Norwegian class III & IV – A Whitewater Playground
Nick Bennett, September 26, 2014
Norway – famed in the whitewater community for its countless class V rivers and abundance of waterfalls. Few recognise it as a destination for the intermediate paddler wanting to take the next step. So when we suggested taking a group of 14 intermediates to the land of giant whitewater we were suitably greeted with concerned and quizzical looks.
However we won over the group with a little help from Klatt and Obsomers ‘Norway the White Water Guide,‘ and with the promise of numerous class III and IV runs in the Headmark and Sjoa regions. So we set off across Europe on what was to be a difficult and rewarding journey. As we were to discover, rejecting the standard pilgrimage to the sunshine and shallow fast flowing rivers of the French Alps promised struggle along the way.
The Headmark region is located in the southeast of norway and is and accessible distance from Oslo. It offers a good variety of class II to IV white water and is best caught in periods of heavy rain or early in the summer to ensure there is enough melt. Be sure to take warm clothes and thermals as a lot of the rivers start high up in the mountains of the Rondane National park and in early summer it can still be pretty chilly.
The Grimsa (class II – IV)
A long class II river with two class IV drops in the middle. The Grimsa is a good river to warm up on but it makes for a long day on what is relatively flat whitewater.
The more water the better on this run. Consisting of big but friendly wave trains and some large holes, this is one of the bigger volume rivers in the area. Above the put on there are two lakes with a further short section of white water between them and some reasonable camping spots. Double, or in our case quadruple the run, double the fun!
Atna (II – IV)
At normal flows the Atna probably offers friendly class II and III white water with just one class IV drop. However when we put on for the run it was a only a day after an almost biblical 50 year flood. The class two was more demanding than most class III and the class IV was very pushy. That said it was the perfect river for the group and one of the best we paddled in Norway. Long continuos wave trains, whose bark was distinctly worse than their bite, left us all tired and smiling at the end of this long run.
Folla (II – IV)
A beautiful george not far from the Grimsa makes the Folla a good option for a second river. The guide book promises powerful stoppers at high flows but at low and medium levels the Folla offers interesting but simple white water in a stunning surrounding.
The Sjoa is not a region but a river, never the less Klatt and Obsommer rightly dedicate a whole section to it in their guide. The home of white whiter rafting in Norway there are a plethora of companies offering rafting, kayaking and river boarding based around the river. During our time on the river I found the guys at GoRafting the most friendly and welcoming but its hard to argue with the plush log cabins and the riverside camp on offer at the Original Sjoa Rafing.
The Sjoa is divided up in to sections which have distinctly different characteristics and difficulties.
The Play Run (III – IV)
This is the bread and butter of the Sjoa. At normal flows the river offers numerous play waves and holes but doesn’t really warrant a class IV grading. However as the levels rise it is all change. To quote Klatt as the water level rises ‘waves pop up like mushrooms’. The whole feel of the run changes and it becomes much more demanding, with waves topping 6ft there is no need to bring a play boat to do wave wheels and kick flips. Just watch out for china hole at the bottom, at high levels I am inclined to believe it really does go all the way to China.
Steinholt Section (II – III)
When everything else is too high the Steinholt section is the perfect place to bring a less experienced group. Large friendly wave chains are interspersed with easy rapids and small pools. The highest of the sections on the river the get on is also an official campsite complete with compost toilet.
Amot George (IV+)
The amot used to be considered a solid class V, but with newer gear and rumours of locals running it in play boats it is now considered class IV at normal flows. An absolute favourite amongst most who have paddled it. It is similar to being on a roller coaster. A rip roaring ride which little chance to stop, it is usually over within 30 minutes. From the end of the george a short paddle down the Lagan brings you to an ideal free riverside camp spot.
Coaching and Guiding
Gene17 kayaking offers week long trips to Sjoa and the wider area, for Class III/IV paddlers. This trip called “Progressive & Dynamic” focuses on developing a dynamic style of paddling that reflects the demands of the location, along with introducing paddlers to bigger volume runs as well as Norway’s classic pool drop spectacular. It runs in late July every year, after the peak of the run off has gone, and the Summer weather is in full swing. Going later in the season means you are able to access some rivers that would be more dangerous earlier in the year. A good example of this is the Stør Ula a small river running of the Rondane plateau, with bedrock drops and slides.
Part of Norway’s charm is its remote nature but this does come with the difficulty of getting there. In previous years if you were travelling from the UK there was a ferry from Newcastle to Bergen which was a good option, but due to a lack of traffic that is no longer running. If you are in a large group and based in mainland europe driving is a good but lengthy option. A journey from the UK can take anything up to 50 hours.
It is also possible to take the train and a regular sleeper service runs from Copenhagen, which is accessible using the Euro Star and connecting through Brussels and Cologne. Taking Kayaks on this service is expensive and troublesome if possible at all. This unfortunately means the train is only really an option if you are rafting or are planning on hiring equipment. Gene 17 courses include kayak hire on a first come first served basis.
If you are travelling from outside of Europe the only option is to fly. Oslo has three international airports; Oslo Gardermoen (50km north), Moss Airport Rygge (66km south) and Sandefjord Airport Torp (110 km south west). If you are heading to Sjoa or Headmark Hardermoen is on the way. Most airlines will happily fly your boat out but it can cost anywhere around £100. From any of the airports it is possible to hire a car and use inflatable roof racks for carrying your boats.
Wild camping is legal in Norway and we found many great camping spots. There is a strict without a trace rule and it is of upmost importance that this is adhered to in order to ensure the arrangement continues for the future. For more civilised options the Gene 17 Kayak Camp at the base of the Sjoa has prime camping and dorms the price of which includes facilities (a real luxury). It is also possible to stay in the rafting bases situated around the Sjoa river. In Headmark it is harder to find official campsites but the wild camping is ample and often stunning.
There is no getting round it, Norway is expensive. If you are planning on buying your food here then budget at least 50% more than you would for a central european country. We bought almost all of our food on the German boarder where is is significantly cheeper and carried it with us for the whole trip. The one item that is an absolute must have is a Statoil (major fuel station) coffee mug, it costs around £15 and gets you free tea/coffee/chocolate milk every time you visit. We visited a lot!