Tagarchief: canoe

Canoeing in Sweden

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How to plan the Great Glen Canoe trail?

Paddling the Scottish lochs on your own merits? Wildcamping and cooking your own

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Fort William – Inverness

dinner along the way? It sounds like the ultimate Scottish adventure. And in a way, it kinda is!

The Great Glen Canoe Trail connects Fort William with Inverness up North with the aid of the Caledonian canal which connects lochs like Loch Oich, Loch Lochy and Loch Ness in one straight line. A route that allows 95 kilometers of paddling adventure! But how do you plan a canoe or kayak trip of this distance?

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Paddling a loaded canoe

Do I need a guide?

Depends on your sense of adventure. The Great Glen Canoe Trail is no easy paddling route for kayak and canoes, but never reaches the level where you need white water experience.  The degreee of difficulty is mainly determined by the open water of the lochs and the weather that has a great influence on it. Anyone wise enough to stay at shore when the weather is bad and has the patience to wait for better conditions to come, doesn’t need a guide per se. Even if you don’t have paddle experience beforehand. The first ten kilometers are spent on the Caledonian Canal, so you’ll have plenty of practice on your way. With this e-guide you can plan the full adventure on your own.

The best time for this canoe journey is during the summer months when the weather conditions are on their best (on a Scottish level that is). During bad conditions, it’s not uncommon to encounter waves up to three meters on the lochs. Remember, in these conditions it’s better to stay at shore and wait for better weather.

If you were considering to paddle the route in opposite direction, please reconsider. The wind most often is heading from the southwest, so the original route towards Inverness is ideal to have wind behind you. And believe me, wind direction is a key factor in having a great time during your journey.

Ok, I’m convinced! Where do I start planning? 

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Trailblazer rest

A canoe or kayak, paddles, life jackets, barrels… You will need a lot of gear to start your journey.  Your best option is to rent this in Banavie or Corpach, two villages near Fort William. They can offer you a transfer to Neptune’s Staircase, the location where most paddlers embark on their journey. However, there are a few things you shouldn’t forget before launching your vessel: register for a canoe license (free) at http://www.greatglencanoetrail.info and if you require access to facilities such as toilet or shower along the way, you can pay 10 pond for a key.

About the duration of your journey. This is entirely up to you. Fast paddlers may succeed in a 3 day attempt, while less experienced paddlers will need five days for the whole distance. Personally, I recommend doing the route in five days. Even though it’s perfectly doable to complete the trail in four days, you never know which weather to expect and how long you will have to look from shore at huge waves that would capsize your canoe.

I have my gear, but what to expect during this adventure? 

An unique experience. But besides that… tired arms caused by the daily efforts you will need to provide. Starting from Banavie, your first stretch will be a 10 kilometer paddle on the Caledonian Canal, meaning calm water. Ideal for adapting to your canoe and to warm up. During your trip to Inverness, you will encounter a number of locks. These, you can not pass on the water but you’ll have to do a portage. This means a number of actions to fulfill: mooring at the pontoon, unloading your canoe, getting your canoe out of the water and attach it to the trolley, walking a distance with your canoe and gear (possibly more than once before you have moved everything), getting your canoe in the water, loading your canoe and continue your journey. All by all a serious effort and not an easy task for most paddlers.

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Portage to avoid locks

Loading your canoe is best done the same way everytime you do it. Make sure to have a solid system to make sure the balance is right. You may not have thought about it yet, but it’s most likely you will take a huge backpack with your belongings, a spare paddle, a trolley for the portages, and two barrels containing food and gear with you. Make sure everything is attached to your canoe. This way you avoid everything floating off when you capsize.

Study your map carefully every day before you start your stage and take the weather forecast into account. On the lochs you will have to choose a side and stick to it for the whole length. It is not advisable to cross the lochs halfway. So choose a side that is of advantage to you.

The Scottish lochs

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Paddling ‘open water’

There is no doubt you chose the Great Glen Canoe trail because you wanted to paddle over the Scottish lochs. Don’t underestimate these as they are rated as open water because of their size. In different words, paddling is way harder because of the current and waves. You can compare with the sea. So always stay close to shore and never change sides halfway. Capsizing with you canoe on Loch Ness is not only because of the water temperatures not advisable.

Where do I sleep?

This adventure requires a tent. You can camp everywhere on the shores of the lochs, but is strongly suggested to use the provided trailblazer rests. These are spots alongside the trail where you have facilities and a fire pit to warm up every evening near a campfire. But don’t forget not to leave a trace.

Check out my gear list

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Great Glen Canoe Trail
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Detailled map of Day 1. Red dots mark the places where portage is required.

 

Purchase our Great Glen Canoe trail e-guide! 

Great Glen Canoe trail