompagnied by a plunge caused by a fish. The scraping and dragging is something our canoe will encounter more torday. Day three is the time when we’re paddling the river Björnan and its rapids. Something that will take us two days to complete. The river is quite shallow due to the warm summer they have had sof ar. The large boulders in the river are even more difficult to avoid. ‘When you get stuck with your canoe, it’s important not to panic and carefully give your canoe a little push.’, the travel guide instructs us. Shortly after, the first canoe gets stuck. With great precaution, avoiding slippery boulders beneath the surface, the sternman succeeds in giving the canoe a little push. Barely on time, he jumps back in the canoe while continuing their journey. Finding the best way to avoid the boulders is an art we will get plenty of opportunities to fine-tune, exceptions not included. ‘To the left. Quick, quick. And now to the right.’ Just in time to avoid a huge boulder and thus avoiding capsizing in the middle of the rapid. Even when a short shower surprises us, it doesn’t spoil the fun.
Paddling in Pirates of the Caribbean style
The ambience of nature, swimming in the lakes, the surrounding pine forests where we occasionally notice a little hut… there have been many highlights during our canoe trip in Sweden. And let’s not forget the group. A group of people, each with their set of survival skills they love to demonstrate. Whether it’s making coffee on a firepit or pitching their tent. After having paddled for five days on rivers and lakes, we’ve arrived at Horrmunden lake, our final destination. With an undulating landscape in the background we see Scandinavian houses once again. Each with their own pontoon and Swedish flag waving through the wind. The long reed we cross waves at the same pace. One last time, we enjoy our daily routine of pitching tents, cooking dinner and building a fire. One last time we enjoy the complete tranquility we’ve experienced during our six days into the wild. However.. as a wave coming towards us, the soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean emerges. In a Jaws kind of way, we see the atmosphere creator boarding the canoe of his fellow travelers. One last time.