10 June 2008

Sea Kayaking in a World Heritage Fjord - Gudvangen to Flåm

Aurlands Fjord and its neighbouring Nærøyfjord are the poster boys of Norwegian Fjords, along with their northern cousin Geiranger, they are the ones that feature in all the brochure and magazine articles; they are also a World Heritage site. Aurlands extends south from Sognfjord as and splits into two branches of an inverted Y. Sitting at the bottom of the western arm (Nærøyfjord) is the little town of Gudvangen and at the base of the eastern arm is Flåm. I have long wanted to kayak between the two and last weekend go the chance to do it.

The weather was stunning and the forecast was good, well as good as the forecast can be here, it changes on a daily basis. Katharine and I roped in Cecelia, Arne and Vibeke (the Sunmøre crew) to join us on the adventure. A two day drip, camping in the middle, should be an easy 50 km.

Friday night Chris Clark, or “farmer Clark” as he is now called since he bought 20 acres of Derbyshire’s finest, was in town. He came up and stayed at the evil lair and we drank beer, sat in the tub and put the world to rites. Interesting to discuss how perception and desire changes as you get older. We talked about how he is becoming more and more attached to his land and has less desire to travel. We also talked about cars, engines, girls and our respective experiences in academia – so everything has change! Was good to catch up.

Next morning woke up with a predictably bad head and we loaded all the gear, dropped Chris at the airport and meet the others, only half an hour late! Drove the 2.5 hours to Gudvangen and the weather was stunning, this was going to be a good trip.

Dropped the cars, loaded the boats and headed up the fjord. It was stunning, the water still has a mirror, the sides shooting 2000 m up, cut by long white streaks of snow melt water falls. Yep I could see why this was a World heritage site.

All was going well, it was Cecelia’s first time in a kayak so we kept an eye on her, especially when the big boats went past and created big bow waves. Arne was whizzing around like a Labrador on a day in the park and the rest of us just paddled leisurely.

Towards the end of the day, about 20 km in we grabbed the last on the fading sun on a small beach with a beer before crossing over to another very nice beach where we set up tents, light a big fire, cooked up pasta and drank more beer. Arne was a bit under the weather – claims it was the previous evenings pølser – which is quite possible!

Next morning the weather was a bit colder and the cloud had come in, a taste of things to come? We had a leisurely breakfast packed up and headed out. Great mornings paddling, awesome scenery, playing in the base of the waterfalls, taking pictures and enjoying being there. Rounded the corner into Aurlandsfjord and a small family of goats chased us along the rocky shoreline until the cliffs once again become vertical and they had to stop.

Further along we stopped at Stigen where a Californian couple live in a small house in a hanging valley 400 m above the fjord. We pulled in, the landing was pretty tricky and the boats had to be hauled out and suspended from a wooden beam. The difficultly was compounded by the fact that we were immediately mobbed by goats, hundreds of them, clambering over the boats, chewing everything, barging us and each other. At first it was funny but it rapidly got a bit tedious! Eventually the goats lost interest; we had lunch and then hiked up the side. From the base it seemed highly unfeasible that there was a path going up the near vertical sides, this didn’t get much better, even as we followed the well trodden path. Eventually it all became clear and we made the short steep climb to the farm house – amazing views but a long way to go to for the morning paper.

By the time we got back down to the boats the wind had seriously picked up. It was coming from the south, funnelling along the fjord and we were heading straight into it. It was hard work and the swell was picking up.

Everyone put their heads down and paddled in their own little world. Katharine stuck with Cecelia who was struggling quite badly. After about 3 hours we got within 1km of Flåm. The wind was now really strong and it was almost impossible to make any headway, but with no beaches there was nothing to do but kept pushing on. Eventually Arne, Vibeke and I regrouped in little sheltered bay to wait for the others, it was painful to watch their slow progress and you could see that Cecelia was very tired, but if they could get to us, she could rest and then their was less than a klick to go.

Then as I watched, her boat was twisted side on to the growing swell by a gust and she was flipped over. FUCK!

I went to help and with the wind behind, surfing on the waves, I was there in minutes! Got her hanging on the front of my boat and we tried to X rescue but she was too tired to lift her boat out of the water in the swell. So I just flipped it over and hauled her back in and we pumped it out. That’s not a recognized rescue but it has worked very well for me, twice.

Katharine had rescued her paddle but she was clearly too cold and too tired to use it and we were getting blown further back up the fjord. Stuck a rope on her and towed. It seemed like hours and it seemed like we were hardly moving, it was brutal but eventually we made the resting place and then around the corner to the beach.

Arne and Vibeke appeared and helped us land the kayaks before cancelling the rescue they had ordered! Some people from Njord turned up anyway made us some warm drinks and checked her over. Everything was fine and while I was grateful for them coming out I was also very pleased that we sorted ourselves out and had not required rescue. It’s much better to be self-sufficient than being another accident statistic.

After that the guy from Njord kindly loaded our boats on to is van and dropped us back in Gudvangen and we headed back to Bergen arriving at 2am. Very tired but happy for a good adventure.

The trip is stunning, I would recommend it to anyone, just pay a bit more attention to the weather! All in all a great weekend.

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